Optimize, Rinse, Repeat: Why Iterative SEO Is Key
There are many myths and misunderstandings associated with SEO. One of the first that comes to mind is the belief that SEO is a quick fix or a ‘one and done’ process. And a little part of me dies every time I hear that.
Think of SEO like teaching a child. In infancy, you have to tend to the child differently than you would as they mature. SEO has to be tended to similarly. SEO in its infancy was much less complex because search engines were less developed. Now that search engines have matured and learned to understand user behavior, SEO has become increasingly more complex, demanding continuous care as search engines inevitably grow more sophisticated.
In reality, SEO is a deceptively long process that involves maneuvering through inconstant variables in the digital landscape. Changing variables such as competition, search engines, search behavior — the list goes on! The digital environment is volatile, and if you want your brand or business to survive the instability, a continuous SEO strategy is imperative.
Why Iterative SEO Is a Must
Search itself has evolved. The way people are using search has changed. Search has shifted from simple, two-word search queries in Google (or Ask Jeeves — if you know, you know!) to more complex and conversational queries. This shift to more idiomatic queries is attributed to search engines evolving to provide users with a diverse subset of results specifically tailored to the immediate needs of the user.
Everything is becoming smarter. Technology is becoming increasingly more advanced than years prior. With the existence of smartphones, smart tablets, and even smart home appliances, these IoT devices are revolutionizing search, allowing for access of information to quite literally be at the tip of users' fingertips. Or, in the case of voice search, at the beckoning of Siri. As search evolves, the key to businesses' digital success will be to utilize SEO to help adapt to the new progression of technology for the benefit of your consumers.
As search engines evolve and expand across different verticals — beyond the familiar names of Google, Bing, Yahoo and Baidu — SEO is experiencing the same evolution as well. In the days of yore, SEO was primarily focused on creating irrelevant, low-quality content and building spammy links solely for search engine recognition.
Nowadays, SEO goes beyond the optimization of websites or optimizing for search engines in general. The best SEO involves an iterative strategy to account for the deluge of information that is presently available to the end-user. We need to ensure that we are effectively optimizing for users — helping them discover information when they need it, where they need it. Meanwhile, Google is also trying to adapt to this modern age of information, searching forevermore effective ways to present information to users. It’s the SEO’s job to help them learn this information — think of SEOs as Google’s inadvertent army.
All of these factors make SEO an ongoing, iterative process that takes time to curate and achieve results. And those results most definitely do not happen overnight.
Among the select few search engines currently available, Google dominates about 93% of the world’s market share. This makes Google the single most-used search engine to date. Which explains why SEOs tend to focus our strategies around the Big G. Google is an ever-changing playground, but SEOs have to play by its rules. In a utopian world, we would love to see instant results! But, as algorithms, updates, and new ways to discover information change, Google reminds us that in reality, this is Google’s world; we SEOs are only living in it. After all, Google unveiled eleven algorithm updates in 2019 (though four are speculative and remain unconfirmed by the Google Overlords) and 129 confirmed updates to-date, since the beginning of the Millenium. That’s a hell of a lot to keep up with, so why would anyone think that their SEO strategy wouldn’t need continual updates?
First and Foremost: The Facts of SEO
I first would like to reiterate that SEO is, without a doubt, vital to a brand’s digital success. I also would like to touch on the common misconception that SEO is F-R-E-E. Ah, yes everyone’s second-favorite four-letter F word. Yes, technically, it’s true that on the surface SEO is free because an organic click does not cost you anything. However, effective SEO does cost you in money and time, and it’s worth the investment.
To that point, it’s important to invest in SEO for the sake of your brand. If users are intent on searching for the information that you provide and can’t find the information they need, your brand suffers. When you do all the things necessary to ensure that your brand remains visible to those high-intent users, you become a beacon of enlightenment and valuable information.
As that beacon, users will repay you in loyalty and return visits. The more valuable the information you provide, the higher your page will appear on Google’s ever-so-exclusive list.
Five Iterative Factors Essential to the SEO Process
“So,” you might ask, “with these new developments in the search landscape and the continual evolution of search engines, how can I ensure that my page becomes favored by Google?” Well, I’m glad you asked!
There are countless factors that all search engines (not only Google) look for when assessing a page. But there are four paramount factors. These factors are TUCKD — Technical SEO, User experience, Content, Keywords and Domain authority. (FYI, this acronym is not industry standard, this is something I made up for the purpose of this blog. Use it as you please!)
As the search landscape evolves, the maintenance and implementation of these factors will evolve, which is why SEOs must revisit their strategy and tweak as necessary. Let’s dive in.
The arcane, and ever-so-sexy, technical SEO. If your tech SEO is in shambles, you best believe that Google and users have taken note. Now that Google is awake, its crawling, indexing, and understanding of information has undoubtedly gotten better. But, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a hard time understanding the contents of your website from time to time. A good website has a strong, content-based foundation, but a great website has a strong, content-based foundation, backed by a strong technical SEO foundation, allowing for easy crawling and indexation. There are three fundamental elements of technical SEO that should be taken into account:
- Crawlability - When crawling a site, Google has a budget to abide by. This budget is known as the crawl budget. The more time needed to crawl your site due to duplicate content and unnecessary resources, the less likely Google will be willing to spend their crawl budget on you.
- Indexation - If Google is unwilling to crawl your site, you can bet that the indexation of your site is unlikely. If this happens, no one will see your site... FOREVER. *Cue maniacal laugh.* That means no organic traffic, and that’s just terrible SEO. Unless, of course, you implement a strong technical foundation.
Ideally, auditing a website to assure it is technically sound needs to happen monthly or bimonthly. Things happen! Links break and pages 404, which is why routine maintenance is key to a healthy, Google-friendly and user-friendly site.
Speaking of user-friendly, in these days of equal opportunity and equal access, Google is hyperfocused on the user’s experience, and optimizing for User Experience (UXO) is crucial. SEO is what leads a user to the information they need, and UX helps provide the answers they seek once they land on a webpage, hence the SEO and UX convergence.
As search engines evolve to accommodate the many ways users consume information, SEOs must align their strategies by focusing their strategic goals on accessibility and usability. Prioritizing UX keeps webmasters and SEOs accountable for providing a truly seamless experience for all users. Not to mention, the needs of the user are constantly changing, warranting the need for iterative SEO to ensure that users receive the best experience possible. For instance, on-page elements such as headings, site structure, site speed and user mobile experience (because, mobile-first indexing) all have to be a part of an iterative process, evolving with the needs of the user.
Content, content, content. How many times have you heard that content is king? Even more than you can count on both hands, I’m sure — because it’s true!
Great content is an all-expense-paid trip aboard Google’s First Page Express. Especially if you are creating content with EAT in mind — Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness. Optimizing your page for quality content is as important as that first meal of the day! The better the quality and depth of your content, the more users will trust your site for getting the information that they need. And the more trust your site gains from users, the more Google will treat your website as an authority. Beyond that, aligning your content with the user’s search intent and effectively answering their queries is the ultimate goal.
Iterative content is the future. If you aren’t iteratively updating your content, you are failing! I’m being a bit melodramatic, but it’s important. Google loves up-to-date and helpful information. If you don’t revisit your content and let it become obsolete, your competitor will optimize their own content to create a better, more informed version, leaving your content to bite the proverbial SERP dust.
I’m sure everyone is familiar with the importance of keywords. Keywords are one of, if not the most, important factors in SEO success. Remember how we mentioned users’ search intent earlier? Keywords are the vehicle that drives users to the contents of your brand’s page. Finding the specific keywords that align with user and search intent takes extensive keyword research. When a user searches for a particular keyword, the search engines will retrieve pages that are most closely related to that phrase and most relevant to the query, displaying these results on the SERP. The results that appear on the first page are those that Google deems most relevant and most helpful for the keyword that the user is searching for.
However, The days of conducting keyword research for exact match phrases are long gone, and semantically related keywords are now prioritized thanks to neural matching and machine learning, which will only get smarter. With the recent introduction of BERT, Google’s newest algorithmic language model, keywords and natural learning processing is going to take search to a whole new level. BERT takes into account natural human language, which means, if it isn’t already, your content and keywords need to be human-focused.
Research is crucial to creating keywords and informing metadata strategy, which is, in itself, an iterative process. Both keywords and metadata must be refreshed per the changing search landscape, search behavior and search intent. How and what users search will change, and Google will roll out another set of query intent updates to accommodate those changes. As a result, SEOs will have to revisit their initial keyword strategy to ensure that the keywords chosen align with the evolving landscape.
Thanks to our friends at Moz, domain authority has become an über-important ranking factor. Though domain authority doesn’t explicitly affect Google’s search rankings, it does have a tangential effect on how your site’s pages will fare against those of competitors — thus making it a big deal for SEO success.
Domain authority is how Google determines your site’s thought leadership — or web reputation, to put it simply. Link data and a host of other overall SEO optimizations factor into your DA score, which is based on a scale of 0 to 100. To improve your domain authority, acquiring a diverse link profile is key. A wide variety of high-quality, reputable inbound links to your domain helps search engines determine whether your site is authoritative and trustworthy. Make certain your site can acquire this special type of link juice by first focusing on improvements to your SEO strategy overall. Like SEO, domain authority is not a short-term fix. If you want to improve how your site is perceived by Google and increase your rankings and organic traffic in the long run, it is fundamental that SEO remains at the forefront of your strategy.
All of This to Say: SEO Is Not a One-and-Done
A digital strategy requires frequent updates to adjust to the ever-changing search landscape. SEOs and other points of contact must understand that SEO is an iterative process that needs to be revisited frequently. You can’t implement metadata or create one piece of good content and then wash your hands of SEO forever. Your SEO, and ultimately your brand’s visibility, will suffer.
As mentioned before, Google is always updating its platform and algorithms. An effective SEO stays on top of these changes and adjusts strategies accordingly. Not only that, SEOs and marketers have to align strategies with the future, because voice search is a thing, and it’s here to stay.
And of course, as the needs of a user change, their search behavior will change as well. SEO is a living, breathing entity – a child if you will – that constantly needs to E-A-T, be checked on, taken care of and TUCKD in at night with a loving kiss on the forehead. Don’t starve it.