Did your keyword rankings and organic traffic take a hit recently? If so, you're not alone. Google made a few big updates to their search algorithm in 2021 that impacted a lot of websites, particularly older ones.
It can be exhausting trying to keep up with what Google wants from you. Often, it feels like they're moving the goal posts, and making all that time and money you've invested in SEO worth diddly-squat.
2021's Page Experience Update and switch to mobile-first indexing were just two recent examples of Google "changing the rules" of SEO.
But for marketing veterans, the experience was probably familiar. Google's search algorithm is a living thing that changes all the time. Some changes are big and announced publicly. Some are small and done behind a veil of secrecy. Constantly reevaluating your SEO techniques and ideas about SEO best practices is par for the course.
So, you might ask, how can you win the game when the rules are always changing?
Which leads us to the one huge thing most brands get wrong about SEO.
SEO is not a game.
You can't win — not in the long run, anyway.
Sure, SEO agencies will treat it like a game, and tell you they have all the cheat codes (kind of like how in The Sims, you can enter "rosebud" and just keep printing money). There have been a million of these cheat codes over the years, including:
- Keyword stuffing
- Content farming
- "Directory" content
But what you call a cheat code, Google calls a mistake. And they're always working to patch their mistakes.
Sure, these strategies worked in the short term. But then Google caught on, and fixed the problems, and now those keyword-stuffed pages no longer rank #1 for their target keywords.
That's not winning — it's just getting away with something temporarily.
Google's primary objective is to improve the experience of search users. If you can manipulate their algorithm so that you rank highly for queries without offering a good user experience, that's a threat to Google's business model. This is inevitably going to be a losing strategy.
A better way to think about SEO
So what can you do? Should you pay attention to SEO at all?
Definitely. There are always going to be actionable, practical steps you can take to increase the likelihood of your pages ranking highly on Google's search results.
As of this writing, these tactics include:
- Deploying relevant keywords in a natural way in title tags, meta descriptions, and page content
- Using pillar pages
- Ensuring your pages score well on Google's Core Web Vitals
- Writing in a question-and-answer format to help qualify for snippets
- Earning (not buying) quality backlinks from trusted domains
So what's the difference? Aren't these just the cheat codes that happen to work right now, until Google patches them out again?
There's one key difference. All of these tactics improve the user experience instead of detracting from it. They help users quickly find what they're looking for and learn about the topics they're interested in. That they happen to be finding their answers on your website is a mutual benefit.
It all comes down to your approach. You have to align your goal with Google's: to improve the user experience. As long as you're doing that, you're much more likely to get long-term ROI from your SEO work.
Does SEO still matter?
Google is getting pretty good at understanding what users are looking for. But they're not perfect. They need a little help surfacing the right content to the right people at the right time. That's where SEO comes in.
Google isn't anti-SEO, they're anti-manipulation. A good SEO agency will help you understand what Google considers a good user experience right now, and improve your content to improve your rankings.
Likewise, a good content marketing partner will deploy SEO best practices in the work they produce for you, while always prioritizing the quality of the content itself.
Salted Stone can help you improve your long-term SEO by creating a high-quality, search-optimized content strategy and creating awesome content. Contact us to get started!