I wouldn’t want you to think any of us are experts in Black Hat SEO (the kind that gets you in big trouble with Google and other search engines), but that was the title of our panel discussion in WP-Tonic 128, which really focused more on SEO myths that our clients believe.
Before we dove into our main topic, however, John Locke, Jonathan Denwood, Jackie D’Elia and I spent quite a lot of time talking about the news, notably Thomas Ewer’s post for Kinsta on WordPress for enterprise clients and Chris Lema’s article on why WordPress customers want page builders. (Because how can we let an episode go by without dissing page builders?)
Sometimes these news discussions take up half the show, and I don’t always know how much value it brings for us to talk about what everyone else is already talking about, but that doesn’t stop me from contributing my opinion.
What Clients Mistakenly Believe about SEO
Back to our main topic: the mistakes we see clients making with their SEO and the beliefs they have about it that interfere with their search ranking or business success. Note that in very few cases do we actually observe really old-fashioned SEO practices, like keywords entered onto the page in invisible text or the use of popular keywords (e.g. celebrity names) when they don’t have anything to do with the post or the website. But we do still have clients who don’t understand that entering meta keywords is useful only for your own reference, since search engines now ignore them.
SEO Is Not a Condiment
That was probably the most-quoted statement I made in my WordCamp LAX talk this year, and it applies to the fact that optimizing your website for search is not something you can do after the fact. Your search strategy has to be incorporated into both the structure and the content of your website from the beginning. In WordPress, this means taking a look at not just your page hierarchy and accessibility (search bots and screen readers for the visually impaired read your site in much the same way), but your menu labels, categories, and tags. And your image alt tags. And all the other places. Going back to try to do this after the fact is a huge amount of work, even more work than doing keyword research and planning your content accordingly.
SEO Is Not a Plugin
You’ve probably heard this elsewhere by now–at least, I hope you have–but although SEO plugins can be very useful in helping you to use focus keywords in your posts and pages, and in creating XML sitemaps and other useful things, you can’t just install one and expect it to do the work for you. A plugin like Yoast SEO is there to help you do the work you need to do in producing good content.
Paid Advertising Doesn’t Increase Your Search Ranking
You can bring visitors to your website with a good pay-per-click or other website campaign, but it doesn’t make any difference to your organic search ranking. And while there are still plenty of people who have difficulty distinguishing paid ads from organic search results, more sophisticated prospects often skip the ads entirely.
Any Plan That Relies on Google Being Stupid Will Fail
Back in the day, techniques like paid link farms, keyword-stuffing and article spinning were very successful…for a while. Then Google got wise and they stopped working. Google will always get wise. Read “Confessions of a Google Spammer” to see how it works–or rather, doesn’t.
You Can’t Have SEO without Content
If you have 500 words of copy on your entire website, there is essentially nothing that can be done to optimize it. An attempt might even get you penalized for over-optimizing. One of the little-known “secrets” to SEO is writing long-form content. (Yoast recommends a minimum of 350 words in a post, but longer is better where search engines are concerned.) Christopher S. Penn sums SEO up with the words “Be relevant.” Relevant content, produced frequently, establishes your credibility with both search engines and humans.
Learn More about SEO
Rebecca Gill at Web Savvy Marketing, who has been both an interview guest and a panelist on the WP-Tonic podcast, has an SEO Bootcamp coming up. That’s not an affiliate link. Web Savvy also has a free Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization that you can download. Yoast also offers SEO ebooks, courses, and consulting, as well as an ongoing series of blog posts.