What to Know about SEO: Let Google be your Guide

SEO is the least understood and most feared of all the digital marketing channels. I’m here to peel back some of that façade so that SEO is a bit more accessible, and you can be on your way to a confident and effective SEO strategy that will drive traffic, leads, and sales.
If you haven’t listened to the SUMMIT podcast on SEO yet, please do so. This provides a great starting point for creating an SEO strategy by using the SEO Pyramid. This is typically where I start when building a new site or helping an older site get back on its SEO-feet.
The other way I like to create SEO strategies and identify the most important SEO action items is by following the guidelines of Google itself. Whether they intended it this way or not, Google has laid out a path to follow over the last ~10 years with the major algorithm updates they’ve rolled out. By following these, you can create a fantastic SEO strategy that you’re confident won’t break Google’s SEO rules.

Google’s Key Algorithm Updates since 2011

1. Panda (2011)
a. Key change: Penalizing sites that publish low-quality content.
b. What it means for your site: Make sure your content strategy is focused on appealing to humans, not search engines. Keyword stuffing should be a thing of the past at this point, so resist the urge to insert your top keywords into your content every few sentences.
2. Penguin (2012)
a. Key change: Penalizing sites that are spamming search by using bad links.
b. What it means for your site: Don’t get sucked into the trap of buying links or using link farms. Build links and site authority organically by creating great content, sharing it with others, and engaging your users on social media.
3. Hummingbird (2013)
a. Key change: Google replaced the engine of their search algorithm, making it more “precise and fast” – like a hummingbird. This was Google’s first big step toward thinking like a human, instead of a search engine. “Conversational search” was one of the key enhancements, whereby Google’s intent was to understand the entirety of a search query, as opposed to just the key terms.
b. What it means for your site: This is another nail in the coffin of keyword stuffing. Focus on the user, not the robots reading your site.
4. Pigeon (2014)
a. Key change: Improvement to local search results.
b. What it means for your site: Make sure your Google My Business is up to date and Google can access basic information on your site such as location, hours, etc. This increases your chances of appearing in local search results, which can be a huge boon for shops with a local storefront.
5. Mobile Update or “Mobilegeddon” (2015)
a. Key change: Ranking boost given to sites that Google deems to be “mobile-friendly” (and thus a relative ranking penalty to those that it deems are not mobile-friendly)
b. What it means for your site: More and more these days users primarily browse on mobile devices, whether it’s a phone or a tablet. If your site provides a poor mobile experience, a) people will bounce, and b) Google will start to move you down their big board. Make sure your site is responsive.
6. RankBrain (2016)
a. Key change: Google uses machine learning and AI to deliver search results with the primary goal of understanding a user’s search intent. This takes the Hummingbird update and “conversational search” a step further.
b. What it means for your site: This should be a huge sigh of relief to all website owners and content creators. Google now understands context and sees relationships between items that it previously may have viewed as entirely disparate. RankBrain allows you to create content that is one or two degrees separated from your core offering/expertise. With RankBrain, Google will still understand that they are related, and give your site the credit you’re seeking.
7. The Rest (ongoing)
a. Key change: Google is always making updates to its algorithm, and this will continue to be the case. Search Engine Land and Moz are two great resources that regularly alert users about these changes and the potential impact. Stay up to date on Google’s algorithm changes to assure that your site doesn’t fall into any SEO traps.
b. What it means for your site: Stay alert and aware of any Google changes, and make the tweaks to your site that are needed. Like it or not, Google runs the search business, and it’s tough to get ahead in the online world without playing by their rules.

How to Use Google Algorithm Updates to Create Your SEO Strategy

I like to use these algorithm updates as signposts when creating an effective SEO strategy. For those new to SEO it can feel overwhelming to build an SEO strategy. Being informed and aware of these updates can go a long way.
You won’t immediately win the internet by creating and following an SEO strategy, but you can definitely lose before you even get started if you ignore SEO completely. Google will lead the way with their updates, just follow those signposts and you’ll stay in the game long enough to hopefully win it.
Here are the key pieces that you should focus on, based on Google’s algorithm updates:
  • Create great content. If you create remarkable content and share it with your network, it will get noticed. Keyword stuffing won’t be necessary to get the attention of search engines or users.
  • Be natural. Build your site and write your content with search engines in mind, but make sure that the end of the day the content is for humans. It’s painfully obvious, not to mention obnoxious, when an article is being written for search engines only. This will likely result in more bounces and fewer links/shares for your site.
  • Build links organically. Create online, and offline, relationships. Perform guest blogs, participate in the online conversation for your industry, share other content and engage users. It’s basic networking. Cultivating these relationships will result in others knowing who you are, trusting you, and linking others to your site. These links will make your site stronger, more trusted, and result in higher rankings.
  • Be mobile-friendly. Your site should be responsive to create a great experience for your users whether they’re on a desktop, tablet, or phone.
  • Go local. If you have a storefront or a local presence, utilize the tools that Google (and other key online players) provide. Google My Business, Facebook, and Yelp are three of the most important sites where you should assure you have an account so that you appear in local search results. Keep your contact information, address, and hours up to date.
This is far from everything that can and should go into an SEO strategy, but it’s a healthy foundation. If you have more questions or want help building an SEO strategy, contact me directly or reach out to Hamer Marketing Group.
Best of luck!