Why technical SEO is the foundation of success
Back in olden times, let’s assume some time around the Archean period, there was only technical SEO. You could bung up a website and it would be ranked simply according to how many keywords you could stuff it with – or how many you could hide as white text on a white background. Many sites didn’t even consider that keywords needed to be relevant to the site’s content, just as long as they had traffic heading their way. Therefore, highly searchable terms like ‘Britney Spears’ might put in an appearance to sites that might not immediately be associated with mid-nineties America’s favourite popstrelle. Content didn’t even need to be that good. In fact, you could pretty much lift another site’s content, or create link farms, just as long as the traffic rolled in and there was a chance one of the right people would stay. It’s fair to say that early doors there was a somewhat scattergun approach to generating web traffic. Less savvy sites (of which there were many given the web’s infancy), in the hopes of capturing a percentage of web customers, would woo people to pages simply by flinging popular keyword-jammed content up, relying on technical SEO alone for reach. With the exception of more discerning businesses and brands, actually appealing to or holding onto customers was less of a consideration then getting as many people as possible to your shop front in the first place.
To stop the web becoming a melee of links and irrelevance, a more refined approach was needed and search engines soon adjusted their ranking algorithms. Google swiftly accommodated the central search territory, thus converting the company name into a verb, and other directories and search engines fell by the wayside (bye bye HotBot UK). As the leader of the search terrain Google elected a keyhole approach to search surgery rather than permitting sites to butcher content and machete through search pathways as they had done previously.
Motivated by the opportunity to make advertising revenue, search approaches were – and continue to be – refined to support the needs of those doing the searching. Users increasingly sought and expected specifics and would abandon within seconds sites that weren’t fit for purpose. Google penalised unnatural links and the stuffing of pages with irrelevant tags by lowering those pages’ in the SERPs. Today, we’re in the luxurious position in which users can expect to be rewarded with quality content in response to their searches.
Indeed, thanks to its Knowledge Graph enhancement, Google has been able to take the next logical step and serve users with content – often in the form of answers to questions – directly in its SERPs. Since 2012, the search engine’s growing ability to resolve queries for users, without the latter having to navigate directly to the source of the information, has been controversial. But it follows Google’s broader strategy of putting the user first, serving him or her relevant, high-quality content as efficiently as possible.
Technical vs content-led SEO: battle or allegiance?
There’s been a battle raging for a number of years between proponents of technical SEO and those of content-led SEO. The reality is that the two are intertwined.
Content needs to be found, but it also needs to work hard to keep and convert customers, and to have them returning for more. Unlike in Costner’s The Field Of Dreams, it’s not the case that ‘If you build it they will come’. Users won’t come to your digital party – or ball game – unless there is a good reason to. Not all content is created equal, of course. There are some basic guidelines that can ensure users can access and engage with the content they want from your site:
Create great content that is of use to your target audience. Evergreen content can generate traffic and interactions for years. Topical content, on the other hand, creates a buzz but dies off quickly. You need both, of course. As long as the language surrounding the content is searchable, and the content itself relevant and sharable, then you have quality material that will last the course.
Content can be generated in the form of copy, video, info or social graphics, gifs, pictures, and so forth. Understand the forms of content that work best for your target audience through qualitative and quantitative research, recognising that tastes (in tandem with technology) evolve constantly. A/B testing different media containing similar content is a great way to isolate which work best for you – essentially the same content can be published as a white paper or a podcast, for example.
Amplify your content by spreading material via your social platforms. This is the best way to target your existing followers and encourage sharing that may attract new users. On the whole, content that generates engagement with comments and shares is harder working than content that simply elicits ‘likes’.
There are people out there who are ready to rate particular brands and products. These are desirable assets to your ambassador programme, which can involve ambassadors on different levels. If your company promotes baking goods for instance, a platinum ambassador might be Mary Berry, whose reach is stratospheric and endorsement of huge value. A gold level ambassador might be one of the contestants from The Great British Bake Off. If they can endorse one of your products then their followers will likely be positively influenced. Involving a silver ambassador might mean drawing upon a popular food blogger to access their reach, while a bronze ambassador is an individual with some degree of influence and a fairly significant following.
Make use of public relations to further amplify your product or service. Engaging PR in online activities – particularly when something high profile or exciting is taking place – means you can expand your message to very targeted audiences and increase engagement with what you have to offer.
Make it discoverable
Place your content on sites where it can be discovered. Make use of landing and front pages to direct visitors to your desired content. In the early days of the web there used to be ‘news’ pages, but increasingly sites promote fresh activities and information on blogs and social channels, as well as on banners on pages their visitors head to first.
Amplify the noise around your message through using media buy. Tactically displayed advertising that is tailored and relevant to users is welcomed and not intrusive. Beyond anything else, the content you create must be something that your content publisher must care about. Customers know what they want and will readily ditch irrelevant sites, so the quality and relevance of the copy must be authentic to meet customer needs and keep them coming back for more.
Stay on Google’s good side
In some cases, the most important first steps towards better optimisation involve not what you have to do, but what you must stop doing if you are to defend and improve your ranking in the long term. This applies even if your black-hat or borderline SEO efforts have been largely successful so far. As Google’s algorithms become ever more sophisticated, there is always a chance that the next update will be the one that finally penalises you for breaking or stretching its Webmaster Guidelines. To take one example, paid links in the form of ‘guest blog posts’ may have brought rewards for several years, but Google’s position on these is unambiguous.
As long as your technical and content-led SEO approaches are focused on satisfying the user above all else, your chance of suffering a penalty that could damage your brand for years is greatly diminished.
That’s not to say, however, that technical SEO doesn’t have other work to do. For example, the routine task of disavowing poor quality or ‘spammy’ backlinks in Google Webmaster Tools is not undertaken because of a direct benefit to the user. Rather, it helps to convince Google that you’re not trying to manipulate your position in SERPS by building an artificially inflated link profile.
Technical SEO still puts people at the centre
All of the above is only useful if your site is structurally sound and can be found. If your site is just a few pretty off-the-hook pages without the necessary research and insight into what your customers need, want and are looking for, then you’re already fighting a losing battle. Technical SEO actually underpins your reach, engagement, authority and depth.
At Organic we recognise that change is the only constant. The material and intangible needs of people are central to all search. So while algorithms, spiders and satisfying search engines are important, quenching your customers’ thirst for content that fulfils needs effectively and with minimal clicks, often in-platform, means that success is accessible. It’s critical that sites are fast and mobile-friendly, crisp, and easy for robots and people alike to navigate, otherwise no matter how shiny and impressive your content is it will not be discovered, let alone engaged with.