Once upon a time you could put your keywords in a title tag and headline, get a few links back to your site, and end up at the top of the search rankings. No longer. Competition is greater, search rank tricks are more nuanced, and search engine alogrithms are constantly changing. The real opportunity left for you in SEO is changing the acronym. What was once Search Engine Optimization is now the new SEO: Something Exceptional Obtained.
Why exceptional? When we experience something special, we love to share it with others. And it just so happens that this thing called the Internet is really good at letting people share stuff. When something exceptional is obtained, we write about it more. We also share it, link to it, excerpt it, retweet it, and by all other channels broadcast it to the global village.
While debates rage about how impactful social media is to ranking factor, having people talk about you positively all the time isn’t going to drive less traffic. It will always drive more people to your site and contribute to organic rank success.
With everyone starting to nail the basics and waves of new content being generated daily, being remarkable and providing ‘something exceptional obtained’ is really the only way to go.
Before we go for the remarkable long bomb, let’s be sure we have our blocking and tackling in order. No football quarterback gets his shot at the glory of a deeply thrown touchdown without an effective blocking or spacing scheme. Or a pre-designed “prayer” rollout to the right side where there’s no pressure on him. You know, like this play Rich Rodriguez drew up to beat Cal (apologies to Bay Area sports fans and Michigan Men in Ann Arbor):
To make that play, you have to have the basics down and have a plan of attack. You have to know where to roll, where space is created, how deep to throw and what route to run to make the catch. If you execute all the pieces, it can look easy.
When it comes to SEO, there are many basics to focus on. We’re just going to talk about on-page, keyword basics. If you know these, feel free to skip down to the remarkable.
1. Title Tag
The keyword or phrase that someone types into a search engine is what they’re looking for. Are you relevant to that phrase? Do you want to rank for what they are looking for? If so, put that keyword in your title tag. This is the most simple on-page SEO factor that gets results and it’s an easy one to get right. Don’t fumble it!
Not sure which phase to put in your title tag? Consider a couple things:
- What is this page about? Make sure your title is relevant to your content.
- What are people searching for? Make sure your content is inline with what you audience is looking for.
You can do basic keyword research here and here and here to figure out the phrases that customers like yours are entering into their search bars. It also helps you know if the phrase you think they are searching for is actually the phrase with the most search volume that you should be trying to rank for.
2. Friendly URLs
That same keyword or phrase you are targeting should be in the URL’s structure itself. This is why you see so many common name URLs rank well. Search “adoption” and guess what? http://adoption.com is No. 1. This site does all the blocking and tackling right and they have a No. 1 draft pick — a Hall of Fame Keyword URL. Not everyone can have a premium domain or the league MVP, but the principle of getting keywords into your URL structure applies to your marketing site and your blog just as much.
Compare these site URLs:
The second URL gives your audience (and search engines) a clear understanding of what content that page contains. It also helps the audience see the information hierarchy of the site and how it’s structured. If your audience understands the site’s structure, they’ll be more likely to use the site and quickly find what they’re looking for. And guess what? The same goes for search bots.
To see this SEO tip in action, type “top 10 smartphone security tips” into Google and you’ll see this post from the GoDaddy Garage is on Page 1.
Your keywords are in your title tag. Check. Your keywords are in your URLs. Check. Your keywords can also find a helpful home in your headlines. This is especially true of your main page or article headline, known in your HTML markup as the <H1> tag. When you use keywords in these headline tags, it “highlights” them for search bots crawling your site. This is another basic approach to improving your search rank.
This suggestion comes in at No. 3 because sometimes I don’t want to follow it. Yes, it works technically. However, if it’s at the expense of writing a remarkable, thought-provoking, human-centric headline, it’s a rule that’s meant to be broken.
You can find thousands of tips and articles on headline writing. Articles about how to fit keywords into the headline, articles about how to bait people into reading further, articles about always having the “7 Best X” or “Avoiding the 3 Y’s,” and most of these headline ideas have merit and are proven to work in certain circumstances.
But I believe there is often too much emphasis on headline mechanics and tactics without enough focus on the quality of the site’s message, remarkability, purpose and content. And your tactical or keyword-stuffed headline is likely to be one that has been written hundreds of times on the same topic. There’s a lot of noise in the headline game. If the content under the headline isn’t valuable and remarkable, in the long term, it’s going to matter very little. So let’s move on to scoring big…
Now you know some keyword SEO basics. You can run your plays and you’ll get some wins. But it’s going to be tough. While that football play above looked “easy,” it’s rarely completed. With all the basics executed, the odds are still stacked against you. To increase your chances of success you have to change the way you play the game. You can’t just block and tackle and run plays and run the right routes. You have to do things other people don’t do, think in ways others don’t think, and provide things others don’t provide.
This is why many recent winning college and pro football teams have switched to a remarkably different spread offense, with crazy results (I see you Urban Meyer, Chip Kelly, Rich Rod…). And just look at what Steve Kerr is doing in basketball at Golden State (love you Bay Area sports fans!). He’s putting a big guy in the middle and spreading the floor with insane shooters that always have the “green light” to take any shot within 24 feet of the basket. This experimental, remarkable strategy has led to this season’s best NBA team record through the All-Star break and created a way for this NBA basketball player to score 37 points, in a single quarter…
Want to light up the SEO scoreboard like that? Be remarkable. Take risks. Change the game. Write a search rankings article that has college football and NBA basketball highlights in it. See what happens. Be OK with the drama in the comments and the haters in the Twitterverse. Take a point of view that matters. Explain and teach in a way that hasn’t been done before.
If people say things about you or don’t like what you have to say, you’re probably doing many things right. Yours is the kind of content — content with meaning and value and purpose and a new perspective — that gets quoted and liked and linked to. Content that stands apart from the other 14 million SEO tips articles on the web.
Something Exceptional Obtained (SEO)
Remember the acronym for the new SEO: “Something Exceptional Obtained.” Burn it on your office wall or tattoo it to your ankle. As one my favorite authors, Simon Sinek has said, “Safe is for sidewalks and swimming pools, but life requires risk if we are to get anywhere.”
Provide something exceptional that can be obtained, experienced, used and shared by your audience. Content marketing and SEO isn’t about you; it’s about the impact you can have for your audience. How are you helping them? What innovation are you delivering that will change the world in a way that everyone wants to talk about it, share and link back to?
Hike the SEO ball, make sure the blocking and tackling is in place, roll to your spot on the field and throw deep for the remarkable, helpful touchdown!
Also published on Medium.