James Clark

Search Engine Optimisation presents a whole host of challenges – one of which is responding to shifts and changes in the way search engines assess and rank your website.

The dreaded words ‘algorithm update’ will send a shiver down the spine of many a digital marketer. While it’s true that Google in particular has a tendency to make sweeping changes that can have a massive impact on organic traffic, there are some pillars of SEO that have stood strong through the adorably named Penguin and Panda, and the less adorably nicknamed Mobilegeddon.

Take a look at the timeline of algorithm updates – it gives you an idea of how much Google has changed since 1996!

In this article, we’ll look at the SEO fundamentals that have stood the test of time – we’ll talk about why they’re important and why they’ve stayed at the centre of our SEO approach.

1 – Putting the user first

When people say ‘write for a person, not for a search engine’ what they’re really trying to say is that you need to put the focus on the user because that’s what Google is doing.

The reason people go back to Google time and time again is because it serves them a useful result. When the search engine is ranking your website, that’s what all the ranking factors are meant to determine. Is your website a useful response to the users’ search query?

While you might be able to find a way to game the system, if that’s the only thing inflating your rankings then eventually an algorithm update is going to catch you out.

Remember – a site that’s good for users is a site that’s good for search engines too.

2 – White hat wins in the end

Algorithm updates fall into two categories:

  • Attempts to respond to a shift in how we are using the internet, as was the case with the mobile focused updates
  • Attempts to respond to ‘black hat’ strategies that are cheating the existing system

As we mentioned above, Google wants to provide users with the best possible results to their search query.

Keyword stuffing is a good example. For a long time, it did a great job of pushing you up the rankings but left users with a bad taste in their mouths. This is because it meant that sites could stuff their way to the top of the search results, even if their result provided a poor user experience.

What Google tends to do is not only change their algorithm to reduce the ranking of sites that are following these strategies – they also tend to penalise those that continue to try to ‘cheat the system’.

The black hat strategy that might have provided you with great results for a while can very quickly become a millstone around your neck, dragging you out of the rankings.

3 – Making the most of meta data

Optimising your page title and meta description has long been a staple of SEO and is likely to remain an important part of your organic presence for the foreseeable future.

Finding a way to naturally get your most important keywords into 55-60 characters (it’s really about pixel width so you’ll get a different answer about how many characters depending on who you ask!) while also writing a page title that is enticing to the user is now a well-honed art form among the best SEO copywriters.

Then there’s meta descriptions, whilst they don’t have a direct effect on rankings per se, they’re still incredibly important. A well written meta description that supports the page title, highlights user search terms and encourages the user to click the page title is what we’re after, and rightly so as there is good evidence to suggest that organic CTRs play a big part in rankings.

Again, ultimately, we have to think about users – this is the standout thing they see in the search results. It tells them whether or not each individual result is relevant to their query. It allows them to make a decision about which search result to pick.

It’s easy to understand the longstanding importance of your meta title and description once you see it through the eyes of your users!

4 – Consolidation beats dilution

One of the most common sayings when it comes to SEO is that content is king. While this still holds true, the specifics of what that means have changed over time.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that you need a strategic approach to your website content. Diluting your content across your site, for example having multiple pages targeting the same set of important keywords, has long been recognised as an SEO non-starter.

But why is that? Well, firstly from a search engine perspective it creates a confusing state of affairs. Which page should the search engine show? Secondly, it’s also confusing from a user perspective. Which page should they look at? Which page answers their question?

Here again, we see how the approach of the search engine mirrors the needs of the user. Clearly defined pages for each of the key topics of your website, and each of the key search terms you want to rank for, is beneficial for users because it makes it easier for them to find what they are looking for. Therefore, it’s that approach that will be rewarded by Google.

5 – But what about the future of SEO?

It’s hard to say what the future of SEO will hold. With the prominence of mobile traffic, Google’s focus is likely to continue to lay in that area. Then again, some pundits are predicting that smartphones as we know them will be dead in five years.

Ultimately, Google will always tweak its algorithm with one person in mind – the user. For them, serving the users relevant and worthwhile search results is the key to success. As long as you approach your SEO with this in mind, you should be able to steer clear of any future digital icebergs.

Let’s talk about user focused SEO

Here at Coast Digital, we put the user at the centre of everything we do. By combining that with a detailed understanding of data, we create SEO strategies that bring the right users to your site.

Get in touch and let’s talk about how we can make the most out of your organic search real estate.

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