Since the dawn of search engine optimization (SEO) back in the mid-1990's, people have been trying to find ways to "trick" search engines in order to get their websites at the top of the results lists.
Those of us that provide SEO and inbound marketing services refer to many of these tricks as "black hat" SEO.
While many types of black hat SEO tactics have been utilized over the years, the companies and professionals who employ these shady strategies share one common goal:
To beat Google at their own game.
However, search engine algorithms have become so sophisticated that these tricks are losing their effectiveness, forcing marketers and SEO professionals to just be, well..."real."
After all, Google alone makes over 800 updates to its ranking algorithms each year (the mobile-friendly update being a good example), dedicating literally hundreds of millions of dollars toward squashing black hat SEO tactics.
Google is slowly, steadily, and with greater precision...winning the game.
This is actually a good thing for two reasons:
- It helps prevent the shady websites from outranking legitimate, more relevant websites.
- It's forcing marketers/SEOs to get back to the roots of all digital marketing -- focusing on buyers and outwitting the competition.
The time has come to quit playing the Google Game and start focusing on the more important aspects of optimization.
First, a Quick SEO Disclaimer
"Oh great," you say, "here comes the classic SEO disclaimer."
Far from it!
The disclaimer I want to position here is about technical SEO. While we're going to discuss the importance of focusing on your website visitors and competition, I want to emphasize the absolute relevance (and dire need for) technical SEO expertise.
A strong understanding of SEO best practices is absolutely critical to delivering an experience that's pleasing to both visitors AND search engines alike.
Thus, this article will assume that all technical SEO requirements are met.
Your Competitors Will Steal Your Visitors
Just think of all those times you typed in your company's primary keywords into the search bar to see who came up in the results (c'mon, we're all guilty of this).
If you're like most marketing or business leaders, you cringe at the amount of competitors listed on the first search results page and silently vow to destroy them all.
Before setting out on your quest for revenge, consider this:
No one ever said you had to have a perfect website. Seriously, it's not required (strange, I know). In fact, by most tools and definitions, it's not even possible.
However, it does need to be said that you should have a better website than your competitors (including backlinks, load speed, images, UX, etc.).
You must be smarter than the other guys if you plan to overtake their SERP rankings - and by "smarter" I mean uncovering the strengths and exploiting the weaknesses related to their website and SEO strategy.
Clearly, this is way easier said than done.
So, how do you go about this epic campaign of competitor crushing?
Perhaps you should respond to those spammy, grammatically challenged emails you get from foreign SEO "experts" proclaiming they can get you on the first page of Google.
In general, there are two paths you can take to make this happen:
- Hire an SEO savvy agency or contractor to do some digging on the competition in order to uncover their strengths and exploit their weaknesses, or...
- If you know your way around marketing and analytics software, you can do a bit of your own competitor research using these tools.
Visitors Don't Care About SEO
Your visitors could care less about how amazingly optimized your website is for search.
When visitors arrive at your website, they want a simple, intuitive experience so that they can quickly find answers to their questions and problems (that's why they're searching).
And here begins the SEO balancing act between under and over-optimizing.
An under-optimized website will leave you out to dry, with no page rankings at all. There are hundreds of reasons why a site may not be ranking well, but typically it's due to neglect or lack of fundamental SEO knowledge.
If a poorly optimized website falls from page one in the search engine woods, does it make a sound?
Who cares, because hey...it's gone.
Conversely, over-optimizing your website may actually ruin the visitor experience and may even result in penalties from Google down the road. Over-optimization can stem from a number of things but some of the more common causes are keyword stuffing and/or building a ton of spammy backlinks.
Never underestimate how sharp your web visitors can be.
They will pick up on this like a hound on a rabbit trail, only it won't be you they'll chase after...it will be your competitor's website.
The New Definition of "Optimization"
What I'm getting at with all this is that there's a new, expanded definition of SEO -- a more natural, holistic and fundamentally sound definition.
SEO means optimizing your website's user experience, content and technical accessibility in order to help search engines better understand what your website is about.
Follow this advice and you'll soon realize that competing with Google is one of the few games where it pays to be a quitter.*
* pizza parties and participation trophies not included.