Effective search engine optimization (SEO) is like a magic wand that can levitate your website to the top of search engine results pages, or it can become your business’s worst nightmare if mishandled. As if that’s not enough pressure to get it right, Google updates its algorithm several times each year, which can make knowing the right SEO tactics to use feel like a moving target.
If you’re a marketing manager or business owner looking to conquer the SEO game, you’re in the right place. We’re here to educate you on what good SEO looks like today, what to avoid, and how to make the right choices to boost your website’s visibility and ultimately increase sales.
What does good SEO look like?
Good SEO is all about staying ahead of the curve and embracing the best practices. Let’s dive deeper into what is considered “good” SEO.
High-Quality Content Reigns Supreme
If you only remember one thing from reading this blog, make it this – high-quality content is the root of effective SEO. This means producing content that is not just informative but also engaging, well-researched, and tailored to your audience’s needs.
Quality content serves two important purposes. First, it satisfies the user’s question by delivering valuable information. Second, it signals to search engines that your website is a trusted source of information. Google’s algorithms have become super sophisticated at evaluating content quality, so producing insightful and relevant content should be at the core of your SEO strategy.
By now you’ve probably heard about ChatGPT, the most popular of many generative-AI applications available. It’s only been a handful of months since this type of AI became publicly accessible, but companies around the world are already using it to revolutionize their SEO efforts. With a few well-written prompts, ChatGPT can churn out pages of content on almost any topic in a matter of seconds. Seem too good to be true? Yes and no. When used responsibly, ChatGPT can play a helpful role in your content creation process. Use it recklessly, and you risk serious brand damage. What looks like accurate, original content at first glance could actually be overflowing with bias, misinformation, plagiarism, and other pitfalls. Before using ChatGPT outputs, always scan for bias, fact-check against reliable sources, and run the content through a plagiarism checker.
It’s yet to be determined what impact AI-generated content will have on SEO efforts in the long run. While Google does not currently penalize websites that contain AI-generated content, this won’t necessarily always be the case. To protect yourself and your business, ensure you don’t rely on automation to do all the work for you. Think of ChatGPT as a trusty GPS for your SEO journey. It can offer guidance, suggest routes, and help you navigate the twists and turns of creating content. Yet, just as a GPS can’t fully capture the joy of a scenic drive, AI can’t replicate the emotion, thought leadership, and unique storytelling abilities of skilled human writers.
Mobile-friendliness is no longer an option; it’s a necessity.
The majority of web searches now occur on mobile devices. As a result, Google has been transitioning to mobile-first indexing since 2016. As of this year, the switch to mobile-first indexing has been flipped for all websites. Mobile-first indexing means that Google looks at the mobile version of a site to evaluate its ranking and indexing. If your site still isn’t mobile-friendly, you’re not only risking losing valuable traffic but also facing potential penalties from search engines.
To ensure mobile-friendliness, consider responsive web design, which adapts to different screen sizes, or a separate mobile site with a consistent user experience. This strategy not only satisfies your users but also aligns with Google’s mobile-first indexing.
Not sure if your site is mobile-friendly? Find out now with the Google Mobile-Friendly Test.
Lightning-Fast Site Speed
Website speed is more than just a convenience; it’s a critical ranking factor. Users have little patience for slow-loading websites in today’s instant gratification world. Ideally, a website should load in 2-3 seconds or less on a desktop computer and 1-2 seconds on mobile. If your site takes more than a few seconds to load, you’re likely to see high bounce rates and a drop in search engine rankings over time.
To optimize your site’s speed, consider compressing images, enabling browser caching so your site can load faster for returning visitors, and minimizing the number of plugins and scripts on your site. Less clutter means faster loading. Investing in a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can also significantly enhance your site’s performance by distributing content across various server locations, reducing loading times for users worldwide.
Backlinks, also known as inbound links, remain an essential component of SEO. However, it’s the quality, not quantity, of backlinks that matters. The emphasis is on building high-quality backlinks from authoritative websites within your industry.
- are located on pages that are relevant to the topic of your website. For example, if your website sells organic gardening supplies, it would be highly relevant for a blog post about sustainable living practices to link to your website.
- are placed within the body content of the page, such as the way links are embedded throughout this blog.
- have a relevant phrase as the clickable text of the link. This is also called the “anchor text”.
- are on authoritative and trustworthy websites. Some examples include well-known news outlets, educational institutions, and government websites.
Quality backlinks can establish your website’s authority and credibility in the eyes of search engines. They serve as virtual endorsements, indicating that other reputable websites consider your content valuable. As a result, search engines are more likely to trust and promote your site.
A few strategies to obtain high-quality backlinks include:
- guest posting on relevant blogs.
- creating shareable content that naturally attracts links.
- promoting your content on social media to increase its visibility.
- building relationships with influencers, bloggers, podcasters, and website owners in your industry.
- issuing press releases for noteworthy events related to your business.
- being active in your local community.
Voice Search Optimization
With the rise of virtual assistants and smart speakers, voice search optimization is an emerging frontier in SEO. People interact differently with voice searches compared to text-based searches. Voice search queries tend to be conversational and longer, typically resembling the way people speak in everyday conversation.
Optimizing for voice search involves considering the way users ask questions verbally and structuring your content accordingly. Providing concise answers to common questions and creating FAQ sections can be effective strategies to capture voice search traffic. Check out our FAQ page for an example.
Schema Markup For Rich Snippets
Rich snippets are the enhanced search results that provide additional information beyond the traditional blue link and meta description. Depending on the type of query, they can include star ratings, product prices, publication dates, and more. These snippets can make your search results more attractive and informative, potentially increasing click-through rates.
To have your content displayed as rich snippets, you can use schema markup, a form of structured data that helps search engines understand your content better. By marking up your content with schema, you provide explicit context about the information on your page, increasing the chances of appearing as a rich snippet in search results.
Now that we’ve explored the pillars of good SEO, it’s essential to understand what bad SEO looks like and what practices to avoid.
What Does Bad SEO Look Like?
Understanding bad SEO practices is just as important as recognizing good ones. By identifying these pitfalls, you can safeguard your website from penalties and damage to your online reputation.
Here are some common bad SEO practices to steer clear of:
Keyword stuffing is an outdated and counterproductive SEO tactic that involves overloading content with excessive keywords in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings.
For example, consider a blog post on “Best Gardening Tools” that repeatedly shoves the phrase “best gardening tools” in almost every sentence without adding any real value or insights. Not only does this make content unreadable and frustrating for users, but it also violates search engine guidelines and could result in penalties.
Because including relevant keywords is an important part of writing high-quality content, it might feel confusing to know how many keywords to include to boost your rankings while also avoiding keyword stuffing. It can help to remind yourself that your content exists to satisfy humans, not search engines. After writing your first draft, read the content back to yourself or ask someone else to. Does it sound natural? If you notice that a keyword seems forced or out of place, consider rephrasing or reorganizing your content.
Google’s algorithms have become skilled at identifying suspicious link-building practices. At best, these methods will be a waste of your time and have no impact on your rankings. At worst, they can result in a significant drop in traffic and revenue for your website, as well as damage to your brand’s reputation.
- are located on websites unrelated to yours. For example, if your website sells fitness equipment, it wouldn’t make sense for a random online gambling site to link to yours.
- are on websites characterized by spam, poor design, thin content, excessive ads, and a reputation for spreading misinformation.
- may have been obtained through paid link schemes. Google is explicitly against the practice of paying for links.
- are buried in the footer, sidebar, or navigation menus rather than within the page content.
- are otherwise hidden on the page. Some websites hide links by making them the same color as the background or placing them behind images or other elements. This is deceptive and can lead to penalties.
Slow and steady wins the race when it comes to building backlinks. It can be tempting for new website owners to think that the more backlinks they have, the better their search rankings will be. However, it’s actually a red flag for search engines if a new website accumulates a large number of backlinks in only a matter of weeks. Building backlinks should be done consistently over time rather than in one big push. By taking the time to build your backlinks organically, you can help ensure that your website will be successful in the long term.
Ignoring Mobile Users
As we discussed above Google’s shift to mobile-first indexing means its algorithms now prioritize the mobile version of all websites. Neglecting mobile optimization is a grave mistake in terms of search engine rankings, but it may also cause you to lose customers who are already aware of your brand.
For example, consider a restaurant’s website that doesn’t display its menu correctly on mobile devices. This frustrates potential customers and drives them away. Even worse for the restaurant, that customer is likely driven directly to a competing restaurant, one whose menu they are able to easily view on mobile.
Slow Website Speed
A slow-loading website is a recipe for high bounce rates. Users expect websites to load within a few seconds, and search engines reward speed with higher rankings. Neglecting site speed can lead to a poor user experience and SEO penalties.
Slow loading can be especially damaging for e-commerce sites in which users need to spend time browsing and comparing various product pages. This ultimately leads to customers abandoning their shopping carts and the business losing the revenue they would have received for that purchase – all because the site loaded too slowly!
Duplicate content refers to sections of copy, images, or other web elements that are either identical or near-identical to content located elsewhere on the Internet.
There are two primary categories of duplicate content: internal and external.
- Internal duplicate content exists on multiple pages within the same website. Examples include:
- Product Descriptions – An e-commerce website may have multiple product pages with identical product descriptions for similar items, leading to internal duplicate content issues.
- Boilerplate Text – Website elements like headers, footers, and sidebars often contain standardized content that appears consistently on various pages throughout the site, potentially causing internal duplication.
- Printer-Friendly Versions – Some websites offer printer-friendly versions of their web pages with the same content but different formatting, resulting in internal duplicate content.
- URL Variations – Different URL variations, such as HTTP and HTTPS versions, “www” and “non-www” versions, or URLs with tracking parameters, can lead to internal duplication if they all display the same content.
- External duplicate content exists across separate websites. Examples include:
- Content Scraping – Another website may copy and publish your articles or blog posts on their site without proper attribution, creating external duplicate content.
- Content Syndication – When you syndicate your content to multiple external websites without using canonical tags to indicate the original source, search engines may consider these versions as external duplicates.
- Product Descriptions on Marketplaces – If you sell products on various online marketplaces like Amazon or eBay and use the same product descriptions, this can result in external duplicate content across those platforms.
- Press Releases – Press releases distributed to multiple news websites can sometimes lead to external duplicate content if they are not properly handled, as many outlets may republish the release verbatim.
It’s very rare for Google to issue a formal penalty to sites containing duplicate content, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any negative consequences. For example, if a user’s Google search were to yield several results with exactly the same information, that wouldn’t be a high-quality search experience. To avoid this, Google’s algorithm chooses one website to rank in the search results and minimizes the visibility of sites with duplicate content. Even if the content originated on your website, there’s no guarantee that the algorithm will correctly identify your website as the one to credit.
This is just one example of the SEO issues duplicate content can cause. It’s important to conduct occasional audits to identify and address both internal and external duplicate content.
The Bottom Line
Navigating the world of SEO requires a clear understanding of what good SEO looks like and what to avoid. It’s about staying updated with best practices, focusing on high-quality content, and adapting to the changing digital landscape. If you’re seeking a partner to help you achieve these SEO goals, look no further than Intuitive Digital.
Intuitive Digital is a B Corp-certified values-driven digital marketing agency that provides custom SEO strategies. We are a transparent, responsive marketing partner serving a variety of industries. Reach out to us to learn more about our SEO services.