Being Nimble and Sturdy in the Turbulent Sea of SEO

SEO today

Having grown up in the mountains of North Carolina, I know very little about boating, yachting or the ship trade. But, as there are very few comparisons from mountain life relating to the organic search industry for me to draw upon, I have to step outside of my purview to find a suitable comparison. The mountains are a steady certainty. Even now, when I go home to visit, I instantly feel more grounded.

With the search industry though, the only steady thing about it is change. Like the roiling waves of the sea, the 400+ changes that Google makes to its algorithm can toss around and even capsize a site that isn’t steady enough. But being too steady can mean that a site won’t be able to make course corrections and take advantage of new opportunities.

In this article, I’d like to talk to you about the activities you’ll need to engage in to both make your site unassailable from the roaring tides (the ballasts) and keep you nimble enough to adjust your course (the rudders) in this crazy ocean known as SEO.

The Ballasts – Stability Amidst Turmoil

In the early days of shipping, ballast stones were used to weigh down empty cargo ships that had either just dropped off their cargo or were going to pick up cargo. These stones kept the ships steady along the unsteady ocean journey. Without them, the ships would capsize quite easily. Coastal and port cities around the world have streets that have been paved using these ballast stones.

In the search experience, the ballasts for your search strategy are both physical and philosophical.

The foundational element of seoClarity’s Search Experience Framework (URA SEO) is Usability, which corresponds to building a solid technical framework for your site. Sites should be fast, stable and responsive to whatever device is the device or devices of choice for its users. This includes having servers with impeccable uptime and security, minified code, proper tagging and markup, and effective UI and UX. But there should also be an attitude of flexibility, continuous improvement and an acceptance of input from the technical SEO experts. Without these elements in place, a site can be toppled by security breaches, spikes in user sessions due to viral content, swift changes in the algorithms that target poor site performance, or any number of other possible eventualities.

In addition to the need for a solid technical foundation, the culture within a company can insulate a site from all of the many changes happening in the search engine algorithms. The core philosophy behind the URA SEO Framework is that the user should always come first and that chasing algorithms is a practice in futility. If Google’s many changes and modifications to the SERPs center around the user and improving the user’s experience, it should follow that a company with a “user first” philosophy would be aligned with Google.

Additionally, if a company has built within itself a culture of continuous learning, education and knowledge sharing, this will enable what I’ve written about before – the democratization of SEO. When all of the teams associated with a site or its content are working in sync with best practices, success is all but assured.

The Rudders – Providing Flexibility in an Ever-Changing World

A ship’s rudders help turn the vessel, and, depending on the size of the ship, having rudders at various points on the ship can greatly enhance its nimbleness. Without the rudder, the ship will wind up wherever the wind or the water currents take it, and it won’t be able to take evasive maneuvers as the need arises. In the same way, a site needs to be able to change course throughout the year as it becomes necessary.

For example, a company that uses a Waterfall development process, sets its development goals for the year and stays true to that course all year may find that technological needs have dramatically changed throughout the year or that the original technical requirements weren’t enough. In the same way, a site’s editorial calendar needs to be flexible and fluid, able to accommodate changes in both subject matter and medium.

At seoClarity, we’re seeing a steady stream of changes in both the size and the scope of the search engine results pages (SERPs). The standard 1000-result SERP with a few ads sprinkled here and there is a thing of the past. We’ve seen SERPs with fewer than 20 results and SERPs where Page 1 is dominated by Instant Answers, Local 3-packs and other Universal results, with no organic results above the fold. If a site sets its search strategy for the year and doesn’t adjust as the year progresses, it could be leaving millions of dollars on the table in lost ranking, lost click-throughs, and lost brand awareness.

As with the Ballasts, having a culture of continuing education and learning can help companies with this. SEOs should be staying up-to-date with the latest news and information related to the search experience and then sharing that knowledge with their colleagues across the organization. Analysts should monitor how users are accessing information, finding those well-worn paths and sharing that information with design and development so that they can, in turn, maximize the user experience on-site. Designers and content producers should run A/B and multivariate tests to see which designs and which content elicits the best responses from users.

This culture of continuous improvement has helped some of the most successful online organizations get to where they are today. From the executive leadership team to customer support, embracing this philosophy will help your organization as well.

Photo credit Flickr

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