SEO may seem like a complex concept, but it’s actually pretty simple. Just think of Google as a concierge whose job is to connect its users with what they are looking for. It has to assess the user’s intent and list the results it feels will be most helpful.
SEO is the process of making your website the most helpful to the user and sending Google these signals. So how do you send Google the signals? The first step is to make your website the most helpful in your niche! This is a critical step that is often overlooked. Often businesses want to ‘do’ SEO without changing their online strategy or considering the user experience. Or in other words, take an ordinary website and make it miraculously rank well in Google.
But there is more to it than that. Along with improving the website and user experience, you need to communicate that to Google and this comes in the form of relevant links to the website, quality site architecture and fresh content.
What does this mean for SEO in 2014 and beyond? Well, with Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update at the start of this year the trend is now towards natural language search. These keys will help your site to rank well in search results.
1. Natural language – diversify keywords
Figure 1: image source from researchperspectives.org
Google removed exact-match searches in its Keyword Planner in its recent update for the tool, and it is a big problem for us SEOs because it is more difficult to calculate the performance of a certain keyword, making it harder to identify which keywords we need to focus on.
Google is trying to drive us towards using keyword themes rather than exact-matched keywords. Google doesn’t want us to put the stress on exact-match keywords too much as it also leads to irrelevance when you target a certain keyword even if the relevance is unclear, just because it has a significant volume of searches.
A survey conducted by Kelton Research shows that 65.4% of adult Americans spend more than two hours online searching for information on specific topics, with 72.3% experiencing search engine fatigue when searching websites. However, when the study was conducted SEO focused on exact keyword searches.
Google is trying to take its keyword searching to the next level, by improving it to better understand natural language queries. This is also likely to solve the “search engine fatigue” problem caused by the implementation of the Hummingbird update.
According to Danny Sullivan in his post, “FAQ: All About the New Google ‘Hummingbird’ Algorithm”, Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query – the whole sentence or conversation or meaning – is taken into account, rather than particular words. This means that pages that match the meaning do better, rather than pages with matching keywords.
- Use natural language in keyword targeting
- Target keyword themes, not just specific keywords
- Use Google’s suggestions for what people are searching for
- Avoid slapping exact match keywords together, if they don’t read well
- Try predicting the intent of the searcher when judging a keyword’s importance
2. Use links more cautiously – but still use them
A few years ago, building links for the sake of it worked very well – I tried it too, but moved on from that practice out of necessity. In years past even a low-quality website could outrank better ones through building links using the targeted keywords and spam link building tactics.
Now more than ever Google is guarding its search results, trying to ensure the most relevant and high-quality results possible.
With that being said, Google has implemented the Penguin algorithm to help it fight spam by penalising websites that were over-optimised for certain keywords, and websites who practice buying links that passed link juice.
Key points to optimise your website better for Penguin:
- Avoid using link building software that creates content for you and posts it everywhere
- Avoid participating in link networks
- Diversify link sources
- Build links from trusted websites
- Aim to build links (relationships) to website owners/webmasters (it may result in higher quality links in the future)
- Aim to create value. Otherwise, don’t do it.
3. Quality content is king
Figure 3: Image sourced from blog.joelx.com
Quality content has always been king, and writing content just for the sake of it is futile. If you use your valuable time to create content without having a goal or knowing your audience, chances are it will get you nowhere.
When creating content, you have to consider your audience, what matters to them, and if the content is good enough for them to share with people they know.
Writing content for SEO is tied to content marketing, as it needs to perform well, by giving valuable and relevant information. As the Content Marketing Institute says:
Figure 4: Source from Content Marketing Institute
When you don’t think about your audience when creating an article, it’s likely that it won’t matter to them and they won’t share it. This just wastes your time without giving back something in return.
How do you know when your content matters to your audience?
- It gains editorial links
- It gets shared
- Visitors are likely to stay on page to read the entire content and post their comments
- Increase in newsletter subscriptions
You can track the performance of your pages/wp-contents through tracking software, with Google Analytics the tool most commonly used. Always remember to track, analyse, reassess, and tweak if necessary.
Writing content without prioritising quality will backfire and cause Google Panda to kick in and devalue your website.
- Write content that will matter to your audience
- Write content that educates and sells your services to a normal degree
- It’s OK to publish content on a regular basis (weekly or even monthly) as long as it’s useful
- Creating content for the sake of it is a waste of time
- Always track the performance of your content and tweak if necessary.
4. Leverage local search
Start using local optimisation as one of your strategies, if you aren’t already. According to Bright Local Consumer Review Survey, 57% of users search online for a local business more than six times a year, 39% search online for local businesses at least once per month, and 15% search online for a local business almost every day.
Figure 5: Source of image and information from BrightLocal.com
Benefits of local SEO:
- Visits from local searches are more likely to convert
- More targeted audience
- Fewer competitors (depending on the niche)
- Attract more people in your area
If you have done local SEO properly, the visits you get are more likely to convert into customers. If you have served those customers right, they are also going to become returning customers.
The customers who loved your business will share their experience and impressions with their colleagues, family, and friends in neighbouring places, thus giving you free advertising. Just imagine if those colleagues, and friends of theirs, do the same thing. Doing local SEO is like killing two birds with one stone. If you are a starter business, ranking in top organic searches is hard so stay in your local, but don’t limit yourself to it.
Having little competition is another advantage, as opposed to targeting global audiences. This is going to save you a lot of money in your investment to SEO.
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