The SEO Secret Weapon

by Agent Zero

February 13th, 2012

The SEO Secret Weapon

If you have a web site, you may have noticed one of two things about the traffic you get from search engines.

Your search traffic may have dried up overnight, with once-healthy streams turning into a sad little trickle.

Or you may have noticed a nice, steady improvement as you’ve climbed higher in the SERPs (search engine results pages), while other sites that used to outrank you suddenly evaporated.

There’s a super-secret new ingredient in SEO.

It was always a factor, but it’s become even more important recently, as the Google team relentlessly declares war on what they see as tricks and sneaky tactic

Ready for the mind-blowing “secret new ingredient”?

It’s the authority, editorial focus, and relevance of your site — in other words, your site quality.

Be careful — site quality may not mean what you think it means

It’s not just good writing. That can help, but it’s not enough.

It’s not just having a lot of content. That helps too, but it has to be the right content.

And it’s not just optimization. Optimization still matters … but only after you take care of these key site quality factors.

Improving your site quality means building a site that works for users first, and search engines second.

Let’s take a look at some individual elements of site quality, and how you can boost them to create a site that works for users and search engines.

Is your site someplace readers want to be?

One of the factors Google looks at is how long a reader spends on your site. Not just on the page they land on, but are they sticking around to check out other pages?

It starts with site design that’s clean, uncluttered, and appealing.

It may not make sense for you at this point to spend thousands of dollars on graphic design, but anyone can benefit from great-looking site design (that also happens to be well-optimized for SEO).

You also want to make sure you’re on good, reliable web hosting, so that waiting for your site to load doesn’t resemble waiting in line at the DMV. Slow sites aren’t good for users and they don’t earn search engine love.

Finally — and most important — you need to put reader questions, problems, and concerns front and center. If you’re a great resource for them, they’ll stick around and see what else you have to offer. What’s the secret there? Content… of course.

Less sophisticated SEOs might advise you to outsource a writer (who may or may not be particularly proficient in English) to slap together hundreds of pages that have the right keywords on them.

That’s a sign that you need to fire your SEO. The true SEO pros know that it isn’t just content you need — it’s good content.

Good content isn’t always the most gracefully written. It might violate every grammatical rule in the book. It might be brash, or weird. It might offend your in-laws.

But for your purposes, it’s good content if it’s:

  • The content      your readers actually want to read, and
  • It’s content      that serves your persuasion goals.

Good content is persuasive, it’s interesting, it’s useful, and it gets shared. It earns the “signals” that tell search engines you’ve got the best site in your topic.

What do you talk about most of the time?

This one can be a real advantage, letting a relatively small site win the SERP battle against a much bigger competitor … for the right term.

That’s because Google now looks more closely at what you talk about most of the time.

Here on The Final Code, we talk a lot about website design and SEO marketing which relates to content marketing. We don’t talk much about pizza, weight loss, or pharmaceuticals.

That’s why for every site that got kicked in the teeth by Google’s Panda update, there was another site — one with a lot of high-quality content that was well focused around a particular topic — that started to see a nice boost in search traffic.

Write about what you want to rank for. Then write some more about that. Then write some more.

Keep your content focused. Keep serving your audience. And keep showing up.

Every page is a landing page

You don’t know how your next reader will find your site. It might be the result of a search. It might be from a social media share. It might be an email post that got forwarded. You might have bought some traffic with pay-per-click.

It doesn’t actually matter. Because every page on your site is a landing page for someone. The reader jumps into your site there … and looks around to see what to do next.

Every page has to lead gracefully into everything else you do. Every page has to underscore the value you provide.

That means you make your navigation user-friendly, you highlight your very best content, and you get smart about internal links. Which brings us to …

How to use your link structure

Remember when we talked about keeping readers nicely stuck to your site, poking around and finding lots of good stuff to read, listen to, or watch?

That’s one of the many excellent reasons to have lots of internal links in your content.

What should you link to? To your best content — what we call your cornerstone content. Your best advice, your best thinking, and your best answers to the questions readers come up with again and again.

Content landing pages are a handy way to focus those links, but you should also keep linking to your favorite posts that address a key point in your topic particularly well.

This encourages readers to spend some more quality time on your site. The resulting backlinks you get aren’t exactly going to make or break you with the search engines, but if the scraped page has any readers at all, some of them will come find you.

Remember to be smart about how you’re using anchor text when you link to your own stuff. Use keywords gracefully, and again (as always) write for your readers first. Don’t try to stuff your content with internal links — use them when they make sense and give the reader a deeper view into what you write about.

Of course it isn’t new

Obviously I’m indulging in a bit of silliness by calling this a “new” factor. Google (and the other search engines) have always wanted to make site quality their main factor — but doing that was difficult.

So they put a bunch of very brainy engineers on it, and every year they get a little better.

Here’s what one of their relatively new engineers said in a recent interview, quoted in Web Pro News.

Manipulating Google results shouldn’t be something you feel entitled to be able to do. If you want to rank highly in Google, be relevant for the user currently searching. Engage him in social media or email, provide relevant information about what you’re selling, and, generally, be a “good match” for what the user wants.

That’s always been their position. Trying to fight that by exploiting weaknesses in their algorithm is a short-term solution that tends not to work very well for your readers … or for the long-term health of your business.

Don’t take shortcuts, they take too long

I was talking with a gentleman at a conference this week, and he mentioned a colleague with dozens of clients who got utterly demolished by Google’s Panda update — an update designed to improve the quality of the sites Google ranks well.

Interestingly, every one of those Panda-smacked clients followed the same marketing guru for “shortcuts” to good search traffic.

Shortcuts can work for a little while. And you may have found a good one that will get you a quick burst of traffic while you build something that lasts.

But if you aren’t building a site that’s worth reading (and that’s therefore worth sharing in social media, and worth linking to), the most brilliant shortcut in the world will take you away from where you want to go.

You aren’t serving search engines - you’re serving readers and customers. Put them first and everything else will start working for you.