Each year comes with a new list of trends and predictions for search engine optimization (SEO) that marketers, web designers, and business professionals are advised to apply to their online real estate. In most cases, these lists are a creative retelling of old information or a modified recital of someone’s top ten, twenty, or even 100 trends. They make bold claims of easy and time-saving strategies that will push you to the top of search results, drive untold amounts of traffic to your web pages, and dramatically boost rates for conversions, leads, sales, ROI, and profits.
Some of each year’s set of “new” trends for SEO even include a mouthful of tech jargon that actually means nothing at all. For example, the trend to “implement off-page link structuring with symbiotic navigation to minimize abandonment of micro-interactions during user experience optimization.” What does that even mean? It gets attention because it sounds authoritative and official, so it must be an action that has to be taken to improve SEO, right? Wrong!
When it comes to SEO that works, there are five core components of optimizing your digital content that no longer need to be included in a “top trends for (insert year here)” list – because they always work, all the time.
1 – User experience optimization. Who are you trying to reach with your digital content? If you treat that as anything other than a ridiculously rhetorical question, you are already losing the SEO game. Whether you are selling something, answering a question, solving a problem, or just writing about something because you have a point to make, the point of any of those activities is that you have a specific audience in mind.
Your website, landing page, or content needs to be created or designed for that particular audience. Aside from creating with your audience foremost in your mind, you also need to use a format or mode of delivery that heightens the user experience. When people can access your content easily, obtain what they want from it with no frustration, and go away happy – you are winning at UXO (user experience optimization). Know your audience and know what they want from you, then give it to them!
2 – Mobile-friendly site and page design. At this point in the SEO game, creating an online presence that is optimized for mobile access across a variety of devices and screen sizes is no longer a suggestion. Search engines show clear preference toward mobile-friendly content, and some will even downgrade or refuse to list websites and web pages in search results if the content has not been designed for access on mobile devices.
Laptops, tablets, and smartphones give users the convenience of searching, shopping, and surfing the internet while they are on the go, and these devices have screen sizes that range from an inch or two to nearly two feet. If you want people to spend time engaging with your digital data, you have to give it to them in a format that is fully functional regardless of what method they use to retrieve it. Mobile-friendly content is a basic staple of SEO and should be a standard part of your content creation and site design processes.
3 – Original, useful, informative, and relevant content. Alas, poor content, we knew it well. A sad but true fact about online real estate today is that too many websites are still overly stuffed with overly terrible content. When you stick a billboard on the side of the information highway, it shouldn’t be one that cannot be read and understood by a digital traveler zipping along at 100 miles per hour (or 100 megabytes per second).
Content should be focused around a single theme or subject, deliver information about that subject as detailed, but succinctly so, as possible, and provide answers or solutions that are immediately applicable. You should also avoid publishing content that is little more than a reworded version of something that can already be found on a dozen other sites or pages. Spend some time crafting user-friendly content instead of just churning it out for the sake of making your online presence look active.
4 – Fully functional and highly efficient navigation options. Clicking a link that does not go where it claims to, or goes nowhere at all, is as frustrating as getting stuck at every red light on your way to work when you are already late. Or one of any number of other unfortunate events that evoke a range of emotions on the anger spectrum from a simple sigh of annoyance to tossing your computer out the window of your 30th floor office as you release a primal scream of rage.
Rather than become inadvertently responsible for the destruction that could ensue, it would be safer to simply make sure the links you include in your online content are pointing where they are supposed to and working the way they should. Menu and navigation panels should be easy to find, understand, and use and should contain only what is necessary for a user to get around on the current page. While you cannot control externally linked content or inbound links from external sites, you should periodically check them to make sure they also work and that they are coming from (or pointing to) reputable and authoritative sources.
5 – Keywords oriented toward natural language and conversational queries. People don’t search for how to cut their pet dog’s toenails by entering “proper application of manual reduction techniques for excess claw growth on digital pads of canis lupus familiaris.” Google doesn’t even know what that means (but you’ll get over 290,000 results for “cash me ousside, howbow dah” – and who knows what the heck that means).
While it sounds fancy, using a sentence full of technical terms is really only useful if you are writing a boring scientific paper for an obscure academy journal that no one ever reads. When it comes to keywords, keep them simple and use natural language words and phrases that people actually use in conversation. You can also find great tools online that will let you know how people are searching for certain subjects, not just what subjects they are searching for.
Like the internet itself and the technology that fuels it, SEO and the methodology used by search engines to pick the most relevant results to display to searchers is constantly changing. If you try to keep up with what’s hot and what’s not in SEO on a regular basis, your online presence will be constantly changing, too. Instead of expending all that time and effort on following trends that may or may not work, build your online presence with a solid foundation of traditions, not trends, that have been proven successful time and time again.