Years after we published this article about battle-tested SEO rules for websites, we decided to update it, include new SEO rules and dump the old ones. We at Vanguard Websites Tucson practice ‘perennial SEO‘ — viz. SEO that gets 100% along with Google’s mission statement and goals:
Google’s mission is to “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
“Since the beginning, our goal has been to develop services that significantly improve the lives of as many people as possible.”
Since we started building websites (1999), one principle has withstood the test of time:
- Follow Google’s SEO advice to webmasters.
- Build websites that are well-organized, themed up and useful to targeted communities.
- You will get the links and the social signals that tell Google your sites are relevant and deserve a place in Page 1 under those very specific keywords.
While rules #1 and #2 have held true to this day, rule #3 is no longer applicable for a number of reasons.
SEO Rule #1: Follow Google’s SEO advice to webmasters
YES BUT… Your webmaster does have to follow Google’s advice… almost all the time. Google knows what’s best for Google, and in most cases, it matches what’s best for its users.
Almost all the time… because Google works first for Google, and second only for its users, especially its business users. The best interest of Google does not always match the best interest of its users.
How? For instance, Google’s organic search results will periodically favor very large websites such as Yelp. If you search for a local plumber or a roofing company, chances you will find Yelp in position #1 in the organic search results, whether or not there could be another trade portal representing the trade (roofing, plumbing, etc) better than Yelp.
It is clear for instance that Yelp is a “pay for play” website: if you want your business to stand first in Yelp, you have to pay for it. You can’t just get good reviews from Yelpers and be #1. Yelp advertisers will always be listed above your company, whether or not they get the highest rating from Yelpers or the biggest number of Yelp reviews.
So the rationale adopted by Google to bring Yelp at the top of its natural search results (big social voice of the Yelpers, relevance of local results, trustworthy reviews, wide choice of local businesses in any given category) has a perverse effect: it favors people who spend ad money to get to the top of Yelp’s categories. In this case, a trade directory with unbiased results would do better than Yelp at representing the industry.
This is a problem in SEO: large sites are almost always favored over smaller sites, outranking them in the organic search results. Under this aspect, the best interest of Google does not always match that of its users.
Google is also known to withhold important information from webmasters. Google knows that professional SEO guys will do their best to rank their clients high in the search results. So Google tweaks its algorithm just so that these guys can’t figure it out and also publishes webmastering materials that are somewhat incomplete, outdated or simply untrue.
As an example of this, let’s quickly mention the “SSL certificate penalty”. Back in 2016, Google published an advice to webmasters to put their clients behind SSL certificates (when the sites use forms to collect personal data). If they failed to do so, Google would assign their site some undisclosed penalty in the ranking algorithm. Two years down the road, this penalty has not taken effect in any significant way.
Who benefited? The resellers of SSL certs, like (the very expensive) GoDaddy, and the webmasters (billing clients for the SSL cert installation). The information about the penalty was untrue to the degree that it wasn’t implemented (just the natural lag of the industry). The threat of a penalty was “fake news” propagated by Google with a view to getting businesses to take action to “protect user data”. There are rumors that this penalty is being implemented today in 2018, but we still have to observe if this is true and if this has any impact at all on rankings.
Bottom line: Follow the Google rules, YES. But don’t take everything Google publishes at face value. And prioretize your SEO actions by weighing “important vs. less important” actions.
SEO Rule #2: Build websites that are well-organized, themed up and useful to targeted communities
YES, YES, YES. Your site has to be well-organized (Google up “silo theory + SEO” or “website silo organization + SEO” to find out how).
Your website also has to be themed up: if you are a small business, you are themed up by default. If you are in the plumbing business, your website will discuss about plumbing.
This recommendation is mostly relevant to bloggers who blog about anything and everything. Don’t. Blog about something and consistently stay on topic. This will work much better for SEO.
Make sure you have an XML sitemap that’s compliant with Google’s requirements, so that all your pages are crawled by Google and indexed. Google up “Google XML sitemap” to find a good WordPress plugin that will do it automatically. Create a video sitemap (different from the XML sitemap) if you have videos on your site. A site that is well-organized and fully discoverable by the Googlebot has stronger chances ot rank well than other badly organized websites without a sitemap.
Serve an identifiable community: if you are a small business in (location), show it on your website in multiple ways:
- Name your city (and phone) in all your pages
- Add your address to your site, on multiple pages
- Mention other cities (towns and neighborhoods) around your city.
- Mention your clients or your work in your city and in towns/neighborhoods around (e.g. “we just fixed a bathroom leak in (location), 20 miles away from our business”)
- “Geotag” your website using structured data markup
These are strong signs you serve a community.
Publish relevant posts about your business and the technicals of your trade. This is also a sign you are serving a community. These posts can be useful? If yes, you are serving your community. This will be taken into consideration by Google in the search results.
SEO Rule #3: You will get the links and the social signals that tell Google your sites are relevant and deserve a place in Page 1 under those very specific keywords
NOT SO TRUE… There is so much content on the web today, so many relevant voices, so many valuable resources widely available, so much noise… that your information will remain (relatively) invisible as long as you don’t get high page visibility and a really high volume of traffic for Google to notice and re-rank your site.
This is a catch-22 proposition since to get the traffic and the page visiblity, SEO is one of the necessities. Counting on visibility to get good SEO is a self-defeating proposition.
So you have to have a strategy to swim above the noise. This strategy includes SEO efforts, for sure, but it must be mostly based on platforms that will give you immediate visibility: Facebook, instagram, YouTube,…
Anything that drives traffic to your website. Use advertising in Facebook and Instagram — it’s cheap and it can be relatively effective in giving you “social signals” and, to a lesser degree, lead traffic to your site (in most cases you have to have a “lead magnet” to get people to jump from the social media platform on which they see your ad or your post to your website).
By the way, “social signals” as a way to get SEO ranking is overstated. The internet marketers who tout social signals as a magic tool to get good SEO are BSing you. The best studies on ranking factors assign a relatively low weight to social signals. For one thing, Facebook and Twitter do not allow Google to check their users’ feed: how could Google measure the relative popularity of any post (and name) if they can’t check the Facebook or the Twitter feed?
Social signals are helpful on the platforms themselves, as they are “social proof” that your post, image, downloadable is interesting.
What is “social proof”? “The tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it normally works quite well” (as a method of influence). “Social proof suggests that “We view a behavior as correct
in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it”. That’s a workable definition of social proof, by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the guy who discovered the principle.
The more Likes, Shares, Comments you have on a post, the easier it will be for people seeing these numbers to give Likes, Comments and Shares to your post.
So the more people go from a social platform to your site to download or use a lead magnet, the higher your website traffic, the more authority you gain in the eyes of Google. That authority is measured by Google Analytics. Make sure you have installed Google Analytics on your website.
This social network-based strategy will produce better SEO, but not directly by social signals.
How about links? Yes, links will help your SEO tremendously. The better the links, the higher the authority they will give your site, the higher your SEO rankings. Getting high quality links is difficult and requires a real strategy. Focus your SEO efforts on getting links. If you can’t get quality links, obtain lots of lower quality links. There are several ways to go for it, this is not the topic of this article, and entire courses have been devoted to this process. I just confirm that links are one of the best ways to get good SEO.
Waiting on these links is definitely a No-No. This will simply not happen fast enough to avoid starvation if your income depends on your SEO. You have to ACTIVELY SEEK links. You won’t get links automatically just because your content is good and interesting and powerful and true.
Google is not telling it to you like it is when they mention that interesting content will get links. This is not gonna happen. You have to seek these links.
SEO Rule #4: Grow your website content and share excerpts of it on social media
You heard that “content is king”. It’s king to the degree your content is original and match SOME demand. If your content has ZERO demand, people are not interested, they don’t consume your content, you will get little valuable SEO. Of course, when you are positioned in a super-specific niche, even little traffic can be worth gold. So content is king but it has to be original and match the needs of SOME demand.
Publish original content (articles, videos, infographics, small ebooks) regularly.
If you can’t write much, publish curated content: excerpts of content written and published by others, that you will comment upon. Your comments have to outweigh the original content.
SEO Rule #5: Geotag your site, use the Schema markup, use rich snippets
This is especially true for local business sites. Again, I won’t describe here what this require (google up these terms) but this will help your local rankings.
These battle-tested SEO rules hold true. I amended them from the original publication, but they hold true.
In SEO like in other things business, I follow the 80/20 rule. Do 20% of the possible actions that will get 80% of the results. Minimum effort, maximum output.
Pick your action, use the 5 SEO rules for websites outlined above, and you’ll find yourself with some valuable positions in Google.
Phil Chavanne, Web designer
Vanguard Websites Tucson