SEO Is Not Dead It’s Just Different

13 Oct 2013, Posted by EPoff in SEO

If you have your own website, develop websites or deal with SEO on any level, you realize that search engine optimization keeps changing at a frustratingly difficult pace and it can be really hard to figure out what to do. You may even have given up and said, “SEO is DEAD!”

Back in 2007, I started really following web trends. I realized as more and more people were creating their own websites, competition for the top search results was getting tougher and people needed a solution to gain access to these coveted spots. As I really ramped up my business as a developer, I realized I needed to offer other services to stay ahead of the competition. One of those things was bundled SEO services. When I would put a bid in to develop a site, I would always add in site optimization as part of the deal.

Clean Code Then and Now

At the time, I offered to make the site compliant by doing a few simple things. The first thing I offered (and still do) was to create a well-designed site with clean, tableless HTML and a separate CSS file. I wouldn’t say this was “cutting-edge” or anything like that at the time. It was being done, but not on the scale that it is today. And tables were still king! Most clients didn’t care what the backend looked like. They cared what it looked like on the customer facing side. Designers who used Dreamweaver and Frontpage dominated the market with quick and easy sites and a very dense backside with a slew of on-page styling.

Those of us adopting hand-coded notepad style development strategies weren’t completely appreciated. I remember a major turning point with one of my clients. He wasn’t convinced about the new development strategy until I ran some keyword density analytics on his site. We compared a current page to one “clean” page with basic HTML and a linked stylesheet. The difference was enough for him to want to pursue a redevelopment of the backend. At the time, the point was to make the HTML more in line with the content that the consumer was seeing in the browser. When the search bots came around, they would basically be reading through content that appeared to a real user. The bots didn’t have to wade through style definitions such as colors, tables, fonts, etc.

How is this strategy different today? It really isn’t that different. A well designed site should still be one of your main goals. The only real difference is that more and more people are doing this. You can’t stand out as much if you are adopting HTML & CSS best practices, but I can tell you that you will stick out like a sore thumb if you aren’t doing this, and it will land you at the bottom of the search results.

Head Meta Tags, Title Tag , HTML Heading Tags and XML Sitemaps Then and Now

Defining the meta tags such as keywords, description and author were a big deal years ago. Again, this was one of those “must haves” and would really help your search results. Placing a good description and well placed keywords on each page coupled with a relevant Title tag could be a time consuming process, but could really pay off if you did it well. Today the Title tag is still very important and the description tag can be useful. Keywords are often omitted today because most search engines just ignore them. Properly structured heading tags h1 through h6 tags were important before and can have an effect on your site today as well. Again, these tags aren’t going to set you apart from your competition because most sites have adopted a clear heading tag strategy to help them clearly define topics and subtopics. The main thing you want to do with title, description, and heading tags is align them with your content so that they all complement each other. If you are using WordPress, you’ll want to make sure you download WordPress SEO by Yoast. It’s free and it will guide you through developing proper tags and content for your site. For example, if you are writing about butterflies, and you title your post “Stuff I Like” – the plugin will alert you that if you are trying to rank for butterflies, you’ll probably want to change the title to include that word in there too.

XML Sitemaps are tried and true that worked back in the day and still work today. Make sure you include one with your site.

Link Building Then and Now

Back in the day, link building was important too, but getting there was very different. A big chunk of the linking involved submitting your site to a countless number of mom-and-pop type directories. This was a good easy way to get those links started and it worked for many years. You’d find a category that fit for your business, write something descriptive, provide your link and just like that you had another relevant backlink for your site. Press Releases, Article Marketing and Social Bookmarking were a big part of creating those links as well. Some people also used link farms, reciprocal linking schemes and paid backlink options, but many of these techniques were abandoned as they began to hurt sites more than help.

Today, none of these techniques is particularly relevant and many of these old school options can actually hurt your site. Social bookmarking might still be a viable option if your site gets a lot of attention on a site such as reddit. People still use all of these options though, but most of these things will add little value. Today, the most effective way to create backlinks is to become a part of a community – forums, blogs, social media communities – and interact with those people. Leave comments, ask questions, help others and guest blog on relevant sites. The pattern of your behavior is all part of how you are viewed by the search engines. If you comment on butterfly and nature blogs, post photos of butterflies on your social media accounts and then blog about butterflies, you are more likely to rank higher with your blog than if you just create the post in a vacuum without any outside communication. Also, if your community sees you as an expert they are more likely to share your links on their own site and through social media. You can’t operate your site by throwing out a few press releases and calling it a day.

Social Signals Then and Now

Social media didn’t used to be the “big player” in search optimization. This was especially true six or seven years ago when social media was more for the teens and college kids and less geared toward business and adults. Even a few years ago when Twitter and Facebook took off for people of all ages and businesses of all sizes, search engines (especially Google) weren’t listening as closely to those social signals. Today the landscape is much different. A recent study showed that social signals accounted for 7 of the 8 most highly correlated factors associated with Google search results. If people aren’t talking about you, it’s going to be hard to rank and make your mark.Searhmetrics June 2013 Chart for Google Search results

(Source: marketingcharts.com)

There’s no doubt about it, SEO is harder to “figure out” but it’s certainly not dead. Buying 10,000 backlinks or having bots create content for you, just doesn’t work anymore. There’s no easy answer – you can’t stomp your competition with a little known glitch or the latest black-hat tactic. Today, you have to work for your rank. You actually have to interact with people – participate in your field by blogging, using social media and helping others. Combine that with good original and quality content and a well-structured site (content & code) and you should be in a good position to start making it to the top of the search results. Hard work does pay off – even in the world of SEO!

  • Katherine Kotaw (@KatherineKotaw)

    Hi Elizabeth!

    Thank you so much for writing this incredibly helpful blog on SEO practices. It’s thorough, but concise, which is such a winning combination 🙂 I seriously learned so much!

    It’s amazing that you’ve studied and practiced SEO since 2007. You’ve truly experienced, on a first hand basis, all of the many, many changes in search engine practices over the years. This gives you great insight and a unique perspective because you’ve evolved alongside SEO and have adapted accordingly. I’m so excited — you’re my new official resource for all things SEO and WordPress! 🙂

    PS- I LOVE your Flat Stanley post!! So adorable!! Flat Stanley was one of my eldest daughter’s favorite books 🙂

    • E Poff

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words! I’m glad you liked the post. SEO is one of those tricky areas. Everyone wants to be first on the search results TODAY and that just doesn’t happen. It takes time and a “roll with it” attitude.

      I’m glad you liked Flat Stanley. I know, I’m all over the place with some of my posts, but that was just so much fun, I had to share. My sister was living in Hawaii at the time, and I thought she did such a wonderful job showing Stanley around!

      And please, if you ever have a question about WordPress or SEO don’t hesitate to ask. I’d be glad to try and help if I can!

      • Katherine Kotaw (@KatherineKotaw)

        Hi Elizabeth,

        I love your Flat Stanley post! Being “all over the place” as you say, is a good thing — it just shows off all of the fascinating facets of your personality. In my mind, being all over the place is a personal branding boost!

        I’m so happy I stopped by your site — I will definitely be a loyal visitor from now on! And thank you so much for your generous offer to help with WordPress and SEO related questions!!

        PS- Sorry my last comment looks so disturbing with all of those crazy-looking smiley face emoticons. Eeek!

        • E Poff

          You are so kind Katherine and so sweet for stopping by. I am so delighted that you came to check things out. Hopefully, I will keep up my resolution of writing weekly in 2014! I’ve learned so much from your wonderful marketing tips and I plan to put those to use in 2014 as well. And Flat Stanley turned out so well – I just didn’t think it was right to keep that to myself. 🙂

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