WPToronto East lightning talk: The state of SEO

The following is a summary of the lightning talk I gave at this month’s WPToronto East meetup. You can check out the slides on Google docs, though all the meat is contained in this post. ūüôā

Let’s get some jargon out of the way…

  • Traffic:¬†The number of visitors or visits to your website.
  • Search query:¬†The words or phrases that people search for.
  • On-site or on-page SEO: All the optimization you do on your site.
  • Off-site SEO: Tactics to promote your site’s content and affect ranking signals.
  • Page title, meta description:¬†The text that appears in search results.
  • Keyword research:¬†Techniques to¬†determine what people are searching for.

1. SEO is a long-term game.

You’re not going to see immediate traffic growth from SEO. The value comes from incremental traffic over time to the content you publish on your website.

If you want to see short-term traffic growth, throw money at it: invest in advertising on search engines and social media.

Ideally you should be doing both. Start publishing content and aiming for incremental organic growth through SEO. Run paid campaigns to drive traffic to priority pages.

2. Plan for topics, not keywords.

Google is smart and keeps getting smarter. That’s the beauty of machine learning. It’s what RankBrain is all about.¬†(Algorithm update. Big deal. Hit in 2015. Lots of press in 2016. Look it up.)

Google is workin’ very hard to interpret search queries and connect those searchers with the right content, even if that content isn’t a 100% match to the keywords used.

In my opinion, that also means we¬†shouldn’t obsess over exact keyword matching. Instead, we should focus on topical relevance and let Google handle the correlation.

That’s not to say that keyword research isn’t important. Keyword research still points you in the right direction of user intent and help you determine which topics to write about.

3. Go for quantity.

You may have heard of longtail SEO. It’s the notion that traffic from many low-popularity search queries can beat the traffic for high-popularity, competitive keywords. (Moz has an excellent article on longtail SEO tactics.)

That’s where machine learning and AI has come in handy for large organizations. Automated content has traditionally been terrible, but advancements in machine learning and AI means the quality has improved drastically.

If you choose to pursue this path you’ll need to pump out a lot of content on a regular basis. So that might mean employing a lot of writers, or relying on user generated content like community forums or guest posts.

4. Go for quality.

If you don’t have the resources to produce a large volume of content on a regular basis, aim for producing higher quality content less frequently.

I’m talking epic pieces of content here: Long. Detailed. Actionable. Skimmable.

(If you want to start gathering email addresses and building a mailing list, include worksheets or templates that require an email address to download.)

Brian Dean at Backlinko calls it the Skyscraper Technique. Take stock of whatever content already exists and produce something 10x better. He did it with his comprehensive Google Ranking Factors article.

Side note: Even if you do have the resources for producing a large volume of content, high-quality content will come in handy. They’re usually better performers for social sharing and more effective for paid promotion than short, weak articles.

Check out this report from BuzzSumo that analyzes the type of content that get a lot of shares, links, and traffic.

5. Go for speed.

Your content’s gotta load quickly. Google created AMP for this very reason.¬†Speed is better for visitors (your content loads quickly), it’s better for Google (users appreciate the quick responses to search queries), and it’s better for you.

WP Curve has a stellar blog post detailing how to optimize your WordPress site for speed.

Pingdom, Google’s PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix are three tools that’ll evaluate your site’s performance¬†and provide recommendations for improving load times.

6. Go for structure.

A number of years ago (2009) Google began pulling structured data into search results in the form of rich snippets.

As the Google machine continues to chug along with machine learning and semantic analysis, this sort of structured markup will help Google improve its understanding of different pieces of content. So there’s that.

But also take into consideration their prioritization of mobile, and how rich snippets — especially featured snippets — are very,¬†very¬†prominent on those tiny lil’ screens.

Those snippets largely depend on structured data, either explicit (you do it in the markup) or inferred (Google makes the call based on your content’s structure).

So yeah. Add structured data to your site. For WordPress: All In One Schema.org is a handy plugin, no coding required.

7. Go for mobile-first.

Last fall Google pushed out their mobile-first index, basically meaning that mobile search results are the priority. Here’s a quote from their blog post:

To make our results more useful, we’ve begun experiments to make our index mobile-first. Although our search index will continue to be a single index of websites and apps, our algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data, and to show snippets from those pages in our results.

If you’re not prioritizing the mobile experience¬†you’re going to suffer the consequences.

Having a “good enough” site on mobile isn’t going to cut it.¬†Your site needs to kick ass on mobile. It has to be designed for it.

8. Go local.

This one’s particularly important for brick n’ mortar.

Think about how you’re using your phone. Out and about.

Relative queries like “near me” or “near ___” are all contextual based on your current geolocation or a specified geolocation.

From Google:

‚ÄúLocal searches lead to more purchases than non-local searches. 18% of local searches on smartphone lead to a purchase within a day vs. 7% of non-local searches.‚ÄĚ

Related infographic.

Bonus: Check out the Local SEO Checklist from Moz + their Local SEO blog posts.

9. Effective tactics don’t last forever.

Last spring, Moz, a leader in the SEO space, published a list of old-school SEO tactics that no longer work.

My takeaway from the Moz article, and honestly the biggest takeaway I have for this lightning talk, is that we should all optimize our websites and our content for usability.

It’s a win-win-win for everyone. Your visitors have an easier time finding what they need; Google is more inclined to drive traffic to you; and you’ll get more traffic.

10. Remember that SEO is only one channel.

My recommendation? Diversify the content you’re producing and put it out in multiple channels on a regular basis.

Build a brand. Grow an audience and create a community on social media.

Grow an email subscription mailing list.

Partner with existing brands to expose yourself to their audience.

Do some PR and reach out to influencers and the media to cover the big things you’re working on, whether it’s your epic content or special promotions.

All of these activities are strong on their own, and they have the positive side effect of improving your SEO, since Google’s looking at¬†these social indicators as ranking factors.

Final thoughts…

SEO changes fast and often. You could drive yourself nuts trying to stay on top of all those changes.

And you probably have better things to do with your time than trawling all of the SEO industry sources. (I know. I tried for a while. I didn’t get much work done in those days.)

So, now, I have a few go-to’s:

And that’s all I got!

Internal vs. External Communities

I’ve been thinking about different types of communities lately. In particular, different types of communities that a business or organization would¬†be involved with.

Generally speaking, a community is a group of people that have something in common, right?

So imagine you’re running a business. You have customers. You have employees. Maybe you even have investors. They all have¬†you in common, so I think of these as internal communities.

And if you decide to create a place for these communities to gather — maybe a Facebook group, maybe a support forum, maybe a company intranet, maybe an investor relations portal — you’ll have certain obligations.

You’ll need to maintain these platforms. You’ll also need to look after the people who are using them. You’l need to handle their inquiries, settle their disputes, and encourage their ongoing participation and use of the community platform.

But your business doesn’t exist in a void. You’re also a member of different, external¬†communities.

If you have a physical storefront, you’ve got your neighbours, a local community of residents and businesses. You could participate in this local community by taking part in fundraisers, sponsoring a youth soccer club, or referring customers to each other.

And depending on the type of business you run, you may belong to an association with other businesses that sell similar products or services. You could participate by showing up at events

And then you’ve got your vendors. Maybe they have a community for customers or partners that you’re a part of, like Shopify’s Partner Program or GoDaddy Pro¬†or Beaver Builder’s Facebook group?

So what’s the takeaway?

You’re a facilitator of your internal communities.¬†You’re the thing that everyone has in common. How you facilitate these communities, and to what extent, is up to you. What you decide to do, the goals you decide to pursue, that’s your call. But any level of facilitation requires a level of commitment and investment.

You’re a participant in your external communities.¬†Your level of participation, and to what extent, is up to you. (Deja vu!) Maybe you’re just a casual observer, listening to what others have to say? Or maybe you’re a more active participant,¬†kickstarting new initiatives?


You facilitate internal communities. You participate in external communities.

So here’s my challenge to you…

If you’re running or working for a business, think about your internal communities and what you’re doing to facilitate them. (Are you missing an opportunity to bring people together and provide value for everyone involved?) Then think about your external communities and how you’re participating in them. (Could you be doing more?)

Coding is the new frontier of blue-collar work.

These sorts of coders won’t have the deep knowledge to craft wild new algorithms for flash trading or neural networks. Why would they need to? That level of expertise is rarely necessary at a job. But any blue-collar coder will be plenty qualified to sling Java­Script for their local bank. That’s a solidly middle-class job, and middle-class jobs are growing: The national average salary for IT jobs is about $81,000 (more than double the national average for all jobs), and the field is set to expand by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than most other occupations.

Source: The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding | WIRED

Agreed.¬†“Coding” can apply to a very, very broad range of roles.

Ten resolutions for 2017.

It’s funny how taking a week off work can feel so much longer.

This was the first full-on vacation I’ve taken since May. I never checked my work email, Slack, or Zoom. I even unplugged¬†from my non-work projects. (Being under the weather for a few of those days certainly helped with the disconnect.)

That unplugging gave me time to reflect. ¬†Now, as I reboot my routine for 2017, I have a set of resolutions (or themes, or goals…)¬†on my mind for this new year.

Keep reading…Ten resolutions for 2017.

Empathy and self-control.

Empathy depends on your ability to overcome your own perspective, appreciate someone else‚Äôs, and step into their shoes. Self-control is essentially the same skill, except that those other shoes belong to your future self‚ÄĒa removed and hypothetical entity who might as well be a different person. So think of self-control as a kind of temporal selflessness. It‚Äôs Present You taking a hit to help out Future You.

Source: Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self – The Atlantic

Does time management ruin lives?

Yet as the historian Ruth Cowan demonstrates in her 1983 book More Work for Mother, the result, for much of the 20th century, was not an increase in leisure time among those charged with doing the housework. Instead, as the efficiency of housework increased, so did the standards of cleanliness and domestic order that society came to expect. Now that the living-room carpet could be kept perfectly clean, it had to be; now that clothes never needed to be grubby, grubbiness was all the more taboo. These days, you can answer work emails in bed at midnight. So should that message you got at 5.30pm really wait till morning for a reply?

Source: Why time management is ruining our lives | Oliver Burkeman | Technology | The Guardian

A particularly relevant read as we roll into January. It’s a month of declaring resolutions and setting goals for self-improvement – including time management and productivity,¬†according to Google Trends.