Monday, December 9, 2019

Website design enhancement Keyword Placement – As Important As The Words Themselves

What is “best practice,” who defines it, and why is it so widely adopted?

What Is ‘Best Practice’?
“Best practice” tends to refer to a method of working that has been generally accepted as better than others at achieving a result.

When we speak about SEO “best practice” it conjures images of page title lengths, word-counts, and Domain Authority thresholds.

It suggests that there is an accepted method of optimizing websites to make them more appealing to the search engines.

The Benefits of Best Practice
There are positives to be found from having a widely agreed set of practices. There is a reassurance that can be felt by both practitioners and their clients.

Security for Practitioners
SEO is an industry that still has so many unknowns.

When you first start out in this industry ranking a webpage can feel like a mix of science and magic.

Best practice gives us the security that we are working in a way that may generate results. It gives comfort and a clear path to follow to those who have no experience.

Security for Clients
Best practice also gives clients and stakeholders a feeling of security.

If they are familiar with some aspects of SEO, knowing that their appointed experts appear to be following those guidelines assures them of their legitimacy and potential success.

The Issues with Best Practice
There are, however, downsides to accepting a set of practices that you have not tested yourself.

Deciding on ‘Best Practice’
“Best practice” is a noble goal, it suggests there is a right and wrong way of acting and that can clearly be defined.

One problem with it within the SEO industry is that even the more common tenants are disputed amongst professionals.

Without confirmation from the search engines, arguments abound.

As seen in recent Twitter conversations following Moz’s Britney Muller’s discovery of a contentious statement in a Google document, we can’t even agree on whether click-through rate is a Google ranking factor.

If seasoned professionals are unsure of what constitutes a ranking factor, the widely believed “best practice” for this industry could be leading us all astray.

Differences
“Best practice” also suggests there is only one route to success. In SEO however, there are many facets to growing traffic.

Back in 2017 Google’s Gary Illyes stated in relation to a question about top ranking factors that “it very much depends on the query and the results which signals count more.”

How then can we suggest that there is a “best” way to optimize a page if the signals that determine its ranking are weighted differently for each search query?

Ammunition for the Competition
The touting of best practice is often the opening gambit of SEO agencies trying to get a foot in the door with a new business.

Often the lack of an H1 on a terms and conditions page, or a missing robots.txt is listed as a fundamental flaw in the optimization of a site bringing doubt over clients’ minds of the efficacy of their incumbent provider.

In reality, however, such a small detail is unlikely to bring the website to its knees as the try-hard agency might allude.

Cost
The other concern with best practice is that ticking all of those boxes can be costly.

If the only purpose of including a robots.txt file is to have one then this might not be a good use of an SEO or a developer’s time.

The resource and financial implications of following best practice can result in more important tasks that have the propensity to move the needle being relegated due to time and resource restraints.

How Was SEO ‘Best Practice’ Formed?
Determining if SEO best practice is a help or a hindrance really hinges on how it has formed and is followed.

It could be argued that best practice within the industry doesn’t really exist.

With so many methods shared and taught, however, there is definitely a set of traditions that individuals either trust or have actively rejected.

Formulas
There are many detailed and valuable guides to SEO for beginners.

They help to signpost the way forward for those who have never optimized for search engines before.

They shine a light on the way search engines work, what they favor, and how websites can capitalize on that.

The real issue with these mediums is not the resources themselves, but how SEO professionals approach them.

They should be treated like a car manual, telling you all you need to know about how the vehicle works, what the warning lights look like, and how to fix the engine if it goes wrong.

Armed with this knowledge we can feel confident to drive off into unchartered territory and explore.

Instead, some have fallen into the trap of approaching these guides like a sat-nav, fully expecting them to guide us to our desired destination of Position 1.

Many of us don’t take the time to wonder though, how is it that webpages with thin content, non-existent backlink profiles or poor meta-tag usage are ranking higher than our own, finely optimized sites?

Unfortunately, the answer would appear to be that sometimes the search engines do not behave in the way we expect them to.

When we try to follow best practice, we are in fact trying to abide by a set of rules that the likes of Google have not backed.

It is like only ever filling your car up with a certain brand of fuel because your local car owners’ forum tells you it’s the best one.

It might actually be the most expensive and unless you experiment with other types of fuel, or the manufacturer confirms the engine was built to perform best with it, why would you take that suggestion as gospel?

Unless there is evidence to back up this claim it would be foolish to assume it is correct.

Search engines are complicated, and the truth is, the algorithms are not known outside of the organization that developed them.

Any attempt to categorically state that they work in a particular way, unless confirmed by the company themselves, is naïve.

Instead, we should use the guides and checklists as our jumping-off point. They should form the start of our testing, holding our hands as we enter the murky world of SEO.

Influencers
The word “influencer” may conjure up images of make-up mavens, heavily filtered images and exotic backdrops, all hoping to persuade you to buy a product so they get a cut of the sale.

Apart from the odd entrepreneur who is trying to flog their latest online course, the SEO community taking part in social media and forums is largely trying to disseminate information and help others in their quest to improve.

These may be for purely altruistic reasons. It might be to increase their own profile. The result is the same; there are a lot of “experts” in this space touting their view on how SEO works.

There is nothing wrong with professionals who have gained experience and wish to share it with others, it truly is a selfless act.

The problem again is how we approach the insights given by these experts.

The barrier to becoming an SEO influencer is low. How do you decide who is a credible person to pay attention to?

There is the additional problem of differing opinions. There are many well-respected SEO professionals who take the time to really engage with their following.

These people give advice based on their years of experience. There are others with as large a following and impressive a career history who totally disagree with the advice they give.

So who is right?

Whenever I hear SEO best practice discussed, a tweet is often used as the evidence to substantiate it; “I saw [SEO influencer] say on Twitter that click-through rates are a ranking factor”.

Before we know it, this becomes lore.

Agencies hold meetings to update their teams, blog posts are written and strategies are altered to accommodate this new insight.

The issue with the blind following of others’ advice is that it might not be right.

It could be correct for what that SEO has seen on their own site, or within that particular vertical, but how can it be guaranteed that it will be the case for our own?

Best practice seems to pass down the lineage of SEOs through word of mouth. Juniors trust that what their seniors say is correct.

If those seniors are trusting what they see on Twitter without testing and questioning then the industry becomes rife with information that is inaccurate.

At best, the information being spread forms another checklist.

Examples of Damaging ‘Best Practice’ Myths
There are many best practice rules that can be questioned. Below are a few persistent ones that are often championed without question.

Meta Title Character Limits
Sixty characters maximum or your rankings will suffer. That’s a myth that seems to raise its head ever so often and particularly amongst newer SEO practitioners.

Although truncation does occur on both mobile and desktop SERPs, this differs between devices and search engines.


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