Any good recipe relies not just on the ingredients themselves, but on proper proportions and measurements.
The reason it’s so difficult to reverse-engineer ranking algorithms is that not only do the “ingredients” change, the proportions are constantly being tweaked as well. This is why even if we could confirm, beyond all doubt, every search engine ranking factor used by Google or Bing, we likely still wouldn’t be able to translate this into guaranteed rankings for our own websites.
The smart SEOs are not the ones who try to reverse-engineer the algorithms for a short-term gain today. Rather, they are the ones who look at what the algorithms are designed to reward for a longer-term gain tomorrow. Anyone who has read anything about Google knows that they aren’t looking to reward sites that do the best job of meeting the algorithm’s requirements. Instead, they want to reward the sites that have striven to meet searchers’ needs and desires.
We often look at top search engine rankings as the reward for good search engine optimization. But search engines look at top rankings as the reward for good web presence optimization. It’s not that we did x, y and z and therefore deserve to be number one — rather, it’s that we are x, y and z and therefore have earned the right to be considered for that number one spot.
I could talk all day about the 200+ ranking signals that many believe are (or should be) factors in the algorithms, or the 600+ web marketing actions that I believe make for an effective web presence. But those things have already been talked about and sufficiently debated.
Instead, I want to talk about the three primary components of building a sustainable web presence. Just about all aspects of web marketing fall into these three areas.
And while we can often get caught up on the details of what to do and why, sometimes taking a step back to look at the bigger picture helps us to gain perspective and better understand why certain tasks are more important than others.
Website Architecture: Building On A Solid Foundation
I cannot stress enough how important website architecture is for effective web marketing. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most overlooked things when it comes to building one’s web presence.
As an SEO since 1998, I’ve had countless businesses come to us after having their site developed, now ready to move into the “web marketing” phase. Unfortunately, they aren’t aware that what happens before and during the website development is just as important for web marketing as what happens after the site rolls out to the world.
These businesses are often shocked when we tell them that we have to go back and, essentially, re-develop the site so that it’s search engine friendly. Why? Because many web developers are not doing the right things.
There are two basic components to a good site architecture: 1) what’s good for the search engines and, 2) what’s good for the visitors. While doing what’s good for visitors is usually also good for search engines, there are other components, invisible to the visitor, that helps the search engines read, assess and value the pages of your site.
If your website architecture is flawed, you’ll have trouble gaining traction in your other web marketing efforts. Social media marketing can attract a lot of visitors to your site, but what then? Will those visitor engage or bounce? You’ll always get a certain number of wins — but is it enough, or could it be better?
Architecture can also impact rankings, as a good site architecture helps Google to more easily identify your site’s most important pages. If you don’t fix the behind-the-scenes issues on your site, your ability to get top rankings may suffer.
Keyword Optimization: Speaking Your Visitors’ Language
There has been a lot of talk recently about how keywords don’t matter. It’s true that the nature of keyword optimization is changing, but keywords still (and likely always will) have an important role to play in building a sustainable web presence.
The thing we learn most with keyword research is the language our visitors are speaking. This is important. An example I like to use is that if your customers are calling your “pre-owned” cars “used” when they search, you’re going to have a difficult time ranking for “used cars” unless you decide to write your text using the language your visitors use.
Algorithms are getting smarter about determining the fact that both “pre-owned” and “used” mean the same thing. However, at the time of this writing, when I performed a search for “used cars,” I had to get to result number 26 before the word “pre-owned” appeared without being accompanied with the word “used.” The algorithm may be improving, but it’s nowhere near perfect yet.
Even if the algorithms determined those words were completely interchangeable when it comes to cars, is it sufficient to only talk about pre-owned cars in your content? Searchers are searching for “used cars” 45 times more frequently than “pre-owned cars” (according to Google’s Keyword Planner tool).
If just 10% of those searching with the word “used” don’t correlate that to mean “pre-owned,” you’re looking at potentially thousands of searchers who may leave your site because they think they landed on a page different from what they were seeking.
Keywords help us to create content that is not only better positioned for rankings, but also better positioned to meet your customer’s needs. It’s never a good idea to deliver visitors to a page about x if they were looking for y, even if x and y essentially mean the same thing.
Google might know that, but the average searcher may not — and many more may not want to take the time to have to draw the correlation between x and y before they bounce back to the search results to find another site that already speaks their language.
Social Media Marketing: Interacting With Your Customer Base
A lot of businesses want to do online marketing in a vacuum. What I mean by that is that they want to build a site, get top rankings and start seeing the sales roll in. It’s an old-school mindset reminiscent of the good old days of disruptive marketing. You know, those old holdovers from the radio, TV and print era.
It’s not that those methods don’t work — it’s just that spending big on ads doesn’t do much to convince algorithms that you’re doing the best job of meeting visitor’s needs. In fact, search engines are known to punish sites that try to manipulate their algorithms through paid efforts.
In today’s economy, engagement matters as much as, if not more than, ad spend. Social media is an avenue for businesses to connect with consumers in a world where consumers actually want to connect with brands that they like.
When done right, social media is like free commercial air time, but instead of interrupting the favorite show of someone you hope is interested, you’ve been asked to participate in a conversation with someone who has already expressed an interest or connection with your company. That’s a goldmine!
Using social media as an interruption platform (i.e. promoting your content) isn’t nearly as effective as using it as an engagement platform. When you engage, you are building relationships with customers. The more relationships you have, the more loyal customers you’ll have. And also, the more you’ll be able to combat negative publicity that is often posted on these social sites.
Social media also helps sites build up those additional signals that search engines use for their ranking algorithm. The algorithms may not count tweets and shares about your company, but when good content goes viral on social media, it builds those coveted links that help with rankings.
Until Search Engines Can Read Minds…
Search engines want to rank sites that are delighting their visitors and meeting their needs. They don’t really care about things like keywords, site architecture or how well you manage your social media campaign. As web marketers, however, we are smart enough to realize that those things help the search engines determine if we are, in fact, delighting visitors.
If search engines could read the mind of every searcher, I have no doubt that they would throw the entire algorithm out the window. But they can’t, and therefore they still have to look at architecture, keywords and social engagement in order to determine how well your business is meeting your customer’s needs.
Of all the actions you take for web marketing, the most important actions will likely fall into one of these three categories. You can choose to ignore these and do marketing your own way, but that’s both risky and unsustainable for long-term business success.