Google reportedly uses over 300 factors to decide the ranking of each result on a search results page. They keep most of these secret, of course, so it’s up to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts to work out what they are, and their relative importance to one another. Once we know what they are, we can tweak our content accordingly and appear higher in the results.
In 2009, SEOmoz surveyed 72 experts to identify what the factors most likely are. Of the On-Page Keyword-Specific Ranking Factors, “Keyword Use Anywhere in the H1 Headline Tag” was ranked as the fourth most important factor. Yet the latest quantitative research by SEOmoz suggests that H1 tags are actually unimportant.
So where do we go from here? If SEO experts still aren’t sure, what hope is there for the average website author of getting SEO right?
Do The Bare Minimum
“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort” – Eric Reis
The idea of getting the most output from the least effort can be applied to SEO too: Minimum Viable SEO (MVSEO). Rather than worrying about the hundreds of minor factors that might alter rankings by a fraction of a percent, let’s instead just focus on the one or two factors that will give us the most bang-for-buck.
The remainder of this article assumes that you’re applying these SEO techniques to a fairly standard, non-spammy website: you’ve got some content, and your pages link together fairly well.
From this foundation, the steps for MVSEO are:
- Make sure that Google can access and spider your website content. Use Google Webmaster Tools to confirm. If not, update your website links or create a Sitemap file.
- Focus on your page titles – these are the <title>s that appear in the <head> of each page. There’s plenty of advice on the web about how to optimize titles, but the basic rules are:
- Keep them under about 66 characters, so that they look good in Google search results pages.
- Use keywords and phrases in titles that you want to appear in searches for, preferably near the beginning of the title. They should of course relate to the content of the page, too.
- Avoid duplicate titles.
- Create some quality ‘link bait’. This is the most difficult part: writing quality original content that attracts attention (and ultimately links) from a diverse set of websites. Together with well-crafted page <titles>, obtaining incoming links from a wide variety of websites is your top SEO priority. Note that for link bait articles, it’s not so important to include target keywords in the <title> – instead, focus on creating something enticing and descriptive (but still keep it under the 66 character limit).
- Promote your link bait content (ethically) through social media.
Don’t worry about optimizing your <strong> and <alt> tags, your URL structure, meta tags, anchor text for external links, HTML validation, or anything else. Sure, they all matter, but they’re not high up on our list right now.
Since we launched this website about six weeks ago, we haven’t had a huge amount of time to dedicate to it. All we’ve really done is follow the MVSEO approach: we’ve paid attention to our page titles, have written some good content, and managed to get some great incoming links to it.
We’ve gained links from trusted sources like Boing Boing and O’Reilly Radar, which in turn have prompted their readers to link to us too. We now appear on the first page of results for a content strategists search – our number one target phrase.
We’ll probably start to think about more advanced SEO tweaks in the coming weeks, but the MVSEO approach has given us a great start with a little bit of effort. And like the MVP method that it’s based on, we now also have a growing set of search referrer data on which to base better future SEO decisions.