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May 10, 2010
The SEO Devil Is Not in the Details
 

I answer a lot of SEO questions every day for our SEO newsletter. A pervasive theme that runs throughout these questions is: "If I do this, will it help, or will I run the risk of hurting my site in the search engines?”

Part of this fear and uncertainty comes from a misunderstanding of SEO and the notion that any small thing you do could cause a permanent increase or decrease in search engine rankings. This is rarely the case.

SEO details that people have questions about are many, like how many words or characters should be in a title tag? How many keyword phrases can I optimize a page for? In what order should those words be placed? How many times should  a keyword phrase be in the copy? Should I use a Meta keyword tag? Should file names have keywords in them? Should I use headlines H1 tags or H2 tags?

Big-picture SEO is where it’s at

Rather than worrying about each and every tiny detail of SEO which may or may not even have an effect on your bottom line, you’d be much better off to think about the big picture. Important things like the popularity and authority of your Web site, as well as its overall appeal to your target audience, are the things that will not only increase your rankings in the search engines, but your conversions as well.

The details are important in aggregate, but not individually. When you get caught up in the trivialities, you will lose your focus on what does matter. For instance, one of the most important SEO tactics that need to be performed before nearly anything else is in-depth keyword research, yet this step is often skipped. Without knowing which keyword phrases people use to find products or services such as yours, it certainly doesn’t matter what order your non-researched keyword phrases are placed in your Title tag!

If a page is buried so deeply within the depths of your Web site, it isn’t going to make a difference how many times you place a given keyword phrase (researched or not) because the page itself won’t be given much weight by the engines anyway.

There are no rules when it comes to SEO

If you make an SEO mistake on your site, it isn’t going to be banned. Too few or too many words somewhere is not going to land you in Google hell. While testing out different Title tags to drive more traffic to your Web site is good, there is no 100 percent perfect Title tag. You could write 25 different versions and still have the same rankings.

This doesn’t mean you should go out and try to trick the search engines. It simply means that if you’re truly making your site work better for people while also keeping the search engines in mind, you can try different things -- it’s your site! Never be afraid to change things up -- you can’t hurt anything permanently.

Just remember that rankings go up and down at any given time for many different reasons. Don’t confuse normal ranking fluctuations with something that you may have done on your Web site. Making your headline an H1 may or may not have caused the higher (or lower) ranking. There’s a good chance that the difference would have occurred anyway.

Rather than being a numbers game, great SEO is about building up credibility and trust for your brand and your Web site. This, in turn, will naturally help it in the search engines as you work on (but not obsess over) the details. 


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As an SEO Consultant, Jill Whalen has been providing her no-nonsense, practical SEO advice since 1995. If you learned from this article be sure to sign up for Jill's popular High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter to keep up with the latest information in the ever-changing world of SEO. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen, "Like" her at Facebook, and "Circle" her on Google+.

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