Things that work for one site are tanking traffic on another. There are no more “best practices.” There is no list of things anyone can tell you to do for guaranteed or even predictable results.
Those days are long over.
That uncertainty makes doing search things feel high-risk. But risk is two-sided, you have:
- the risk of losses (of committing resources and it not working out)
- the risk of missed returns (of not committing resources and becoming harder and harder for your audience to find)
Here are some ways to mitigate that uncertainty:
A) Question your assumptions.
Question that something you read about that worked in a specific situation will work for your site now.
There’s a bad ass self help lady named Byron Katie whose developed a process she calls, “the work.” Part of it entails checking your thoughts/ beliefs, and then asking yourself, “is this true?”… “Can I know this is true?”
The answer is almost always “no.”
And there is a lot of solace to be found in not knowing things (like not having to deal with the fallout of making assumptions).
Let’s say you make a change and at the same time there was a Google core algorithm update. The easy assumption to make is that your change worked.
Simply not making these assumptions puts you way ahead of the curve when it comes to search.
B) Do your research and test every non-trivial change.
If you’re a top dog
If you’re a top dog for your subject matter, you have thousands of pages, and 100k+ in monthly unique visitors, consider putting an SEO A/B testing methodology in place.
If you have large organizations competing on the same terms as you in Google, it’s a missed opportunity to not have the leg up of an AB testing framework, or a liability to not have one if they already do.
They make a bad move, they roll it back. They make another bad move, they roll it back. They make a third move, it beats the control, and they add a consistent 8% traffic across 25% of pages on their site. Rinse. Repeat.
If they’re doing that while you’re making best guess changes, you won’t be a top dog for long.
If you’re not a top dog
Testing doesn’t have to be incredibly intimidating or all that sophisticated. You don’t even need all that much traffic.
The impact of your changes in Google results happen on a page-by-page basis. That means you can test changes across a series of similar pages and leave the rest the same to better determine effects. Even if you need 1000 visits from search to see an effect, you can get that number if you’re spreading the test across a swath of pages.
How many pages do you need? Depends. But often you can apply changes to as few as 50 pages with a control of another 50 pages. Imagine changing 50 pages title tags, or “revising” a randomly selected 50 pages for clarity of heading tags around topic matter.
At the very least, it’s a good practice to annotate changes you make in Google Analytics and set a calendar reminder to check on effects later.
Even if you aren’t ready for the “assume nothing, test everything” ways of the world today, this is a most excellent habit driven change you can make right now. Most don’t.
C) Focus deeply on serving your users
I love this one. It’s hokey and cliche and true all at once.
Because you’re a person and your audience are people, you will always have an advantage over those larger than you.
You aren’t beholden to checking your ethics at the door for a boss or shareholders. You aren’t worried about not getting your bonus this year. No one’s breathing down your neck to squeeze every last dollar you can out of your users with retargeting chat bots.
You get to focus on serving your people.
More often than not, this approach benefits your search traffic. And if it doesn’t, it’s hard to imagine regretting putting your users over algorithms.
That said, Google is trying to solve for the user. You are trying to solve for the user.
If you’re doing an excellent job for your audience and not seeing corresponding search visibility, you’re missing something. At that point it’s worth trying to understand why from the perspective of search. Some possibilities:
- Crawlability issues? Those can hurt user navigability too.
- Broken backlink profile from a botched site redesign? Users coming from referral traffic will continuously land on 404s on your site.
- Something your competitors have figured out that you haven’t? Probably worth investigating because you can’t help users you don’t have.
Sometimes Google is right. When you disagree, play detective and figure out why.