Sweat The Small Stuff: Search Engine Optimization Is In The Details
Over at Search Engine Land, Jill Whalen makes the argument that search engine optimization in the 21st century isn’t about the small stuff like keyword densities and Meta tags; it’s about building up site credibility and trust in your brand.
Is she right?
I’ll agree with her that branding and building credibility are key to any good organic search engine optimization campaign, especially as personalization becomes more prominent, but I think you’d be doing yourself a great injustice writing off "the small stuff" and declaring that "it doesn’t really matter". Of course it matters.
What does Jill mean by "the small stuff"?
"I mean the picky details that paralyze people. Things like how many words or characters should be in a title tag. Or in what order those words should be placed. Or how many times a keyword phrase should be in the copy. Or how many keyword phrases any page can be optimized for. Or should commas be used in the Meta keyword tag. Or should file names have hyphens in them. Or should headlines use H1 tags (or H2 tags, or whatever)."
I won’t argue that optimizing your Meta tags and H1 tags will always give you a significant boost in the rankings, or that if you put one extra word in your title tags you’re doomed to Google Hell; it won’t.
I won’t argue that Meta tags and H1 tags hold the same importance as keyword research, link building and site architecture, or that they should paralyze you in fear. There has no been research to prove that self-induced paralysis has any effect on your rankings.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not important or that you should forget them. The details are important. If they play any part in the search engine’s algorithm, they should be part of your search engine optimization campaign. Why? Because if you’re ignoring them and your competition isn’t, it puts you at a disadvantage. You can’t afford that.
I’m going to say it again, mostly because I can: The details are important. The details are what give you that final push to overtake your competitors.
As Jill correctly notes, however, you don’t want to become so consumed with the details that you neglect the bigger stuff. You want to spend time doing keyword research, you want to spend time addressing usability concerns. She’s right, there’s no sense optimizing your Meta tags if your page is so buried the engines can’t find it anyway. You have to find a middle ground and balance your time effectively.
We’ve said this many times and I apologize if it sounds somewhat pretentious (I don’t mean it to be), but anything worth doing is worth doing right. It’s worth it to use nails to build a house instead of glue because in the end you have a stronger structure. One swift change in the weather won’t knock down a house made with nails. The same thing applies here. Don’t be an algorithm chaser.
Who wouldn’t love a way to streamline the optimization process? Writing Meta tags isn’t my idea of a good time, but it takes just as long to write a proper Meta tag as it does to create a crappy one. (Or to fight with yourself over whether you should include them in the first place). It takes just as much time to write a good Title as a bad one. Why not write a good one? Why wouldn’t you want your site to be the best it could be?
I’d love to cut down the amount of work that goes into a search engine optimization campaign. If we could do that, we could have more clients, we could create more great sites and maybe Susan and I could get separate offices. But there’s a reason for all those steps – they’re all important. The engines are working with 100+ different factors and you never know which one will be the tie breaker. Do you want to be kicked off the first page of the results because your competition optimized their Title and Description tags and you didn’t? That seems pretty ridiculous. Don’t put yourself in that situation.
The trouble with ‘not sweating the small stuff’ is that you end up with an okay site. Not a great site, just one that’s ‘good enough’. If all you’re willing to optimize for is ‘good enough’ then your rankings will reflect that. Top 20 is good enough. Top 10 requires more work. Top 3? That requires sweating the small stuff.
If you’re not willing to put in the work to be the best, why would any search engine consider you the best?