The Most Important SEO Question

 Posted by on May 14, 2016
June 29, 2016

If you are learning about SEO, you have discovered that there are several differing opinions about, well, everything. There are good SEO theories to be found, but many are not really tested or researched before they are sent out into the wild where they are repeated and widely accepted as facts – even when they make no sense.
As you work on SEO for your website or listen to your consultant’s ideas, you should be asking questions about every piece of SEO advice or alleged best practice that comes your way. You are probably already asking questions that start with “what”, “where”, “how many”, “how often”.  Are you also asking “why?”

How can you tell which SEO tips are worth doing and which are nonsense?

Question Everything!

Asking the most important SEO question will help you find the right answers to rest of the questions.

Ask: “Why?”

There is a phenomenon where normally intelligent, rational people seem to cast aside logic while in front of a computer screen. Normally it is noticeable in behavior like clicking the OK button to confirm a message you didn’t really read. Anyone is susceptible to it, not just your grandparents. If you just slow down and ask “why would Google do this?” or “why would a search engine favor this?”, you can cut down on the wasted time and frustration that comes with doing your own SEO.

Instead of trying to guess what Google would do, think about what YOU would do if you were Google. Tweet this

“If I were a search engine…”

The main objective of Google’s search engine is to give its users the best answers to their search queries. It’s about helping people. Google has hundreds of ranking factors to determine what is the best or most useful result for each search based on relevance, quality, and popularity. All of those factors are not going to be listed anywhere, but there is no reason to think that the ranking factors are just random things that someone pulled out of a hat. Google has a good reason for every one of those ranking factors and “we just felt like making webmasters jump through some hoops” is not one of them.
Ask: “Why would Google want that? How would it help them benefit their users?”
You want Google’s users to become your users, so ultimately it helps you when you help them.

Let’s look at just a few of the more commonly held beliefs about what Google wants, about which nobody asks why.

Why would Google want you to…

…write lots of blog posts – every day if possible?
(I’ve gone over this before here, in case you missed it.)
Very frequent blogging makes sense if you are running a news site or a business which is engaged in a high volume content marketing strategy. But blogging daily or even weekly makes far less sense for a business which have little news, or are in a field where sharing expertise is not really going to help anyone.
Think about it: Why would a search engine want or need lots of content from you if you don’t have anything new to say? It wouldn’t. Filling a blog with repetitious or otherwise useless filler does not help anyone. With quality algorithms like Panda, too much filler can actually keep a site down in the search results.
So, why are you writing that blog post? Is it because you have something to say or is it because you think you have to post something?

…get as many links from other sites as you can?
If ranking in Google was simply a matter of which site has the most links, SEO would be easy and nobody would use Google because the search results would be nothing more than a link spam scoreboard.
Yes, Google does still use links as one of its hundreds of ranking factors. But it isn’t looking for just any old links. Links are like endorsements, so you want to earn some well-deserved endorsements from other reputable and trusted websites. Google uses links from other sites to determine not only popularity, but also how to get a better idea of the subject matter of your page and website. The best links are not going to be found in the thousands, hundreds or even dozens. It is better to have links from a small number of very credible sites which are at least somewhat relevant to yours than it is to have thousands of links from sites that nobody would trust or like.
Instead of asking how many links or where to get them, ask “Why would Google want to use these links to rank my page?”

…use your main keywords on every page, especially in the titles?
I don’t really want to get into yet another rant about the obsession with keywords, but here we go. At some point in the SEO process, you are going to come up with some key phrases which you should be sure to use on your page in a way that will help that page rank well for that keyword. Please note that I said “page” not “site”. When optimizing a page for a keyword or a topic, it is best to make sure you don’t also have several other pages which seem to be optimized for that keyword, too.

Fortune cookies in bed

Don’t let SEO confusion turn your blog into fortune cookies… IN BED!

If you are trying to figure out ways to work your favorite keyword into the text of every blog article or page on your site, you are doing it wrong. The idea is that Google wants to show the best possible page as an answer to a search question, not the site that contains the most random uses of a particular phrase. If you have 40 blog posts that all have “blue widgets” tacked on to the end of the title and randomly stuck into the body text, Google may not show the one you want – and you may even end up with a lower ranking for your otherwise good page if the whole site’s quality is brought down by keyword stuffing.
Did you ever go to a Chinese restaurant and play the fortune cookies in bed game where you read the fortune and add “in bed” to the end of it? That can be pretty funny, but you don’t want your blog titles or content to be like that. Google doesn’t want that, either. Why would they?

There a many, many more examples. Link out to high authority sites from every blog post no matter what. Don’t link to any other sites no matter what. Social signals are counted so pay Facebook to boost posts to random people. Start using (insert new shiny object here). Never use (insert no longer shiny object here)…
You will have a much better time working your way to the top of the search results if you stop, think, and ask “why” every time you find a new bit of SEO advice.

WWGD (What Would Google Do)?
Doing SEO the right way is not always easy. You can make it easier by making choices based on critical thinking rather than emotion or blind faith.
Instead of trying to think like an algorithm, try to think like the makers of that algorithm who want to provide the most relevant and useful answers to its users’ queries.
If you were Google trying to give search engine users the best possible experience, what would you want to find on a web page? Why?

“Why does your site deserve to be number one?”

When I first start to discuss what I can do to help a business, I will usually ask that sometimes difficult question. The point is that “because we have to” is not an answer that is likely to lead you down the right path. Think about what makes your business or website special. Why should Google show your site above all the others? If you can’t answer that, we know what to work on first – finding the answer!
Let’s get started.

  • Jerry B.

    You know you get your blog content ideas from my SERoundtable comments.