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by Eric Sharp on September 14, 2016

Topics: SEO

Modern Day SEO - 3 Major Elements that Matter

I’m having the same conversation with many prospects and existing clients these days.

It goes something like this:

Them: “How can we improve our SEO?”
Me: “Modern SEO is really about 3 things.”
Them: “But what about Google’s 200 ranking factors?”
Me: “Do you want to focus on 200 different things?”
Them: “…Um, no. Tell me about these 3 things.”

For most businesses, focusing on Google’s 200 different ranking factors doesn’t help them take action — it only creates paralysis through analysis.

Don’t get me wrong.

I firmly believe it’s still important to recognize and respect the complexity and broadness of Google’s algorithm — it indexes over 100 Million GB! For big websites with gobs of traffic and heavy competition, getting more than three things right could be the differentiator between ranking #11 or ranking #1.

For most websites, however, there’s just no need to obsess about getting 200 different things right with your SEO.

Give me 3 1/2 minutes and I’ll explain the 3 major elements to modern day SEO (video transcript below)

Modern SEO techniques use the 80/20 rule

So, how do you avoid old school SEO practices and the intimidation of a long checklist? Apply the 80/20 rule (aka Pareto principle) to your SEO.

80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.

I know the 80/20 approach works — specifically with SEO — because I’ve applied the approach to the ProtoFuse website, and our organic traffic grew 855% in 3 years.

Want to rank consistently on the first page? Focus 20% of your SEO efforts on three things.

Organic Traffic grown 855% because we did 3 things well with SEO
ProtoFuse.com’s organic traffic increased 855% in three years because we focused on 3 things

Modern day SEO requires your attention on 3 major pieces:

  1. On-page Optimization
  2. Quality Content with Great UX (User Experience)
  3. Trusted Authoritative Backlinks

Those are 3 BIG pieces to the equation, but again, this is about taking an 80/20 approach. Now, let’s break down these 3 components of modern SEO.

Element #1 – On-Page Optimization

Modern SEO Element #1 - On-page Optimization
Do keywords still matter? Is the technical side of SEO a big deal? Does Google care about meta tags these days? Does website speed impact rankings?

Absolutely.

SEO is both science and art, and your on-page optimization needs to be approached and executed with both disciplines in mind.

But, let’s start with defining On-page Optimization:

The things you do directly within your website to improve its position in the search rankings.

Things like:

  1. Integrating keywords thoughtfully in your content (write for people, not robots)
  2. Creating clickable Meta Titles & compelling Meta Descriptions
  3. Clean & simple URL structure
  4. Body tags (H1, H2, H3…)
  5. Image optimization (Alt tags, file name)
  6. Use of sitemap.xml & proper robots.txt setup
  7. Internal links
  8. Clean & fast code

I realize Google’s semantic search functionality and overall growing sophistication (e.g. Rank Brain) changes the game a bit on keyword-specific usage. However, on-page optimization is more than just keywords and still the foundation of your SEO.

It’s also critical to remember that on-page optimization is the ticket to the game. It allows your site to be crawled, indexed and eventually ranked. Your SEO doesn’t stop after on-page is completed — it begins.

On-page optimization says: “Hey Search Engines, my site is ready for you!”

On-page Optimization is your ticket to Search Engines
On-page optimization is simply allowing you admission to the game of search engines

On-page optimization is critical to modern day SEO because it still requires technical expertise (even though some people think it doesn’t) and a smart keyword strategy helps magnify exposure.

Element #2 – Quality Content with Great UX (User Experience)

Modern Day SEO - Element #2 - Quality Content with Great UX
“Just write great content and SEO will take care of itself.”

Boy, has that myopic opinion wasted thousands of marketing dollars for some companies.

Write Great Content. BAD ADVICE.
“Modern SEO is simply about great content.” Sorry buddy, this is bad advice.

Don’t be fooled by this type of advice. If you spend all your time producing content and not thinking about elements #1 and #3 — prepare for epic disappointment with your SEO.

Nearly everybody is doing content marketing today. 94% of small businesses, 93% of B2Bs, and 77% of B2Cs use content marketing. You know what those numbers mean?

Saturation.

Content is everywhere. Everybody is competing for the same thing. To rise above this “Content Clutter”, your content better be good. Like, really good. Like, AMAZING good.

Regardless of this saturation, you need to commit to content for your SEO to be effective. Yes, everyone is doing it, but here’s the good news: most aren’t doing it well!

Learn about “10x” content:

“10x” Content – Example Case Study: Cactus Technologies

Interested in 10x content? So are we. We helped our client create 10x content and here’s the amazing case study (with results) showing you how we did it.

Here’s the formula for generating quality content with great UX so you can win this aspect of modern day SEO.

SEO & Content Marketing are like PB&J
Content Marketing and SEO are like peanut butter and jelly.
  1. Create valuable content (don’t stop there) that your audience finds useful and informative as stated in Google’s Webmasters Course 1.4.
  2. Write content regularly. Search Engine bots will stop by your site more often if you’re regularly publishing. The more they visit, the more information they’ll collect.
  3. Format your website content properly making it scannable and easy-to-read.
  4. Avoid thin content. A piece of content under 200 words will face an uphill battle in rankings and traffic (there are exceptions though, like this)
  5. Ensure your content loads fast. Like, under 5 seconds fast. Content won’t work if people leave your website before it even loads!
  6. Make it Mobile-friendly. Content on a mobile device will be penalized if it’s not mobile friendly (thank you “Mobilegeddon”). This impacts SEO directly.
  7. Link to other relevant internal pages. I love this technique. It’s the fastest and easiest way to boost your SEO, especially if you’re blogging.

Content impacts SEO. In fact, you really can’t have one without the other. Neil Patel said it best, “Content Marketing and SEO are like PB&J.”

More about Content Marketing:

3 Content Marketing Examples (and Proof it worked for Me)

There’s a lot of buzz around content marketing, but does it really work? Can it build trust and inspire action? Here are 3 proofs it worked for me.

Element #3 – Trusted Authoritative Backlinks

Modern SEO Element #3 - Trusted Authoritative Backlinks

“I’ll link to your website if you link to mine!”

Remember those old SEO tactics? Link swapping doesn’t work anymore, and neither do backlinks from:

  1. Comment Spam
  2. Forum Spam
  3. Low-Quality Directories
  4. Foreign Language Sites
  5. Scaled Guest Posting
Bad Links Infographic
Further reading: Bad Links: How To Identify Toxic Backlinks

With that said, that doesn’t mean backlinking is dead. Backlinks are still necessary & vital. Without backlinks, your website has a slim chance to rank.

Here are three characteristics of a trusted authoritative link:

  1. The overall website has existing authority & traffic
  2. The page where the link resides is relevant
  3. The link itself (anchor text) is not spammy, and its location on the page is prominent

Also, keep in mind that you can generate backlinks in your sleep if you commit to #2 (creating quality content).

You can generate backlinks in your sleep if you commit to producing valuable content with amazing UX.

Need proof of this? A blog we wrote in 2013 titled The First Page of Google, by the Numbers now has 65 different websites linking to it.

And guess what? It’s impacted our entire site’s SEO. This blog is now ranked for 218 different keywords and become one our top landing pages.

ProtoFuse Blog Generating Backlinks Automatically
We generated backlinks to this blog post automatically over the last 2 years!

Does Social Media count as backlinks in modern SEO?

This area of backlinking gets incredibly technical, so I’ll just high-level it.

The answer is a muddled ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ Google keeps things tight here (even after suggesting in 2010 that social signals impact rankings).

Does Social Media count as backlinks?
Do links from Social Media count as Backlinks?

Some are unequivocal today that Social Media doesn’t directly impact SEO. But, the missing perspective is that social signals (tweets and likes) can turn traffic into links. And links matter. And links build authority.

AJ Kohn nails it: “It’s not the actual social activity that matters, but what happens as a result of that activity.”

The bottom line? The activity on social media (Facebook likes, Twitter re-tweets, etc.) won’t count as a backlink and help you rank better, but that social media buzz will create awareness and possibly generate links from their websites to yours.

Modern SEO takes focus, attention to detail, & patience

SEO has evolved. No, SEO continues to evolve.

It’s time we all bury old SEO techniques (e.g. keyword stuffing, heavy use of anchor text, microsites, etc.) and focus on the tactics that matter to search engines and to the people that use search engines.

I realize Google in particular doesn’t make it easy. They change their algorithm 500-600 times a year and are notorious for lacking transparency. However, I do believe they’re attempting (albeit 100% successfully) to carry out their mission:

…to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Google's Mission Statement
Google’s Mission Statement

I don’t know about you, but I’m happy to welcome ongoing change to an algorithm that combats spam, crappy content, and shady websites.

Here’s one more tip…

Don’t invest in SEO if you’re expecting big and fast results. SEO is slow, like a crockpot. If you’re patient and willing to play the long-game, SEO is still worth the investment today if you invest in these 3 elements.

Video Transcript

Hi, everybody! This is Eric from ProtoFuse.

I just recently published a blog post called Modern Day SEO – The Three Pieces that really matter. This is a really important topic to me.

Old SEO habits no longer work anymore and SEO is a different game. It has dramatically changed in the last 3 years. Google changes their algorithm 500 to 600 times a year. Now, not all changes are critical, some of them are small, but it seems to be a bit of a moving target.

I’m sure a lot of you maybe heard of “The 200 Ranking Factors” — that you need to account for in order to be found by Google. That is true. There are 200 different ranking factors and probably more that we’re unaware of. But what I found with my clients and even with our own website, with the growth that we’ve had in the last couple of years, and if you focus on 3 elements, — just three–, I know it sounds crazy, but three, that seems to generate the most success. It seems to give Google what they want. It seems to give the people visiting your website what they need. So, let me just quickly walk you through that.

Piece number 1 to Modern Day SEO: On-Page Optimization. Do keywords still matter? Yes. Does the Meta Title & Meta Description tag still matter? Absolutely. Does the keywords tags still matter? No. The keywords tag does not matter. But, the bigger picture is on-page optimization, — getting your website ready for Google to crawl it, figure out what it’s all about, index it, to then eventually generate rankings. This is the fundamental foundational aspect to your SEO and this stuff still very much matters today.

Piece number 2: Quality Content with Great User Experience. Now, notice that I didn’t stop with just great content. You can’t just write great content and expect to get rankings. There seems to be a lot of buzz out there that if you just write, they will come. “They” meaning traffic and prospects which will turn into leads in sales, — that’s not true. You just can’t write great content and think the on-page optimization side of things is all figured out. Yes, content management systems are more sophisticated. Yes, search engines are more sophisticated. You need to have multi-device great user experience, looks good on a tablet, on a smartphone, and the content itself needs to be super compelling. It needs to be engaging, amazing content with great user experience; — those things go hand in hand.

The third piece is Backlinks, and more specifically high authoritative backlinks that come from trusted websites. No longer old SEO habits of link exchange, “Hey, if you link to my website, I’ll link to yours.” That does not work anymore. Google has figured that out and I like to tell all my clients that we are not smarter than Google. Google has definitely got the leg up there. Links are still very important. Links that come from relevant sites that have decent authority, that have good traffic, — those are the links that matter today.

So, those are the 3 pieces to modern day SEO. I encourage you to dig a little deeper into this blog post. It’s packed with a lot of research and I’d love to hear what you think.

Author Info

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Hey there, thanks for reading! My name is Eric Sharp and I’m the Founder of ProtoFuse. Learn more about me, follow me on Twitter or find me on Google+. Oh, and I’ll call you family if you’re a Chicago Bears fan. Daaa Bearsss.