SEO In A Nutshell (And Some Tips)

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“Oh no, not another ‘SEO in a nutshell’ post!” I hear you scream. Oh yes! And to make matters worse, I’m actually calling this SEO In A Nutshell just out of spite! But why, oh why, must I litter the otherwise so clean and orderly forum that Internet is with yet another here’s-what-something-is-in-case-you-ever-cared-post? I promise, I’m only doing this for selfish reasons. I’m not trying to buy myself into the major league by posting about something that everyone else is posting about. I’m not trying to impress those whom I work with by telling them I’m good at something I’m supposed to be good at. And I’m definitely not trying to impress you, my cynical reader, since I know you are so difficult to please.

No, I actually honestly believe that at this point to approach SEO with any other agenda than that of introspection and self-enlightenment would be fruitless. So that’s it. I’m writing this to get my thoughts straight and really look at what SEO is today. It’s not the same it was five years ago, hell, it’s not the same it was last week.

SEO in a nutshell … in a nutshell

Well, as you might now, SEO stands for search engine optimization, or if referring to the person who does it, search engine optimizer. At least, it used to. Nowadays, partly thanks to the efforts of a community hyped up about the age-old, Bill Gatesian Content is King mantra, it’s also referred to lovingly as search experience optimization. It sounds nice, but they changed the wrong word. Optimization is too close to manipulation for my taste. I’d love it if someone could come up with a better alternative. Something to do with facilitation. Or assistance. Or community, comprehension, camraderie.

So SEO is search engine optimization, that’s how far I got. Great!

Traditionally, they way SEOs approach a website (note, traditionally), is via a three-pronged attack:

1) Technical optimization – where we make sure that the titles and metas are there, that robots.txt and XML sitemaps are in place, that all redirections are kosher etc. This is what we do to ensure that the search engines can index the site and its pages properly. Indexing means that the page can be searched for.

2) Semantic (or keyword) optimization – where we partake in an endless tug-of-war between the popularity of a keyword versus its competition. Keywords are search queries that your preferred customers use. If you own a webstore that sells skis, you want the site to be found by people who are looking for winter sports equipment and not hammocks. This is achieved by priming your content to make use of these keywords as inconspicuously as possible.

3) External (or link profile or inbound marketing) optimization – where we try to build the hype around the site, because we know that parts (1) and (2) are simply not enough to lure people in. You see, it matters where you appear in the search engine results page (or SERP). It’s crazy, but apparently if you’re not in the top 10, you’re screwed. And you get there by increasing your site’s popularity. And what is a better sign of popularity than people linking to your site?

So think of it like this:

Without technical optimization, the search engines won’t know your page exists.

Without semantic analysis, the right crowd won’t know your page exists.

Without link profiling, no one will know your page exists.

And this is traditional SEO at its best. Doing stuff with the page template, doing stuff with keywords, and doing stuff with links.

But that’s not enough, is it?

Hell no it isn’t! If you’re approached by SEOs who promise you the moon and stars by doing nothing but the above, you’re in for an unpleasant treat. The problem with the traditional approach is that somewhere along the way someone forgot that humans use search engines (and some very well educated apes).

That’s the beauty of search experience optimization as the new SEO. You’re not creating your website for search engines, you’re creating it for users! That’s what Google’s been telling you to do all along! Forget tactics, forget dirty schemes to undermine Google’s algorithms, forget buying links from the black market, just focus on content. That’s all there should be to it.

Sure, in a perfect world. Even at its easiest, creating content is bloody difficult. Some people have a talent for it, but even they have to stay on top of the latest trends and fashions of the Web. The thing about content is that you never know what really works until you try it. It’s like trying to create a hit song (not that I know anything about it). Often times the most unpredictable B-side of a failed pop tune turns into the biggest hit the artist has ever had. And that’s without trying to market it at all! Many times things that go viral in the Internet are accompanied by a bewildered eccentric who thought it would be cool to combine cat videos with pop songs in a random mayhem of laughter-inducing proc(r)a(s)tination.

But that’s what SEOs have to do. They have to help the customer market their content. They have to know what’s cool and what isn’t. And they have to know the right channels to promote the content in.

So add step number (4) to the list as an all-encompassing feature of SEO work: content strategy. It’s the most important thing by a landslide, as none of the other aspects works in the long run without a decent content strategy to back it up.

And that’s all there is to it. In a nutshell, SEO is all about creating magical content to lure, charm, and convert your site visitors into loyal fans. It’s all about the buzz, the viral videos, and the annoying memes. It’s about being unique in a forum where being unique is almost impossible. It’s about finding the critical point between hype and saturation, and hanging in there for as long as you can.

I heard there were going to be some tips?

OK, but just two this time.

1) Did you know that Google uses pixels to determine title length in SERPs? That’s right. The traditional approach in SEO has been to limit page title length to just under 70 (and over 50) characters in length. However, much longer titles are OK as long as they’re below a certain width in pixels. So what’s the length? Well, there’s some debate about that, but it appears it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 500 pixels.

2) You can extrapolate your keyword data in Analytics to uncover your (not provided) results. Some time ago, Google hid all search queries from Google Analytics that have been made by signed in (Google) users. This is a pain for reporting SEO success, as (not provided) results can dominate the rankings. Here’s a nice tip by AJ Kohn to use the distribution of other keywords to extrapolate the distribution of (not provided) keywords.

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