How to do SEO sustainably

When you read Fred, Penguin, Possum, Panda, what comes to mind? If you own or administer a website, it should be SEO: these are the euphemistic names (thank you Moz) of only a few Google algorithm updates over the last couple of years.

And that algorithm is key to your SEO triumphs and fails. Although these updates typically pose greater volatility to black-hat SEOs, it is important for everyone to understand what they are signaling.

Ultimately, all search engine algorithms are aimed at two goals; provide results that match user intent and prevent SERP gaming. Base your SEO strategies on these and they will be sustainable.

The foundation of SEO: Intent

User intent; many think that it is synonymous with the query a user is making through a search engine. But, there is a deeper picture at play; the search query merely signals intent.

For example, a siren signals an emergency and the type of emergency it is signaling depends on context, as well as the nature of the sound it is making.

Thus, begin with intent when considering what short- and long-tail searches you want to rank for…consider the why of the search. At its most basic, user intent is either transactional or informational.

User intent and the buyer’s journey

User intent is also dynamic; it changes according to the stage of the buyer’s journey. How you address each point along that path will depend on what you are offering.

To begin, plot the path-to-purchase and identify the intent of the user at each point. Next, formulate likely queries that the user will make and the content that is most likely to satisfy them.

Creating a visual aid, such as the diagram below from PPG Web Solutions, or a spreadsheet will help you organize the process. Be sure to include an intent column; in the diagram below, I would place it after the Buyer’s Journey.


Why content? It is the most accessible form of SEO and content gives users a reason to visit and spend time. Besides, gone are the days of building content-light sites and hitting the high positions in Bing, Yahoo, and Google SERPs.

Your SEO well: Content

Content is popular now because it works, not only for lead generation and nurturing, but for SEO. Word Count is being touted as SEO hack for content; we now interrupt this blog post for a Public Service Announcement.

The issue with hacks is that people don’t scrutinize them to determine why they work. Granted, there is a correlation between length and SERP position:


But, correlation doesn’t equate to causality; if it did, you could write a keyword stuffed series of unrelated sentences and rank. As with intent, the question is why does content with this word count rank?

Simple answer: meat, it has meat for bots and humans to sink their teeth into. That’s good news because if you can provide around the same amount of substance in a leaner piece, you don’t have to worry about word count.

SEO currency: time

Google wants to offer relevant results to user queries, but they can only infer relevance. They use metrics to accomplish this and one important metric is time on site.

The rationale goes that the more active time spent on a site, as measured by Session TimeTime on Page, and Session Depth, the more closely they must have hit their mark…and you will be rewarded with a higher ranking.

This is where taggingpage layout and internal linking strategies come into play. For example, we include internal links on our site pages that point to relevant content and vice versa: just make sure it makes sense.

Can you spare a link? Link building and SEO

Everyone’s talking about link building because this is an authority ranking factor. It is similar to the belief that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, i.e. quality sites associate with other quality sites.

While a good theory, it hasn’t always been the case. There are many black-hat link building techniques that worked very well to artificially inflate page rankings. But with Fred, the latest algorithm update, their days are numbered.

Aside from creating content that others want to link back to, start building relationships with relevant content producers. The keyword is build: read their work, provide sincere feedback to build rapport and DO NOT ask for a link when you first reach out.

I cannot tell you how many people have requested a link without reading our content. It is lazy at best…rant over. An easy way to find contacts is through paid tools such as Followerwonk and Buzzsumo; or, if you are the do-it-yourself type, try a web scraper.

Let’s get a little technical: Schema markup

You can do something right now that most publishers are not bothering with: implement schema markup on your site. You may have heard about it in terms of rich snippets that provide more information within individual search results.

But it’s more. As Kissmetrics puts it, “Schema tells the search engines what your data means, not just what it says.” For instance, Top Gun can refer to a naval aviation school and a movie. Schema markup provides search engines the context they need to accurately place it…


…and it’s not that hard to implement. You can do it manually via HTML Microdata, JSON-LD or one of hundreds of plug-ins available. Note: it can be somewhat difficult to implement with certain WordPress themes.

Sustainability is in: Shift your SEO focus to the long-term

If you have read this far, congratulations: I have not provided hacks or step-by-step tactics on how to improve your SEO. That is not what you need because hacks and tactics have a shelf-life; they become irrelevant.

For example, it is only a matter of time before everyone is using Schema markup and any edge you gained from it will disappear. Besides, it is not really a hack and something that search engines actually support.

No, what you need is a mindset that will help you build sustainable SEO, one of curiousity, focused on providing value, and strategic. Build out your buyer’s journey, plot each stage, identify intent, formulate queries, develop content and build links. See you down the road.

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1 comment

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Lawanda on May 22, 2017 at 6:03 am

This forum needed shiknag up and you've just done that. Great post!

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