For my first post of 2016, let’s have a look at what’s changed in search engine optimization over the last year or so, and get clear on what you should be doing to have the most optimized site this year. Ladies and gentlemen, what you need to know about SEO in 2016!
This is not Paul Ingraham’s first appearance on my blog. Paul played a pivotal role in helping me to write my 3rd book. I essentially wrote the rough draft of it in the a three-day writer’s retreat we went on together. Paul is a dear, old friend, a gifted writer, and has been making his living off of the internet for the last 5+ years. His site, originally SaveYourself.ca, is now PainScience.com, and he helps people every day to deal with their pain and heal. He has created lots of content that dominates search niches, like his perenially popular articles about Epsom salts baths and self-massage with a tennis ball, or the landing page for his best-selling book about myofascial trigger points. He denies that he’s an SEO expert, but he definitely has some experience!
We recently had a coffee over the holidays and caught up on our lives. Paul has been struggling with Google over the last year or so since he moved domains, having never recovered his traffic fully. So he’s had to learn every single possible thing he could about SEO and how to win Google’s front page. So I thought I’d pick his brain, and pass on to you some tips to properly search engine optimize your site for 2016.
What are the top 3 most important things we should be doing to search engine optimize our sites since the introduction of Google Panda?
Google’s “algorithm animals” (Panda and Penguin particularly) are the source of a lot of confusion even after they’ve been in the wild for years. For SEO pros, the nature of these beasts is more or less settled, even though there’s still plenty of debating and arguing about how to deal with them. But it’s still amazingly unclear to almost everyone else, so here’s a crash course:
Panda and Penguin are both algorithms. Panda is a program for detecting content quality, and Penguin is all about detecting “unnatural” backlinks. They are both infamous because they impose penalties on websites, and because there’s always some collateral damage: that is, sometimes they have hurt websites that didn’t deserve it. Just like everyone in prison is innocent, every penalized publisher believes their website didn’t deserve a penalty. But of course most of them actually do.
Penguin is more specialized and technical, and isn’t of much interest to the ordinary blogger. It mainly exists to punish sites for unnatural backlinks — that is, links that were published just for the purpose of stimulating rank, which is strictly against the rules. No ordinary blogger would do such a thing in the first place. (If you did, you’re not really an ordinary blogger, now are you?)
But Panda has MANY implications for any blogger, because there’s a lot you can do about content quality. How does a human decide if a page is awesome? Panda is essentially an artificial intelligence designed to do that, and it’s quite good at it.
For years, SEO was all about hacking pages in very specific ways to SEEM relevant to specific searches. The main implication of Panda is that your content has to actually BE the best response to a search, in almost any way that a human would think. Because Panda detects content quality in many, many ways. Just like people. Yeah, it’s kinda creepy.
So, Panda suggests these three publishing priorities:
1. Know what kinds of searches you want to lead to your content.
2. Optimize the quality of your content to be the best possible answers to those searches, in every way you can imagine, sky’s the limit.
3. A distant third priority: pander to Panda in a few specific ways, because Panda is not actually a human, and there are some idiosyncracies in how it detects content quality.
Three main examples:
a) Make sure you link to relevant and authoritative content. Humans don’t care about this so much, but Panda does.
b) Make sure you write good alt tags for all your images. 98% of humans never see them, but Panda does.
c) Put plenty of energy into optimizing your titles for search term relevance while remaining appealing to humans, because while humans do not always need strong keywording to like a title, Panda does.
Are there any tools that you use on a daily basis that help to search engine optimize your site that you couldn’t live without?
The Moz toolbar is the best of the various SEO toolbars I’ve tried, and is helpful for many routine SEO chores.
GWT is ultimately unavoidable if you’re serious about SEO, and yet it’s neglected and underestimated by most bloggers. It has some really important information, particularly screening for all kinds of brewing troubles.
GA is a much more sophisticated product than GWT. Although theoretically any analytics package will do (e.g. Mint, Clicky, CloudFlare), GA’s integration with other Google services are important. And, as long as Google rules search, I want to get my organic analytics straight from them.
Also, I have several custom tools that allow me to view and compare content metadata in bulk (e.g. reviewing all my titles and meta descriptions). I’ve programmed all of these tools for my own weird content management system, but there are equivalents for non-programmers. For instance, an (expensive!) Ahrefs subscription will do all this for you (and much else). I’m not sure about cheaper or free options, but they probably exist.
What do you feel is the biggest SEO mistake people are currently making?
Most bloggers are too focussed on content volume and chasing social virality to create something of more lasting value than the typical blog post, and it dooms most of them to search obscurity. So I think the biggest and most common SEO mistake for the average blogger is failing to properly pander to Panda… which is 80% about just publishing really great, thorough content on strongly defined subject themes, and the other 20% is making sure that your content quality is actually understood by a clever set of algorithms called “Googlebot.” We need a decent grasp of how Googlebot parses quality and relevance, and how it’s different from how human beings figure that stuff out. This should be SEO 101, but most bloggers probably have no idea what that means.
When we look at webpage, we can quickly figure out what it’s about from cues like keywords in headlines and pictures, but we are barely aware of the meaning of the links. Googlebot understands the headline just fine, but is clueless about unlabelled pictures…and it can effortlessly perceive the meaning of linking patterns. (A page that links to a lot of pages about beekeeping is probably about beekeeping.) So human publishers need to do a certain amount of work just for Googlebot that wouldn’t necessarily be a natural part of making great content. That is, you have to go out of your way a little to do things like write good alt tags and link out to other relevant content.
But mostly you just have to make good content.
Okay, let’s say through doing a keywords analysis, I find that there are a few posts or pages on my site that are performing really well in terms of SEO. How can I build on this success? What should I be doing next?
That’s easy: write more on those subjects! And don’t be afraid to update and upgrade the old posts.
Also, use those pages to promote other content on your site. Pages that are ranking well can be used to lift others.
How important is speed? Do you know of any tools that can help me to get my website to load faster?
Speed is really important, as Google has been telling us constantly for years now. Historically, optimizing sites for performance has been a hot mess of opportunities and challenges, some of them extremely technical and well out of reach of the average blogger.
These days, an incredible number of those optimization chores can be handed off to content delivery networks (CDNs). The best example is probably CloudFlare. CDNs get your content and then take over delivering it to the world using large networks of server, which can also work all kinds of magic on it at the same time.
Before I started with CloudFlare, I had a perpetually intimidating list of optimization chores. About 90% of that stuff is now being done better by CloudFlare than I could ever have dreamed of doing it myself… or it was just rendered a moot point.
Thanks, Paul! I now have a huge list of stuff to do Thanks for sharing with us the most important things we need to do for SEO in 2016.