Search engine optimization changes with the times just like everything else, and what might have been true years ago isn’t necessarily still true. Here’s where SEO stands today.
Search engine optimization can seem scary, thanks in part to the fact that it’s a moving target.
What SEO looked like five or 10 years ago doesn’t necessarily fly today. That doesn’t stop some of the truisms of the past from sticking around years after the march of time has made them obsolete, turning best practices into hazy myths.
With that in mind, here’s a little myth-busting to get you up to date on your SEO knowledge.
Myth #1: Keywords Matter Most
Keywords are naturally a major focus for many SEO efforts. After all, they’re what people use to search. But after years of keyword-packed content filling search engines, there’s been a push to create less keyword-dense content that’s more useful to users.
That doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t strategically use keywords, of course. It just means to be thoughtful about how you use them. For one thing, you need to be careful that you aren’t just building content around industry-specific jargon.
Emily Patterson of the digital outreach firm Bee Measure notes that there can be a disconnect between terminology used within your organization and the ways your members actually look for information they care about.
“[Associations] tend to use jargon, keywords, and things that are internal to their organization rather than thinking, ‘How do the people that we serve and the people in this field actually talk about things and search for things?’” she said in an interview earlier this year.
Instead, the content should be driven by what the audience is likely to read and engage with in their own jobs. Understand the difference—and put the end user first.
Myth #2: Users Favor the Desktop
You’re building your platform on a laptop or desktop machine—clearly your users are primarily using a desktop too, right?
Well, you’d be incorrect on that front. According to recent statistics from Statcounter, Windows and MacOS together make up about 37 percent of internet users—while Android by itself makes up 41 percent of users, and iOS adds another 16.07 percent. In other words, people are more likely to find your content on mobile than desktop devices, and as a result, you have to build for both.
Myth #3: More Content Is Always Better
Associations famously have a lot of content spanning the entire spectrum of topics that might be relevant, and a desire to not get rid of any of it. After all, what if someone is looking for that random story of yours that you published six years ago?
But the truth is, most websites get a large portion of their traffic from a small number of articles, and some of those less-visited assets can duplicate or harm the potential of what you already have by competing against your better-performing content. For that reason, an occasional content audit is worth doing, with an eye toward pruning.
Myth #4: Duplicate Content Doesn’t Matter
You might recognize this content strategy situation: You have multiple domains, and you’ve decided to publish the same thing in multiple spots to align with your mission. Or perhaps you’ve decided to syndicate a piece of content on an external site with a broader reach. Or you’re running a press release that lives on multiple pages online.
Whatever the case, duplicative content can complicate your search traffic by making it so you’re competing against yourself for relevant search terms. Google directly says that this is a bad idea.
“Deceptive practices like this can result in a poor user experience, when a visitor sees substantially the same content repeated within a set of search results,” the company states on its website.
One way to manage this: If possible, have any sites linking to your content use a canonical tag, so it’s clear to search engines where the original source is.
Myth #5: Your Site’s Speed Doesn’t Impact Its Ranking
Does your site load so slowly sometimes that you feel like you’re still on dial-up? That’s a telltale sign that you’re not offering a great experience for your members—and search engines are noticing.
Google is taking site speed seriously. It launched an initiative last year around what it calls “core web vitals,” which the company has recently started taking into account when ranking its search results, especially on mobile.
For that reason, a major component of search engine optimization in 2021 involves optimizing the speed of your site, which can be bogged down by external scripts, poorly optimized servers, and a lack of caching. So good SEO might mean focusing on things you once hadn’t—like fast-loading websites.