Since 2008, we’ve pointed to the standard Newfangled guide to SEO as a primer on best practices for getting your site best prepared for Google and other search engines. As much as everything else on the Web has changed since then, that article is still relevant, and a really good example of healthy SEO practices. How can this be? Google is so remarkably different four years later, it seems bizarre that the steps we outlined then would still make for best practices today.
Here’s the reason: back then (and now), we have had no interest in gaming the system.
There’s a lot of dubious SEO/SEM strategy out there that seeks to exploit loopholes in Google’s algorithms (or what is assumed are loopholes in those secret algorithms). Even if these odd practices work for a short time (which isn’t very often), Google (and the other search engines) are constantly experimenting with different algorithms for ranking.
Amit Singhal of Google (who usually remains silent on the inner workings) at one point revealed that nearly every user on Google is part of an experiment, either as the control group (getting Google classic, whatever that means on a given day), or the experimental group (getting some new feature or tweak).
Since Google is constantly revising the algorithms for ranking (among many other tweaks and changes), it doesn’t make much sense to target small known weaknesses in the system to bump up a few ranks on a search engine results page. Especially in the last few years (when Google introduced the Panda update to search), Google finds ways of punishing sites that use trickery, rather than good content, to rank higher.
Simply put, you should be practicing SEO by setting up your content to be found in the future. Google’s algorithms aren’t perfect, but they get better every day. What they’re essentially aiming for, is that a human being would make the same decision about relevance that their algorithm does. So, rather than trying to trick a loophole that will probably go away sooner or later, perhaps it makes more sense to just write and package your content in a way that a reasonable person would think is relevant?
How to Do SEO, the simple version
Without further ado, here’s a two-step SEO strategy:
- Write good content.
- Add good metadata.
That’s really all there is to it. I’m serious.
Write Good Content
When I say write good content, I’m not just talking about the fundamentals of writing well, like passable grammar and decent word choice, nor am I saying that it should be the most compelling piece of writing this side of Chekhov. What I’m talking about here is the same as any other (non-web) context: write with your intended audience in mind. While that might be toxic to a novelist or poet, you should seriously consider your audience’s expectations when you write. Use terminology and jargon that’s familiar to your segment, and hopefully unique to it. That’s not to say that people should have to run your work through Google Jargon Bot to understand it, but use the terminology that people in your field will likely use in a search.
Think of it this way, when someone searches Google for something, they’re asking a question. If that question has anything to do with your site, you probably want to be the one that’s answering it. Google looks through its index for language that matches up with the question’s language. That doesn’t mean that you should write questions into your content that you want to be answering (like “How do I do SEO, Mr. Newfanglder, sir?”) You just want to be the one that has language that matches the types of questions your segment will ask.
Add Good Metadata
Though it may seem that it’s my single waking obsession, metadata is a big deal to other people, too. It’s also a big deal to Google. What metadata does is help the Googlebots that are indexing the web better understand what the content is about. Here are some basic things you need to do for each piece of content:
- Unique Page Title (this will be the title on the search engine results page, so make it good).
- Unique Meta Description (think of this like an abstract, or back-cover blurb for your content). This will appear on the SERP, so make it enticing for people to click-through. Don’t spam, and make sure it’s actually about your piece of content.
- Descriptive, keyword-rich heading tags. Those h1 through h6 tags matter. They’re essentially the table of contents for your work.
- Don’t bother with the Meta Keywords. They won’t hurt, but no search engine even looks at these anymore, since they were basically full of spam.
- If your CMS supports it (like the Newfangled CMS does), friendly URLs should be descriptive of the content as well.
Extra Credit (soon this won’t be extra credit, anymore):
- Use schema.org metadata to mark things up.
There’s gotta be something else, right?
Ok, I lied. There’s sort of a third step. Rather famously, Google’s main algorithm, PageRank, uses inbound links as a metric for authority and quality. So, the more links to your site and content from high-quality sites, the better you’ll rank. What does this mean for you in terms of healthy, non-spammy SEO?
Obviously, it doesn’t mean that you should engage in sketchy cross-linking deals with content farms. Please don’t do this. It’ll hurt your site’s ranking, and the Web gets worse everytime someone does this.
What it means is that you should probably engage with other people’s content in your market/segment/community/guild/whatever. Do this in a genuine way, and there’s likely to be an increasing amount of cross-linking traffic naturally.