The number one question I get asked about search engine optimization is this:
How do I make my site rank for...
I just shake my head. Sites don't rank - pages do. And how well a page will "rank" is really dependent upon two things: one, whether your content correctly answers the searcher's query, and two, how well you're known in the marketplace for the outcome you produce.
In the end, being "found" is about being "relevant" and being "interesting". Are you the man in the Hathaway shirt? If so, you'll be found. If you're just some clown standing there saying, "I have shirts and eyepatches and ties and WANNA BUY?" then you'll get nowhere.
I focus on making clients relevant and interesting - because in the end - it's really the only SEO that works that isn't destroyed or ruined by a "Google update." That's because of three things: one, ultimately you don't control how your content is discovered, how it will be used, and what the customer will make of it; two, whether you like it or not, all search engines use "searcher intent" and "searcher satisfaction" to determine your page relevance; three, ultimately being interesting and having a high intrinsic value are the most important activities.
A friend of mine, Avinash Kaushik (Analytics Evangelist at Google, author of Web Analytics - An Hour A Day and Web Analytics 2.0, and Blogger over at Occam's Razor) wrote this a few years back in one of his blog posts. It's an important point for brands to remember when it comes to usability, functionality and how consumers find out about your brand, and work their way through your online experiences. He wrote:
Most people don't go through websites the way we want or expect them to.
They do a simple search, see the results and make a decision, or they do a similar search on their mobile device and are able to pull enough information from that channel to make a choice. As if that isn't confusing enough for brands trying to create some semblance of an online experience and optimize it so that they can "be found," the way in which consumers first find out about brands is shifting and moving away from the search engines.
As Gary Vaynerchuck infamously said, "F*ck Google."
The bottom line is that if you're approaching SEO that it's some kind of "game" where magic language and on-page coding is going to solve all of your problems. - you're going to be SORELY unhappy with the results.
Those days are long over.
My approach to SEO is quite simple, and it's closely tied to another idea I'm very passionate about, Social Media - if you want to "be found" on a topic, then here's an idea - be relevant, and even better, be interesting.
Being relevant requires understanding a couple of things: one, what is the searcher likely looking to find? Do they want to buy something? Do they want to know something? Do they want to do it themselves?
There are lots of reasons why someone is searching for information on Google (or in social media or anywhere else). Starting with understanding what that premise is likely to be gets you about 60% of the way to winning the "SEO battle," because it means you'll develop an answer (and content) that will likely have an intrinsically high value. Believe it or not, this is more important than any on-page coding you could possibly screw up. I've seen horrendously coded pages that are highly relevant to answering search queries wind up at the top of SERP results (it's rare, but it happens).
I like to call the degree to which I can match the "searcher's intent" with the organic content I create as the "organic quality score." It's similar to what Google does in its own ranking of PAID advertising, where it evaluates the advertisement against the landing page. (A great ad that is perfectly matched to the landing page is a 10. A great ad that is totally mismatched to the landing page is a 1. A crappy ad that is perfectly matched to the landing page is a 5.)
So what makes for a high performing organic site then? Basically three things: first, content that is very high quality when evaluated from the perspective of the SEARCHER (the customer); two, exceptionally useful and non-linear mechanisms to find the content (again, users don't use your site the way you always expect them to); finally, three, building great content over time that remains focused on cornerstone issues.
For those who are willing to take the time to figure out how to make valued content, that is structured in ways that can be indexed properly, and provides prospective customers with the experience they're likely looking to find, the rewards can be tremendous. A good SEO strategy can increase traffic 100X, and increasing the quality of leads, increase conversions, and increase profitability. It is well worth the time to do SEO right, but understand that good SEO is more than just tricks, coding, backlinks, and trying to manipulate Google. Let's chat about how we can get you found in the market by being more interesting and relevant to prospective customers.