SEO is changing. So we’re always told, usually as a reason to invest in a hefty retainer from an agency who can keep on top of all this constant upheaval. They might even throw a few buzzwords in, like “Semantic Search”, “RankBrain”, “BERT”, or if you’re really lucky, “Term Frequency – Inverse Document Frequency”.
The truth is that while SEO is definitely changing, it’s not changing in a way that you, as a website owner or generalist marketer, need to worry about. In fact, every change search engines like Google have made in recent years have made SEO easier for non-specialists.
If you’re interested in learning a bit of SEO to help your business, it’s never been easier to start making changes for yourself. Better still, you don’t need to fill your head with pointless jargon or conduct complicated 276-point checks of your website to do something useful and productive.
In this post, I’ll explain why this is the case, and how to get started with DIY SEO.
Search Engines have changed – for the better
Google has always had the same overall objective: giving people searching useful results that make them happy.
The reason SEO exists as an industry is that in the early days of the internet, Google wasn’t that great at achieving this goal. It wasn’t very good at understanding websites, and often got tripped up by unfamiliar code. It also wasn’t that great at understanding what users were searching for – “furniture polish” and “Polish furniture” were essentially the same thing as far as early search engines were concerned.
SEO as an industry had two jobs. The first was to make up for shortcomings in search engines’ abilities to understand sites, by “translating” what web developers and website owners created to make it easier for search engines to read. The second was to research users and understand their search behaviour, then make the necessary adjustments to target those users.
Today, though, SEO has changed. Google can understand websites at a much deeper level than before, without as much input from SEO professionals to act as translators. Google also has access to one of the biggest user behaviour data sources on the planet, and it’s using it to develop a deeper, more nuanced and personalised understanding of your users than any SEO can ever have.
The result? As search engines get better at finding and ranking the sites users will find most valuable, there’s less need for professional SEO’s to act as “translators”, and website owners can do more of the work themselves.
Learning SEO? Ignore jargon and focus on the Big Picture
The SEO industry looks extremely complex and difficult from the outside. As SEO’s we still like our jargon, and there’s also lots of out-of-date advice out there. For a non-SEO trying to “do SEO”, it’s often best to ignore the details and focus on bigger concepts instead, knowing that search engines like Google are getting better and better at understanding what you’re trying to achieve.
For beginners, it can be tempting to look for a “checklist” of tasks that you can carry out to improve your site’s SEO. The trouble is that SEO checklists like this ignore the big picture at a time when the big picture is becoming exponentially more important.
Carefully incorporating exactly four repetitions of your target keyword into a page to get a green tick might feel productive, but your efforts are worth exactly nothing if your users think your site is hard to navigate, or if they think it looks unprofessional, or if they find your content difficult to understand.
Google doesn’t care if your site follows some random SEO blogger’s best practice advice to the letter. They care about whether your site is useful to its users, so ignore the technicalities and focus on that instead.
What does this mean in practice?
If you’re interested in improving your site’s SEO, but not that interested in SEO itself, you need to spend less time understanding exactly how search engines work, and more time working on what search engines actually want to see from your site.
In general, good SEO means creating a site which:
– Fulfils a genuine need for a specific audience
– Delivers a good user experience
– Is logically structured and easy to navigate
– Contains useful content that solves user needs
– Is safe, trustworthy and reliable
Easy, right? Well, maybe not, but notice that there’s no mention of keyword density, inbound links or any other SEO buzzwords because they’re just not that helpful anymore. Fiddling around the edges on technicalities like this won’t help you if your site doesn’t fit the five criteria above.
So what are SEO’s still good for?
Don’t get us wrong – while search engines are getting progressively better at making the SEO industry irrelevant, there’s still a way to go before you can ignore SEO entirely.
There are still a lot of important technical nuts and bolts to consider in SEO. It’s still possible to nuke your site with relatively minor changes to your code, and that means it’s still important to get expert advice in various circumstances.
Even if your site is stable, a professional SEO can help identify areas search engines might still struggle to interpret and help improve your performance.
This is true of all sites, but particularly important if:
· Your site is in multiple languages or targets multiple countries
· Your site is built on a custom CMS or non-standard platform
· Your site has upwards of 50 pages (particularly if you’re in eCommerce or if you have large volumes of information or resource content).
A good SEO should also be talking to you about things like brand, positioning, messaging, usability and performance, your customers’ wants and needs, and other stuff that sounds more like marketing strategy than SEO.
If you don’t already have this in place, SEO is much harder than it needs to be and all the technical detail, key phrase research and link building in the world won’t make up for a lack of these fundamentals.
If you’re new to SEO and want to improve your site’s performance, your best bet might be to ignore the SEO jargon cluttering up the industry and focus on straightforward marketing strategy instead.
This gives you the best possible chance of actually impacting your business performance, and while you might find you still need advice from a professional SEO, you’ll be building a strong base for them to enhance with some technical flair.
If you’d like more advice on exactly how to go about DIY’ing SEO without drowning in jargon, I’ll be at the North East Expo on Thursday discussing exactly that in my free session: “DIY SEO: The Bootstrap Guide To Improving Your Website Performance”. We’ll also be giving free personalised SEO advice all day from our exhibition stand (GN32), so if you’re attending, do drop in and see us.