I’m frequently being asked to summarize my SEO approach. In a nutshell, I base my five-pronged approach on the Google guidelines. In the guidelines, there is all sorts of information to help you improve your rankings by making sure Google can “find your pages, understand your pages and help visitors use your pages”.
The underlying theme running throughout those guidelines and how Google works is: keep the focus squarely on the user (and lose the rose-colored glasses)
1. Assess your content with the user in mind
No doubt, you need to take a clear look at your current content with the guidelines in mind. But there are two more ways to look at your content.
Way back in 2011, Google Fellow Amit Singhal published More Guidance on Building High-Quality Sites. In the article, he lists a series of questions giving you insight into what Google considers a quality site. How many “Yes” answers would your site get?
The other way to look at your content is to step back and take an honest, no-BS look at it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen website owners come into the Webmaster Central, swearing up and down their content is high quality. Yet when I get to the site, it’s clear the content was written for search engines and not for the user.
There are a couple of ways to test the content. Read it out loud. Does it sound natural? Or are you repeating the same phrases over and over again?
The real test: if you stumbled upon this content via a search query, would you share it with your friends?
If you feel you can’t answer the question honestly, find family or friends who aren’t afraid to voice their opinion. Ask them what they think of your content.
Ask yourself if your content answers the user’s query in an engaging, useful and unique way.
2. Analyze your current content creation strategy
Google wants their user to find original, unique and useful content when they search for information.
Unfortunately, some people think that means rewriting other people’s articles or rewriting a Wikipedia page.
That’s not what Google is looking for — and neither is your user.
If you write your own content, examine your strategies. Are you simply rewriting and rehashing other people’s content? Are you an authority on the subject matter?
If you hire writers or use contributors, are you absolutely sure they aren’t rewriting or spinning somebody else’s content? Do you read and edit their work? Are they inserting links to other websites when they shouldn’t be? Are they being paid by a 3rd party to promote something on your website? That’s a tactic that can get you into trouble with Google.
The content needs to be aimed at answering or informing the user. If you haven’t yet already, it’s really worth it to invest some time in developing a content strategy that will guide you in creating the most relevant information for your target market.
3. Assess current and past SEO practices
If you think Google keeps changing the rules, then it’s likely you’ve engaged in SEO practices that are against the guidelines.
Have you ever hired an SEO company? If the answer is yes, then most likely you’ll need to go over your site for anything against the guidelines (such as automatically generated content). And I’m willing to bet money you’ll have to clean up your backlink profile. If the company you hired built backlinks, then you need to go through your backlink profile and disavow any unnatural links.
Even without an SEO company, it’s easy to get caught up in using tactics or strategies you think will attract Google and push you up in rankings. Any tactics you used with Google specifically in mind — either online or offline — needs to be honestly reassessed.
4. Assess the user experience
Since Google is “all about the user”, then you need to be too. Does your site load quickly? Can users navigate the site easily? Is the important content above the fold or do your ads push the content down below?
With a variety of devices and browsers on the market, it’s essential to put your best foot forward. Is the site mobile-friendly? Does it load properly in all major browsers?
Have you ever sat down and used your own site as a user? That can be an eye-opening experience. Better yet, get a willing friend or stranger to perform specific tasks on the site while you watch. Can they perform the task easily? Or do they get confused and give up?
Privacy is important to Google too. While having an HTTPS site is currently a small ranking factor, HTTPS is something far beyond ranking. You’re keeping the user’s connection between your site and their computer private.
5. Assess Google’s experience
In a sense, Google is also one of your “users”. You need to make sure Google can find and understand your site.
Examine how Google crawls and indexes your site and, based on Google’s technical guidelines, make the necessary adjustments to ensure Google fully understands your site.
Check out the Help Google Understand Your Pages section of the guidelines. There’s a comprehensive list of items to go through.
Whether it’s backlink building or low quality content, Google is strict when it comes to websites that try to spam search results by using “black hat” tactics. For egregious offenders, Google will hit the site with a manual action. A manual action can bring a website to its knees and greatly impact revenue.
It can take weeks, if not months, to bring your site back within Google’s guidelines. And it can then take weeks more for Google to review the issue.
Bottom line, don’t try to find loopholes when reading and following the guidelines. It will only hurt your website — and your revenue!
By keeping the user’s best interest in mind at all times, you never have to worry about rules and guidelines.
Want more information? Unsure about something? Send us an email and we’ll be happy to take a look at your site.