magic ball with open book and string lights

Search Engine Optimization Is Not A Magic Bullet. You Need to Understand Its Limitations

We’ve all met at least one search engine optimization (SEO) snake oil salesman. You know the type. 

Grandiose and sweeping promises. Language bogged down with so much jargon it’s functionally meaningless. An endless barrage of gaslighting and cold opens. 

To hear these people talk, SEO is some sort of mystic art, and mastery means you’re guaranteed to dominate the search engine results page (SERP). 

Anyone who’s spent even a little time studying the craft knows this to be a blatant lie. SEO is valuable, indeed—it’s a powerful lead generation and marketing tool in the right hands. But it’s not some secret weapon, and it won’t allow you to seize control of Google’s algorithms. 

In order to leverage it effectively, you need to accept that—you need to understand the limitations of SEO.

It Can’t Save Low-Quality Content

All of Google’s most recent algorithm updates have been deployed with the goal of making the search engine better at recognizing whether content is valuable to the audience. Rather than operating exclusively on keyword matching, the search engine is increasingly focused on intent. It’s focused on understanding what the searcher wants and providing them with the content that best fulfills what they’re looking for. 

For this reason, if your content is poor quality, it doesn’t matter how much time you put into SEO. It’s not going to generate any meaningful returns. 

Google’s Algorithms Are Mercurial, at Best

Google releasing an algorithm that completely upsets our understanding of SEO and penalizes countless websites is very nearly an annual tradition at this point. It’s easy to forget that, regardless of how much effort we put into optimization, we’re ultimately at Google’s mercy. A single algorithm change could wipe out our progress. 

It Doesn’t Provide Immediate Returns

Unlike other paid promotion strategies, SEO is more of a slow burn. It rarely generates fast traffic or an instant return on investment. Instead, it’s more about gradually cultivating your website, building up a reputation and a rapport with high-quality content, and ensuring that content is seen by targeting the right keywords. 

It takes patience, in other words—and some people lack that patience. 

It Might Not Be A Secret Weapon, But SEO Is Still Valuable

We’d like to conclude with a bit of a disclaimer. We spent a lot of time today talking about the limitations and drawbacks of SEO. We are by no means trying to say that SEO isn’t worthwhile. 

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Even though it’s relatively slow and heavily relies on Google’s algorithms and inbound marketing content, an effective SEO strategy is ultimately a cornerstone of every successful business. It’s not a magic bullet or some holy grail of marketing. But it’s still more than worth exploring. 

sales analyticson screen of laptop

Determining Where SEO Fits Into Your Sales Funnel

A sales funnel—also known as a conversion funnel or a marketing funnel—is basically a visual representation of the different stages a prospect goes through before converting. Within the context of search engine optimization, converting could be anything from purchasing a product to signing up for a newsletter to simply accessing a specific page on your site. Most funnels consist of some version of the following stages: 

  • Awareness. People at this stage may or may not know about your company. This is where the majority of your prospects start and where most will likely remain. 
  • Interest. These prospects are intrigued but not necessarily hooked just yet. They’ve probably spent a bit of time on your website looking at what you have to offer. 
  • Consideration. People at this stage are doing their research into both your company and its competitors in an effort to decide who to choose. 
  • Decision. The tipping point. These prospects are on the verge of converting.
  • Conversion. The people at this stage have done what you wanted them to do, but you aren’t finished yet. Now you need to put time and effort into nurturing a relationship with those customers in order to keep them loyal—and maybe inspire them to tell their friends and colleagues about your business, too. 

But what does any of this have to do with SEO, exactly? 

A great deal, actually. For each page on your site—each keyword you choose—you need to think about what segment of the funnel you intend to target. A how-to guide, for instance, is likely targeted more toward the top of the funnel, people who may be interested in whatever you want to sell them but aren’t necessarily ready to commit to anything. 

Different stages of the funnel also require a slightly different keyword strategy, as noted by SEO expert Neil Patel

  • Top-of-funnel content typically involves long-tail keywords or questions that may lack the necessary traffic to appear in any keyword research software. Tools and sites like Answer the Public, Infinite Google Suggest, Quora, and Ubersuggest are invaluable at this stage.
  • People in the middle of the funnel are strongly considering making a purchase and likely researching different options. At this stage, you’re generally focusing on long-tail keywords, though understanding the questions people are asking about a particular topic is still incredibly important. 
  • People at the bottom of the funnel are one step away from converting. Keyword research is less important at this stage than understanding your audience’s intent. You need to ask what they want to know about your business and its products. What information will cause these prospects to tip over to customers? 

 So, to answer our initial question of where SEO fits into your business’s sales funnel? The simplest answer is everywhere. You can (and honestly should) optimize for every section of the funnel individually, ensuring that you can draw in, hook, and guide visitors toward a sale.

stylus held to laptop screen with analytics on it

Why Ignoring the User is the Biggest SEO Mistake You’ll Ever Make

There was a time when search engine optimization(SEO) was all about gaming the algorithm. A time when keyword density and backlinks were the exclusive determining factors in where one appeared on the search engine results page(SERP). But that was decades ago. 

Modern SEO is different. It’s less algorithm-focused and more user-focused. Keywords are still important, certainly—but not more important than creating relevant, high-quality content. 

The problem is that too many so-called SEO agencies ignore this shift. They obsess over pointless metrics like what percentage of a blog post consists of primary and secondary keywords. And in the process, they ignore content quality. 

When you load a piece up with keywords or obsess over the specifics of what someone is searching for, you’re creating content for algorithms rather than for human beings. That kind of content is very easy to recognize. It’s laden with unnatural language and awkward phrasing.

It’s packed with sentences that clearly exist solely to insert more keyword variations. 

This approach demonstrates a foundational misunderstanding of SEO. Every algorithm update Google has made for the past several years has been an effort to move away from this type of thinking. An effort to make the SERP about content that’s valuable and relevant to human beings rather than content that plays nice with robots.

We will be blunt. The days when you could outsmart Google to outrank your competition are gone. As noted by inbound marketing blog Rock Content, Google has been trying to tell us that for years, both directly and through content penalties. While the technical details are still important—and always will be—the needs of the user always come first. 

What that means is simple:

  • Prioritize the experience. Your site should load fast, be easy to navigate, and not contain any deceptive or underhanded content. 
  • Create for intent. For each piece of content on your site, ask what the user is looking for, and endeavor to provide that as concisely and effectively as possible. 
  • Focus on quality. Your goal should always be to create the highest-quality content possible, with everything else as a secondary concern. 
  • Privacy is key. In an era of legislation such as the GDPR, customer privacy is front-of-mind. Even if your business isn’t headquartered in Europe, you must always think about consent and transparency when dealing with user data.
  • Connect and engage. Modern marketing and SEO are ultimately about building relationships with your audience. Your inbound strategy should therefore be linked with social media, and your business should look for opportunities to interact with and personalize content for customers at every touchpoint in their journey. 

Ultimately, the User Comes First

Keyword stuffing. Link Farming. Deceptive and hidden content. These black hat tactics used to be tools in the arsenal of every SEO professional. 

Today that is no longer the case—if you obsess over technical SEO without thinking about the people on the other side of the screen, you can and will be penalized by the same algorithms you’re attempting to game. Need more info? Check out our previous thought-piece on our 5 Top Tips for SEO in 2022!

5 Crucial Tips for Search Engine Optimization in 2022

To say that search engine optimization (SEO) has changed a great deal over the past several years would be putting it lightly.  Today’s SEO landscape is nearly unrecognizable compared to what it looked like in 2018. And even now, it still continues to change. 

Here are a few tips to help you keep pace. 

Put the User Experience First

We’re just about rounding on the one-year anniversary of Google’s Core Web Vitals Update. Also known as the Google Page Experience Update, Core Web Vitals officially establish a website’s user experience as a ranking factor.  If you haven’t already started prioritizing things like interactivity, load time, and ease of use by now, it’s past time you do so. 

Because if you don’t, it’s not just your PageRank that’s going to suffer—your audience is going to ditch your website for a competitor that provides a better experience. 

hand shaking through laptop screen

Content is Still King

Fortunately, not everything has changed. Content is still the best tool in your marketing and SEO arsenal.  As long as you provide your audience with content that’s relevant and valuable to them, everything else will fall nicely into place. 

See, there’s a common thread in the majority of Google’s algorithm updates. Every single one is ultimately designed to make the search engine better at recognizing quality. The better your content, the more beneficial these updates will ultimately be for you. 

Rethink Audience Research and PPC Targeting

Arguably one of the biggest news stories of the past several years has involved Google’s decision to retire third-party tracking cookies from its Chrome browser. Unsurprisingly, this created a massive ripple effect in both advertising and SEO, effectively setting an end of life date for behavioral targeting. To replace behavioral advertising, Google is currently testing a new ad feature known as Topics, which consists of three broad components: 

  • A website or ad network’s topics/subjects
  • The topics a user is interested in, based on their browsing behavior
  • Alignment between user topics and website/network topics. 

Basically, it’s contextual advertising with a slightly different coat of paint. 

Now, it’s important to note that none of this is going to really come into effect until 2024, the current deadline for phasing out cookies.  Alongside Topics, Google is reportedly also testing multiple new Privacy Sandbox technologies. While much of these are still under wraps, it may be worthwhile to start assessing how you target content and research your customers now. 

Consider Exploring AI

Over the past few years, artificial intelligence has evolved in leaps and bounds. Many SEO tools now leverage a combination of AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to handle much of the backend work, from keyword research to topic suggestions. If done right, implementing them within your own organization could give you a considerable competitive edge. 

Empathy, Not Analytics

People are exhausted, and you can hardly blame them. The past several years have been some of the most emotionally trying in recent memory. What that means for you is that customers have less patience than ever for overly-salesly or irrelevant messaging. 

It also means that a little empathy can go a long way. Shape your content to be more conscientious, more focused on social responsibility, and more aware of your audience’s needs. 

strangely colored letters spell out seo

Dispelling Three Major SEO Myths That Refuse to Die

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around the search engine optimization (SEO) sector. Perhaps it’s because SEO scammers directly benefit from this lack of understanding. Or perhaps it’s simply an inevitable characteristic of any long-running industry. 

Either way, there are a few myths that seem to persist more stubbornly than others—today, we’re going to address three of the biggest myths currently plaguing SEO.  

More is Better

Our first is technically a twofer.

A lot of SEO novices develop something of an obsession with quantity. More backlinks. More keywords. Bigger numbers. 

The problem is that this never works. Content quality—and how well it fits intent—is far more important than keywords. And if you include too many keywords and keyword variations in a piece or attempt to hit some sort of quota, there’s a good chance you’ll be penalized for keyword stuffing.

Similarly, one relevant backlink is worth a hundred irrelevant ones. Worse still, in some cases backlinks could potentially even damage your credibility. It’s one of the reasons buying links is never advisable

Those purchased links are almost always toxic. 

Social Media and SEO are Directly Related

Plenty of SEO specialists have noted that there appears to be a correlation between social signals and page performance. It’s important to understand that this is not due to any action on Google’s part. Search algorithms have absolutely nothing to do with social marketing. 

Google’s own John Mueller has directly said as much

The reason pages with more social activity tend to perform better on the search engine results page (SERP) is merely a matter of exposure. More people see the page because it’s being shared. And because more people see the page, they’re more likely to share it. 

twitter app open on iphone

You’ll Get Penalized for Duplicate Content

Our last myth is one that we’ve seen even experienced SEO professionals subscribe to.  The idea that your site will be penalized by Google for hosting duplicate content is quite frankly wrong. It’s important to understand, however, that this doesn’t mean duplicate content is a good thing. 

While there is no duplicate content penalty present in Google’s algorithms, duplicate content can still harm your ranking in a few ways: 

  • Cannibalized traffic
  • Diluted backlinks
  • Greater difficulty competing with content scrapers

So while it’s still worthwhile to run a site audit so you can check for and eliminate duplicate content, it’s not the critical SEO issue that some people make it out to be. It’s a minor optimization issue, at worst. 

Clearing the Air

The SEO myths listed above are far from the only misconceptions around the profession. They’re simply a few of the most prominent and persistent. Hopefully, in publishing this piece, we’ve taken one more step towards laying them to rest for good. 

Want to read more? Check out our blog, where we dive into SEO topics every month!

Scrabble pieces spell out SEO

Three Best Practices for Designing an SEO-Friendly Website

A lot of people forget that search engine optimization isn’t simply a matter of finding the right keywords and selecting the right topics. It’s about more than meta descriptions and site content.  User experience is every bit as crucial to creating an effective site. 

Because if your site doesn’t perform properly—if it’s not fast, intuitive, and easy to navigate—then none of the other stuff matters. People aren’t going to stick around to see your compelling content. They’re going to leave and likely end up navigating straight to one of your competitors.

Make Sure it’s Mobile-Friendly

By 2025, 72.6% of all Internet users will access the web exclusively on their smartphones. By 2030, that number is likely to be significantly higher. At this point, the simple reality is that if your website is not optimized to perform well on smartphones and tablets, you are alienating the majority of your audience.

crowd of people typing on iphones

And when you factor in that mobile-friendliness has been a ranking factor for some years now, you’ll very likely see yourself drop down the rankings of the search engine results page, as well. As for what this involves, you’ll want to do the following: 

  • Design your layout to be readable on smaller screens.
  • Keep the user experience consistent across pages.
  • Connect everything to social media where relevant. 
  • Test your site with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool.

Optimize for Speed

You’ve probably heard the statistics. More than half of people will abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load, and the majority of people won’t wait longer than six. Guidance from Google reflects this as well, recommending load times of under half a second. 

And like mobile-friendliness, speed is also a ranking factor, meaning you’ll want to do the following at the minimum to keep your site loading fast:

  • If you must use JavaScript, ensure the code is as light and efficient as possible.
  • Compress all images when uploading.
  • Utilize browser caching.
  • Avoid heavy use of rich media like video. 
  • If you’re using a tool like WordPress, use a responsive theme. 
  • Avoid pop-ups. 
  • Consider enabling Accelerated Mobile Pages. 

Structure Things Logically

We’ve all encountered sites that were difficult to navigate. 

Nested menus within nested menus, the end result is a confusing, frustrating mess. Links and categories that go in circles are as difficult to follow for humans as it is for search engines. Graphics that could be charitably described as an eyesore. 

Your website must be as streamlined as possible, with a sensible hierarchy and an easy path into and out of every single page. Every segment should flow naturally into every other segment, and no page on your site should be more than three jumps away from the homepage. 

In Closing

SEO is about more than keywords and content. Design is every bit as important. The best practices here are a good starting point in that regard, but they aren’t everything—the rest is up to you. Want more resources on SEO operations? Check out our resources page!

content audience

Your Content is Good — But is it Aligned to Your Audience?

How to Ensure Your Website Resonates

In many ways, content creation is as much a passion as it is a career. The desire to create and express ourselves is a fundamental part of what makes us human. And although content marketing can scratch that itch to some extent, content created for your business is not artistry. 

It’s part of a strategy

The thing a lot of people don’t realize about content marketing is that you cannot simply sit down and write whatever comes to mind. You need to be purposeful and deliberate in what you create. Whether you’re making blog posts, videos, infographics, or something else entirely, each and every one of your creations must be made with two things in mind. 

  • Your audience.
  • Your end goal. 

As you might expect, those two are interconnected. Successfully achieving one’s content marketing objectives demands an understanding of one’s audience. Because without that understanding, it doesn’t matter how good your content is. 

So how do you develop an understanding of your audience? How do you determine if the content is strategically-aligned to your brand? And finally, how do you go about defining your content marketing goals? 

Let’s break this down by section.

Researching Your Audience

You probably have at least some concept of the people to which your products and services appeal. You know, in a very general sense, who you need to draw in with your messaging. Before you start working on your content strategy, you need to drill down to specifics. 

You can leverage the following sources for this research: 

  • Social media. Specifically, pages and accounts operated by your competitors. Look at the people who most frequently and actively engage with your competition, and see if you notice common traits.
  • Internal survey data. Consider offering incentives to people who purchase your products or services so that they’re motivated to respond. 
  • Facebook Audience Insights. And other similar tools. 

Defining Your Goals

Before you start working out the details of your content marketing objectives, you need to know who you are. Your brand identity may not play a direct role in content marketing, but it will inform everything from topic ideation to the language you use in your content. 

Your brand identity consists of: 

  • Visuals. Logos, colors, fonts, etc.  
  • Your mission statement. Why your brand was founded, and what you ultimately want it to achieve. 
  • Messaging. Words that describe your brand, slogans, common statements, and sentiments. 

Sit down and brainstorm everything you currently know about your business, and figure out where you want to be in the near future. Focus on defining an objective that’s specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant. You may also consider the use of smaller milestone goals. 

Aligning Your Content

From here, it’s simply a matter of answering the following questions: 

  • What does your audience care about?
  • What entertains your audience? 
  • Why is your audience interested in your brand? 
  • What causes your audience to seek information? 
  • To what concepts and ideas is your audience resistant? 

There’s a bit more to strategic content marketing than we’ve covered here, of course. But for now, this should suffice as a primer. 

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What is the Largest Contentful Paint?

Officially added as a ranking factor in 2021, Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) is one of Google’s Core Web Vitals — the metrics by which the search engine measures user experience. In LCP’s case, it measures how fast a page loads. This is done by analyzing the load time of the largest piece of content on the page 

Content types that LCP may measure include: 

  • Background images 
  • Video thumbnails
  • Images
  • Block-level HTML elements such as paragraphs 
  • Headers

How is LCP Measured?

There should be a section in your Search Console that allows you to generate a Core Web Vitals Report. This will provide a granular view of how each URL on your site performs based on historical user data. Each URL will receive a score of Poor, Needs Improvement, or Good. 

For LCP, these values are measured as follows: 

  • Good: 2.5 seconds or less
  • Needs Improvement: Between  2.6 seconds and four seconds. 
  • Poor: Greater than four seconds. 

Alternatively, you can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, Chrome Lighthouse, or the AMP Page Experience Guide

How to Optimize for LCP

Load time has always been extremely important, even before Google officially started considering it a ranking signal. As noted by Google’s own support documentation, if a page’s load time increases from one to three seconds, the page’s bounce rate increases by 32%. Meanwhile, an increase from one to six seconds will see a 106% increase in bounce rate. 

What we’re saying here is that if you’ve been properly optimizing your website for performance, you shouldn’t need to do anything specific for LCP, as you’re already optimized. All the general advice and best practices from before still apply today. 

If you haven’t done much in the way of page performance or are simply curious if you’ve missed anything important, some areas of focus include: 

  • Reducing HTTP requests.
  • Minifying your JavaScript and CSS. 
  • Compressing and optimizing your images. 
  • Avoiding the use of resource-heavy content like video or hosting on external sites where possible. 
  • Enabling browser caching. 
  • Using a content delivery network or working with a host that leverages its own. 
  • If you’re using a platform like WordPress, eliminate any unnecessary or redundant plugins. 
  • Leveraging responsive web design, or else designing your site first and foremost for mobile devices. 

Google’s Core Web Vitals are neither new nor revolutionary. They aren’t going to change the way anyone searches, nor should they have any impact on how you optimize and design your site. Provided you’ve already been following the proper best practices, you’re likely safe just to keep proceeding as you have been.

And if you’ve been falling short in any way, let these new ranking signals serve as a wakeup call for you. 

Should You Bother With Facebook Advertising in the New Year?

Or is it Time to Move to Greener Pastures? 

Facebook has had a bit of a rough year. 

The Facebook Papers first released by The Wall Street Journal (and recently made public by Gizmodo) revealed a company crippled by its own success. An organization that had become far too bloated, struggling under a management structure completely unsuited for its size. A business defined by questionable business ethics and poor technology management. 

Just a day after The Facebook Papers were released, the social network suffered one of its worst outages in history, which CNBC reported may have cost upwards of $100 million

Prior to both of these incidents, Facebook has experienced a history of boycotts, privacy flubs, and controversies. The worst of these was arguably Cambridge Analytica, detailed in this report from Vox.  In the wake of this cornucopia of problems, the general sentiment around the platform for business users and regular consumers alike seems best summarized by the following statement: 

“I have no idea why I’m still here.”

 “Through all these stories, we’re fundamentally ignoring a basic tenet of why people aren’t using Facebook anymore,” Forbes contributor Paul Tassi wrote in 2019. “It’s just a very, very exhausting and irritating platform to consume and utilize…The entire site needs a massive overhaul, but if it hasn’t happened now, I’m not sure it ever will.” 

Tassi’s article may be written from a consumer perspective, but it could just as easily apply to advertising. Although the social network makes a big deal of the power and flexibility of its suite of business tools, they are just as cumbersome and frustrating as the core site. Especially if you try to leverage Facebook ads.

The business suite epitomizes feature bloat, its interface so crowded and clogged with information that one’s eyes glaze over simply looking upon it. The algorithm that determines whether or not an ad is acceptable is, per The Verge, just as broken as Facebook’s much-reviled community standards algorithm. Whether or not it accepts or rejects an ad is seemingly arbitrary — a toss of the dice that has led to a noticeable decline in ad quality over the past two years. 

So in light of all this, why are businesses still using Facebook? 

Unfortunately, because it still works (at least for now). Even though younger audiences are largely abandoning the platform, Statista reports that as of Q2 2021, there are still approximately 2.91 billion active monthly users. In other words, for now, your best bet may be to keep using it, despite all the frustration. 

At least until a replacement comes along and supplants it. Hey, it happened with Myspace.

3 Tactics To Help You Learn More About Your Audience

Who are your customers? Why are they your customers? What do you offer that your competitors do not? 

More importantly, what sort of content is your audience interested in? What do they enjoy, and what do they find compelling? What questions do they want you to answer, and what topics do they want to learn about? 

These are among the most important questions that you need to address. Understanding your audience is critical to your content marketing efforts. Without this knowledge, you cannot effectively target your content.

Let’s talk about where you can look to learn. 

Spend Some Time On Social

In addition to being among the most powerful marketing tools in your arsenal, social networks like Facebook are an incredibly valuable source of information on your audience. 

Examine who is interacting both with you and with your competitors. Take a look at their likes, their dislikes, the kind of language they use, and their primary demographics. Look at your social analytic data to see who’s currently engaged with your brand. 

There’s bound to be a fair bit of variance, of course. Your goal here isn’t to understand every single individual consumer, but rather to put together a picture of the common threads between each and every person. And as an added bonus, you can also get a more complete picture of what kind of content really resonates with people and generates the most engagement. 

Check Your Metrics

Although it may not always provide you with comprehensive information, your Google Search Console can nevertheless give you at least a partial picture of your website’s visitors. If you manage a digital storefront or use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, you can augment your search and traffic data with information from both of these platforms. You’re looking to learn a few things here.

First and foremost, obviously, is who is visiting your website, and why — what search terms they’re using, what platform they came from, and what they’re doing after they arrive. Second, when they’re visiting your site, what time of day do you generate the most traffic? Finally, what they do just before they leave, whether that’s purchasing a product, signing up for an email, or simply bouncing. 

Ask Your Customers Directly

Last but certainly not least, have you considered just talking to your customers? 

If there’s one type of audience research we see consistently overlooked, it’s surveys and interviews. Businesses either assume they don’t have the time and resources to handle survey data or else it just never occurs to them to ask their audience what they want. Done right, however, this can be one of the most valuable sources of information you’ll ever collect.

Note that in order for your surveys to be as effective as possible, you’ll need to offer some sort of incentive for people who answer. Maybe they’ll get a temporary discount code, or get information about an upcoming new product. Maybe they’ll be entered into a contest or raffle. 

The point is, you need to give them a reason to answer beyond “I want them to.” 

Listen. Learn. Grow. 

A thorough understanding of one’s audience is the foundation of a successful business. By understanding who your customers are, what they want, and what type of content interests them, you can execute a more focused, better-targeted, and ultimately more successful content marketing strategy. At the end of the day, it’s easier than you’d think to do that, too.

You simply need to know where to look, and how to listen.