The 5 Rules Of Great SEO (And A Practical SEO Strategy Based On Them)

SEO is something I, as an online marketer, have conversations about often.

People want to know what they need to do to get their page to rank higher in the search results.

These are logical concerns, as most companies that I work with need as much exposure as possible.

And, since organic search is responsible for over half of all website traffic, SEO is the smartest place to start.

Problematically, however, SEO is a mystery to most small business owners.

SEO is confusing, especially if you don't know the rules. Click To Tweet

And with all the outdated and misguiding information out there, it’s easy to get lost.

Worse yet, it’s easy to cause your search ranking to get buried.

With that in mind, it’s time to shed a little light on the most important rules of SEO.

Nobody Can Guarantee Their SEO Strategies Will Earn A Top Search Rank

Every time I write or talk about SEO, I get asked the same question.

How can I get my site to rank in the top 5 for Google?

The honest-to-goodness answer: I don’t have a clue.

See, there is no guaranteed way to rank number 1 on Google’s search.

No SEO tactic can give you a guarantee.

There are a few good, practical reasons for that.

There Aren’t Enough Spots For Everyone To Hit Rank 1.

If there were a surefire method to rank high in Google, everyone would do it.

By default, there can only be one rank 1.

That means someone has to fill in from rank 2 on down.

Basic math says I can’t guarantee rank 1.

Same with page 1, which has an average of 8 results that aren’t ads.

Google Shrouds The Search Algorithm

There is nobody outside of Google that knows the entire algorithm.

I’d venture that there’s nobody inside Google with that kind of secret.

To guarantee a rank, we’d have to know exactly what Google factors and how important each thing is.

Google keeps its search algorithm under lock and key. Click To Tweet

That would allow us to game the system, which Google is trying to stop from happening.

They make their money from delivering the best search results.

That’s the thing that keeps users coming to them for search.

Users that see the ads that pay Google’s bills.

Make sense?

SEO Is In Constant Flux

There are so many SEO factors that have nothing to do with you.

The amount of time people are spending on your site, for example.

Google is constantly monitoring those factors and re-ranking your site.

Even if there was a secret formula to get you to the number 1 spot, those other factors would change, making your rank change.

It’s important to understand that a ranking that gets you seen is the most important thing you should look for as a result of optimizing for search.

If you expect the wrong things, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

If You Plan On Optimizing Your Site For Search, You Need The Rules

Thankfully, despite the subterfuge Google wraps around its algorithm, we can still learn from what works.

We’ve got some general rules that come from years of working with SEO.

They are not a guarantee for page one.

Nobody can guarantee a page one search rank. Click To Tweet

However, the rankings you earn with them are far more likely to last than forcing your way to page one will.

That’s because they’re based on honest practices and intention to deliver real value to your audience.

It’s the opposite of gaming the system, and Google likes when you behave that way.

The Most Important SEO Rule Is To Solve Your Audience’s Problems

If you want Google to rank you well, you need to actually answer the question asked.

See, you can try all the old tricks that used to work for SEO, but if you’re not answering the questions your ranking won’t keep for long.

That’s because Google – and Bing as well – has improved its ability to return results related to the searcher’s real reason for searching.

Google is better at helping people solve their problems.

Because they’ve put a bigger focus on that idea, content that does the best job of solving the problem winds up ranking higher.

If you can’t manage that with your content, you won’t rank well for long if at all.

Even if you make it to the top, you’ll quickly get dethroned by someone who answers the question better.

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Modern SEO Makes Search Intent Is More Important Than Exact Matches

Back in 2008, the SEO rule was to make a separate page for every set of keywords.

That means a pizza company might make a separate page for “best pizza”, “best pizzas”, and “pizzas that are the best”.

Today, that’s absurd.

Because each of those keywords/key phrases has the same intent, Google will bring up your “best pizza” page no matter which of those 3 search queries are used.

That’s because matching the searcher’s intent works better at solving the searcher’s problem.

Now it’s better to focus on creating a single page for the keyword and as many of the related intentions as possible.

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Only Certain Attribute Tags Still Matter For SEO

In the old days of SEO, we used to hide keywords in every piece of code that wouldn’t be seen by the human eye.

Trust me, there are a lot of them.

They’d be hidden in every tiny corner of a website, including a whole block of code dedicated to every variant of the keyword we can think of.

Today, Google penalizes that behavior.

It’s called keyword stuffing, and Google considers it “gaming the system”.

However, if you want to rank well, there are still a few HTML assets you want to use.

Primarily speaking, you need to include your keywords and phrases in the title and body of your content.

Yes, you can rank well without doing that, but it’s ill-advised.

Google prefers to see keywords there, but more importantly, the searcher does.

When the answer to their question is in the title of your page, they’re more inclined to click.

There are a few other tags you want to include your keywords in.

Headline Tags

The bolded titles of each section.

URLs

If you can get your keyword into your address, it influences the searchers as well as Google.

There are some other technical reasons, including linking to the page, too.

Meta Description

This one is a little more technical, but it’s the little two-line description that Google reads and lists under the search result.

It influences the searcher, too, because they can see their keyword there.

The IMG Attributes

This is going to move your images to the Google image search results.

However, try to fit the keyword into an accessible description of the picture.

Google uses ADA accessible site features to rank you as well.

Screen readers use the ALT attribute.

It’s generally better to use the keyword in the image title if at all possible, as well as the image name (save it as keyword.jpg)

Use SEO Language That Shows Google You’re Talking About The Same Thing

Ok, this one might be a little confusing from the title, but I have a great example for you.

What we’re talking about is taking advantage of words or phrases that Google may already associate with the keyword you’re optimizing for.

Take a piece of content that’s optimized for a particular keyword, then add in other words and phrases commonly associated with it.

For example, if I’m writing a piece about the San Gabriel Mountains (a range close to my office), but don’t mention trails, peaks, nature, or national parks, Google might see that as weird.

But if I include Mt. Wilson and Mt. San Antonio in my article, Google associates these things with the query “San Gabriel Mountains”.

Just so you know, there is no semantic connection here.

These words and phrases are commonly associated with each other by Google, as well as the people searching.

Don’t fall for some pseudo-science like LSI.

It has no use in the modern SEO world.

Instead, use Google’s “related searches” to find words that would be helpful.

It’s much more reliable because Google is telling you what Google relates to your keyword.

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In SEO, You Need To Optimize For Engagement

Here’s the real kicker.

Google is watching to see how long a person stays on your page.

The longer a person stays, the more likely it is that they’re getting an answer to their query.

The more they stay on the same site, possibly reading other content, the more relevant your content is to their query.

That means you’re ranked higher when that query and its related searches come up again.

However, there’s a caveat here that Google can’t see.

If your site design sucks, people are going to leave no matter how good your content.

It’s important to have great content, but it’s equally important to make sure your site visitors can get that content easily.

If your site is hard to use or hard to read, they’ll hit the back button.

That means Google ranks you lower.

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Here’s The SEO Process You Should Be Using

This isn’t the only process out there, but it’s simple and practical.

You can also get a ton more technical, but these basics will at least get your SEO in a decent place without too much headache.

You’ll likely beat most of your competition with this alone.

Determine The Keywords Your SEO Is Going To Target

Obviously, optimizing for search requires a little planning.

You’re not going to make content that fits your audience’s needs if you don’t know what their needs are.

Make a list of all the keywords you can that match the intent your content will solve.

Yes, there should be a list.

And you need to research them in advance.

Use great keyword research tools and Related Searches at the bottom of a Google Search.

Don’t be overwhelmed.

While you need to try to include as many as possible, you won’t have to include all of them.

And, if you have to sacrifice keywords or quality, keywords are the obvious choice.

Figure Out What Your Searchers Are Trying To Accomplish

Ok, so now you know what searches you’re targeting, but what do those searches mean?

I mean, if someone searches “best pizza”, what do they want from that?

They might want to know who makes the best pizza.

Maybe they want to order a great pizza.

Perhaps they want to know what goes into making a pizza that can be called the best.

Or maybe they want to know who says that pizza maker makes the best pizza.

It could be any or all those intentions.

Figure out which intention your audience has when they search for your keyword.

Remember, you can create pages for every intent.

If you find there are a few intents for the same search, be excited.

You just planned some future content.

Plan Your Search Optimized Layout

You’re writing a script for SEO.

Just like script writing, you need to storyboard.

Sketch out where you’re going to put the headline, subheadline, and other important key concepts so they’ll make a great visual impact.

You’ve got to think about this in advance because you want your audience to know they found the right content right away.

That means you have to make sure they stop long enough to see that your content is going to help them.

A great visual layout with key information presented up-front and easy to see will do that.

You’re going to make sure you’ve got all the information they’re looking for represented visually with your content, written or not.

Write First And Optimize With Keywords After

So, one of the things I notice with SEO is the way a piece of content comes across when the keyword is the main thought.

It usually feels unnatural.

It’s not obvious in most cases, but you can just tell that something is awkward.

That’s why I recommend writing for the content first, then adding the keywords later.

Let’s be real, you’re writing about a specific topic.

There will automatically be some keywords and related terms in there.

You can’t write about something without those.

However, don’t worry about quantity and placement until you have the message down.

Create value first, then go back an inject the keywords, key phrases, related terms, top concepts, and other topics you want to include.

Your writing is going to come across way more natural and easier to read.

That’s going to make it easier for your audience to ingest.

Earn Backlinks With A Great Hook

For modern SEO, backlinks still matter.

However, you can’t use shady means to get them, and you most certainly don’t want them from sites with a bad reputation.

That means you need to get influencers and your audience to share, amplify, and link to your content.

They’re only going to do that if they see value in your content.

However, they have to make it to your content to see the value.

Your introduction is the key to making that happen.

By writing a hook that gets people, well, hooked, you get them to stick around long enough to see the value.

But how do you write a great introduction?

The most important thing is to understand your audience and what interests them.

Include humor, inject context, or amplify the problem you’re going to solve.

They’ll pay attention.

SEO Is Simple If You Start In The Right Mindset

The biggest reason SEO becomes so convoluted is that people get their heads in the wrong space.

They start thinking about getting found in search and getting that number one spot.

However, that’s the kind of thinking that will sink your SEO ship.

Instead, focus on delivering your audience the exact content they need.

Optimizations will look and feel more natural.

People will engage with your site more and for longer stretches.

And most importantly, Google will begin to elevate your ranking.

By following this strategy and the rules that formulated it, you’ll wind up far ahead of your competition.

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About the author:

Michael McNew
Web developer, marketing innovator, technology enthusiast, and founder of Visceral Concepts, Michael McNew has developed a passion for delivering value to small business, turning his creativity towards image and reputation building for small business owners.