Strong organic search rankings, especially on Google, are the lifeblood of many online SMBs. An expert discusses current best practices for appearing on page one.
4. Don't think only about your customers.
"Your job shouldn't just be to produce content that appeals to your customers," Fishkin said. "Your job is to appeal to influencers and potential influencers." In other words, simply speaking to the people who buy your products or services is short-sighted; you should also consider the audience that might sway their audience to become your customers, too. These include media professionals, bloggers, tweeters, respected regulars in online discussion forums, and so on. The list is seemingly endless and getting even longer in the modern era.
5. Search results are increasingly unique.
The results you see when you search a particular keyword are very likely to be different than those John and Jane Doe see in a different location, on a different day, in a different browser, with a different search history, on a different computer. It would be an easy but fatal mistake for SMB marketers to assume otherwise, especially when they obsess over for particular keywords.
"SEO is less and less a process of 'I need to get to number one" because number one is not number one for everyone," Fishkin said. Instead, strong results come from choosing the right keywords and producing engaging content that will engender links, sharing, trust, and respect among your audience--and committing to that process for the long haul. Keyword-obsessed link builders are probably deluding themselves when they uncork the champagne to celebrate a top ranking. "The universal number one has gone the way of the dodo," Fishkin said.
6. Don't lose sleep over small changes.
Search results aren't static, in part because of that personalization trend. You'll go crazy trying to figure out why you moved up or down a couple of spots from one week to the next. Fishkin's advice? Don't bother. "If you're jumping around and bouncing from position one-two-three to four-five-six-seven, I wouldn't sweat it too much," Fishkin said. "That's going to happen; it’s natural. Google does a lot of testing of different algorithms; Google does a lot of testing of biasing results by click-through rate. Remember that there are very, very [few] universal search results anymore."
7. Do sweat the major downgrades.
When your numbers take a nosedive, it's time to worry. Fishkin offers a hypothetical scenario: If you consistently receive 150 online visitors a day via Google and that suddenly drops to 10, it's time to sound the alarm and perform an audit. There could be any number of causes, such as Google penalizing you because its search robots can no longer access your content, or there could be a backend problem that is breaking pages on your site. It could also mean something's wrong on your host provider's side.
If you audit your site and find no material changes or issues that explain the change, it's time to look in the mirror. Fishkin notes that SMBs get hit with plenty of SEO-related offers promising pie-in-the-sky results, along the lines of: "Buy 500 links for $50 and get you website to the top of Google immediately!" SMBs that take those offers aren't doing SEO, they're doing spam--something Google frowns upon. As Fishkin put it, an SMB that finds SEO too easy is probably treading a "gray hat, black hat" line with Google.
"Any time you've done some SEO that seems too good to be true, it probably is," he said.
Stay tuned: In an upcoming article, Fishkin predicts what's next in SEO.
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Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of September 18, 2016. We'll be talking with the InformationWeek.com editors and correspondents who brought you the top stories of the week to get the "story behind the story."