Never has an industry been more plagued by hearsay and rumour than SEO. People rush to declare SEO ‘dead’ and ‘irrelevant’ one day, praising its merits the next. It’s an industry that is often misunderstood, and it also holds some pretty divisive characters.
There are many aspects of SEO that bring great results for brands, however some of the techniques used by so-called “experts” don’t work anymore. The fluctuations of Google algorithms lead to lots of confusion, and some people are still playing catch-up.
Here are some frequently asked questions about SEO that clients come to me with, and my answers to help you set the record straight and run better SEO campaigns for your brand.
Looking for help with your small business SEO? Check out our previous post: the ultimate SEO checklist for small business.
1. How do I know whether it’s worth it?
When you set out on your SEO campaign, you have to be realistic. You aren’t going to get to the top of the rankings for a phrase like “buy computer” or “hotel in London”, as the big sites have already sewn them up. In fact, you’re highly unlikely to even make it onto the first page unless you have a powerful, aged domain and a huge budget.
Instead, set yourself smaller, more realistic rankings goals, so that you can build up to tackling some of the more competitive keywords. By setting yourself more achievable targets, you’ll then be able to see more tangible results, which should encourage you to keep going with your SEO campaign.
Any SEO agency who offers you results that are too good to be true — run the other way.
2. How can I target the right keywords?
Keyword research is extremely important, and you should be spending days – perhaps even weeks – working out the best ones for your site. Most people overlook this. Instead, they simply guess at the phrases their potential customers are going to be searching for, and work from there. The result? The keywords are nearly always wrong, and the SEO campaign never achieves any long-term results. You need data (and lots of it).
Consider using tools like Google Keyword Planner and KeywordTool.io — these offer you plenty of inspiration for niche-relevant search terms and questions.
Think about each page individually: what do you want each one to rank for? Target each page with specific keywords, and make sure to avoid cannibalization.
3. What are the consequences of over-optimization?
Keyword stuffing used to be a sure-fire way to improve your rankings. For example, if you were trying to hit Google’s top spot for “pet shop in Boston” you would simply cram your content with this phrase. However, Google has got wise to this, and will actually penalize any site that it believes is cramming too many keywords into one page.
This isn’t to say that keywords shouldn’t still be used – in fact, they are vital to any successful SEO campaign. But they should be used sparingly (perhaps taking up 1-2% of your content), leaving you with more scope to provide more useful content to your readers.
Think about keyword themes and synonyms rather than simple phrases you want to repeat.
4. Am I targeting the wrong traffic?
Getting traffic to your site is just part of the battle, as you have to also make sure that it is the right kind of traffic. It’s important to focus on conversions, rather than endlessly inflating web traffic figures. A good SEO agency should explain this to you.
Look at your bounce rate on landing pages from organic search. Investigate which pages and content have high bounce rates and try to focus on conversions, rather than upping traffic. It’s all about maximizing what you already have, rather than throwing up new pages in a blind panic.
You may also need to review your traffic acquisition — are you being misleading, or is your site pulling in traffic via an odd directory or source?
5. What is the importance of UX and web design?
Though design isn’t a ranking factor for search, you need a website that reflects customer expectations and does your brand justice. Website design is partly about trust — people need to feel safe with you. You also need your customers to engage with your site and stick around on your page to rank on search engines – these things are measurable by metrics such as dwell time and bounce rates.
In e-commerce, web design should primarily support the user on their purchase journey, not be full of unnecessary complications. WordPress is a great CMS for easy customization, but always invest in a premium theme that allows for customization, and make sure you get some high-quality WP hosting too. On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got fully-hosted solutions: using a store builder like Shopify is a quick and easy way to create an e-commerce site with foolproof navigation and a positive UX.
6. Who am I optimizing for: Google or the customer?
This is perhaps the biggest reason why some SEO campaigns fail — those running them forget that they should be doing everything for their customers, and not just to please Google.
Think about it: writing keyword-heavy articles might see your rankings rise slightly, but they won’t impress customers, who will take one look and head somewhere more helpful. You need to write helpful content first, and only add in keywords if they are relevant.
7. Do article submission sites still help to build up backlinks?
It used to be the case that sites such as Ezine were gold-dust for SEO, as they’d accept just about anything, and perhaps more importantly, allow a link back to be included. But then Google got wise to this and they realized that these sites provided little or no use for regular people, and instead were simply used to gather a huge numbers of low-quality links.
The Panda update was the thing that really led to the demise of article submission sites, as it made links coming from them virtually worthless.
Just one good guest post on a relevant site is now worth fifty submissions, because Google understands that guest posts actually provide value to the reader.
8. Do link exchanges still boost site authority?
If you’re still living in 2005, high-volume link exchanges might be a great way to boost your rankings. But this is 2017, and they are now only very unhelpful, but also potentially harmful to your overall SEO strategy. (For those that don’t know, link exchanges were basically swaps, where two sites would agree to put up each other’s links and hopefully gain some link juice from it).
The problem is this: seeing reciprocal links on two websites sends a message about link patterns. By all means build good quality links, but don’t be tempted by quick and easy ones.
9. Should I optimize my site for things other than Google?
Do you remember Bing and Yahoo? Many people see this search engine as a thing of the past; however, these search engines still maintain 5.35% and 6.1% of global searches respectively. Check out this guide to get familiar with the best ways to optimize your site for Bing search.
You should also be concentrating on social media; collecting emails to use in direct marketing campaigns; optimizing videos on YouTube; writing guest posts for popular sites in your niche; and doing a whole number of other things as well.
Don’t forget about Google, but they don’t need to dominate every online marketing decision you make.
10. How much value does Google place on content for SEO?
Ever heard the phrase “content is king?” Well, it’s certainly true when it comes to SEO. Quickly rushing out twenty articles, all of which have nothing to say and are practically copied from another online source won’t help your rankings at all.
Instead, you should be focussing on writing content with value – in-depth, useful content that your reader wants to read. Try to make your blogs closer to the 1000 word mark and, as discussed, don’t stuff them full of keywords.
If you’re looking for further reading, check out this guide on how to put SEO at the heart of your online business. Remember, SEO is notoriously hard, and there are constant algorithmic changes that can be quite exhausting to keep up with. Consider employing an SEO to do the legwork for you, or invest in some industry tools to help set you on the right path! What have you always wondered about SEO?
Patrick Foster: e-commerce coach & entrepreneur
Patrick is a veteran digital nomad, specializing in e-commerce. He enjoys writing about marketing, digital learning, growth hacking and e-commerce on his blog E-commerce Tips.