21 Jan Are You Making These 5 Common SEO Mistakes
It was in 1859 that Charles Darwin originally published On The Origin of Species, his account of evolution by natural selection. Darwin noted that not only did species adapt over time to their environment but also that a constant arms race was under way.
An insect such as a caterpillar would start to eat a certain plant. Over time, the plant evolved to absorb toxins that made it distasteful or toxic, therefore discouraging the caterpillar from feeding. The insect, in turn, would then slowly evolve a way around the plant’s weaponry. And so on ad infinitum.
Today, over 150 years later, this same “arms race” continues between Google and website owners. And as Google evolves and becomes ever smarter, so we as SEOs need to grow and adapt to make the most of the opportunities on offer.
This means that the only real constant is SEO is change. It means that the techniques set to work in 2015 are quite different from those of yesteryear; indeed in many cases what used to work for SEO now either has no effect whatsoever – or worse can even be harmful for your campaign.
Due to the amount of outdated information available on websites, discussion forums and social media we therefore thought it would be useful to look at the latest trends and techniques. Let’s dig into SEO in 2015 and separate this from what used to work.
Not All Links Are Created Equal
In the distant past getting to the top of Google was reasonably simple; all you needed was more links than any of your competitors. If all these links contained the keyword phrase you wanted to rank for then all the better.
SEO was essentially an arms race of who could build the most links for their clients. Now, the “link landscape” is very different. For one, “over optimization” penalties exist. That means that having all your links saying the same thing is now a bad thing and can prevent you from ranking.
For another thing, “link quality” matters more than ever before. That is to say that a high quality link can help your SEO efforts, while low quality links can have quite the opposite effect. Quite what classes as a “good” link or a “bad” link is for another post, but suffice to say that building the wrong kinds of links can be detrimental to your results.
Indeed it is worth noting that Google has even confirmed the existence of so-called “negative SEO” – a process whereby someone deliberately builds thousands of low quality links to a competitor’s website, all with the same anchor text, so as to downgrade their competitor’s rankings and, in doing so boost their own.
In terms of SEO in 2015, building the right links is critical.
Designing For Humans (And Bots)
Back in the hazy past SEO involved creating as many pages of content as possible, and including as many keywords in these pages as possible – a process known as “keyword stuffing”.
The hope was that Google would find all these keywords on your site and then instantly start ranking you for them all – no matter what the quality of your website. Sadly, this largely turned out to be true. The search engine rankings became stuffed with low quality pages filled with content that barely made sense – purely so the website owner could crowbar a few more keyword phrases into the page.
These days Google has evolved and is a very different beast. The algorithm is an awful lot smarter and does a far better job of ranking sites based on user-experience. Consider, for example, that Google Chrome is now used for almost half of all browsing sessions (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_web_browsers). That means that 50% of everything done online can be watched and tracked by Google.
So it is that “keyword stuffing” has (thankfully) fallen from grace and in its place Google has adopted a range of additional metrics. Think of the time spent on a site, the number of pages visited, how far down a page a user scans, how quickly the page loads and so on.
Google has evolved and refined their algorithm so much that in 2015 it is now almost unrecognizable from what it was in the late 1990’s.
But that means that SEO is in many ways becoming more challenging. A great website is critical to the success of your campaign and the better you can make your site, the greater chance there is of it rankings. Design the best possible experience for your visitors and you’ll be well on the way to success.
Content (Marketing) is King
Christmas 2013 saw John Lewis release a television advert more reminiscent of a child’s animated film. Perhaps you remember the sleepy bear and the rabbit frolicking in the snow? Or how about Christmas 2014 ad with the penguin?
That one advert has been viewed over 22 million times as of January 2015. Read that again. Over 22 million people have willingly watched an advert. A fair number of them have probably shared it with their friends and family too. They’ve started helping to market John Lewis – without receiving anything back in return.
As Google has increasingly outlawed one link building technique after another, making SEO ever more challenging (and risky) so one winner has emerged – so-called “content marketing”.
What is content marketing? Quite simply content marketing is exactly what John Lewis has done – but for your website. The aim to make a website that is insanely useful, interesting, funny or memorable for your target audience.
When you hit the “sweet spot” you create a website that becomes infinitely easier to market – and that as a result will get significantly better results. You get a site that is easier to build links to because people want to link to it. People want to share it on Facebook or Twitter.
But it all starts with creating the best site in your market.
“Value” is the New Golden Egg
The key differentiator between the websites that are winning in 2015 and those are flagging behind is the value they offer their visitors. In order to make use of content marketing to grow your search engine traffic then it is important to carefully analyse your website and brainstorm ways to add value.
Consider your target market and analyse your competitors. Look for gaps in the market. Locate ways to add so much value to your website that people will want to mention you on discussion forums or will personally seek you out when looking for an answer to their question.
Consider Wikipedia, which is for many people the “go to” reference resource online. No wonder that Google ranks them in the top few results for tens of thousands of valuable keyword phrases. And while it would be unreasonable to try and become the next Wikipedia, in your small vertical you probably can become the most valuable website.
Consider, for example, a local dog trainer. Historically the dog trainer’s website would have a contact page, a homepage and one or two others about the services offered. Hardly a very valuable site from Google’s perspective; after all, what makes this site any more deserving of the coveted number one ranking than all the other almost identical sites out there?
But what if this same trainer wrote a guide to dog training and gave it away on her site? Or what if she set up a blog, wrote articles on dog training, created YouTube videos and so on? Suddenly she’s creating a useful asset – one that offers value – and one that will almost certainly perform better in the search engines than her old site?
There’s no need to ditch your old site; that would likely be a mistake, what with all the existing links pointing to it. However what does make sense is to consider the value your website offers. To find ways to make your website more valuable to your visitors and, by extension, the search engines.
2015 is the year you should get serious about creating true value through adding high quality content to your site.
In the past, SEO was very much seen as a separate marketing practise to anything else. Someone did SEO, someone else built websites. Another part of the team managed social media while PPC and other paid advertising opportunities were once again carried out by another team member.
However this is no longer the case. With the importance of “user experience” for a successful SEO campaign, slowly the various online marketing channels are “merging” and having an ever larger impact on one another.
For example, imagine creating a useful new post for your blog. You share it on social media, which results in some of your followers finding it, then perhaps re-sharing it with their followers. Maybe someone mentions it on a forum. Perhaps someone else links to your post from their blog. These links boost your rankings.
Suddenly you’ve derived SEO benefits from social media. They’ve cross-pollinated one another. Or how about the web design guy? He carries out some maintenance on your site, removing unwanted plugins and themes and optimizing your database. Suddenly your site starts running faster. And your search engine rankings improve too as a result.
In other words SEO no longer exists in a bubble.
The best SEO campaigns are multi-faceted and take into account an all-encompassing view of your online footprint. Arguably, your SEO just became the most important part of your marketing team, someone whose experience can impact every aspect of your online marketing.
Equally, every action you take without consulting your SEO could have a negative or a positive effect; only by hiring an experienced SEO who you can rely on not just to build links to your website, but to act as a consultant for all your online activities, can you be certain that you’re taking steps in the right direction.