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How to Establish a Viable Long-Term SEO Strategy Black-hat tactics won't further your SEO goals. These six steps promote sustained success the proper way.

By Gideon Kimbrell

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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The ABCs of SEO have changed a bit over the years. Usability and mobile experience have become more important elements in the past five years by an order of magnitude. Beforehand, they weren't really part of the ranking algorithm much at Google or other search engines. However, as a builder of websites, I find too many clients and counterparts in the SEO and Web development space treating these metrics as if they are the only ones that matter.

More than anything, content absolutely remains king — and always will. Google has stated that even if a website has a horrid design and janky user experience, it can still rank first if it has vastly superior content.

In my experience, a good SEO strategy involves 30 to 40 percent creation of high-quality, original content, including well-researched, in-depth articles; 30 to 40 percent link-building in a manner that's as organic as possible; and the remaining 20 to 30 percent is UX, Core Web Vitals (such as CLS), bounce rate and session duration (for sites that use Google Analytics), and all these other remaining trends.

Related: How Google Analytics Help Small Business Owners to Make Better Business Decisions

Just because these other trends represent only 20 to 30 percent of the ranking factor does not mean you should ignore them. When you are competing for highly competitive search terms, these may make the difference that can push you onto page one. This is especially true if your competitors already match your quality with content and links and if you've maxed out your edge on those leading factors.

Remember, when it comes to SEO, you don't have to be number one. You just have to be in front of everyone else.

The men in black

Many small businesses still trust or default to more "black hat" SEO tactics for two primary reasons: speed and cost. Black-hat SEO techniques can be appealing to small and mid-size businesses because they can provide quicker boosts than playing by the rules does. But as rapidly as the boost came, it will go away.

Back in 2004, when WordPress was only a year old, I was one of the first to figure out comment spam. I created a bot that scoured the website for blogs and left comments on them, linking back to the company I worked for. Within three days, we were number one on Google for every search term we wanted to rank for. Of course, this didn't last long, and Google caught on. I don't employ black-hat techniques like this anymore, but the process taught me a lot about page rank, authority and hub sites.

Related: How Much Do SEO Services Actually Cost?

Six steps for proper SEO

Proper SEO can seem expensive at first, but it typically yields a much lower cost per acquisition than pay-per-click, print, TV, etc. A host of viable SEO strategies are available to employ in 2021. Here are six steps for proper SEO that are both highly effective and are personal favorites of mine.

1. Perform competitive analysis

Remember with SEO that your placement is relative; there is no absolute placement in the search engine results pages. You simply must analyze what your competitors are doing: Where are they getting links? What kinds of sites? How long have they had those links? You need to do as well or better.

What about their content: How deep is their research on various subjects, and how large is their semantic net? Your site's vocabulary on these subjects needs to be slightly broader. This applies to all SEO metrics. In Montana, we have a saying: You don't have to outrun a grizzly bear; you just have to outrun your friend.

Related: Use Competitive Analysis to Make Your Blog Irresistible

2. Start small

Go for the less competitive key phrases, then work your way up. Many tools, including SEMrush and Wordtracker, can help with long-tail keyword research (and normal keyword research). It may seem counterintuitive, but with SEO, it's better to lock-in placement and traffic for less competitive search terms (usually the longer multiword phrases, also known as "long tail") before trying for the more competitive ones. The idea is to get users onto your site in the short term and get the ball rolling.

3. Make use of structured data

When you search for cookie recipes in Google and see a carousel of recipes appear before the actual search results, those rich snippets are from websites that provide Google a special markup, in the Schema.org format, called structured data. This is how Google knows it's a recipe and not just a blurb about cooking.

Ten years ago, Google was just a list of Web results without these carousels and accordion elements. Now, most of the first page of a search query on Google are snippets, carousels and accordions (expandable elements) provided using structured data. It's important to describe everything on your website — products, videos, reviews, etc. — using JavaScript Object Notation, or JSON. This is how you can get more visibility when Google knows the searcher's intent. Just make sure to not abuse this, like by using structured data to tell Google that your products, say, have five-star reviews when they actually don't just to have five stars appear on Google next to your website.

4. Get creative

If you have developers, try creating widgets or badges that link back to your site and that customers, vendors or affiliates can put on their websites. This is an excellent, legitimate link-building technique that can result in exponential growth in the right situations. TripAdvisor is one of many such companies that offer badges to users for interacting with its site and submitting reviews, thereby boosting SEO efforts.

5. Start blogging

Unleash your inner writer and create your own blog with well-researched, in-depth blog posts — 2,000-plus words. Having blog content on your site is especially handy if you run an e-commerce website. When you are trying to get other sites to link to you, it's easier to get them to link to a blog post than an e-commerce store; it appears less "spammy" to them and their users. And please, do not use content spinning — using software to tweak your article just enough to trick Google into thinking it's a separate article — or similar hacks to generate content. These tricks are not good for real users and, therefore, not good for SEO in the long run.

6. Consider guest posting

Another valid way to gain new visitors is guest posting on other blogs. Then you can publish content that links back to your website or blog. Just make sure the content you write is rich, original and authentic and that the site where you post is reputable. Keep in mind that you are creating the content, which should do the following:

  • Provide information that real humans would find useful. (Would complete strangers link to it from their sites because they found it informative?)
  • Be original. (Can it all be found on another single web page?)
  • Be authentic. (Are you giving both the pros and cons and being as neutral as possible on the subject matter?)

Just remember that none of this matters if you don't track all your key SEO metrics over time and in relation to your competitors. Tracking is key.

By employing the white-hat techniques above, my clients have enjoyed years of steady SEO growth without suffering the major drops in the search results that many complain of when Google makes a major update — and they've never suffered a manual penalty either. Writing expert-level, researched, in-depth articles has yielded considerable returns, with top websites linking back to the material. The formula may change a bit, but the path to successful SEO is still paved in solid content.

Gideon Kimbrell

Co-Founder and CEO, InList.com

Gideon Kimbrell is the co-founder and CEO of Miami-based InList.com, an app for booking reservations at exclusive nightlife, charity, and entertainment events.

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