Focus on the Big Picture, and Your Website Will Thrive
Despite your well-manicured corporate Facebook page and compelling Twitter background, a big chunk of your traffic -- nearly half -- is still coming from old-fashioned search.
Search has rapidly changed since business dove head-first into the social-media world. Best practices have gotten more sophisticated, more subtle, and, unfortunately, more complicated. SEO isn't dead, it just evolved.
Fortunately, it's also improved. SEO isn't just about hitting your keyword density and mining back-links anymore. It's about focusing on the big picture, utilizing "holistic SEO," nailing down everything that makes your content shine and promoting it the best you possibly can. In a way, holistic SEO isn't even about SEO, it's about making your site and your content valuable to readers and reaping the benefits of your meaningful contribution.
The whole picture. Holistic SEO is exactly what it sounds like: SEO that focuses on the whole picture.
Everything that contributes to your website has the potential to influence your search-engine rankings. Keyword density, linking, web design, site structure, readability and social-media reach can all help (or hinder) your visibility on the web.
So why focus on every aspect of your site at once? Simple: the web is a crowded place, and users don't like to dig very hard to find great stuff. According to research, 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results. Even if you manage to make it into the first page of search results, 70 percent of users don't trust a website with poor design.
Even if those stats don't jump out at you, they should be enough to encourage you to make your site better. Your competitors are doing the best they can, reaching out to customers, making their site more usable and inviting guest bloggers to increase their reach. Falling behind means missing out on leads and meaningful engagement with customers.
The formula has changed. So, wait. What happened to keywords? What about H2 tags and all the old-school SEO practices I was supposed to worry about?
Well, it's still there, but it's not quite as important as it used to be. Somewhere along the line, Google engineers realized that the Internet is a complicated place, and that the old formulas for determining the relevance and quality of content just weren't cutting it. The most recent update to Google's search algorithm, "Hummingbird," includes over 200 factors for figuring out page rank.
Both the individual factors involved and the ranking algorithm itself are designed to figure out which page will best fit a searcher's needs. The problem is, not all of them are straightforward and easy to obtain. This is because old versions of the search formula made it possible for sites to game the system by adding far too many keywords and linking to themselves over and over again. Now, the ranking of content depends upon the recognition of people and sites that are also considered high quality -- no more manufactured links, no more easy ranking in Google.
This is why holistic SEO works. High-quality content is well-crafted, recognizably important, worth sharing, framed in solid web design and encourages further reading. By creating both an environment and individual articles that enrich the lives of others, your work is more likely to receive links from other sources, sharing on social media and recognition by Google's algorithms.
The elements of success. But we don't just want to know what holistic SEO is, we want to know how it affects us. What can we do on an individual basis to make our content stand out, both subjectively and objectively?
The first place to start is with your website. Great websites are clear, focused and easy to read and navigate. If you have a lot of extra decoration, consider simplifying your design, or going "flat."
Make sure to design your site with consideration to the science behind readability and eye scanning, use fonts that are clear and large enough that visitors can read without struggling. Simplify the navigation of your website with headings and menu titles that are clear and easy to understand ("News" vs. "What's Happenin'").
Each of these things will contribute to a better reading experience and make it easier to find other articles on your site.
The next element to focus on is your content. See what your competitors are doing and figure out how you can do it better. Can you add more videos, valuable resources and interviews with industry experts?
If you want to earn social sharing and back links from other high-quality sites, you have to create content that delivers value. This value can come in the form of entertainment, education, information or even just conversation. Whatever you're producing, ask yourself, "will the lives of our audience members be improved in some way by this content?" If the answer is no, then let it go.
Next, nail down the basics of your content. Enlist writers that produce compelling content and an editor that can hammer out typos and grammatical errors. For video, look into professional camera work, solid lighting and quality microphones to put your best foot forward.
For infographics and other visuals, enlist someone on your team with design knowledge, or consider outsourcing the work to a creative agency. Finally, nail down the technical aspects of your page so that web crawlers and search engines can easily find all that juicy content.
Lastly, focus on your social-media presence and promotion. In a broader sense, social media offers the unique capacity to actively engage your users, which can help build your reputation as a trustworthy source. In a more direct sense, social media helps build back-links due to the exposure it provides. Simply put, the more people that see your content, the more likely that someone will enjoy it and share it with others.
As search changes and SEO with it, holistic SEO practices grow more and more important. A strong and enjoyable user experience is the new normal in the Hummingbird era, and achieving it through solid design, high-quality content and an engaging social presence means satisfied readers and a well-rewarded business.
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