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!

2 thoughts on “WPToronto East lightning talk: The state of SEO

  1. Really great stuff Andy. If I had to prioritize these all though I’d probably go like this on where to focus energies based on my experience writing for our company blog for 6 years:

    2 – topics not keywords makes a ton of sense and is super friendly IF you know your target market and what they want to find

    10 – SEO is costly in terms of experimentation and writing, getting a quality mailing list for example can start on day 1 and you must feed them good stuff to keep you “top of mind”

    1, 8 and 9 are motherhood & apple pie – local, long term game and nothing lasts forever (things change) are sort of “no duh” but still must be remembered as a check/balance type thing

    4 & 6 – quality and structure are sort of together I think. Quality is composed of not just good content but good structure. Both help your customers (be it people or search engines!)

    3 – quantity is important ONLY if 2,4 and 6 work otherwise don’t bother

    5 and 7 speed and mobile are the last on my list. If you use a high quality infrastructure and good systems like WordPress you *should* be ok, it’s not something someone really should worry about when they make good choices up front.

    I focus on 2, 10, 4 and 6 (in that order) and let the rest take care of itself.

    • Appreciate the comment, and thanks for adding another POV + context. ūüôā Would really like to hear from others’ experience as well — maybe a future meetup? — that goes beyond the theory and into “here’s what we’ve done”.

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