Towards the end of "The Wizard of Oz" Dorothy and her pals confront the disembodied voice of the wizard and are told to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." But they pull back the curtain anyway and discover that the fearsome wizard is just a weird old man with a lot of loud toys. Pretty unimpressive. And in many ways - believe it or not - Dorothy's discovery can serve as a telling analogy around search engine optimization (SEO.)
Hear us out on this one.
If you're not fully embracing SEO it may be because you think it's a highly technical and complex endeavor (think of the wizard's bells and whistles.) But in reality, effective SEO is anything but, and this article hopes to illustrate this fact.
In other words, we hope this article will compel you to ignore the booming voices, green smoke, and loud explosions and look behind the proverbial curtain to see what's important and what isn't. And you'll walk away saying, "Gee, that wasn't so scary after all."
So with that in mind, let's take a look the things that matter for SEO (and those that don't.)
Things that matter for SEO:
- A SEO-friendly architecture. Vendors portray SEO as a Rosetta Stone of online marketing when in fact the road map to success is not only openly available, but completely free. We're talking about Google's SEO Starter Guide It's a must-read for the marketing team and more importantly, your Webmaster. Google's algorithms are built to determine if there's a real-live human and a strategy behind your site. Follow their suggestions - simple navigation, logical meta-tagging, intelligently-placed links in your home page, etc - and good things will happen.
- Original, compelling, and diverse content. Google has gone to great lengths to measure and reward "good" content. What is "good" content? Well, you'll know it when you see it. A thoughtful 300-word blog post about the challenges facing the solar energy industry that you shared with your co-workers? Yup, that's good. A "How Stuff Works" page describing how to open a can of salsa, with the word "salsa" hyper-linked 25 times and written by some humorless android? Not good. Good content exudes expertise and as an expert in your respective field, you're well-positioned to educate readers. Make sure to mix it up: blogs are great, but they should be complemented by all the other usual media suspects, especially photos and video.
- Audience engagement. Make an effort to engage your audience. Ask their opinions. Challenge them. Encourage them to share. By doing so, search algorithms will say (in their metallic search algorithm voice), "Boy, this stuff is resonating with people," and help improve your search rankings.
- A Content Marketing Strategy. Posting great content - whether it's a blog, photo, or video - is meaningless if no one sees it. You need a content marketing strategy that spans all the major social networks - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. So make a plan and stick to it.
Things that don't matter for SEO:
- "Black hat" SEO. This term describes the act of trying to trick search algorithms through shady techniques like "keyword stuffing" and "link schemes." The most famous example of black hat SEO is that of JC Penny's. They worked with a third party consultant, who, through some shady SEO witchcraft, helped to elevate the company's site to the top of product-related search rankings. It was akin to the guy who jumps out of the crowd at the 26th mile of the New York Marathon and comes in first place. (What a jerk.) But just like that guy, JC Penny go caught when the New York Times picked up their dubious doings. Google got mad. Google punished JC Penny. All very sordid. So if a third party SEO vendor says they can get you in the Top 10 on Google Search within three weeks, there's probably a catch. A bad catch.
- Content for content's sake. When it comes to SEO, more isn't better. Publishing uninteresting material, re-purposing someone else's content without attribution, copying and pasting old content - these things will get you no where. In fact, you'll actually see your site go down on search rankings.
- Arbitrary or excessive linking. As you can tell from this piece, we love linking to other sites. But in the wake Google's Penguin and Panda update's, excessively stuffing your web content with random links - especially when they are completely contextually irrelevant to the piece itself - will harm you in the long run.
One last thing. If you sit back and really meditate on this stuff, especially the "Things that Matter for SEO" section, you'll realize that these are all things you should be doing anyway. Things like a well-designed web site, relevant content, and marketing yourselves on social media. Odds are you're already doing these things to some extent; the challenge moving forward it to optimize each step to truly maximize returns and see real results. So don't let the booming bells, whistles, and explosions of SEO scare you. It's all harmless.
But you know what should scare you? Those flying monkeys.