The Secret to SEO: There isn’t One
Every time a new fad diet hits the mainstream, a burst of headlines tout the “secrets” to losing weight and improving health. After a few weeks (or even days), the articles shift focus to the age-old wisdom that weight loss and health improvements are actually achieved through moderation, regular exercise, and eating your vegetables. And just like dieting, there’s no secret to SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
The key to ranking your pages on Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo is to make content people care about. If you load your pages with jargony buzzwords that could’ve been puked from a marketing robot (I imagine Rosie the Robot meets Don Draper, circa Season 5), then you’re doing yourself, and your site’s potential visitors, a huge disservice.
If nothing else, leave this article knowing there is no cheating, tricking, or “gaming” the system. Yes, people find something that works and their site hits the #1 spot for a couple weeks. Then Google tweaks their algorithm and boots these tricksters’ pages off the first few pages.
In the end, chasing trends wastes your time.
The goal of SEO strategy isn’t to achieve a better ranking; it’s to inform the search engines about the great content you’ve already made, who it’s for, and how to find it.
The primary method search engine crawlers read your content is through “metadata.” Since “metathing” means “thing about thing“, then “metadata” means “data about data.”
While that sounds complicated, it’s no different than reading the Wikipedia sidebar about your favorite movie: it lists basic information, such as the cast, date of release, running time, etc.
The metadata of a webpage includes information that should answer these kinds of questions:
- What is this website called? (i.e. the title)
- What’s this about? (i.e. the description)
- Who wrote this? (i.e. the author)
- What kind of content is this? (e.g. an article, a business listing, a product in a storefront, a personal biography, etc.)
If you’re using WordPress, you can quickly install a plugin like Yoast to handle the basic metadata information. For a more custom-tailored approach, consider a plugin that also adds Schema information, too.
Schema.org was originally launched by tech giants Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! The idea is to create a standard for encoding real-world information into websites, such as the price of admission, business hours, job listings, and so on. By adding Schema data about your Products, Subscriptions, or Retail Locations, you make it much easier for search engines to know what you’re selling. If they know what you’re selling, they can help you sell it.
Think of metadata like a snack’s nutrition information. It shouldn’t be deceptive, just give consumers the information they need to make the best decision for themselves. By adding comprehensive “robot-readable” information to your pages, you are improving the overall quality of your already-awesome content.
Create Analytics Accounts
The absolute minimum “Technical SEO” you can do (without a developer) is add your site to Google Analytics and Google Search Console. It’s not terribly difficult, but if you’ve never done it before, it might take a few hours to follow the documentation and integrate your site’s CMS and host.
With Google Analytics, you can see all sorts of demographic information about your site visitors as well as track specific behavior. For example, if the majority of your traffic comes from mobile users, you should make sure every page is responsive and optimized for phones. Or if you discover that a large section of your site is coming from the UK, you should probably learn about GDPR regulations and how to keep yourself safe.
Analytics are about understanding who actually visits your site. More often than not, they don’t think like you. And the more information you can get about your visitors, the more likely you can give them content, products, or services they actually care about.
Google Search Console, on the other hand, is a great way to make sure your pages don’t have any errors preventing them from getting crawled. While not as flashy as Google Analytics, it is a great tool to make sure the technical side of SEO gets handled correctly.
Make Good Stuff
The most important thing you can do for your site visitors is make stuff they care about. If you sell the world’s best toothpaste, you don’t need tricks to sell more of it; you just need people to find it.
The right people will buy it if they can find out about it.
They can find out about it if search engines know about it.
And search engines can’t know about it unless you give them the information.
The fastest way to rise to the top of the search results and stay there is by creating great products, services, or content that people want, and populating all of your sales channels with accurate, helpful information.