I have been working in the SEO field for some 17 years now, and am one of the few SEO consultants who state that overall, things are not that much different from the past, at least at the basic level.
I say this as today:-
- Links are important, just as they were in 2000
- Content is important, just as it was in 2000
- Technical SEO is important, again, just as it was in 2000.
The difference is that in the first two cases Google has become more savvy (through the many changes to its algorithm) about what is good and what is not. In the case of Technical SEO, in 2000 you had to ensure that your site was well built; in that it was ‘clean’, not because you wanted to please Google, but because you had to contend with very slow download speeds (hence the reason for the ALT tag; this not being for SEO at all, it’s purpose being to allow users to switch off image downloads because they could sometimes, simply not wait for the image to appear).
That’s not so say that there have not been changes though..
The changes in Links (also known as Off Page SEO)
I have touched on the subject of backlinks (a backlink is a link from another site to yours, the anchor text used in the link – the bit you click – being ‘read’ by Google and used to create an idea about what subject your site covers), stating that Google has become much cleverer at spotting links that have been built solely for the purposes of getting better rankings. Today, if you try to trick Google by creating lots of links with your ‘money’ phrases like ‘pet cremation’ or ‘video marketing’ you will more than likely to penalised.
However, what this has really done is to weed out those SEO’s who do not keep up with the changes. For those that do, all it means is that you have to create more Brand and Natural links. The position is the same as 2000 though, Google likes sites that have lots of links (from lots of domains).
EAT – Expertise – Authority – Trust
The other change in the linking world is that the ‘relevance’, ‘trust’ and ‘authority’ of the sites providing the links has become more important. This has been the case for many years though. Trust is relatively easy to gain, all you need are links from sites that themselves have a high Trust rating, this also giving you some ‘authority’. The ‘expert’ rating of a site is becoming a more important factor and one that is hard to influence easily.
The changes in content
Here the changes are in my opinion very much deeper. In 2000, you could keyword stuff a page and get away with it, getting good rankings in the process. In my view this was never a really practical method, as even though you could get a good ranking, such pages never had that good a conversion rate, thus you got a lot of ‘horses to the water’ but few of them drank, which made that practice a poor one.
Today, Google is very much better at working out what good content is, (which means you need to improve your copywriting skills) looking for a whole host of ‘signals’, these including how well it is written, how many synonyms are used and if it includes images and videos.
Content Development and Marketing
With the importance of content growing so much over the years (the reason content has become more important is that in 2000 Google relied heavily on Pagerank, which was all about links, whilst today, Google can better understand content, this now accounting for at least 50% of the points that Google give any page), two new buzz phrases have been brought into play:-
- Content Development
- Content Marketing
As you would imagine the first is about creating the content, whilst the second is about getting it noticed, the planning for this being given the grand title of ‘content marketing strategy’.
Google has also improved its ability to spot duplicate content, this being the reason so many Ecommerce stores have to tweak the descriptions of their products. Failure to do this means that the pages on their sites are just the same as countless others, which makes it harder to rank…
Meeting User Intent is the key
However, the biggest change since 2000, is that now Google is looking for pages that match the ‘intent’ behind the search. Saying this, at the moment, Google is still guessing most of the time, its AI helper ‘Rank Brain’ still having a long way to go. In the meantime, we are all ‘rats in the maze’, Google constantly checking to see what sites people stay on for a given term. This way they can start to associate sites with phrases, and by looking at the content of the sites, deduce (to some degree) what the user wanted in the first place.
As I say, this has a long way to go, but it is going to get more important in 2019.
The changes in Technical SEO since 2000
The obvious change here is that website construction has come a long long way since 2000, but that to some degree has been a double edged sword, many companies offering web design services taking advantage of the faster download speeds available by not optimising the amount of code the text rating (the amount of code versus the actual words seen by the visitor). This can lead to a site that is too code heavy and this must have an impact on speed which is not good at all.
The rise of the use of mobile devices (with their lower download speeds) has however put this issue back under the microscope, so again Google are looking for sites that download nice and fast AND offer the required level of usability when viewed on the smaller screens that most mobile phones and tablets have.
Actionable Changes – What can you do in 2019 to improve your rankings?
Satisfy the Intent of the user
“You need to understand what someone is expecting to find when they query a word or phrase and you need to give them the answer in the simplest way possible,” said Mindy Weinstein CEO of Market Mindshift.
To me this sounds like an excellent point, but it is not always that easy. There is no problem when someone asks a direct question, eg ‘how to you fix a leaking tap’, or ‘what ratio of links should use money phrases’, but when it comes to more generic phrases like ‘maps’ (20 million searches in the USA in October 2018) or ‘entertainment’ (16 million in the USA). You can have a guess at both, but it would be impossible to know exactly what the user was searching for.
The good news is that ranking for such phrases is pretty useless anyway, but even some ‘long tail’ phrases beg the question ‘what is the user looking for’ a great example for me being ‘bed bath and beyond’ (6 million searches in the USA in Oct 2018)…
So how can you win here?
The advice I always give to my clients is that as you cannot really guess what someone is looking for, is to provide them with the answers to some questions that you can help them with. So in relation to the terms ‘maps’ a site could provide information as to how they could provide ‘large scale digital maps’, or maps that could be used to support ‘planning applications’. That way, they are going to strike lucky some of the time, and as long as the content is really informative / useful, it’s bound to help the site’s standing in Google’s eyes.
To achieve this, we go through a very detailed process of finding what sort of content is already ‘liked’ by Google, then after writing a useful article / page / post, we then compare this with those pages that have proven their worth, altering them to include as many of the words as possible, whilst of course, maintaining good readability and thus user experience.
You can also tune a site so that Google will use the content as a rich snippet.
“Answer boxes, recipes, the knowledge graph, carousels, and who-knows-whatelse will take an even bigger bite out of organic traffic,” said Ian Lurie, CEO and founder of Portent. “That makes SEO even more important, because exposure is as much about visibility in the SERPs as it is about clicks.”
This can be a really good idea, but you can only do this for certain terms. But if the cap fits then it is a great idea to wear it.
Structured Language Mark Up
“With AI becoming increasingly important for Google, structured data is becoming more important as well,” Tandler said. “If Google wants to move from a mobile-first to an AI-first world, structured data is key. No matter how good your AI is, if it takes too long to ‘crawl’ the required information, it will never be great. AI requires a fast processing of contents and their relations to each other.”
You cannot use Structured Markup Language on every page, but as with rich snippets, if you can integrate this code in your site then it is yet another thing that will help your SEO in 2019.
Do beware though, if you use SML on a page incorrectly (that is to include data that is not relevant to the actual page) then Google will actually penalise your site.
This is an area tipped to be more important in 2019, however, the amount of work needed is, at the moment, not matched by the expected gains. This is one to keep an eye on in 2019.
On Page SEO
This is an area that is often not attended too and one that has been a ‘winner’ for many years. Putting it simply, on page SEO is all about making sure that the important areas of a page are populated with the right keywords; those that tell Google what the page is all about.
These areas are:-
The Title of the Page. This is the text you see in the tab on your browser and in the SERPS listing. It remains the most important and vital piece of ‘web real estate’ for 2019
The Header Tags – These are a throw back to the time before Cascading style sheets were introduced, but are still very important. It is best to use just one H1 and then use H2, H3, H4. H5 and H6 tags to introduce deeper and deeper topics within the content.
Using keywords (or a synonym) and then use the bold, italic or list attributes to highlight them
Lastly, the Meta Description. This does not have a huge effect on the rankings for a page, but they are important as the words in this meta tag are normally used in the Google SERPS. As such their main job is to act as an ‘elevator speech / pitch’ the idea being to encourage people to click on the link. Besides this ‘positive’ use, a site that had a lot of duplicate meta tags can have their overall quality rating reduced, something that is best to avoid.
Other Things to do
If you have not yet registered your site for two of the very best web analytics tools – Google Webmaster Tools (now called Google Search Console) and Google Analytics, I would suggest that you do so immediately as it will help immensely. Together they allow you to see:-
- what keyword phrases your site is being found for
- which enables you to see if you are getting the targeted traffic you desire
You should also check to see if your site needs some local search marketing, the answer being a clear yes if it is not appearing in the Google 3 pack (that maps with the pins) for a relevant term. Local search marketing optimisation covers much the same ground as SEO, but with the added issue of Local Citations.
If your site is not doing well in 2018, then you will have to go back to the basics and go through the process of keyword analysis (to make sure you are targeting the right words), get an SEO Audit (a detailed form of website analysis), to make sure your site is SEO friendly and is not breaking any of Google’s webmaster guidelines, and more than likely have to take advantage of the link building services and other professional seo services, that companies like Serendipity provide.
Hopefully, the above data will help you improve your SEO tactics for 2019.
About the author
Graham Baylis was born in 1957 and has therefore seen the birth of the Internet and experienced at first hand, just how it has changed the World we live in. He has been involved with computers since 1983 and helped set up the first electronic mail system used by the Civil Service in 1986. He has gained several qualifications in Computing and Marketing and has written hundreds of blogs which you can find around the web, many being on customer’s websites. He has over 19 years of experience with Pay Per Click and SEO and has an answer for most Search Marketing questions, and, for those that he hasn’t is quick to find one. Continually coming up with solutions, Graham is one person it is worth having a chat with.