I’m going to tell you a secret. Search engine optimization (SEO) is all about common sense.
You may see articles from time to time about “new” techniques you simply must use now if you want your sites to rank, or how to do SEO in 2019. The “SEO in 2020” articles will be coming out later this year.
These are sort of like the magazine covers that scream at you in the grocery store checkout line. “The One Move That Could Slim Your Thighs This Year!” Did exercise suddenly change? Have you been walking incorrectly all this time?
Nine times out of ten—OK, not really; it’s every time—someone has taken a tactic those experienced in SEO have already been doing for years, tacked a fancy new marketing buzzword on it (looking at you, content clusters), created a few pretty graphics to illustrate it, and then published it as a brand-new discovery.
Has anything changed since SEO first became an acronym? Yes, of course. But the things that change mostly come about when Google releases an algorithm update to counter unethical tactics employed by site owners to game the system and artificially inflate their rankings.
Here’s what I mean. Inbound links—the links coming into your site from other websites—can give your site a powerful rankings boost. The problem is, you have no control over who links to you and how.
Or do you?
In the late 1990s, site owners discovered they could create their own inbound links using their target keywords as “anchor text,” the text you click on to go to another site. This technique is (or rather was) another powerful way to boost rankings.
They started writing tons of articles on sites that publish user-generated content with very low, if any, quality requirements, and linking back to their own sites within those articles, which created large numbers of inbound links and artificially boosted their rankings.
Finally, in 2012, Google had had enough of the spammy sites flooding their search engine ranking pages (SERPs) and released the Penguin algorithm update, which in part targets link schemes, defined as:
“The development, acquisition or purchase of backlinks from low-quality or unrelated websites, creating an artificial picture of popularity and relevance in an attempt to manipulate Google into bestowing high rankings.”
When Penguin was released, the sites that had been building phony backlinks saw huge drops in their rankings. They had to clean up their link profiles and begin climbing the rankings again, either using ethical tactics or finding some other way to cheat.
And here’s where some of that common sense comes in. If you follow SEO best practices to begin with and use ethical and effective, albeit slower-acting, tactics to rank, your site will be able to ride out those algorithm updates. Then, while everyone else is fixing their messes, your site will continue to climb or maintain its foothold in the SERPs.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. But all that said, it’s easy to be intimidated by something that’s unfamiliar. That’s where training comes in.
You already know how to link your content, whether externally (to other sites) or internally (within your own site). But are you getting the fullest benefit from those links? And most importantly, are you putting your site (or other people’s sites) at risk for potential ranking losses—or even the dreaded manual penalty—by unknowingly using linking tactics that seem like common sense on the surface but are actually in direct violation of Google’s quality guidelines?
On July 18, I’ll be presenting an ACES webinar called “Readers, Relevance and Ranking: Advanced Linking Tactics and Strategies” to cover all of that and more. But don’t let the “advanced” part prevent you from signing up. It simply refers to looking at linking in a different way than you might now — and applying more common sense to get links to work even harder for you (or your clients) than they do now. It also includes understanding a little of how Google works so you can avoid running afoul of their guidelines.
If this sounds like something you think could help your clients’ sites—or your own site—perform better, sign up now. Then get ready to nerd out with me on SEO and content, and learn some tactics you’ll be able to apply immediately.
SEO isn’t magic, and there are no guarantees. But there’s a certain satisfaction to applying SEO best practices, watching one of your webpages climb the SERPs, and knowing you made it happen. All it takes is a little SEO and a lot of common sense.
Michelle Lowery is a digital content editor. She's been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, and an entrepreneur for 11 years. Her background both as a linguist and in the SEO and digital marketing industries has strengthened her understanding of language, content and influence. She uses this knowledge and experience to help her clients convey their ideas in plain language, optimize their content, increase their rankings, and earn conversions. Michelle is the author of “Self-Editing for Indie Authors,” and is currently at work on her first cozy mystery novel. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash