If you’ve been a follower or subscriber for some time, you likely know that I often talk about SEO and the fact that it really boils down to two things:
- The quality of your content, and
- The quality of your user experience.
In other words, provide good content on a good website. What’s “good” is relative. It’s content that’s relevant and valuable to your users (i.e., it matches their search intent and it’s helpful to them), and delivered on a website that’s fast, secure, and easy to use (i.e., the content is easy to find and consume).
Focus on those two things and you’re golden. The more I think about it, the more I realize why I say this so often. It’s actually for three important reasons.
First, it’s to simplify.
SEO is something that can be complex and, too often, made complex by some SEO experts (and unnecessarily so). After all, there are several hundreds of ranking factors. So SEO can be a lot of work. But in most cases, it’s doesn’t have to be that complex. It’s not some esoteric doctrine.
Second, it’s to enable.
SEO often stops people from putting out good content for fear they won’t get noticed. Many of my clients fail to publish their insights because they’re misled by the expectation that they need to know, master, and apply SEO. But knowing SEO doesn’t require coding backflips.
Third, it’s to empower.
SEO, like any other marketing effort, abides by the “law of the vital few.” That law, also called the 80/20 rule, says that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. Similarly, 80% of your best rankings will come from applying 20% of SEO practices. So there’s no need to focus on everything.
In all my 30 years as a copywriter, marketer, and SEO consultant, I’ve never applied what most people think of SEO to my own site. I primarily focused on putting out good content my audience wants on a website that’s easy to use.
Of course, I’ve done and continue to do keyword research. But it’s mostly about researching my market and learning what my market is searching for — not words to stuff my content with.
Speaking of which, this brings up an important point.
In order to help simplify SEO, I have recommended the use of plugins like Rank Math and Yoast. While they’re helpful, they are only guides – not goals. They should help you and not imprison you.
Otherwise, if you do everything they suggest, it will make your content robotic, contrived, or unreadable. You don’t need to do backflips like trying to jam keywords into headers, titles, paragraphs, image descriptions, etc.
That’s so 2005. Even 2015.
But SEO is not like that, at least not anymore. In fact, I’ve often said that SEO is not about keywords but about topics — topics your audience is interested in and are asking questions about.
You should never use these plugins with the expectation that you need to have a 100% score. The score is arbitrary and based on guesses using outdated SEO techniques like keyword stuffing.
It’s like trying to increase your batting average by looking at the top hitters in baseball and emulating them. You use the same colored bat, wear the same branded gear, and chew the same flavored gum. But all of these things will do nothing to contribute to improving your batting average.
As the Bible says, no one can serve two masters.
If you write for the search engines, your content will be useless to your audience. But in today’s SEO, you don’t need to choose. You can write for both the search engines and your users by focusing on your users. Both you and Google serve the same master, anyway. You both share the same client.
So focus on your audience. Give good content they want and serve it to them on a good website that they will trust, appreciate, and come back to.
In fact, when I was doing research, I stumbled onto this quote:
“I’d be remiss not to mention that those plugins (despite big promises) do nothing significant for SEO other than helping you define a meta description.”Brendan Hufford
I agree 100%. In fact, Brendan Hufford and I think a lot alike.
I’ve known about him for a while but never dove into his stuff — until last week when I was creating my list of SEO experts to follow. It’s actually quite amazing. His style, like mine, is focused on simple strategies that move needles instead of all the idiosyncratic complexities and nonsense some SEOs tout.
Brendan is an SEO Director of a digital agency in Chicago, the creator of several SEO courses, and an avid podcaster. His course, SEO For The Rest of Us, teaches the same things I do. His approach resonates with me and I enjoy his style.
He, too, says that SEO boils down to offering quality content and a quality user experience. One key difference (although, I agree with it) is that, unlike my two, he talks about a third element. He says that SEO boils down to:
- Your website,
- Your content, and
- Your authority.
“Website” refers to the quality of the user experience (e.g., speed, accessibility, usability, security, etc). “Content” refers to the quality of your content (e.g., relevance and value to the user and their search).
But Brendan’s third one, “authority,” refers to backlinks.
I’m not a fan of building backlinks, which is why I avoid talking about them. To be clear, I’m for backlinks as they are important. But I prefer to attract them rather than ask for them. After all, if the content and the website are good, chances are they will attract backlinks naturally.
Which is what Google wants, anyway.
But authority is definitely important, and I agree.
However, I would call it “the quality of your signals” rather than “backlinks,” because authority can refer to any signal, both internal and external (including implied backlinks such as brand mentions, reviews, reputation, citations, credentials, etc) that signal authoritativeness.
But that’s where I think we diverge slightly. I often said that building credibility is more important than building backlinks. Although, to be honest, I took his SEO For The Rest of Us course, and his backlink outreach process is far superior and a lot less spammy than any other technique I’ve seen.
Nevertheless, this is only one of several things we share in common — including funnels and levels of awareness. I might go over them in a future installment.
In the end, the key point is that SEO is not that complex.
It’s easy to some degree, and in some cases it’s a lot of work. But it’s certainly simpler — a lot simpler than what many make it out to be.