SEO, How You Have Changed

Posted by in Technology

I’ve recently been a part of a few conversations that have made me realize there are a lot of misconceptions about SEO.

SEO used to be magic. There’d be guys with magic wands that were able to boost your ranking to the top of Google’s list just by tweaking a few tags here and there in your pages. Some dark wizards pretending to wield such powers still roam the web, but let’s face it, they have largely become extinct – or at least have evolved to become providers of best practices to improve your site as SEO technology has evolved, instead of being a simple easy-to-trick algorithm.

I’ll try to get a few points straight – and if you have specific questions please just let me know:

1. What is SEO?

My definition of SEO varies greatly from what it used to be: SEO is the art of making sure a human can easily navigate your site contextually and discover it all.

This means that your site’s backbone should enable a user to reach pages answering specific questions by progressively narrowing the field of research.

“Easy navigation” also means making sure your content is easy to read and understand.

2. I’ve been stuffing keywords and paying for backlinks to get my SEO up – am I a fool?

Well…Basically, yes. Those techniques have become largely counter-productive.

Traditionally, the SEO “techniques” would incorporate the following elements:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Link exchanges

But these techniques have become inefficient. If you want proof, check out what happened to Rap Genius a couple months ago: they got banned from Google! Unsurprisingly, their link exchange techniques were pure SEO Spam.

But backlinks from sites with high-reputations will help your ranking – so where do you draw line?

3. You have to think of Google as a human

Google is special – it’s the main source of organic traffic for many – and unlike Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others, Google actually understands your HTML content from an end-user perspective. The other sites will look at tags and will not try to “understand” the content – hence you can easily fool them with keywords that have nothing to do with your page’s content and push them into doing the social actions you intend (i.e. share a cat picture from a very serious blog post when liking it).

But Google understands native language. It doesn’t really handle javascript and CSS properly yet, so you can still get some flexibility regarding how the content marked within your HTML page actually shows up to users, but it DOES understand your words.

If you follow simple HTML structure rules, and use the HTML tags properly (<title>, <h1><h2><h3>…) then Google will be able to understand what this page is about and it will make its way at the right spot in the search results.

If you focus on making sure that a user will easily be able to discover your whole site by recursively following links within your site, you can be sure that Google will be able to properly index the site. Even the sitemap is getting “deprecated” – a site without a sitemap will get indexed just as well.

4. So what matters?

The best way to do SEO is to focus on the site usability and on its content, making sure that each page has its own url and can be easily found within the site.

Backlinks matter, but beware of spamming backlinks or sophistically created links (with plenty of keywords stuffed in your link tags). Don’t think of it as pagerank, think of it as third parties trusting your resources – Google understands and appreciates that.

What matters most from my experience is how original and dynamic your content is. If your content is user generated and will be commented on and edited by users regularly, Google will LOVE it and will come back to check it often. This is typically why Wikipedia has such high rankings: heaps of backlinks get high trust and very dynamic content scores additional points.

5.  Are there any tools I should use ?

The best tool is Google Webmaster: it will help you assess whether Google bot can access and parse your site easily.