The biggest mistake I see SEO newbies make is what I call the “quest for the right way.”
Passionate newbie SEO professionals, drunk with visions of the possible traffic, sales, and money that should follow a number one ranking for a high-value keyword, spend hours reverse-engineering the search engine results pages looking for a magic bullet that will push their site to the top.
The SEO industry is full of personalities that require validation.
These personalities have to “be right.”
The problem is that, in our industry, it’s not always possible to know who is right.
In fact, I’d venture to say that there is more than one way to be right — and a lot of ways to be wrong — when it comes to SEO.
So when those new to the industry look to their established peers for advice, they are often presented with seemingly contradictory viewpoints where all parties think that their way is the “right” way.
And in many cases, their way may be the right one.
But it’s usually not the only way.
Here are three pieces of advice every SEO beginner and prospective client should heed.
1. What Makes a “Quality” Site
Recently, I had a Twitter interaction with a reader who thought that Google was doing a poor job of ranking the sites with the highest quality information.
I argued that while there are certainly many blatant examples of Google ranking a site that doesn’t make sense for a specific query, they get it right way more often than they get it wrong.
In the discussion, the reader stated that Google should be able to determine the best information about a topic and rank that site at the top.
Most of the time, they do.
But if your site isn’t ranking for the desired query, and you think your content is better than what is ranking, then it’s easy to just say Google has it wrong.
Recently, Google’s John Mueller tweeted that when looking at quality, webmasters need to look at their whole site, not just the pages that aren’t ranking or are not indexed.
In other words, it’s not just about the page that targets the money keyword you want to rank for.
Creating quality content for the whole site is imperative to ranking, especially for competitive keywords.
We no longer live in a world where specific doorway pages that follow a reverse-engineered formula will result in rankings for competitive keywords.
It’s like the old saying – a rising tide floats all boats.
Quality content throughout an entire site increases the value of all pages.
But quality is somewhat subjective.
As I stated in that recent Twitter interaction, it’s difficult to know what the best quality site is for a specific topic.
Google makes this determination algorithmically.
But that algorithm takes into account decades of data, as well well billions of searches each week.
They are pretty good at determining what quality looks like.
My best advice is to spend as much time as possible understanding what your prospects are looking for and then providing it to them.
You can look at Google’s rater guidelines to understand a bit about what Google considers quality.
But at the end of the day, if you work to become the best answer to your prospect’s questions, you’ll also end up ranking pretty well.
2. We Don’t Spend Enough on Content
When I’m selling a site, most prospects are very worried about the technical details of the site, assuming those are what will take the longest to implement.
We haven’t had a site miss its proposed launch date because of technical issues, well… ever.
But we have had sites miss their launch dates because the content wasn’t ready.
Most people assume that they will be able to write the content for their site themselves.
After all, they know their company and their products better than anyone else.
But as I can attest, writing copy for your own site is infinitely harder than it appears to be.
When it comes to SEO and conversions, content is arguably the most important component of the site.
So why do so many site owners make content an afterthought?
I think it has to do with the fact that we don’t think of content correctly.
Most site owners think they’ll just put something up – maybe something they have in their printed brochures.
And when it comes to new, fresh content – well, it takes time and resources to keep that up.
The web is full of sites with blogs that haven’t been updated in months or even years.
It’s easy to think you’ll be able to keep adding fresh content to your site.
But without a plan and the proper resources, most sites fail to add much content after the initial launch.
3. Quit Obsessing Over Your Competitors
Many newbies — and even veteran search engine marketers — spend hours analyzing the sites that rank above theirs in the search engine results pages.
It’s important to understand what is ranking and what is not ranking.
But it’s counterproductive to obsess over your competitors.
Even the most experienced SEO pros will have trouble identifying exactly why one site is ranking above another.
Getting into the weeds of competitive analysis is usually a fruitless and frustrating endeavor.
It’s more productive to spend that time creating quality content that answers your prospect’s questions.
I’ve seen site owners watch their competitor do something that, quite frankly, hurts their SEO results – but because the competitor is ranking highly for one keyword, the site owner copies the tactics to disastrous effect.
There are hundreds if not thousands of variables Google uses to rank sites. Those variables, as well as how they are weighted, change all the time.
And there is a good chance your competitor is more lost than you are.
It’s always better to work on making your own site better, rather than obsessing over what your competitors are doing.
Sure, take a look at their stuff. But it’s important to realize they probably don’t know anything different than you do.
They haven’t found the magic bullet, either.
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