July 23, 2014

If you write a blog, run a website, or pretty much do anything online, you know about the value of SEO (Search Engine Optimization if you don't know what we're talking about). Quite simply, SEO is how you get found online. And in a highly saturated online world, finding your content online is more complicated than finding a needle in a haystack. In fact, it's as hard as finding your content online...

So, it makes sense that we would want to utilize techniques and tools to boost our chances of getting found, right?

And everywhere you turn, someone is hyping the value of SEO and what it can do for your business.

They can get you on the first page of Google! They can beat your competition! They can get your site found like never before!

First of all, if anyone comes at you with this (or any other variation of this) crap, run. Run far away. They are lying first of all. And second of all, the tactics they will use to get you the supposed results will likely hurt you more than anything.

You've probably seen these same things, but I get comments on my blog or receive emails frequently, from someone claiming they found my post on page 2 of Google and they can help me get higher rankings and better results. While I don't ever respond because I don't feed trolls, I have to laugh at the irony of their comments and approach.

First of all, if you found me on page 2 of Google, I'm doing a pretty darn good job by myself, thank you very much! Now, if you found me on page 13, maybe you'd be of some value (but we know you're not). Secondly, I know they didn't "find" me. They're just blast commenting and emailing everyone the same message. And trying to take our hard-earned money.

While I do believe in SEO, I also believe it's changing, and is continuing to change. SEO isn't what it used to be - not even what it used to be two years ago. Google is getting smarter with every update. They are penalizing those who use negative tactics like link-baiting or keyword stuffing. And they are rewarding others for creating, quite simply, great content.

I realize "great content" isn't definitive. But it means gone are the days of "tricking" Google and SEO rankings.

Let me give you some examples.

Some of my most popular blog posts in searches are those that don't have "good" SEO (according to my Yoast plugin). In fact, many of them are moderate (orange) at best. And yet they come up on the FIRST page of Google.

These posts may not have the keyword (or phrase) in the title or in the first paragraph. It's in there at some point. But I'm not worried about writing for keywords. I'm worried about writing good, catchy titles and content that flows well and answers your question.

One of my friends, Wade Harman writes a blog about relationship marketing. He has professed numerous times that he does nothing for SEO on his site. He has built more than one thriving website, which produce well in search results, with no attempts to focus on SEO. Instead, he focuses on creating valuable content that people actually want to read.

So, to answer my post question, how important is SEO?

Well, Wikipedia defines SEO as: the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's "natural" or un-paid ("organic") search results.

So, I think SEO is really important. Of course you want to get found "naturally" in search results. But it's not important in the way it used to be.

With every new update and version of Google algorithms, the "traditional" SEO is becoming less important. Google is now looking for more organic phrases, not keywords, that match a search query. It's looking at social shares and even brings in content from those you're connected with on G+ at a higher position in your searches. It considers whether it believes the page to be of good quality. It's looking for how many times your page has been referenced or linked back to - but from other reputable pages and sources, not by link-baiting or link-stuffing tactics.

In general, SEO (currently Google's Hummingbird algorithm) is now looking at the wealth of overall factors determining the value of your content.

So using SEO tactics isn't of much value.

But creating valuable content, that solves a problem, that produces comments and engagement, that gets shared frequently, and that actually addresses the source of the question in a Google search - that SEO is valuable.

Stop trying to make your content show up in Google searches. Instead, focus on giving your audience what they need. And give them as much as you can. Make it relevant, make it good, and make it shareable (you need share icons on your blog posts!).

It will take time. Your post isn't going to show up on Google's first few pages right away, or even in the near future. But as you grow your blog, grow your content, and grow your value by Google standards, your posts will rise higher in the search results.

I promise you this. Because I've witnessed it first hand.

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  1. Jenn

    Excellent article! I use SEO as well as my wife. our website receives the same emails k2 SEO assuring us they can increase our visibility. I do exactly what you suggest! Our search results are not bad and based on what they’re looking for pops up near the top. Could you please tell me or recommend a WordPress plugin so that my wife’s blog is shared? She is also a contributor to The Huffington Post. I know you’re busy please check out the latest blod where she created a graph. I think you’ll really like this. Against thank you for always providing great insights.!
    wwww speakforyourself.org

    1. Hi Al. I’m glad to hear that your SEO strategies are working. I do not know of any good plugins for what you’re asking about. Best of luck to you and your wife!

  2. Cool write up as always. Thanks for this Jenn. I hope you still remember me? Its Aaron from Nigeria. My blog has come a long way since the last 2months I was here with no SEO am ranked 7million globally and I now own the domain. I have made a lot of changes and I am trying to provide value to my readers now like u advised. Plus I made some changes to the template my self. Looks pretty good don’t you think so? http://www.toptrendnaija.com

    1. Hi Aaron! I’m so glad to hear that your blog has come a long way and that you are continuing to grow. Keep on focusing on your readers, giving them what they want, and growing your audience.

  3. Great post Jenn. I’ve enjoyed seeing all the Google updates over the years getting closer to the way I’d like to do things and it makes me glad I didn’t waste time a decade ago learning all that technical SEO stuff that looked so boring, and, yay, is now unnecessary!

  4. Interesting post but I have to strongly disagree with the statement:
    “But it means gone are the days of “tricking” Google and SEO rankings.”

    Why? because I see it day in day out. This is what Google want you to believe – that it’s impossible to “game” the algorithm, and people have fallen for it hook line and sinker. Google has created this “busy body” “tell tail” “Goody Two Shoes” culture where “great user experience is everything” and all that matters and you are to report any sign of manipulation.

    User experience is vital, as is content, I’m not denying this but so is the foundation of SEO – the Google Algorithm. Take a look at the competitive niches where ranking #1 – #10 in Google is worth money and you’ll find a world of difference.

    As for Amanda Kendle’s comment, what a load of nonsense. “I’m glad I didn’t learn the technical SEO stuff”. So what you’re saying is your content is so good that you’re found regardless and the basis of the hypertext internet (The Google Algorithm) neither matters to you or interests you. Well I’ve just painstakingly put myself through reading your content Amanda and trust me… it’s really not that good.

    Finally it’s incredibly funny that the two approved elaborate comments on your blog are actually purely for backlinks and don’t actually add any value to this article (facepalm) and just happen to have website links in their comments. What a coincidence!

    Just so you know I found this post as suggested content on Klout, unsurprisingly not though a Google search.

    1. Hi James! Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. I always value others’ opinions and what they have to contribute to the conversation.

      To your comment, I never said Google couldn’t be gamed. Yes, it’s an algorithm and any algorithm can be tricked, manipulated, gamed, etc. And anyone who wants to use these tactics is welcome do so as they see fit. I, however, will never advocate for my clients or readers to use these methods. When it comes to blogging, SEO, social media, or business in general, I stand by the belief that hard work and legit practices yield the best results. I am not looking for, nor promoting, a quick fix, trick, or what works right now method.

      For many businesses, the ability to rank on the first page of Google is paramount and, as you mentioned, worth a lot of money. For those people and businesses, if they need to invest that money and use more technical tactics to get those results, then I’m not here to stop them. But I am here to inform my readers and targeted audience of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and home-based businesses that they can get results by producing quality content targeted to their specific audience.

      As for your comments directed towards Amanda, I don’t appreciate you calling it nonsense. There are tons of SEO experts out there who have learned all the technical “stuff” that people like her and I don’t want to learn. And if it turns out we need it (like web designers, and accountants, and other professional staff) then we can hire them as needed. We don’t need to try to learn something that isn’t our forte or of relevant value to us. You are not likely her target audience and if you don’t like her content, you don’t have to. But she has readers who do enjoy it and if she is working to improve and grow her site, then more power to her.

      As for the approved comments, yes, two of them have links. They may be purely for backlinks (and the SEO trick behind that) but I believe in having an open forum and as long as the conversation is there and it’s not a spam comment or purely a link dump, people are welcome to share their thoughts. That is how I run my blog. Others may have a different approach. But of all the comments on all my posts, very few people include links.

      And, hey, if Klout is recommending this content, then I am more than happy with that! I am not writing for SEO. (But the 1500+ visitors I get every day that come from searches mean I’m showing up somewhere.) I AM writing for my audience. If I don’t show up in a Google search, I don’t really care. But if the readers who get my blog posts every week get some value and learn something, then I have achieved my goal. And if Klout thinks my shiz is worthy of recommendation, then my content is reaching more of my targeted audience and that’s more than enough to keep me happy!

  5. Thanks for the response – your link bait title worked on me, so you’re essentially doing a form of SEO, let me explain.

    SEO gets a bad wrap due to spammers offering poor services, that’s a shame, but to say “I don’t write for SEO” is another annoying comment people make that generally don’t grasp modern “SEO” or lets call it online marketing.

    Think for a second…
    What if, and it’s a big if, Google (and all search engines) vanished tomorrow. Then “SEO” or the equivalent job to this would be performed on the next biggest traffic source, most likely social. The problem most people that write these “SEO isn’t needed”, “SEO is dead” type of articles is they focus too much on the actions of a 1990’s “SEO spammer” , keyword stuffing, keywords spam and links to get ranking… the fact is SEO is all about whatever it takes to rank and get traffic, some tactics are more aggressive than others, you’re in the same game.

    In 2014 ranking IS good content, it IS amazing references and it IS good links, but the technicalities to WHY this works DO matter, they’re always going to matter and to pretend you don’t care is naive and playing into all paid media’s hands – fine if you’re willing to pay for your traffic.

    Good SEO’s have been creating articles that get massive exposure written by top writers long before Twitter was even invented, why? To get links, so all I’m saying is don’t play the high and mighty “I write for my readers” card because your end goal is the same, you’re building an audience, that’s fine, but don’t pretend your standards are higher just because you don’t fully understand SEO in the modern post 2013 world of online marketing – just understand that it’s probably to your brand’s detriment.

    Social is far easier to game than organic Google rankings, which is why they don’t use it as the primary decisive factor in their algorithm.

    You’re trying to build your business by your brand and your name and essentially offer your services though your business, or is your services page a charity operation? Just saying and making you understand that… we’re in the same game, you just think you’re doing it in a nicer more friendly way… the fact is your not, you’re just collecting a much smaller slice of the pie.

    1. Let’s be clear, my title was not link bait. It asks a question that is answered directly in the post and the topic of which we continue to discuss in the comments. The title does not insinuate some glorified promise that in turn has nothing to do with the content. I wrote the title to be catchy and draw in readers – as I attempt to do with all my titles. A crappy title does nothing to help good content. But the title is directly relevant to the content. In fact, I ask that exact question again mid-way through the post.

      And, I answer the question like this: “So, I think SEO is really important.”

      Because I do think it’s important. I am “in the same game” as you said. But I don’t think it’s important in the same way you do, James. If you’re an SEO professional and want to use your methods to help your clients, please do. There are plenty of people out there who are eager and willing to work with someone like you. Those are your potential clients and who you need to be focusing on. Trying to convince me (someone who has grown a small blog from near nothing in September of 2013 to over 260K views today) is not going to work.

      Sure, I could probably use more tactics and SEO methods. But as I said, I am not writing for SEO. Yes, I use keywords in my post and I use Yoast to determine how “good” the post is for SEO. But I don’t care if it’s only moderate, or even poor. And, yes, I have a plugin to map my site and help with crawlers because I know it helps. But I do not write my posts with SEO in mind. SEO is not the first, second, nor even third thing on my mind when I sit down to write a blog post. I write my titles for what works in the post and that will attract readers. I write my content for people to read easily and in a way that makes a topic easy to understand. I am not trying to rank higher in Google than all the other millions of social media bloggers.

      Instead, I am trying to help MY readers. I am creating boat loads of free content. And, while, no it’s not a site of charity content, if you look around, you’ll see pretty much everything on my site is free. I have a few services and an ebook (for $3.49) to sell. But this is not a site with a full online store trying to convert every visitor on every view into a buying customer. I am building relationships and establishing connections with my readers that will continue to reward me in the long run.

      I don’t think this makes my standards higher than anyone else. I am not trying to be something better, worse, or anything compared to anyone else. I am building a brand, an audience, and my business around my professional ideals and beliefs. Many people don’t want to work with me because of that or think a certain way about me. And that’s ok. They have their clients, and I have mine. And the pie is a very big pie to eat from. There is plenty for all of us. And while I’ve never been one to hoard or gorge at the dinner table, I’m also not about to do it in business.

      It’s not that I don’t understand SEO (though I have never claimed to be an expert by any means), I do. I get it. I understand the value of it. But it is evolving and the process behind it is changing. That is the whole point of this post.

      I believe we can agree to disagree on our approaches to SEO, James. I am grateful for your input and your comments. I’m sure some readers will enjoy reading your perspective and seeing SEO from your point of view. But it won’t change my perspective nor the purpose of this post.

      1. “But I don’t think it’s important in the same way you do, James”

        How do you know that? I have social media properties, engaged readers, these get attention, segmented up-sells, cross-sells and additional new products as well as great free content and organic engagement, but all businesses needs new leads… Word of mouth referrals, yes, all great, but the majority of searches come via Google – This is basic online marketing knowledge… People “Google stuff” – but SEO doesn’t matter to me?!

        I’m not trying to change your perspective, I’m just pointing out that branding “SEO” as something that’s different to what you’re doing is incorrect and making sweeping statements like “So using SEO tactics isn’t of much value.” fuels uninformed comments such as Amanda’s:

        “SEO stuff that looked so boring, and, yay, is now unnecessary!”

        So Amanda thinks that SEO is “unnecessary”, great… so what happens when someone ranks #1 in Google for her name, will she care? Probably… But then SEO is now unnecessary? What if Amanda tripled her traffic with some basic on site tweaks or edits in her site’s code hierarchy? Would she care? No because SEO is now unnecessary?

        This sort of sweeping statement helps fuel uninformed “online marketing professionals” that believe writing amazing content is all they need to do. They’re missing out on a huge piece of the puzzle…

        The Internet is built on the hypertext web, which links everything together, it’s important to grasp this basic understanding. Yes, this stuff does matter. Just as long as they know you’re choosing to avoid additional traffic, or just this specific channel of traffic, then fine.

        A good social strategy should compliment an SEO strategy or at least understand each others goals, to leave one channel alone entirely is naive and shows a lack of understanding in online marketing.

        Finally if you, Jenn, doubled your traffic and had 100’s of waiting clients essentially you could limit your services, potentially raise the price of your service offering to future clients… but does that matter to you? I’d be surprised if it didn’t.

        If you said it doesn’t matter, essentially you’d be contradicting your own service offering, or do people pay you $999 to have friendly chats with engaged audiences that don’t convert and just love to talk?
        Lets be honest the bottom line is the dollar… otherwise you’d be doing all this for fun and working a full time job that pays the bills – something that would be unusual to do if you’re selling advice and coaching people on how to be successful in social media? Or is it all a non-profit exercise?

  6. Jenn, I liked your post, and I would just add one thing: it depends on how much you need to be found. If your business or nonprofit survives by getting a large number of people to notice you and then winnowing down to a small number of buyers or donors, then yes, you need people to stumble across you as often as possible! If your business model or strategic plan calls for building close, loyal relationships with a defined audience, then the people who find you through search may be useless to you. The people you’re trying to cultivate will most often know your name already, and that’s what they’ll search on. So, it depends.

    1. You are correct, Dennis. Different businesses will have different reasons to be found on searches and will have different ways of approaching SEO. And with such complicated search algorithms there is no “one” right answer for everyone. But no matter what the search goals are, creating high quality content that keeps people on your site and a site that is easy to navigate will always increase search results.

  7. The approach to SEO (or lack thereof) is different for pure blogs vs. sites that are trying to sell something (eCommerce, professional services, etc.). For a pure blog, you are spot on… just write… write about things that matter to your audience and they will come.

    The key difference is that blogs are all about traffic regardless of the term, while eCommerce and professional services sites need to target specific terms and compete for rankings in order to sell stuff.

    While Google is constantly updating its algorithms to be more complex (and as a result less easily manipulated), the simple truth is that if you don’t have enough of the right words and phrases for the search engines to chew on for your target terms then your rankings will suffer.

    There are two things about SEO that will not be changing any time soon:

    1. The text content (title tags, headings, body content, etc.) of a page will help search engines understand what that page is about.
    2. The number of links and social shares to that page (and that domain) will help search engines understand how important that page/site is relative to other pages/sites covering the same topic.

    In short, SEO is not dead. It’s always changing, but until something other than content and links/shares forms the basis for how organic rankings are determined, it’s not going away.

    The good news for you is that because you run a pure blog, you don’t really have to worry about it.

    There are also technical things like 301 redirects, avoiding duplicate content, etc. that are important, especially when moving a site or launching a new site in place of an old one. Search engines use URLs as unique identifiers, so if your URLs were to change (new domain or new site) you’d lose a ton of organic search traffic in the process without some help from an SEO professional.

    1. You definitely bring up a great point about ecommerce sites and those selling products directly through their sites, Dan. And, yes, there are plenty of additional things (like you mentioned) to worry about for maximum reach.

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