I love magic shows. My favorite is 'Magic for Humans' with Justin Williams on Netflix. Even though everyone always knows magic is just an illusion, this guy always goes the extra mile to make sure people know that his tricks are real illusion, and not staged.
I like to think of SEO as a set of magic tricks, too. If you pull your trick off correctly, your magic words will appear in the world's most popular search engine: Google.
But is Search Engine Optimization, i.e. Google Search Magic, really a set of optical illusions? Let's take a look a the ghost of Google past, to examine our argument:
Old School and Black Hat SEO
Black Hat search engine optimization is the practice of using trickery to scoot around loopholes in Google's algorithm to produce greater search results for your website. It is considered the unethical underworld of SEO. Historically, these methods worked for getting websites to rank higher in search engines, but over time Google caught on and started to penalize websites who practiced such wizardry.
Keyword Stuffing is a perfect example of black hat practices, which is when you flood your page content with the same keywords and related phrases. This approach viewed the correct number of magic keywords as the way to pull off the trick.
Cloaking is another one. No, not exactly like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Black hat cloaking involves showing one piece of content to users and a different piece of content to search engines. A similar trick is redirecting users from one URL to another.
Old School SEO vs. Black Hat SEO
Like black hat tricks, there are many other methods of getting your pages to rank that you should not use. In theory, if you use these "old school" methods they won't work as well as the new models.
But just because they are considered outdated, doesn't mean that they are unethical - they are just no longer relevant to an ever-changing Google algorithm (and methodology) of ranking websites.
Some of these original methods include an almost mathematical structure of building pages with keywords. The use of long, detailed domain names that include your exact-match key phrase is an example of a popular trick. Another one is creating new pages for each and every variation of your key phrase.
Link building, of course, has always been a crucial part of an optimization strategy - and over time, Google has become smarter about ranking websites that have good authority and quality with their links (quality over quantity).
Google's Belief and Methodology of Ranking Websites
SEO is still moving away from its original black and white "scientific method" approach. To prove my point, let's pretend Google was a person.
"Hey, Jen! How are you?"
"Pretty good, but... my dog is acting crazy!"
"Oh, man! How old is he?"
"He just turned six months. Do you think I should get him neutered?"
"That's a good idea! You can get them neutered as early as eight weeks, but a lot of veterinarians recommend that you wait until they hit puberty, which is about six months."
"Good advice! Do you know where there is an animal hospital around here?"
"There is an animal hospital 1.4 miles from you, at your neighborhood shopping center."
"Thanks, Google! You're the best."
Okay okay, you might think this is totally ridiculous... but in reality, this entire conversation can be summed up with one conversation with Siri:
"How old does my dog have to be to get neutered"
[and] "Where is my nearest animal hospital"
You see, in the end Google doesn't want to provide you just any answer, they want to provide you the most relevant content possible.
Google believes that humans are humans. Of course, they are also trying to create technology that can mimic communication with humans (I laughed, you laughed, the toaster laughed...). The point is that the Google algorithm is based on a specific set of beliefs that make your web content valuable to the others that are searching for it.
With that in mind, you should follow these set of principles if you want your content to be highly visible to searchers - not only in search results but also when searchers click on your website:
- Solve the searcher's query
- Quality over quantity
- Content should be valuable and relevant
- Genuine links are more valuable
A magician never reveals his secrets
As the direction of search is becoming simpler for us to understand and implement, keep in mind that a true magician has a few tricks up his sleeve. And so, that explains Google - well - perfectly! Ranking for keywords is still a game, and the secret robotic algorithm still controls who shows up on top and overcomes online invisibility.
And in the end, SEO is not really a set of tricks or an optical illusion. Websites that rank well offer the real deal - genuine content, relevant information, and links. In short, they delight the humans who interact with them just like a great magic trick.
5 Practical ways to SEO magic to work on your website
- Align your content and your use of keywords with searcher intent. Just because a keyword has a lot of search traffic doesn't mean that it will bring you people that benefit from your content. Make sure that you are speaking to the actual interest of what a search word connects to when people enter that term in the search engine.
- Make sure your title and meta description encourages people to click. Just like an email subject line, the title link and the meta description tell people if you're offering what they are looking for. Make them compelling and you'll have better visibility.
- Images speak to SEO too, but only when you've added the alternative text. Alternative text is important for website accessibility which requires a description of the picture, but it also should carry the search terms or related words.
- The magic of the Google algorithm is working to capture language that matches the way humans talk. Getting found online requires not only the keywords but also the other natural groupings of words that would be spoken in a conversation. For example, if you were talking about playing tennis, you would also mention the court, tennis rackets, match play, local tennis clubs, or perhaps the related brands of shoes, clothes, and athletes. It would be unnatural to talk only about one element of the game in isolation.
- Focus on the real magic - helping people find answers to their questions and solutions for their goals. Put yourself in the mind of the searcher and make sure your content serves them well.