What if we’re thinking about SEO all wrong?
You won’t be shocked to see such a question posed on this site — one that harbors posts in its archive with headlines like SEO is Dead and What if You Could Simply Eliminate SEO from Your Life?
Don’t get me wrong: we’re not anti-SEO.
Heck, we were recently awarded a U.S. patent for the Content Optimizer we developed that now powers the SEO tools bundled with our premium WordPress hosting.
We’re just anti some of the misguided notions and incomplete narratives about SEO that masquerade as good advice.
And one of the most fundamental mistakes I see people make is not fully appreciating the full breadth of each of the three terms that comprise S-E-O: Search. Engine. Optimization.
Notice the placement of that first period after “Search.”
It’s time to think beyond traditional notions of “search engines”
It’s easy to group the terms “search” and “engine” together. And for a long, long time, it made sense to do so.
When we used to discuss “search engine optimization,” we were mostly talking about searches typed into Google, perhaps Bing, or (going back further) Yahoo.
But now it’s 2017.
The new search
Gone are the days of only typed searches. People now conduct more and more searches with voice commands. A recent article on Forbes, 2017 Will Be the Year of Voice Search, makes a compelling case.
And who knows what will happen when we all have chips implanted in our brains that can read our thoughts. We might just be able to think our search and get results via the screens on our contact lenses.
Bottom line: our notion of “search” is changing.
The new engine
Gone, too, are the days of Google being the be-all and end-all as an engine for search.
YouTube has long been hailed as “the world’s second-most popular search engine.” If you’re producing videos, they need to surface for relevant searches on YouTube.
The same concept applies to Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes). You better believe I thought long and hard about my optimization strategy for the world’s most popular podcast search engine when I launched this show recently.
And think about how many searches Facebook must be getting these days. Even Twitter too. Your social posts are one step removed from your website content … but still one step closer than the person searching was a few seconds prior.
Bottom line: our notion of which “engines” are worth our time to target is changing.
And let’s not forget about optimization
It’s still critical:
You need to structure and deliver your content in such a way that all relevant engines will be able to locate it, understand it, and serve it up in that critical moment of high-impulse and action-oriented curiosity when people perform searches for relevant terms.
And while there are always subtle tweaks you can make to improve your chances of ranking higher based on the particular algorithms each engine uses, many of the factors different engines use are generally quite similar.
So your goal, as a content creator, is simply to make your content as optimized for being found in relevant engines for as many different types of search inputs as you can.
That is search engine optimization on the modern and future web.
And if you’re thinking about SEO in any other way, you’re making a critical mistake.
SEO still matters
You’re also making a critical mistake if you’ve started to believe that SEO no longer matters. It does. Perhaps even more so, and in a more wide range of ways than before.
And it will matter for as far out on the horizon of the internet as I can see.
In some form or fashion, it probably always will — which is why continuing to hone your SEO skills is so important.
So, let’s discuss three critical (but pretty simple) steps you can take right away to improve each of the three elements of your SEO practice.
These are steps that will help you maintain a smart, consistent SEO practice that delivers reliable results into the future.
Step #1: Listen (carefully) to your audience
The first step — which relates to search — is to make sure you actively work to understand the language your ideal audience uses.
That is how you ensure your content has as good a chance at surfacing for text-based searches as it does for spoken searches and, eventually, for thought searches.
Certainly, using tools to search Google’s keyword database is helpful.
For example, the Content Optimizer tool that is built into StudioPress Sites, which I mentioned earlier, can help. This type of analysis provides a valuable window into the terms and phrases people actually search for when looking for content related to your topic.
But remember: this is just one context.
What about when people talk about your topic? What about when they ask casual questions?
This is where social media can be a great listening tool. This is where going to meetups and talking to real people in person can be helpful. This is where free-response audience surveys can provide great insights.
True masters of search engine optimization are masters of listening and empathy.
When you know how your ideal audience talks about your topic, and what kinds of questions are most pressing, you have the knowledge you need to create titles, subject lines, and body content that will be relevant for a wide variety of different semantic contexts.
I know you’re a content creator. Starting today, be an even more active listener than you already are.
Step #2: Focus on more engines
The second step you should take is to brainstorm all the different engines where people may be looking for the type of content you create … and then figure out a way to get yourself into a new one.
For example, consider YouTube. Do you have any videos uploaded to YouTube that answer the kinds of questions that a subset of your ideal audience is almost surely typing into YouTube?
If not, get one in there.
Seriously, start with just one. Do it as an experiment.
The production doesn’t need to be complex. Just take a portion of a blog post and turn it into some text and basic imagery that has a voiceover or background music. If you want some help doing this, check out a site like Lumen5.
Then choose your title wisely and provide a useful description, so that YouTube will know what your video is about and display it in results for relevant searches.
Try it out and see what happens. Then keep identifying new engines where you can add your content.
Step #3: Make sure your website is search-friendly
The third step you should take, which will help immensely with your optimization, is to make sure your website has the most solid foundation it possibly can.
Because when it comes to any search context (text or voice), and when it comes to any engine that may deliver your website as a result (think Google or Bing, but also social media), you need to make sure the hosting and design infrastructures of your site have all the basic elements in place:
- Your site needs to load fast — a factor that actually influences several different ranking factors because of how it impacts a visitor’s experience.
- Your site needs to be mobile-responsive (or even mobile-first).
- Your site needs to be safe and secure.
- Your site needs to be coded clearly and cleanly.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
It’s not just about the words on the page. It’s also about every single element of the page that will impact the experience that search engine robots and real-life visitors will have on that page.
I chose those as examples because I use them for my personal websites. And sure, I work for the company who makes them, so that’s easy for me to do.
But I am a serious website owner. My side projects are important to me. If I thought I was compromising my site’s optimization just to use Genesis themes or StudioPress for hosting, I wouldn’t.
Take this opportunity to review your current theme framework and hosting. Double-check you aren’t making any optimization tradeoffs either.
A question for you
So there you have it.
We discussed the critical shift in your SEO mindset that you should make right away, which will help you get better results today and well into the future.
And we’ve discussed three steps you can take immediately to put that new mindset into practice:
- Search: Listen better and empathize more.
- Engine: Identify new engines where your content should appear.
- Optimization: Make sure your hosting and website design have a solid foundation.
So, the question is …
Now that you’re motivated by your fresh, new mindset, which step will you implement first?
Perhaps the public proclamation of your intention will inspire you to actually put it into action.