What matters most
I’ve been managing SEO since the early days. So much has changed and, while I don’t agree with censorship and cohort tracking, I do agree generally with the updates search engines have been releasing (particularly over the last few years).
Why? Simple. They are unwinding many of the practices that led to over-optimization. It’s been a traditional practice to manipulate and game the SEO system because in the beginning there were rewards for implementing such practices. This makes sense because the algorithms were crude and unsophisticated. An entire industry was spawned with the very first understanding of the word “keyword”. You had to know all the places to stuff those keywords in order to send signals to the search engines, like a drowning man in the ocean screaming “HEEEEEEY! OVER HERE!”
The humorous irony is that the very thing most valuable (useful content), often went ignored or was embarrassingly mangled. Content became so heavily manipulated that before too many years rolled by, a glut of over-optimized look-alike content flooded the digital space.
I won’t go into the weird history of SEO in this article, but suffice it to say, things just got both creepier and easier in terms of content and SEO.
Getting to the Point
It is so much less about what things you can tweak, keywords you can stuff (please don’t do that), unnatural phrasing in content, or any of the other tricks commonly (still) practiced.
More than ever, content is allowed to be good content again. This means you don’t need to be an SEO nerd (I count myself among their ranks) to have your content rank well. You just need to apply yourself and think ahead.
Your content can rank well if you can:
- Provide information that isn’t copy-and-paste from somewhere else
- Write from your unique perspective on a topic that you truly know
- Cite sources for claims you’re making in your content
- Write or shoot content in a way that keeps engagement high
- Cut the empty calories in your content
- Make content highly accessible (learn more about WCAG)
- Plan for your audience’s use and search intent
- Create teaser content that links to the punchline
If you’d like more inspiration on what works in your content, please check out my post Top Ten Content Rules.
Does this mean SEO Practices Don’t Matter Anymore?
For now, they do. Not all or even most of the practices from years gone by still hold true, but the basics do – and always will.
Take structure for example. When I’m talking about structure, I mean the basics of your website content. The bots that crawl your site are indeed getting smarter but due to the sheer volume of websites they analyze and assign a rank to, they are on a content diet – the time allotment per website a crawler has is incredibly brief.
Always arrange and write your content for humans, but consider a structural organization that is efficient and intuitive for bots and people. Typically a flatter hierarchy is better than an intensely nested one. Imagine having to dig through many “sub-sub-sub folders” to get to the content you want to consume. Nightmare!
The ABCs of Content Hierarchy
Instead of nesting, back up a bit. Can some of the more obscure content become a blog post? What is so important about it that it earns an entire page?
Try this checklist challenge to better organize your content:
- Is it trending? Make it a blog post rather than a page.
- Is it evergreen (always true)? Make it a page.
- Is it relevant to your overall website content theme? Example: Real Estate is your primary business, and the individual page content is about home loans, make it either a page if the topic can support tremendous detail, or make it a section of a page if the information can be summed up and put on a more relevant page like first time home ownership.
Page-Level and Blog-Post Level SEO Basics
For now, these things still matter but these things don’t require a technical genius to implement.
I’ve been a long-time user and advocate of WordPress. Some functions are no better than a vestigial tail from the early days of SEO, while others are quite important. Whatever your website platform, look for these simple DIY opportunities:
- Succinct yet intuitive. This is often the URL extension so make it short and relevant. Example: https://riverdogdigital.com/marketing/
H-Tags or Heading Tags
These are not meant to be used as decoration. These are meant to show bots the hierarchy of the topic.
Example: If your website is about the Cosmos and your page is about the Solar System, the content on the page can be broken out by topics like Planets, Comets, Meteors, Dark Matter, Orbits, Gravity, and so on. These topics are still general and would naturally be organized as H2 (or secondary) tags. The paragraphs and content under the H2 topics would naturally be more granular. Again, let’s take the H2 tag “Planets”. Perhaps there’s some intro copy and an image, and then more sub-sections. For example, you would have a new hierarchy under planets listing each planet. Earth for example would become H3. Any paragraphs under it would be related to earth.
H-tags require more planning for your content. You don’t want to get too deep into sub-sub-sub categories. Try limiting it to H3 and H4 as maximum sub-category levels. It’s tempting to go down those rabbit holes, but make a list of the lesser important topics and create a nice blog topic list for yourself. Remember, those bots are on a time budget.
By properly organizing your content and tagging your subject headers properly you make it easier and faster for bots to understand how to rank your content. It’s easier on people, too. Most are skimmers these days so having your headlines jump out in an order that makes sense can lure them into a paragraph or two.
Not sure where to find the H-tags? Ask your web support or marketing resource. They can point you in the right direction.
- For now, these are certainly still a task to manage. You have full control over your short blurb that search engines display about a page or post, so make it accurate and make it count. Again, cut the fat but make it readable for people. Think of a mini-ad that you can write for free that advertises what the page/post is about. There is a character limit. Most important is to keep it accurate. Don’t write a description about eggs if the page is about farms. Write about what people will learn from your page ‘Farms.’
- The featured image for each page can create tremendous brand recognition and trust signal opportunities, particularly if the image selected is either your unique logo or an original photo (not stock). This is what appears alongside the meta description you wrote about your page.
Here’s how the meta description and featured image work for search results:
There are more things you can do but these are the essentials. Thanks to social media and videos, people’s attention spans are getting shorter, so break the page up with white space, images, and other ways of keeping them entertained and engaged. If you are looking for SEO or Content Strategy advice, I can help. Just drop me a line and let me know what’s keeping you up at night about your content.
ChatGPT and Google Algorithms
By now many have heard of ChatGPT, the chilling new AI that has plenty of bloggers shaking in their Crocs. ChatGPT for better or worse is impacting how humans relate to content. It will continue to get better. It can mimic some people and things better than others, but chances are it can never replicate you and your perspective accurately. I suggest not using this as part of your content strategy just yet, but start experimenting. The key issue as of this publication date, is that AI currently is scraping content from around the web and ordering it in a specific way. It’s not truly original content yet that will rank well. In fact, a few tests show that it doesn’t quite get the hang of small business brand tones. This means if you don’t spend time editing carefully, you’re going to sound off-brand or tone-deaf to your target audience. Strangely, ChatGPT is actually great at writing headlines and hooks. Give it a try and see (but keep a tight reign on the brand: make sure if you’re a blue-collar brand, it’s using blue-collar language).
As ChatGPT advances, Google is also building into its algorithms detection of chat-generated content (traditionally spam). For the time being, you are still the best source of information about your service, products, and brand.
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