Many “best practices” have come under threat as more and more “wins” do not hold across sites. They are situational, not reproducible. That lack of portability means there is no free lunch.
Most low hanging fruit is “fixing” something: crawl issues, using the default CMS settings, getting off bad hosting, getting off the long road a nearsighted approach to content organization puts you on.
Most reliably predictable “wins” come from putting the work in while following best practices from both tactical and strategic standpoints.
Do a proper site audit
This has two parts: a content audit and a site health check.
You can do both yourself or hire someone to do this.
Content audit: Content formats, pages, posts, internal linking, subject matter distribution, hero/hub/hygiene breakdown, and effectiveness. I’m still working on a good DIY content audit process for y’all. We’ll get there!
Technical health check: Often, you do not need a full technical SEO audit, but you do need to understand the key structural problems with your site. A good SEO can do a quick check in an hour. That will determine how much further investigation is needed.
It’s like getting your vitals taken. If your blood pressure is good, you’re probably okay. If not, it can wreck your heart over time. Similarly, one dynamic content issue can wreck the ability for your site to rank properly.
Similarly, you can have your hosting support check your server logs for issues, you can run your own speed tests (my favorites here and here), you can set up Google Search Console and poke around for errors and issues, you can download Screaming Frog for free and run a check on up to 500 URLs of your site, then browse the URLs crawled to see if anything doesn’t look like a page you intentionally created.
Implement an SEO testing framework
Methodically try things on sections of your site, and if they outperform control sections of your site, keep them, otherwise revert.
This requires a lean, disciplined, and flexible approach to thinking about your website as a living and breathing thing, as opposed to a static one time commitment to a web development project plus a way to add content.
Why discipline? Because it needs to be systematic and detail-oriented. You don’t want to double your traffic and cut your conversions in half – that’s not a win.
So you need:
- an understanding and way to measure what matters:
- at the very least – traffic, subscriptions, sales
- in a perfect world – canaries, that is, leading indicators like quality of engagement, user satisfaction, any audience signals that will show danger
- a testing framework:
- at the very least – a way to annotate changes and an alert to check analytics after a predetermined amount of time
- in a perfect world – you have enough traffic, pages, budget to justify SEO + CRO A/B testing
The moment you try to tactically test things without a framework in place, or without an expert SEO there to help you sidestep the landmines, is the moment you’ve already lost.
Too often, I’ll give advice to a client or friend, they’ll take it, and then when I follow up to see what impact it had, they don’t know. They never took the time to check.
The long term strategic best practice is to do the things that benefit multiple dimensions of your business.
In essence, do the things that Google loves that, even if Google disappeared tomorrow, would still be worthwhile.
If it generates momentum in an array of dimensions that all generate their own returns irrespective of Google, you’re good. This could be building an influential content library, key relationships, and referral traffic sources.
The overlap between the things that Google loves that also are beneficial enough to do without thinking about Google, are typically the hard things.
That in turn makes them hardest for others to replicate.