Alarmists say that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a thing of the past, but experts in the industry know better. To clear up some of the mystery surrounding the topic, we decided to discuss it with Mike Schwarz, Founder of myZone Media and SEO expert since 2001. Mike sat down with us and talked us through what SEO used to be like and what it is today, and gave us some tips for beginners on where they should focus their energy.
Hi Mike! Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise. How about we start at the beginning, by going over a brief history of SEO?
Sure. I started doing SEO in 1999-2000. At that time, it was very much about tricking the search engines. The search engines would try to bring people the most relevant results, and then SEOs would try to manipulate those results in favor of their website to confuse the search engines, so some sites that weren’t necessarily the most relevant would be bumped to the top. There was a lot of trial and error, it was basically a cat and mouse game between Google and the SEOs to try to stay ahead of each other.
Today we would call these techniques “black hat SEO,” in the sense that the SEO industry wasn’t following the rules of Google and other search engines, and were trying to game the system . Back then you could do things like create fake blogs and link to yourself, or fake sub-domains, keyword stuffing, or other things that allowed terrible content to be at the top of the search results.
Over the years Google and other search engines have refined their algorithms so that this sort of behavior is not only barely possible, but actively discouraged and often penalized. There are thousands of variables taken into consideration, and creating duplicate content or bad links is easy for them to identify. Google can even measure the quality of the content on your site, right down to the grammar and word choice. If the content itself is low quality, the ranking of the site will drop.
In the sense of search manipulation, SEO is definitely no longer relevant. SEO today focuses on creating the best content and the highest quality site possible. Search engines want to incentivize businesses to have the best, most useful websites that they possibly can, and modern SEO focuses on that.
What are some of your tips to make a website the best it can be in 2015?
Well for me the number one thing is making sure there aren’t any major “mistakes” on your site, things that search engines actively penalize for.
- Can search engine bots find each page of your site, do all of your pages link together properly?
- Can they clearly tell what each page is about? For example, an SEO client of ours whose website we recently analyzed didn’t use H1 tags. Based on that alone, it becomes harder for search engines to tell what your site is about, and what each individual page on your site is about. For the same reason, you also need to set clear keywords for each page.
- Is your on-page SEO in order? Proper URLs, title tags, making sure you have 300+ words of unique content on each page, keyword density, etc. are all important for rankings.
- Do other sites link to your site? This shows search engines that your site has valuable information that is worth linking to.
- Is your content development strategy the best that it can be? If you don’t have a page or blog post specifically dedicated to all of your important keywords, creating those individual pages can give you a huge boost for that keyword. For that reason, content development and having a blog on your website is more important now than ever.
Any other advice about practices to avoid?
Nowadays, getting links from non-relevant sites is next to useless. The best way to get people linking back to your content is to focus on content marketing, and create interesting content that people will want to share and link to.
Another good SEO strategy is to get relevant sites linking back to your webpage. For example, a nightclub owner can have their vendors link to them, or partner nightclubs in different cities can link to each other. Anything done with inbound link development needs to be done extremely carefully so search engines don’t penalize you for it.
Do you have any advice on how to use Google Seller Rating extensions and social media strategies to boost SEO rankings?
These are the newer SEO strategies, because Google and others are paying an increasing amount of attention to social media and customer interaction with your site. If you’re not paying attention to your social media strategies, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to improve your SEO.
Seller ratings are also increasingly important. Consider using a third-party review website that will verify the authenticity of customer reviews, and then share those reviews with Google. Those ratings will then show up with your ads or in your rich snippets in your organic search results.
According to Google, these reviews can increase your traffic up to 17%, but I personally think they can do even more than that. In addition to adding value to your paid search results, the increased clicks will also get your page higher in the organic searches. Organic and paid searches are mutually reinforcing. You can also integrate these dynamic customer reviews into your site.
Is it necessary to have a Facebook AND a Twitter AND an Instagram?
It really depends on your industry. In my experience, until you’ve completely mastered Facebook I wouldn’t worry too much about branching out and developing other programs. In the event industry most people are at least working on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but there is a growing interest in other sites like Pinterest, Vine, and Snapchat.
In terms of search engines I would say focus on mastering Google first, and then growing from there. For social media, focus on Facebook first and then expand.
Would you recommend using paid ads (Google PPC, or pay-per-click) as part of an SEO strategy?
Google says that paid ads don’t influence your organic search results, but we do know that user behaviour does influence search rankings. User behaviour includes thinks like click through ratios on your organic search results and many other factors.
That being said, if someone sees your brand/domain in a paid ad at the top of the page, it will increase the click through ratio of the organic search result further down the page, so paid search does indirectly boost your organic search results. Google will never admit this because of the conflict of interest and their fear of what the anti-competition bureau would do to them if this was clear.
Paid search (PPC) is also super important to fill in the gaps where your SEO strategy is failing. We still always recommend, even if you are #1 in organic search for a keyword, that you continue bidding on PPC for those same keywords.
Thanks for your time Mike! Any parting words of wisdom?
The SEO and internet marketing landscapes can be complicated to navigate because everything is changing fast. If you’re not using dark posts on Facebook or if you’re not syndicating your Google ads on to Bing or if you’re not monitoring your webmaster tools on a regular basis and fixing your errors there’s probably a lot you’re missing out on.
I always recommend to have specialists, either internal or external, take over these divisions. Have one person master your social, one person master your SEO, one person in charge of content development, all of them working together under a marketing director. It’s fine to outsource some of these tasks, as long as you are confident the person you contract is an expert. Just like DJs and models, there’s a lot of people that say they are SEO or social media professionals, but they aren’t very good. Take your time to carefully select the expert.
Remember, if you need a hand to review your strategy or vet the experts you’ve chosen, feel free to contact your myZone account manager. We’re here to help!