You might have noticed in the last year a lot of talk about SEO algorithms, the responsibility of the SEO and the fact that the role has changed over the years due to constant changes in search algorithms.
That’s left a lot of companies and SEOs wondering what they should be doing and focusing on exactly. In other words, people are asking what really defines good SEO and what is really important.
To help you answer that question, I want to share with you the 5 rules I live by when I do SEO. If you follow these rules, you’ll continually do well in the world of SEO.
Here are the rules that help me rank my sites:
Rule #1: Increase social share
You might be wondering why I started with a rule on social media. That’s not an SEO’s job. Or is it? I think it is because the influence that social media has on search is growing.
So, here’s what you need to do. Create a checklist of social media goals for your SEO plan. For example:
- Count the number of shares for each social platform for 50 pieces of your content.
- Find the average by dividing that sum by 50. This is your baseline against which you can measure the success of future posts.
- Determine reasonable share goals for each post. Not every post can go viral, but it is very helpful to evaluate each post to try to understand what makes certain posts go viral and others not.
Create your content and then, before you hit publish, answer these questions:
- Is that the best possible headline I could’ve written?
- Have at least two other professionals looked at this headline?
- Have I re-written the headline to work on Twitter, Facebook and Google+?
A few days after the post is published, answer these questions:
- Did I exceed my social share goals?
- How could have I re-written the post to make it more compelling and share-worthy?
- Can I salvage anything from the posts that flopped?
Whether you like it or not, increasing social shares has become one of the new responsibilities of SEOs. Another way to put this is to say if you want to be more competitive in the SEO space, then you need to make increasing social shares a rule you live by.
Rule #2: Building an authority website
A website with authority comes down to exceptional content, reputation and age. Let’s look at each component closely.
- Age - The main ingredient of authority is time. How long has your site been up? How old is the domain? This is one of the ways Dan Savage was able to beat Rick Santorum in the SEO game. Savage launched his website in 2003. Santorum’s presidential bid website was much younger than that. So, when you searched for “Santorum”, Savages’s site came up as number one.
- Reputation – When you abide by the guidelines set by Google and Bing, you will gain a good reputation. When you encourage people to share content and make it easy for them, you gain a good reputation. If you dabble in black hat SEO tactics, on the other hand, your reputation can get hurt if you get caught.
- Exceptional content – Not only will adding extensive tutorials and viral posts, providing strong cornerstone content and building the social proof improve your site’s domain authority, but it will also build your brand and a loyal base of followers.
While you can’t control the age of a site, you can reduce the time to gain authority by getting links from other authority websites. Not all links from authority sites are the same, however. A site that links out a lot will carry less authority than a site that hardly ever links out. And links from relevant sites are better than links from non-relevant sites.
So, here’s what you need to do to build an authority site:
- Stick to above-the-table SEO tactics – It’s really easy to keep the search engines happy: just read, understand and obey their guidelines. They’ll respect you for your white hat techniques and reward you with good rank.
- Create exceptional content on a frequent basis - Just as much as great content is important to search engines, so is freshness. New content on a regular basis signals to search engines that this is a site that is relevant and keeping up with the world.
- Create diverse content – Google also likes it when a site shares several different kinds of content like text, videos, images and slide shows. If you look at most authority sites, you will see multiple forms of content being published. Plus, high-authority sites also like a diversity of content. They may not like your long post but love your tutorial videos.
- Stay in the game for years – Keep that domain alive for a long time. It really doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Rule #3: Attract authority links
Link building is very important to SEO since this is one of the core signals that Google built its search engine on. While inbound links are good, it’s the high-authority links that really matter.
Here are five sure-fire ways to attract these links:
- Write content that attracts in-content links – The most basic way to attract links is to write content that people most write about and link to. In other words, write a post that people must respond to.
- Offer to replace dead links – Work your way through a high-authority website and find dead links. Then offer to write content that will replace that link.
- Write a guest post – Giving a blogger a highly-researched and practical guest post that adds value to his or her site and audience will naturally lead to a link back to you.
- Fill gaps in content - Work your way through a high-profile blog and find gaps in content. Suggest to the blogger the content that is missing and offer to write it. He or she is likely to accept it.
- Get government links - Create content for some event in your city or charitable cause. If you are bold enough, run for an office or put on an event. Then inform the appropriate .gov site of your content so they can link to it.
The bottom line is you will never be wasting your time if you invest in attracting high-authority links.
Rule #4: Design for humans
This may seem like another strange rule, so let me explain what I mean.
Google wants to satisfy search engine users. But if it delivers poorly designed websites with hard navigation, slow page-load speeds and high bounce rates, then it has not satisfied the user.
This is why design, navigation, page-load speed and bounce rates are factors that SEOs have to pay attention to. Here’s how to address these elements:
- Create hub pages – A hub page gathers a collection of links and organizes them around a single topic. Think of them as a miniature Table of Contents for your blogs. Humans love hub pages because hub pages allow them to get to your best content quickly. A hub page also gives new life to your older content, making it relevant once again.
- Limit your ad space – If you depend upon ads, try not to place more than your top few performing ads. Keep them below the fold if at all possible. Too many ads above the fold can signal spam or low quality.
- Improve page load speed – Speed isn’t nearly as much of a factor when it comes to relevancy as content is, for example, but like most things online when it comes to speed, problems can accumulate. So, you need to fix as many issues as you possibly can, speed being one of them.
- Use breadcrumbs - This may sound old school, but both humans and search engines like breadcrumbs. Humans love breadcrumbs to help them understand where they are within the site, especially if they didn’t come from the home page. Search engines like breadcrumbs because it helps them organize content.
- Design a beautiful site – An ugly site can cause users to blocks a site from future searches, giving Google even more reason to rank you low.
In the end, when you deliver what humans want, you are also naturally delivering what search engines want.
Rule #5: Think long term
If you ask most SEOs about their strategy, they’ll probably say, “Of course, I think long term when it comes to SEO!” But there’s a really quick way to determine the truth:
Do you chase algorithms?
If the answer is yes, then you are thinking short term.
Here’s what a typical short-term SEO does when an algorithm changes: traffic to a client’s site drops, client complains and the SEO scrambles to figure out what went wrong and how to ramp up rankings quickly.
This is a tempting way to do SEO since delivering high rankings in a short amount of time makes clients happy. A happy client is happy to pay you. Unfortunately, nobody else benefits from chasing algorithms: not the client, not the search engine and certainly not the searcher.
On the other hand, the long-term SEO will stick to the elements that never change – the rules, so to speak, which remain constant like the ones I’ve been sharing.
If you follow these rules, most algorithm changes should only help you and not penalize you. But if you do find yourself penalized, here are a few steps to handle the problem:
- Identify the algorithm change
- Determine if your penalty is legitimate
- If the penalty is legitimate and you were doing something that the new algorithm doesn’t like, make the changes and let Google know. They will appreciate your honesty and efficiency.
- If the penalty is not legitimate, you can submit a request to review your site. Good sites do sometimes get caught unfairly in an algorithm change. When that happens, Google is good about restoring old rankings.
Another reason chasing algorithms is a bad strategy is that there is really no way you can keep up with them. It’s estimated that Google makes algo changes every 17.5 hours. That would drive someone insane! Just stick to best practices, and you’ll be fine.
It’s important to realize that even though there are a lot of changes on the SEO landscape, you can still live by a few time-tested best practices that will rank sites high day in and day out.
To finish off, I’d like to add one more: be patient.
If you can train yourself to be patient and to wait for results to happen naturally over time, you will avoid making questionable decisions that could ultimately do you way more harm than good. See, the fastest person doesn’t always win the race.
What other rules should SEOs live by that I didn’t mention?