You’re Not Imagining Things: SEO Is Getting Harder for the Do-It-Yourselfer

by Jennifer Grappone on May 24, 2010

Many people come to us, discouraged and puzzled about why their site has fallen in the ranks even though their site is optimized for all the right keywords. Others reach out to us for help with keyword optimization of their site’s text, mistakenly convinced that this is the only thing their site needs to succeed. Here are five reasons that gaining ranks with standard ranking tactics is harder than it used to be for the average site owner:

Keyword Optimization Isn’t as Important

Identifying keywords and using them to optimize your text used to be two of the easiest SEO tasks for the layperson (as well as the not-so-technical SEO). If you were a halfway decent writer, and could figure out the right keywords to include in your text, you used to be able to make some headway in the ranks. However, where there used to be a relatively straight path from keyword optimization to improved ranks, there are now several complicating factors. Now your thoughtful keyword strategy is also vying with:

  • Personalized search in Google, which causes a searcher’s past behavior to influence their search results
  • Real-time results in Google, which sometimes give fresh content and tweets an edge over older pages
  • Better contextualization: Type “corwin” into Google and you’ll get decent results for three very different Corwins: the publisher, the Animal Planet celebrity, and the town. Type “out of league” and Bing reasonably matches your query to results for the movie “She’s Out of My League.” The search engines have gotten much smarter about contextualization and phrase matching, and their ever-improving intelligence is becoming just as much of a rankings factor as your keyword optimization. (And, on a related note: remember when people used to optimize their sites for misspellings? The search engines make that irrelevant now.)

You’re Overloaded with Tools

You used to have only a few optimization tools to work with. Meta tags – go optimize ‘em! Links – go get ‘em! Thankfully, as SEO has gotten more complex, search engines are now giving you more tools and information to work with. But unfortunately, these tools and information can overwhelm and confuse. Canonical tags are extremely easy to use, and also very easy to mess up. Webmaster Tools give you tons of information, and at the same time lead many of us down the wrong path. (For example, with the data now available, you may be tempted to believe that a decline in site speed caused your ranks to plunge, but you’d probably be wrong.) With all of these elements to analyze and address, it’s difficult to identify what’s most important, which skills to brush up on (or outsource) and what’s worthy of your time and energy.

Web Technology has Outpaced SEO-Friendliness

E-commerce tools, blog publishing platforms and content management systems, AJAX, mobile devices, the proliferation of video…all of these technologies and more have made the web more exciting and dynamic! But in many cases, these features require specialized technical skills to prevent or remediate significant search engine indexing handicaps.

Everybody’s Doing It

After years of marginalization, SEO is finally on every website owner’s radar. SEO awareness has evolved to the point where most people are addressing keyword optimization and site indexing concerns when they build and maintain their sites. And I haven’t met a new client in years who isn’t already thinking through a link building strategy. Having an SEO-friendly site isn’t a competitive advantage for you any more; it’s a requirement. And, if my decade-plus in SEO has taught me anything, it’s this: when everybody is doing something, that thing becomes less powerful as a ranking factor. (See above – “Keyword Optimization Isn’t as Important”)

Rapid Evolution

“Hi, I’m Google, and I’ll be your search engine today. Our algorithm change du jour is the ‘Chef’s Surprise.’ Depending on your site, it will either be delicious or leave a foul taste in your mouth. You’ll be trying it whether you want it or not.” Yep, Google changes every day. I used to eschew algorithm-chasing, and refused to participate in obsessing over SEO gossip on a daily basis.  I knocked it as a pointless way of life, but these days I’m convinced that it’s important to embrace that mindset, at least a little bit. This is something that SEO specialists have built into their schedule, but it’s not as simple for the average site owner to find the time to keep up with latest developments in search.

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It’s harder than it used to be to influence your site’s ranks using keyword optimization and link building tactics. So what should you do about it? Do what we do: Think big picture! Once you’ve nailed the basics: a search-friendly site, optimized text, and a well-targeted message, try something new to achieve a well-rounded online presence. Branch out into social media. Encourage positive reviews. Maybe shoot a little video if it’s a good fit for your audience.  And use the information you glean from your analytics to make real changes on your site, not just to gain better ranks, but to improve engagement for the visitors you have.

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