Mark Twain was only half joking when he said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, then wait a few minutes.” Growing up in Massachusetts I distinctly remember days when one minute it would be raining or snowing, and the next minute it would be clear skies.
In other words, the weather in New England is a lot like Google’s algorithm; It’s constantly in flux, and it can seem nearly impossible to stay on top of all the updates. Whether you are new to SEO (search engine optimization) or your rankings have recently slipped, you might have gone looking for answers only to become overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice. If you are feeling frustrated and confused, don’t worry because you are not alone!
Fortunately, no matter how many new updates Google rolls out, following the fundamental best practices of good SEO should keep you ahead of the power curve. Here are the 3 steps to achieving and maintaining a spot at the top of the rankings.
No matter what else you do, choosing the right target keywords is the most important step for your success. Begin your research for free with the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. As you study the available keywords, look for the ones that best meet 2 separate but related criteria:
- A) Search Volume: This refers to how many people are searching for that particular keyword. A higher search volume means more potential eyeballs for your page.
- B) Relevance: You want to focus on the keywords that draw customers who are ready to buy. Later, you can expand your reach to include “tire kickers,” or prospects who are in the early stages of considering a purchase. But for now, you want to bring in people who want your product or service today.
While the “perfect” target keywords include both high search volume and high relevance, those can be tough or even impossible to find. For now, focus on those that hit a “bullseye” for relevance, even if the search volume is not quite as high.
Once you have a list of target keywords, you need to make sure Google considers your website as relevant to those keywords. At one time, “keyword stuffing,” or unnaturally forcing the keyword all over the site, was a common strategy. Today, this action is penalized with lower rankings. Instead, focus on naturally incorporating the keyword where it makes sense. There are two steps to improving your relevance:
- A) Website Structure: Match one keyword to each page of your website. This keeps the focus clean and helps Google recognize that the page is relevant. For your homepage, focus on your “dream” keyword—the one word or phrase that best describes your business and for which you would love to rank No. 1.
- B) Page Elements: Each web page contains numerous areas where you can add your keyword. These include the Title Tag, Meta Description, Header Tags (H1, H2, and H3), and Body Copy. Remember to use the keyword in the Title Tag and Meta Description, and to incorporate it only where it naturally fits in the Header Tags and Body Copy.
Convincing Google that your website and its individual pages are relevant is not enough. You also need to demonstrate that you are a trusted authority on your particular target keywords. You do this by building your site’s reputation.
Traditionally, the best way to build reputation was through hyperlinks from other sites to yours. While this still remains very important, many old-school link building tactics are now penalized by Google. You need to focus on organic, natural relationships with other websites, rather than simply going on a campaign to build as many links as possible.
Social media is also becoming an increasingly important factor. Page referrals through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets are now weighed heavily in the new Google algorithms. In fact, some experts believe that social media signals will soon outstrip web links as the No. 1 factor in determining your domain reputation.
What Does All This Mean for You?
As Google continues to roll out new algorithms and updates, some SEO ranking techniques will disappear, and new ones will be developed. What will never change, however, is the importance of creating excellent content.
Rather than attempting to “trick” Google into giving you higher rankings than you deserve, focus on creating content that is worthy of being ranked No. 1. Add new content frequently, spruce up old content that has seen better days, and make quality your number one goal. This simple policy will help you weather any storms and ensure that your site receives high rankings for many years to come.