Rock Solid Content SEO — What You Need To Know
First: You know more than you think you know
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is sometimes presented as if it were being cooked up in some cauldron in the Black Forest and shared with you as some sort of favour you have been deemed worthy of.
Or else as if it were a bit of highly secretive information, too complicated for mere mortals to understand, but which, for a mere $X000, the SEO guru will lower himself to help you out with.
I'm here to tell you that it is neither. There are things that you should be aware of, but they all point toward creating what anyone would call quality content. Write solid, quality content for your site and, though you may not rank #1 on Google, you will most likely not be penalized.
A solid foundation is important here.
Crucial: No SEO expert is better than a bad SEO expert
If you can, of course, hiring a quality digital marketing agency (one you trust and feel you can build a relationship with) is important. When deciding on the agency to use, remember that anyone can call themselves an "SEO Expert". There's nothing wrong with being self-taught, but beware the "expert" who holds no credentials and is not willing to show you a long list of quality sites they have worked on.
Because it's a brand new field, one which many business people need and few fully understand, and, of course, one without a solid set of ethical standards established, there are a few bad apples among us.
It can be very difficult to really know if the person you have chosen to work with is ethical and qualified to help you.
As in any situation where you are developing what should end up being a longterm relationship, make certain that you "trust your gut" first. Really. If you feel that the person you have chosen to work with does not fully respect you, run. If you feel that the "expert" is speaking to you in a way that feels insincere, walk away. If you feel, at any level, that you are being coerced or treated in a way that does not feel right to you, I'd say you should hold off. You may be having a bad day, but chances are you're on to something. Trust your instinct to at least wait a bit before engaging in work with that person.
Because, as I said above, building a solid foundation is crucial to longterm health.
Best Case - A digital marketer/SEO expert you trust
Best case scenario, you have started off your online work with an expert. Someone who knows what they are doing, and who has optimized your site from the beginning. In this case, you have nothing to worry about, and you need not even think about SEO. Depending on the industry you are in, the amount of quality content you have produced and a few other factors, your growth rate may vary. You should see slow, steady growth in traffic and conversions. This is what we generally see for our clients. Longterm site health starts with a solid foundation.
start with a solid foundation
If you were not able to hire an SEO expert from the beginning, starting off with simple, well written content is most likely not going to hurt you in the long run. Google came out with 23 guidelines for quality content, and when you read through them, it's obvious that any writer worth their salt would follow these principles, even if they knew nothing about SEO.
If you are proud of what you have written, and feel it is your best work, even if it has not been optimized, you should be safe from penalties.
Basic Principles of Solid Quality Content
Follow these basic principles for on page SEO for your content and you can't go wrong. Site-wide SEO is more complicated, and not within the scope of this article.
First, the technical stuff:
- Use only one "h1" tag
- Write a solid "meta description" that would entice someone searching for information to your article. The "meta description" is the information Google uses in the "snippets" in SERPs.
- Write a Title that is around 55 characters long, and no more than 60. (The actual length is now technically 152 pixels long. Going by 55 characters keeps you safe for the vast majority of titles.)
- Use appropriate "alt" tags on your images. These tags should contain the keyword that your page is written around, but you should not overuse that keyword.
- Make sure (and check this regularly) that any links used in your content still work. Fix any broken links.
- When you link out, vary the text you use in your "anchor text".
- Do not use an excessive amount of advertising on your page.
- Use "noindex" for pages that you need on your site, but cannot be considered as "high quality" pages. This might include certain product pages, for example.
Next, write well:
- Make sure content is at least 350 words long. Vary word length in your posts, allowing a few, solid pages to go as long as 2500 (or more) words. Instead of having many short pages, consolidate these pages into one, authoritative page with subheadings.
- Absolutely, under no circumstances, should you use duplicate content. Just don't do it. Why would you? Just don't.
- Avoid -- no, RUN LIKE HECK FROM -- "keyword stuffing." Come on, really? If you are even considering this, we can't have a relationship. Stop reading now. Just move on.
- As per Google's 23 characteristics page, ask yourself if you would trust what you wrote? Is it presented in a manner that engenders trust? This also takes into account basic design principles, such as the colour and size of the text, white space, etc.
- Check your spelling and grammar. Fact check.
- Are you adding to the value on the Internet? Is what you have written authoritative, in depth, driven by what you believe to be the genuine interests of your readers and providing substantial value?
SEO "red flags" to watch out for before it's too late
There are many techniques people who are experts in SEO can use to help drive traffic to your site and get you good organic search engine rankings. Many are worth their weight in proverbial gold, and definitely something you should hire a professional for. A few practices, though, should give you pause. If you see the following signs, start asking detailed questions about what your SEO professional has been doing:
- An incredibly high percentage of traffic from social networks. We all want "viral" content, but real viral content that comes out of thin air, especially from average content, is rarer than tanzanite. Be very wary, and ask a lot of questions, if traffic to your site is suddenly through the roof.
- A disregard for things like multiple "h1" tags and other on-page SEO. A real professional will take the time and care to make sure that header tags, meta tags and headlines are all optimized. Certainly, budgetary issues may preclude an exemplary headline every single time, but if you get the feeling that the person you have hired either doesn't know or care about the importance of this stuff, start asking questions.
- A lack of care for image rights and other copyright issues. Just as with the other points raised, there could be good reason for your SEO professional to not take time with images they choose. There could be budget constraints or other valid reasons. But if you have concerns that images have not been properly sourced, make sure to ask.
- A condescending attitude when you ask questions. A real professional will take the necessary time to explain what methods they are using. Now, of course, respecting the time of the person you hire is also important, but when someone is not willing to explain their methods in a simple, straightforward manner, so that you can provide full consent for what you are contracting them to do, you should question it.
SEO Recovery: after you've been hit with a penalty
If you've been following these best practices, you may not see viral growth, but you should not be penalized. However, if, for whatever reason, you have tried to game the system or followed the advice of an "expert" who convinced you that gaming the system was a great idea, you could well get hit with a penalty.
At that point, the SEO expert will be long gone, and you'll be left with a wilting site and lots of gruelling work ahead of you.
You can do the work yourself, but it is soul-sapping, difficult work, with no guarantees. Each site is different, but what you basically need to do is to rebuild your foundation and then add really high quality content that you aggressively aggregate and share. You need to consult with an expert in UX (User Experience) who will do everything they can think of to create an ideal user experience so that people who do still find your site will complete actions you want them to complete. Yes, Google seems to care deeply about this, even though they say they don't track bounce rates.
A definitive list of everything Google cares about can be found here. Your solution will have to be tailored to your specific situation. Here is a checklist, however, of what you will need to be aware of:
- Site Maps: Make sure you have good, working site maps submitted to Google Webmaster Tools.
- HTML/CSS errors: Clean up any errors in your code.
- Site Speed: Make sure your site loads in less than 3 seconds.
- Quality backlinks and pages you link out to: If you have an otherwise healthy site, a few links from low PR sites is most likely not an issue. However, if you have been participating in any shady schemes, you must get rid of spammy backlinks and start afresh.
- Design and UX: You will want to make certain that your site is simple to use and well designed.
- Use a .com, .org, or .net
- Take the ads down! Get rid of the flashing lights and bright neon colours. Make sure that your site looks reputable.
- Quality, quality, quality: Prune your content or rewrite it.
- Social sharing: Don't game this. You don't need to go overboard or panic, but make sure you have share buttons on your pages, and start building organic, real relationships on social networks. Chose one or two and make an effort. Share new content with your network and, if applicable, ask them to share your stuff around...in an authentic way. Do not use proxies or robots. But do make an effort.
- Strive to get positive reviews for your company online. Again, do not try to game this. But there is nothing wrong, for example, if a customer "irl" tells you they love your product, for you to ask them to write a review for you online.
- Check your reading level. Too high or too low can be a factor in ranking. Try to write in a simple, straightforward way. As you can tell if you have read much of what I have written, I veer toward a more "difficult to read" level. My bias.
- High quality links: Start to make an effort to develop relationships with high quality, authoritative sites that might be a good match for your content. If you can get a .edu link, do it.
Of course, the points listed above are things to work toward for any high quality site, but are especially important when dealing with a recovery. Take care of your business from the beginning, however, and you most likely will have enough social shares, positive reviews and other positive indicators grown organically.
A final word
It can all seem daunting, this online Google page rank stuff. And when you have been hit with a penalty and your business is truly suffering, remember that another route that you can take is to ditch SERPs and try other methods for getting traffic that converts to your site.
It's well beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about these methods, but it is possible to get traffic to your site, and more importantly, traffic that converts, without using Google organic search traffic. Although not ideal, it can work.
In the meantime, do your best writing and building, be an ethical business person, and try to have some fun out there! Good luck.
Have you had any experiences with an SEO expert that was left you feeling frustrated or worse? What did you do about it? Share your comments with us below or on our social media networks.