Everyone who works online needs to know about SEO. I don’t care if you’re a UI designer, Java programmer, or a WordPress developer. The cold, hard fact of the Internet is this: you need to know about SEO. If you derive your livelihood from a connected computer, it’s imperative that you understand a few key facts about search engine optimization.
But the question is, what do you need to know about SEO? There are people who actually spend their entire professional careers learning about SEO, discovering the hidden secrets of the algorithm, and trying to get their sites to the top of the search engine results page.
You’ve got more important things to worry about than figuring out the differences between Panda or Penguin. Besides, a lot of the “SEO basics” that you hear about are just the same pablum that’s been circulated for the last decade — “use meta tags,” “content is king,” yadi, yadi, yadi. Besides, as long as it’s not threatening your job security or success, you can leave SEO to the birds (Hummingbirds and Penguins to be precise).
If you read this article, your perspective is about to dramatically change.
An (Interesting) Introduction about SEO
Just the Facts
Following is a discussion of four — just four — facts that you have to know about SEO. This isn’t going to be a nerd fest about Penguin 2.0. This is going to be a straightforward say-it-like-it-is explanation of SEO facts that could improve your life as an Internet-connected homo sapiens.
First, you’ll discover why SEO is clutch. Hint: It affects everything you do. Second, you’ll learn the central most important thing about SEO, even though it’s overlooked by web knowledge workers much to their detriment. Third, you’ll find out the ugly and shocking truth about ruining your site by violating the mysterious “rules” of SEO. Finally, you’ll discover the brutal realities of a world that’s dominated by SEO, even if you’re one of the people who think that SEO is dead.
Why is SEO so important?
- Before getting into the four facts, I need to explain something that’s critical to the discussion. Why does this even matter? Why is SEO even a deal?
- Here’s why. Because SEO is the only way a site will survive on the Internet.
- You have a blog? You want readership or revenue? Then you need to know about SEO.
- You have a software development agency? You want clients? You need SEO
- You sell a proprietary warehouse management software for logistics companies? Yeah, you need SEO, too.
- You’re trying to tell the world about cool Adobe InDesign hacks that you discovered? Okay, SEO is the only way to the top.
- You’re a self-made social media manager who wants top-dollar clients to experience your expert services. You need SEO.
- You’re a starry-eyed entrepreneur who wants to build the next Google, Bing, or Yahoo? Um, yes.
SEO has its naysayers — those who minimize its importance, and leave everything to chance, fate, and the whims of the omnipotent algorithm. There’s a reason such entities fail. As long as there is “search” online, there will be “search optimization.” It may “die,” it may take different forms, it may evolve into something else completely. But for right now, SEO is the only way to success.
And it pays to know a few critical facts.
Truth Number One: Everything you do will impact SEO
With very few exceptions, every action that is taken on a website will affect that site’s SEO. Therefore, everyone who has their fingerprints on the creation of said website needs to understand that their role, however oblique, has an affect on SEO.
Let’s take that UX/UI developer.
The algorithm is programmed to eliminate sites from search results that don’t meet some user experience standards. Therefore, UI developer, you are integrally involved in the process of SEO.
It could be argued that user experience is where SEO starts. The UX designer may very well be the most important person on the development team. If, however, the UX lacks SEO sense, then the site is doomed from the start.
Good UXD recognizes interplay of responsive design with SEO. Good UXD can meld killer graphics with excellent sitewide crawlability. Top-tier UXD will be able to infuse a design-centric site with elements that perform like a pro in the SERPs.
Any user experience professional has to know about SEO, otherwise they will not create a product that is worth anything in the long run.
Let’s take that Java, jQuery, AJAX, and Active X developer.
In order for a website to be useful, dynamic and even functional, it needs the power of this kind of coding. Some sites exist solely on these languages. However, what the developer doesn’t know about SEO could kill the site
Here’s how a search engine sees an AJAX site:
The problems of AJAX indexing, server opt-in, cloaking reversal and the logistical rollout of the solution are complex, costly, and time-consuming.
That’s why even the AJAX developer needs to know about SEO.
Let’s take that WordPress developer.
If you’re tricking out a WordPress wireframe with all the bells and whistles, you need to know about SEO. But wait! If you are implementing external DIVs or cooking up some complicated unique code, you could be shooting your SEO in the foot. These kind of development tricks — while admittedly very cool and I admire your amazing skills you’re welcome — are cooking the goose of SEO.
Let’s take that designer.
As someone with a modicum of design sensibility but little in the way of design skills, I admire and respect the many web designers who are making beautiful websites.
Sometimes, the only thing worse that no SEO knowledge is outdated SEO knowledge. Heeding the worn-out Jakob Nielsen advice that people don’t read content or scroll webpages, many designers created web pages with everything crammed above the fold.
Little known to them, the search engine penalizes sites that have certain elements above the fold. The design and development calisthenics that it takes to push everything above the fold can also take a toll on the code’s ability to be crawled and returned in search results.
There’s a reason why Parallax sites — in clear violation of the outmoded above-the-fold-rule — are doing so well in search results, plus dishing up generous doses of eye candy for all to behold. In order to do well in the SERPs, though, they’ve got to have the right SEO elements.
Thus, a designer with a penchant for Parallax had better understand how to turn the homepage into a PHP file with external file loading, or a jQuery workaround that does the same thing.
Most people who know about jQuery, let alone how jQuery should be implemented into a Parallax homepage, don’t know about Penguin 2.0. And why should they? They have a different job description than the SEO.
But this they should know — SEO is critical to their job. At the very least, they should know this fact and consult with an optimization expert
Let’s take that content writer.
If asked to pick the one person who wields the most SEO power, I would point to the content writer. I got my start in the web industry by writing articles, which led to writing “content,” which led to “content marketing,” which led to SEO, which led to writing about SEO and working for an agency.
Content is SEO. But, sadly, even some content writers are functioning under SEO myths that can compromise or even kill a website’s SEO. Some content writers, for example, are still optimizing their anchors or stuffing their content with keywords. Those are no-nos.
Let’s take that web entrepreneur, CEO or CMO.
To zoom out a bit from the microcosm of developers, coders, programmers, designers, and writers, what about the entrepreneur who seeks his or her fortune in the landscapes of the Internet?
Again, SEO is the name of the game. No site will exist without a firm SEO foundation, continuous optimization, and constant upkeep with the changes in search.
Starting off wrong will put you on the path to continual SEO jeopardy.
Truth Number Two: Awesome content is the most important thing. Ever.
If I got a nickel for every time I read “content is king,” I would be worth more than the combined GDP of the G7.
It’s been repeated ad nauseum, but it’s still true. Content is the most important thing in the Internet world. Though websites are built upon the foundation of rock-solid hosting, great development, and sturdy code, the pinnacle is still content.
Content takes so many forms — the microblogging universe of Twitter, the social media avalanche of Facebook, the breaking news from New York Times, the narrow focus of the Search Engine Journal, the millions of videos on Vimeo, and the amalgam of images on Tumblr. The Internet is a gargantuan collection of content.
Some is crap. Some is un-crap. Some is just plain good.
And in the world of SEO, content is king.
There are a few things that every web worker should know about content and SEO beyond the hackneyed cliche that content is king.
Content should be the feature of every website. Content isn’t top of mind for most developers or designers. However, when it comes to crafting a great web page, the designer and developer should understand that what they need to promote most is the content. Content is the sine qua non of great design and development. Unless the web page features great, searchable, and beautiful content, it will fail in the SERPs.
There should usually be more than just a sliver or two of content on the website. Not only should the content featured, but there needs to be plenty of it. Too often, sites are so eager to present amazing design or incredible products, that they completely neglect the higher good of plenty of content. Perhaps the biggest offenders are e-commerce pages which force their goods to the front of the page, leaving only the slimmest vestiges of text without keywords somewhere on the page. This is a violation of SEO, and may just be the reason that your site isn’t doing well in search.
Content alone isn’t enough. It needs to be good content. A final exhortation about content will close out this section. You don’t just need content; you need rockstar content. Craigslist is full of dime a dozen writers who will gladly create content, write a blog, and put words on a webpage. But this isn’t the point of content, nor is it the way to win in SEO. The real path to progress is the creation of great content. And that’s easier said than done.
Truth Number Three: It is possible to completely ruin your SEO.
There’s a dark side to SEO, but few people know about it. Fewer still actually know what to do when things come crashing down. Google penalizes sites that are in violation of its quality guidelines. Unless you’re aware of these guidelines, then you may actually commit a no-no just by accident.
Here are the two types of penalties, and how to avoid them.
1. Algorithmic penalty.
The algorithmic penalty happens when the search algorithm punishes your standings in the search results. The reason for this is likely because your site is violating the Google webmaster guidelines in some way. The algorithm targets violating sites with sniper-like accuracy, and levies a penalty of rank reduction. In other words, because you’ve committed a no-no, the algo refuses to put your website at the top of the search results. It all happens automatically.
Google is constantly indexing and reindexing your site. If your site changes, or if Google’s algorithm changes, then your site is subject to a new round of automatic inspections. If your competitors are doing things really well (or getting penalized themselves) then your rank changes comparatively.
An algo penalty can bring your whole e-commerce business crashing down.
2. Manual penalty.
A manual penalty has much the same consequences as an algo penalty — loss of rank. The reason the site gets penalized is also similar — violations of the webmaster guidelines. The way the penalty is administered, however, is different. A manual penalty is imposed by an actual Google employee, a person in Mountain View, California.
If your site, for some reason, comes to the attention of a webspam engineer, and he or she analyzes your site for violations, then you could be the victim of a manual penalty. These penalties are far more common than you might suspect. The algorithm although omnipotent, is not omnipresent. Thus, the vigilant webspam engineers spend their days (and probably many a night) slapping manual penalties on offending websites.
When a site receives a manual penalty, the only way to get the penalty lifted is to fix the problems and then request a reconsideration. In order to remove the problems, one must usually remove a lot of links through disavowal.
Some penalties are severe enough to result in complete deindexing. When a site is deindexed, it means that it’s totally gone from the search engine results.
Google will never return in the SERPs a shred of any content that appears under the penalized domain name. It’s gone. Period. Now, of course, you can actually type in the actual domain URL and access the site, but there is no longer any organic search traffic.
This is the nadir of any website’s existence. This is the worst thing that could happen.
Recovery is possible, albeit slow and painful.
Here’s the truly scary thing. Violations are a lot more common and easy to commit than you might think. Here’s where old SEO knowledge is more dangerous than no SEO knowledge. By performing the shady SEO tricks of the past, a webmaster may be doing the very thing that Google frowns most upon. Cloaked text? Directory listing? Duplicate content? Spun content? BAM! The penalty will come crashing down.
No one is expected to know all the reasons for a penalty, nor how exactly to recover. However, everyone should know that penalties do happen, and a basic idea of how to avoid them.
Truth Number Four: You’ll always have to work on SEO.
The final must-know fact about SEO is that it’s always going to require your attention. Just like eating and breathing are necessary for a person’s existence, SEO upkeep is required to survive in the web world.
Everyone needs to work on SEO.
Mere survival isn’t your goal, however. You want to thrive and to really succeed. That means that you need more than just a modest awareness of SEO. You need to really own it.
In my work as an SEO, I’ve met chiropractors who invested their off time to study SEO, so they could grow their clientele. I’ve met travel agency executives who knew almost as much about SEO as Matt Cutts, because they wanted to have a successful online travel booking service. I’ve met pharmacists who knew as much about SEO as they did about filling a prescription. Why? Because they wanted to successfully sell pharmaceutical goods online in a safe and reputable way.
Each of these careers is about as far away from “SEO” as you can imagine. But in each of these cases, these professionals understood the importance of SEO for their business. It’s even more important for other web professionals such as designers and programmers to know how SEO works — at least these four basic facts.
SEO is always changing.
These things are expected. Change is just the way things roll in this industry. For that reason, it’s important to keep up with the various changes and how they affect your site.
In a web driven world, understanding and knowing a few critical facts about SEO is important. What you don’t know could really hurt you. Here is what you really need to know:
- Everything you do will impact SEO
- Awesome content is the most important thing. Ever.
- It is possible to completely ruin your SEO.
- You’ll always have to work on SEO.