The 10 Commandments of SEO
With the rise of search engine popularity, and its ultimate incorporation into people’s daily lives, getting visible on the first page of Google has become one of the most important aspects of online marketing. Competition however is fierce. As evidenced by the recent Google Algorithm Updates; Panda and Penguin, changes in this industry happen quickly and often without warning.
While not every Internet marketing strategy is implemented in every industry at the same levels of intensity, there are a few universal truths for anyone who wades into the floodwaters of search engine optimization. So while this article is meant in good fun, these are the most basic and essential rules that every SEO should live by.
1. Thou shalt not have any guidelines before Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Broken down into design and content, technical and quality guidelines, Webmaster Guidelines are the must-dos of creating a website so that it can be found, crawled, indexed by Google and ultimately ranked in their search engine result pages.
The reason I chose Google’s guidelines, rather than Bing’s or someone else’s, is because while Bing is a growing force, Google dominates search. And, optimizing for Google ultimately helps your efforts for Bing.
The most important guideline to pay attention to is quality. While everything else will help your visibility, ultimately the Google Search Engine Algorithms are geared toward providing the user with the most relevant results. Eliminate spammy tactics and provide users valuable content.
The more closely you follow these guidelines, the lower the chances of your SEO being impacted by a new update from Google. While Google lists many of these spammy tactics, it is not a comprehensive list. Be honest with yourself and constantly reinforce that you are doing things that are “natural” i.e. real marketing. Don’t try to stretch interpretation of the guidelines to get the easy link, even if it gives you short term gain. The pain that is sure to follow just isn’t worth it.
2. Thou shalt not make for thyself any graven image of what your SEO should be.
While you may see other websites engaging in spammy, deceptive tactics ranking higher than you, it is important not to emulate their tactics. Eventually, as evidenced by Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, those tactics will be punished and your site, or your client’s site, will ultimately pay the price. There are no shortcuts when it comes to SEO. You must work for it and understand that it takes time. So create truly valuable content and promote it on social media and other industry forums to gain the naturally occurring backlinks that can only come from real people who read your content it and comment, share, etc: all the social signals that Google looks. Ultimately, this is how you begin to build real authority.
Don’t get frustrated by the high ranks that other websites have for certain keywords, especially broad ones. It is important to tailor your keyword research to your niche. While you may look at what your competitors do, it is important that you take only what is useful and pass on the rest. Ultimately, everything you do must be relevant to your niche and your business. What works for some companies may not work for yours. So keep it fresh and be creative!
3. Thou shalt not use your keywords in vain.
Keywords are the terms used when someone performs a search query. They are also one of the many factors search engines consider when crawling a page. However, this doesn’t mean that stuffing your content with keywords will earn you rankings.
Of course, a large portion of SEO is on-site optimization. This involves using relevant keywords in titles, descriptions, and throughout your content. However, the way you incorporate keywords into your content matters. A keyword dense page is important for SEO, but Google can tell the difference between natural and unnatural keyword density, don’t sacrifice the quality of your content to include more references to your keywords. It will only harm your SEO.
Since Google Panda and most recently Google Penguin and EMD (Exact Match Domain) Algorithm updates, quality and natural purpose and implementation are the most essential factors in SEO. Using your keywords repetitively and pointlessly will do absolutely nothing for your SEO efforts. It will only handicap your efforts and if you haven’t already been punished, consider yourself very vulnerable and in need of immediate remedy.
4. Remember thy Analytics and check it religiously.
Google Analytics is a hub of knowledge about what is going on with your website: visits, page views, bounce rate, pages per visit, referral traffic and a whole host of other information. By checking this data everyday (or every 2-3 days at the most) you can stay on top of changes to your ranking, the success or failure rates of your different marketing campaigns and so many other important metrics that will help you track and improve your site’s performance.
5. Honor thy brand and thy audience.
Everything about your website – from its design to its content to its voice and image – ultimately reflects your brand and your company. Stay true to the ideas, values and beliefs that make your company unique. Don’t change because of what someone else is doing (this goes back to commandment two). Respect your company enough to maintain its identity while still allowing it to thrive as new technologies are introduced and incorporated into your online marketing. Take the time and money allotted to your online marketing efforts and invest them in real SEO – the kind that doesn’t take shortcuts but works hard to achieve its visibility.
Ultimately, you are creating your website for your audience. Remain transparent and be honest about what you offer. Follow through on the deliverables you have promised. Respect them by offering them useful, thoughtful and insightful content. Attempt to understand them and provide them with what they need in every aspect of what you do – in the creation and promotion of your products or services, in the content you provide, in the website that you design and in the way you interact with them on and offline.
6. Thou shalt not kill thy SEO.
There are so many things that can negatively impact your SEO. And while this definitely includes spammy and manipulative tactics, there are innocent mistakes that can also make your analytics take a plunge.
Two of the most common mistakes that cause the high-dive effect are improperly structured sitemaps and inaccurate robots.txt files.
Your sitemap is exactly that – a map that allows crawlers to navigate your website. This is what they use to look into your site that tells them which pages to index, what to pay attention to and what they should not index. It is extremely important to prioritize your pages before you submit to Google.
If there are pages of your site that you do not want indexed, you will need to use a robots.txt file. However, this is where many inexperienced website owners and SEOs make mistakes. The disallow option tells the crawlers not to bother with a certain page. However, having “Disallow/” in your robots.txt file means that you have mistakenly told the crawler that they shouldn’t pay attention to anything. It happens! And it surely is an SEO sin.
While these are the two most common mistakes, that are a variety of others that can hurt your SEO, so always be sure to understand why you are doing something and exactly how it should be done before you take action.
7. Thou shalt not commit SEO adultery.
This is simple.
- No link farms.
- No paid links.
- No trying to buy links in a bad “neighborhood” (i.e. porn sites).
- No irrelevant, spammy sites linking to you or vice versa.
- No Duplicate Content
- No Thin Content
- No Content Scraping
- No Shortcuts of any kind
8. Thou shalt not steal.
This is an issue of quality as well as ethics and goes back to the first commandment. Before the advent of SEO best practices, there were those who would pull content off of a website, paste it into a content spinner and generate some illiterate gobbledygook to put on their own site that would help them rank. While we would like to believe that these obsolete practices are extinct, there are those who still try. However, Google’s algorithms have become experts at detecting this kind of deception, so don’t even think about it.
While it is true that there is no such thing as 100% originality, there is no need to rip off other people’s hard work. Instead, read it and get inspired. It’s okay to reiterate an idea, but find a way to apply it to you and you audience. Or take a controversial stand, argue a different point of view, turn it into some kind of opinion piece – whatever your true opinion is! Ask questions, try to solve them. While topics aren’t unlimited, the ways in which you can write about them can be with a little creativity. (For example, while there are many articles about the 10 Commandments for SEO, I have not seen any that try and stick with the originals while tweaking them to be true of SEO. Usually it’s just a set of 10 rules that you should follow.)
9. Thou shalt not bare false witness against thy competitors.
If you are not performing as well as your competitors, remain positive and focused on what you can do to help yourself. Trying to knock your competitors down through Negative SEO is not only low, it can also have extremely negative consequences for your business’s image when you’re found out (and yes, you will be eventually). Besides, it never works. Tearing down others will not make you look better, especially when you’re caught. Conducting yourself in such a fashion may require copious amounts of Reputation Management.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy competitors’ marketing efforts (or try to make them thine own).
Say you are Company X. Your competitor is Company Y, and you cannot get enough of their website. Their website design is crisp and clean, their copy is awe inspiring, their offers seem extremely effective. While it’s okay to be inspired by Industry Y, it is entirely another thing to take their design, twist a few aspects and apply it to your site. Changing a few colors or a word here and there (again, refer to commandment eight) will only make visitors to your site think of your competitor. It lacks any sort of creativity and is honestly just in bad taste. If you attempt to do this, you are just setting yourself up for failure, especially with the continual algorithm advances. Lastly, you know that won’t get where you need to be in the first place.
The Joshua Tree of SEO
While these commandments may seem redundant, they are repetitive for a reason. All SEO starts with a message. What do you want people to see, think and know about your company? The point is that SEO is not just something that you do, it’s the way that you act and the choices you make when optimizing your website. It’s all about intent and work ethic when working toward your goals. Just like the 10 Commandments were meant to show people how to lead a righteous life, the 10 Commandments of SEO are meant to help beginners understand and remind professionals about the tenets of an enduring, wholesome and ultimately successful SEO strategy.
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