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July 11, 2012

Why SEO Basics Still Matter

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There are a ton of advanced Web marketing tactics these days, and the evolution of the field has brought us to a very healthy, holistic approach to digital marketing. But it’s equally important not to lose sight of the basics that allow a website to reach its full potential. We see it time and time again; sites that don’t implement the fundamentals of SEO find obstacles creeping in to various parts of their sites, their businesses, their strategies. That’s why SEO basics are the foundation of any successful website.

Businesswoman Standing Next to Chalkboard with SEO on It

Learn why the basics of SEO still matter.

At the upcoming Search Engine Strategies in San Francisco this August, Bruce Clay  presents the session, “Getting Started with SEO.” Conferences host these types of sessions time and time again because the basics of SEO are still very relevant.

This is because:

  • Large brands with complicated websites are unable to take their site to the next step without implementing the basics of SEO on their site.
  • Small business site owners are just getting started in search engine optimization, and need to understand why these tactics exist, and how to implement them.

Inspired by Bruce’s upcoming presentation, I thought we’d use this post to look at what SEO basics still matter and why. But first, let’s explore the “lasting” side of SEO – the approach to SEO that stands the test of time.

The Lasting Approach to SEO

SEO is evolving, and has since its inception. The way Bruce Clay, Inc. (BCI) has always approached SEO is to perform it in a way that’s search engine “approved,” so to speak. We’re all playing in the search engines’ “sandbox.” So it’s important that we take an approach to SEO that works in tandem with their recommendations.

There are more than 200 ranking signals in Google’s algorithm alone, with hundreds of updates made yearly, so it’s safe to say that no one (with the exception of those closest to it at Google) will ever know exactly what the search engine algorithm is looking for.

We do, however, know that there are SEO tactics that search engines find very helpful to assist them in doing their job better. Which brings me to my next point: one of Google’s primary goals is user experience. So many of the SEO tactics they approve are aimed at making the search experience better for its users.

Here is Google’s Matt Cutts commenting on the signals in a 2010 video:

Two things to remember about SEO:

  1. Google’s algorithm isn’t perfect. While a mathematical algorithm might be good at completing some tasks very well, sometimes the intention behind the algorithm is not fully captured. This leaves people confused when they believe they are doing everything right and still aren’t seeing the results they want.
  2. SEO isn’t perfect. You do the best you can with the information that’s available to you and the wisdom you and your teammates have from years of practice, success and failure. You stay on top of developments and implement, and test over and over again. And instead of trying to have “the perfect” site in the eyes of the search engine, BCI believes being the least imperfect is more realistic.

Yet through all the evolution, the basics of SEO rarely change. The parameters of the basics may evolve, but the fundamental goal of the basics is pretty darn consistent.

For example, take anchor text links. This is a tactic that search engines like Google approve of. But, with the recent Penguin update in Google’s algorithm, it prompted the site owners to take a second look at how to approach anchor text; but, it didn’t eliminate the need for anchor text altogether.

What SEO Basics Still Matter and Why

In Bruce’s upcoming presentation at SES, he’ll discuss SEO basics that are still very important for sites to be able to compete in the search engines. These also happen to be tactics Google believes are important.

  • A website’s information architecture. This is how you design your site from a content organization perspective. This includes keyword research mixed with topic structure. Google thinks this is important for the spiders to crawl easily and understand what the site is about. It’s also for user experience, so a person can navigate information with ease.
  • Server performance. If a page takes too long too load, you’ll likely lose visitors. Google thinks a fast site can be important for user experience.
  • Linking practices of your website. Inbound, outbound and internal linking structures build authority and help users find what they are looking for. Google believes links are important to understanding the relevancy and expertness of a site.
  • Individual Web page factors. Includes on-page tactics like proper use of Meta tags and creating quality content. Google believes this to be important to both the search engine spiders and the user experience.

There’s much more we could add to this list. The takeaway here is that SEO best practices stem from what the search engine finds is most helpful to its spiders and the end user.

Why Education Always Matters

First things first: learn how to do the SEO basics exceptionally well. SEO is not a “one and done” thing – it’s cyclical, and improvements can always be made. Mastering the basics of SEO takes several iterations on your site. With each attempt, the goal is to improve upon the last round.

Diagram of the Process of Search Engine Optimization

That said, the way you perform the basics of SEO can change as well. As I explained in the anchor text example earlier in the post, the way the algorithm works changes over time.

These algo updates are often a result of two things:

  1. Reaction to SPAM – people gaming the system to the point where Google has to make a change to the way the algorithm works
  2. Proactive improvements to the algorithm – search engines working to better its product and user experience.

So what’s a site owner to do? Education. If you don’t look at SEO from a “continuing education” perspective, you’ll quickly fall behind. So attend those webinars, read your weekly search news, go to conferences or even SEO training.

Without the important element of wisdom in your SEO strategy, you might have knee-jerk reactions to the things Google does because you don’t have a bird’s eye view. This can be super counterproductive and end up costing you.

So to recap, SEO basics are about:

  • Keeping with the search engine’s guidelines and recommendations on what makes a great site;
  • Creating sites with the user experience in mind, and following SEO tactics that help move that goal forward;
  • Using the data we collect during our SEO strategy backed by the wisdom about the discipline and the industry

If you’re heading to SES SF, don’t forget to catch Bruce’s presentation on “Getting Started with SEO” on August 14 at 2 p.m. If you’re looking for a more in-depth class, his one-day SEO workshop for SES is on August 17. And if you haven’t bought your SES pass yet, get 20 percent off registration with code 20BRU when you sign up.

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6 responses to “Why SEO Basics Still Matter”

  1. Kent writes:

    I think that in order to understand the basic SEO, we need to understand human behavior as well, the purpose of optimizing a website is to rank high on search engines so that people are able to search you, click on your link, read your website, eventually do what you want them to do.

  2. Nick Stamoulis writes:

    That’s a good point that SEO is not a “one and done thing”. If you want to continue to perform well, you need to continue to work at it and keep up with industry and search engine algorithm changes. If you are still using outdated tactics, it can harm the success of the site.

  3. ethan writes:

    What a great and thorough post. Thank you for breaking down the SEO basics. I really like your visual guideline for the framework of SEO. I have certainly found that having a checklist also works well before you begin any work on your site.

  4. Josh McCoy writes:

    SEO’s will always matter because Google cannot control everything.

  5. Steven Macdonald writes:

    Great post Jessica.
    The basics are often overlooked, and a recent Youmoz entry I posted emphasized the importance of SEO basics as I doubled traffic and sales with four easy improvements.

    SEO Youmoz article:
    http://www.seomoz.org/ugc/four-seo-basics-that-helped-double-organic-traffic-and-sales-overnight

  6. Jessica Lee writes:

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments!



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