I had lately a couple discussions which made me realize there are loads of misconceptions about SEO.
SEO used to be magic. Some guys with a magic wand would be able to boos your ratings to Google top result list by tweaking a few tags here in 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 as provider of best practices to improve your site as SEO technology has evolved to behave manly 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 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 will enable a user to reach leaves answering specific questions by narrowing progressively the field of research.
“Easy navigation” also means making sure your content is easy to read and understand in a glimpse.
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 those techniques have become largely inefficient. If you want proof, check out what happened to Rap Genius a couple months ago: they got banned from Google! And indeed their link exchange technics were pure SEO Spam.
But back-links from high-reputation sites will help your ranking – so where’s the line will you ask ?
3. You must think of Google as a human
Google is special – it’s the key source of organic traffic for many – and unlike Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others he actually understands your HTML content from an end-user prospective. 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).
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 from your homepage to discover the whole site by recursively following links within your site, you can be sure 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 matters, but beware of spamming backlinks or sophistically created links (with plenty keywords stuffed in your link tags…). Don’t think of it as pagerank, this ok it as third parties giving “trust” to 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 / edited by users regularly, Google will LOVE it and come check it back often. This is typically whi Wikipedia has so 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 wether Google bot can access and parse your site easily.