#1 THINK BIG: It’s critical that you give yourself permission to think bigger. If you’re limiting your optimization efforts to your content, platform, and links, then you have no way of gaining ground on competitors who are actively improving their user experiences, products, and propositions.
We need to move beyond the word ‘optimisation’. It’s a terrible way of thinking; it implies that you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got, rather than thinking beyond those constraints.
On our mind is to outrank competitors, chase “position zero” results, retain and convert traffic, and much more – but we rarely stop to assess what’s different and valuable about the actual product or services we’re trying to drive traffic through.
There’s only so much you can do to tweak your targeting, fill up your blog, and pester journalists – eventually, competing and winning means that you have to go deeper into the business and consider the price, the people, the positioning.
What if reducing your prices by 10 percent could drive better user signals, increase rankings, attract traffic, and convert more visitors? Getting rich snippets and great rankings might mean nothing if you’re twice the price of the competitors.
What if you put your whole SEO budget into training the customer services team? Getting tons of inquiries through your long-tail editorial content won’t count for much if the team isn’t trained to understand new and different types of customer journeys.
So, think bigger. Go beyond the page, beyond the keywords, and look for opportunities to optimise more deeply, and more meaningfully. That’ll create the kinds of signals which Google is looking to rank, and everybody wins.
#2 THINK FOR YOURSELF
Steer your own SEO game and always ensure you critically analyze and question everything you read or hear.
While it’s important to be part of communities, it’s equally important to be a free-thinker and avoid the herd mentality.
SEO is an industry where we have to fill in a lot of the gaps. It’s easy to presume others more senior or established have filled in those gaps correctly because of rhetoric.
This is not the always the case.
Read widely. Listen widely.
Explore in literature beyond the blogs and commonly viewed sources.
Do all of these things critically.
Build your own data-driven insights, test and surprise yourself by what you find.
Don’t discount or accept as fact, techniques or strategies by SEOs simply because you like them, or because everyone else does.
Disagree when you have to and support your disagreement with articulate rationale and further evidence.
#3 PAY ATTENTION:
Pay attention to the blend of different result types you see on the SERPs where you’re competing.
You can find some surprising opportunities by knowing what types of content experiences Google is offering searchers.
For example, there are some verticals where the use of the word “compare” gives rise to SERPs that have very prominent video result.
These types of insights provide big opportunities for those who are paying attention.
#4 FIX INTERNAL LINKING:
Any site with a tiny bit of authority can help itself by really considering what other good content on the site is relevant when you’re reading page X on that site, and then making sure that content is linked.
So often I find adding half a dozen proper internal links can boost a page’s rankings.
#5 BE CURIOUS:
When someone newer to the industry says they don’t know how to do something, I like to burst their impostor syndrome bubble.
The secret to doing great SEO is to simply follow your natural curiosity.
Asking questions like, “what’s that?” will carry SEO strategy a long way.
That curiosity can take someone into technical areas or my favorite – a deeper understanding of human behavior.
SEO will always excite me because we’re tracking how people search for information. That’s complicated, challenging work that’s never finished and there’s nothing more thrilling than figuring something just to have the game change.
#6 Learn How to Earn Featured Snippets:
Featured snippets have attracted a lot of attention, and for good reason. They sit above the normal search results and therefore attract a lot of attention. Their very positioning them makes it seem like Google is saying that, “this is the definitive answer.”
OK, so why is it such a big deal? Two reasons:
- If you’re currently in position 5 for a SERP, it may well be less effort for you to get to Position Zero, than it would be to get in position 1. If you’re already in position 1, it’s also easier for your competitor to get to Position Zero and position 1, so you want to get the featured snippet to defend your turf.
- In the world of personal assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Google Assistant running on your phone, Cortana, …) you speak your commands to them, and you get a spoken response. When you get one spoken response, that response is drawn from the featured snippet, notthe regular SERPs. As more and more of the world starts speaking their queries, rather than typing them, having that featured snippet position will become increasingly critical!
How to get them is a much longer answer, but it involves learning how to create the type of content that Google is using to generate these in your market.
Context, because it matters more.
But if you really want to be successful moving forward you need to focus on some more basic elements.
Markup, HTTPS, and mobile.
If these three things aren’t on your immediate radar, you could easily be passed by competitors.
Markup alone opens the doors to so much rich-engagement opportunity in a SERP it’s a no-brainer.
Add in voice search growth and it’s table stakes moving forward. Not a nice-to-have, but a must-have.
#8 Managing client expectations.
One place that I, and many others, have gone wrong is right out of the gate with a new client.
I really like to talk to them about the goals and conversion points of the business/website to get a sense of what’s important to them and what the ultimate goal of the SEO work is going to be. And also, to get a sense of how they envision the process.
From there you want to make sure that everything is realistic on their end.
Are the terms they want to target realistic given the budget, the resources, and the competition?
Each and every query space is going to have an associated cost involved. You want to ensure that they understand that so that there’s no “sticker shock” down the road.
#9 Develop an Effective Strategy before worrying about tactics.
Far too often, SEO practitioners spend an inordinate amount of time, effort, and money chasing the latest tactics without giving any real thought into what they’re trying to accomplish in the long term.
Big strategic goals will differentiate you from everyone else in your industry, which will give you a significant advantage, both in SEO and in business, in general.
With a strategic goal in place, you can then plan the tactics most appropriate to achieve that goal.
This will enable you to achieve far more and to do so more quickly and more efficiently.
We need to have discipline in every aspect of what we do for organic search optimization.
Commitment to content takes discipline.
Following best practices takes discipline.
Reading all the valuable content from industry experts, newsletters, forums, and blogs takes discipline.
Avoiding shortcuts and dangerous schemes for gaming the system can take real discipline.
Lastly, knowing what tactics to try and how to gauge success takes (you guessed it) discipline (and some luck).
#10 Response Codes
Your server should return a 404 for page not found, a 301 for a permanent redirect, and a 302 for a temporary redirect. The correct response codes tell spiders how to treat pages.
For example, you want a search engine to understand if a page is gone (404). If you return, say, a 302 response for broken links and display a “not found” page, search engines may repeatedly index the error page, creating runaway duplication.
Do a Google search for common error page text. You’ll find lots of indexed error pages. Those servers return the wrong response code. They’re wasting crawl budget and generating duplicate content.
You need good hardware. Ensure your server uses solid state drives, and has enough RAM to cache pages in memory (if that’s relevant).
Have a robust caching solution in place. Even better, use something like Cloudflare.
Most important, don’t paint yourself into a corner. Use a hosting service that makes upgrades easy when you grow.
Good performance improves UX and use of crawl budget. Look what happens to this client’s pages crawled per day when time spent downloading drops:
#11 Make sure your website is crawlable and indexable.
You would think this would be obvious, but I have run across two sites in literally the last two weeks that were completely blocking crawlers in their robots.txt and had been for, probably, ages… and they didn’t know it.
Between goofs in the robots.txt to forgetting to turn off the sitewide “noindex” once the site was officially live to strange combinations of meta refreshes with 302s to navigation that cannot be traversed, I’m regularly astounded by the ways websites make themselves uncrawlable.
Ultimately, your wonderful content and your SEO magic/secret sauces aren’t going to help you at all if you’re telling Googlebot to go pound sand.
#12 Be the solution.
People are online looking for information. Be the answer, solve the problem and be the one that provides the solution for those looking.
This can be in any form; video, graphics, ebooks, white papers, sales sheets, slide decks, infographics etc., but as long as it is providing the solution… you are golden.
Of course, if you are optimizing all those different types of solutions they will be rewarded on the search engines and drive traffic. They will build natural links and be socialized; simply, because you are providing the information people are looking for.
There are many ways to find what people are looking for as well:
- Analytics provided by social networks.
- Google Trends.
- Q&A sites.
- Talking with your sales/customer service teams and really understanding what questions are being asked by real customers.
- Running your own polls.
These are just a few ideas that can help you gain great insights.
Dig deeper and be the solution.
#13 Research and optimize for questions!
These days we have awesome tools at our disposal that give us valuable insight into questions your audience and customers are asking online.
Addressing those questions in your copy has lots of benefits, from increased odds to be featured to better engagement with your webpage, which is something I wrote about in my Search Engine Journal article, How to Find Niche Questions: Optimize Your Site for Q&A.
- Question research lets you understand your customers’ struggles better and enables you to meet their needs in your copy better.
- Optimizing for questions makes your copy better optimized for voice search.
- Addressing questions in your copy helps you optimize your copy for Google’s featured snippets.
- Making questions prominent on your landing page prompts your users to spend more time on the page because human beings have a natural reflex to stop and look for answers.
To help you research niche questions use the following tools:
- Serpstat “Search questions” feature
- Google’s “People Also Ask” box (which expands with more questions as you start using it)
- Answer the Public
- Buzzsumo’s “Question Analyzer”
#14 Do a full SEO audit.
It doesn’t matter if you have done one in the past.
It is always good to have an updated status of your site optimization from a technical, content and popularity stand-point, as well as an understanding of your organic search visibility vs. your competition to serve as an input to establish – or update – a cost-effective SEO strategy that is correctly aligned to your situation and goals.
#15 learn JS frameworks. They’re becoming a lot more popular and you’ll need to know how to work with them soon.