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There’s a massive market for SEO, with supposed gurus charging extortionist amounts for secrets of the industry. The issue is, no one really knows exactly the different elements that go into the big magical box of Google known as the algorithm.

Except, there’s nothing much about what an algorithm really is — a set of rules that tries to generate the desired set of results based on inputs and data points.

As a former tech lead, I know that there are some things that SEO gurus don’t really go into because either it’s out of their technical depth or they have a shallow understanding of how algorithms and systems actually work.

There is often a divide of knowledge between those who actively work with code and those that don’t. Here are some things you should know about SEO, or to be more precise, 20 perspective points from the other side.

  1. To hit the front page is every business’ dream — except there is more than one front page. There are front pages based on location, time zones, search queries, and tailored front pages based on a particular user’s past internet-related interactions. You can’t hit them all, but you can hit at least one based on a selection of elements that makes up your desired search profile.
  2. A search profile is what your dream customer looks like. We’re talking age, gender, sexual orientation, demographics, geographical location, likes, dislikes, social media tendencies, past YouTube binges, and any other characteristics that make up a real person. Search engines exist to serve these people, and there’s a high chance that your search profile will exist.
  3. Casting a wide net for a search profile dilutes your product’s offering. The more targeted it is, the higher the chance for conversion from organic search results.
  4. Different people have different intentions and often land on a particular type of content because of it. Tailor your content to fit these intentions and solve their problems in order to achieve your specific landing goals.
  5. If you’re not ranking on Google at all and have no dashboard to tell you what’s going on, put your website through Google’s Webmasters. Google Analytics is great but Webmasters is made for SEO. This is the place where, if there’s a problem with your website’s code, it’ll tell you exactly where, why, and what penalties you actually have against your domain. It’s better to get the information from the source rather than speculate on what’s wrong.
  6. Write content for humans and not bots. You’re in the business of solving human problems. Google is in the business of solving human problems by connecting people with businesses that solve a particular question or problem.
  7. Social Engine Optimization is different from Search Engine Optimization. The first deals with a very different set of people who interact with your content under a different mindset. When it comes to search engines, most of the time, people are using it to search for answers. They’re not randomly scrolling through. Their attention is already set on what you could potentially offer them. Leverage this attention with your content.
  8. SEO is possibly 90% content and 10% technical. If you’re already using WordPress, most of the time the technical part is already completed. What matters the most in SEO is content — because that’s what you’re being ranked and searched on. The more content you have, the better chance of telling Google what you can do to meet a potential customer’s wants and needs.
  9. SEO is different from Google Ads. Yes, you can immediately send targeted traffic to your website by paying for it — but that’s a very different action than ranking on the first page from a set of search results. With true SEO, you’re not paying for anything at all, except maybe a content creator to help write your content.
  10. Don’t overthink keywords when it comes to content. Think in terms of ideas and topics. Write what people actually want to read. The trick is to pick a topic, write a few articles around it, and move on to the next sibling article. If you play your publishing schedule correctly, you can end up with organic and relevant traffic.
  11. Good copy has a purpose in mind. Anyone can write, but a lot of people struggle to write with purpose. Businesses with solid blogs often have articles that have good substance to their content. Keyword density is a flow-on effect of good writing and should not be used as the main metric for SEO rankings.
  12. Copying and pasting code on the internet that promises you great SEO without actually understanding what it does is often a sure way to hurt your website’s ranking.
  13. Don’t try to hack SEO or find some quick-fix solution. It won’t work. Google is always one step of you and will penalize you for attempting to cheat. SEO is a long game that emphasizes quality over time.
  14. Social media sharing does impact your final ranking. But like social media shares, this rank will degrade over time, depending on how the platform continues to present your post to an audience. If you’re doing current events reporting for your business, trust that it will have a limited shelf life. Evergreen content is not time-based, but Google will still try to find the most relevant and recently posted combination to present to users.
  15. Consistency of quality matters more than anything SEO experts will tell you.
  16. No, you don’t technically need a blog. If you’re in the service industry where people are very specific about their searches and geographical requirements, having a website is enough. However, it still needs content to rank — not just in pictures but words too. This is because Google still hasn’t figured out how to properly deal with images just yet.
  17. SEO is essentially your written version of your marketing content. If you have consistent campaigns, you should also have consistent content to match across all your channels that are driving traffic. Although users haven’t directly entered through Google, if they are signed into their Gmail account, Google will know that they’ve visited the website. This is how you get retargeted for ads. It is also how Google knows about the existence of your website if you’re new to the game.
  18. Always create original content. Never steal. Google knows when you’ve been plagiarizing and will reject your page. Recycled content is next-tier on Google’s negative strikes. But if you need to have duplicate content for whatever reason, be sure to add canonical tags to the duplicated content so Google doesn’t penalize the duplicates.
  19. Some platforms allow you to customize your URLs. If you want good SEO, structure your domain based on your category, followed by an optional second category, and then a keyword. There’s a misconception that it has to be your post title, but it doesn’t. Think of your URL as an index card for humans and Google bots. It also makes things easier to share, especially on Twitter due to length. An example:
  20. Meta tags don’t impact on actual ranking — as officially announced in 2009 by Google. They do, however, impact the click-through rate from the search engine, which can impact positively on a particular page relevancy as judged by the end user. The circled red area below is an example of how meta tags impact what your search results show. Without this, it simply grabs the first excerpt of the page — which may not be as effective for click-through conversion.

And that’s basically SEO in a nutshell. There’s more to it, but these are usually the main points I want to tell people when they ask me about the subject.

If you have a decent backlog of content and still aren’t ranking at all, then it’s time to get someone to look at the code. However, perfect code won’t solve your lack of content or lack of quality content.

It’s easier to rank if you have consistent and relevant content, even if your website isn’t set up for SEO. So don’t overthink the task of ranking — focus on your other digital marketing strategies first, get those eyeballs on your website and entice them to return. Google will know, in its own special way, and will send bots to figure out what you’re all about.

The purpose of ranking is to get users who are most likely to convert. So be sure to create for this reason and not for what you think the bots will want.