I just finished SEO for Everyone by Rebekah Baggs and Chris Corak. I am not an SEO expert, but I am an "everyone"! This book states upfront that this is not a manual to "hack" your SEO and get better results. Gaming the system for a crawler to get you more hits will give you short-term gain, but ultimately you'll suffer if your content is not what users want.
I had a few takeaways:
We don't fully know Google's PageRank algorithm. From lots of trial and error, folks have been able to see what seems to be ranking higher. What we've seen is that in 2019 Google drastically changed their PageRank algorithm to focus more on indicators that match intent instead of gaming for keywords. Google wants pages to actually deliver what users want, instead of what crawlers can read.
|Inbound Anchor Text||Intent Matching|
|Link Quantity||Brand Authority|
|Brand Authority||Link Quantity|
|User/Usage Signals||User/Usage Signals|
|Intent Matching||Content Structure|
|Content Structure||Inbound Anchor Text|
|Content Accuracy||Keyboard Matching|
As you can see, this is way less about what your links say or what keyword you have in the
<head>. Google is trying to see that you mean and then give you results.
The example the book give is if you search for "Italian plumbers" you will most likely see results for Mario and Luigi, unless you're physically in Italy, then you'll get directory of contractors to fix your toilet. Intent matters!
Currently the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for Google has a few places to place content:
- Ad listings
- Blue links
- Knowledge panel
- "People Also Ask" panel
- "Related Searches" panel
- Predictive search dropdowns
We don't have any say as to when these show up. They are actually built based on Google's algorithm for search intent. In the old days we only had results and ads. Here, Google is trying to get the user to where they want to go based on their query.
The best thing to do here is to make sure that your content gives the user the content they are looking for and this will drive up the SEO. Bounces, lack of clarity, hitting the back button, malformed meta data will always bring your results down.
The best way to "game" SEO is to audit your site. The authors suggest making a spreadsheet. Determine what goal there is for each page, what the user may be trying to accomplish, and then work out optimizations based on the intent and ROI. Use tools like Ahrefs and Google Analytics, customer and stakeholder interviews to see what goals are and user intent and try to align them.
Computers are involved therefore there are some tricks that can help. The authors warn that these are not quick fixes. They are good practices for intent anyway.
- make sure page titles and meta-descriptions are helpful and fit without truncating.
- optimize images
- mobile friendly. Google uses the mobile version of the site for ranking!
- help crawlers with sitemaps and robots.txt
- use a good URL structure
- avoid redirects, subdomains, and microsites
- have a clear navigation (Google uses this)
- use semantic HTML to layout the page
To learn the why behind these tasks, check out the book. They lay out really good cases.
When it comes to SEO, results may trickle in. You can expect that any change you do will decrease search engine visibility before it starts to rise. SEO is a long game.
As a primer to SEO, this book is great. I'm for sure not an SEO expert now but I learned a lot. I'd recommend!