Search engine optimization is an essential part of contemporary web design and development. The likelihood of a website, without SEO, being found online is comparable to finding a needle in a haystack. There is simply too much competition online (more than a billion other websites to be precise) to only rely on search engine algorithms to bring visitors.
Drawing in the largest possible user base requires being featured on appropriate SERPs as one of the top results, and this is only possible through planned optimization techniques. The methods used for SEO are numerous and varied.
Over time, some strategies became deprecated, while others rose to prominence. Among them, there are those that can be implemented without much worry and more speculative ones that require a careful weighing of risk versus reward.
There is no foolproof SEO strategy, however, each method should be considered according to the particular circumstances to determine whether it’s worth putting into action. It should be noted at the outset that the greatest risk when it comes to SEO is not having any at all.
While it is possible to rank well on strengths of the website alone without any additional optimization, competitors hosting well-built, as well as optimized websites, will inevitably rank higher.
Since the majority of SEO-related resources online deal with ‘surefire’ strategies with 0% risk involved, for this article we have decided to give a more risk-centered overview of SEO practices. We have focused both on strategies which are riskier as well as on regular SEO methods, but from a risk-conscious perspective.
#SEO Tactic 1 – Develop for Mobile First
For a long while, it was common knowledge that people access the internet from their desktop computers. This meant that websites were developed and designed for bigger displays, with mouse and keyboard as principal modes of input. The usability of a website on portable devices was of secondary concern.
Now that mobile web browsing has overtaken its desktop counterpart in the number of users, there is an argument to be made that websites should be primarily optimized for mobile users. Google’s soon to be implemented mobile-first index is a sign that things are going in this direction.
So, does this mean that desktop support should be scrapped? The situation is a bit more complex. While it is true that more people are browsing the web while on the move, this does not necessarily mean that each and every website has a predominantly mobile user base.
For example, map and navigation sites are clearly used more often in portable devices. But sites that offer high-definition streaming services are more likely to be accessed from stationary setups with larger screens.
Now imagine if the situation was reversed. Both Google Maps and Netflix would have a lot to gain by switching their design targets. However, switching priorities in this way can be a perilous move because it risks alienating your existing user base, and no one can guarantee that a new one will replace it.
The risk of switching focus to mobile at the expense of desktop users can be significant, but it can reap great rewards as well. The likelihood of mobile platforms becoming less relevant with time is extremely low, so while targeting mobile might be risky short, it becomes negligible in the long run.
#SEO Tactic 2 – Hire Third-Party Content Writers
Search engine providers continually stress that search rankings are ultimately determined by quality content. If a website offers potential users something of value, it will naturally rise to the top given enough time. However, creating a website takes many different skills, and there is no guarantee that content creation is among the strong suites of the people involved.
Technical and off-site optimizations can only take a website so far if the writing is not on par with the rest of the site. This is where content creation outsourcing comes into play. If there are no dedicated content creators on a website’s development team, hiring third-party writers can be a viable solution.
Freelance writers, or specialized white label SEO companies, can significantly improve the content portion of a website. There is a risk involved in doing this, however, third-party writers can vary greatly in terms of skill. The fact that someone is hiring content creators might indicate they lack the ability to differentiate good content from bad content. This can lead to the situation where hired writers are producing content that is worse than what can be created in-house.
On the flip side, there are many talented writers online just waiting for the opportunity to show off their skills. Finding them might take going through several sub-par ones, but the effort can pay off greatly in the long run.
#SEO Tactic 3 – Implement Site-Wide Design Changes
All major players online including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Steam, Netflix, etc. implemented multiple site-wide redesigns before settling on their current appearance and functionality. Just like a writer’s first story, the website design you start out with is likely not the best one, in part due to the lack of user feedback.
A badly designed website can still pull through on the strength of content alone, but a well-designed one can easily rise to the top of relevant SERPs. In principle, there are two ways of implementing design changes.
The first is to add changes incrementally over a longer period of time. The other, riskier route is to completely redesign the website from scratch. The second approach has the potential to dramatically increase its search engine rankings over a short period of time.
However, drastic changes of this sort can have a negative effect on the existing user base if they prefer the old design. It is a careful balancing act to find a design which will satisfy everyone, but the influx of new users will make it worth it. It should go without saying that whatever changes the redesign involves, it should be done with SEO in mind. It is one thing to create good-looking, functional website, and another to make sure it ranks well.
#SEO Tactic 4 – Modify the URL Structure
There are a lot of little technical tweaks webmasters can make to help a site rank better, and optimizing the URL structure is one of them. The problem is, if this is done incorrectly, search engine rankings could drop significantly and it could take a long time to make a full recovery.
For example, there are a lot of sites with URLs that don’t explain what the page is about at all. Luckily, changing the URLs to make them more SEO friendly and meaningful to your audience is not difficult.
Using appropriate keyword phrases in the URL can have a significant impact on search engine rankings, as well as on UX. After changing the URLs comes updating the XML sitemap and resubmitting it to the search engines through the various webmaster tools accounts.
This alerts the search engines to the changes in the site and invites them to crawl it once more. After implementing the above changes, an effort should be made to frequently track rankings, in addition to keeping an eye on search results to see when the search engines show the updated URL.
The latter can also be done through third-party services specializing in SEO tracking, reporting, and research.
#SEO Tactic 5 – Re-Consider Link Building
Having other websites link to yours has always been an effective way to increase authority with search engines and consequently improve site rankings. However, link building can be fairly risky if not done properly.
The danger lies in the fact that in recent years, search engines like Google have cracked down on practices that they have deemed to be web spam. These so-called ‘black hat’ tactics are not limited to automatically generated links, but can also include low-quality links created manually in an effort to hedge results in favor of the back linked website.
If there are low-quality links pointing back to a website, Google’s algorithms may interpret that as manipulation and penalize the site. Therefore, it is really important here to adopt an appropriate link building mindset before starting, as this can truly make or break any link-building effort.
To put it simply, a website only wants links from relevant sources. These kinds of natural links are the backbone of any genuine link-building effort. Reexamining and rewriting website content to create something of value first is the necessary first step of developing natural links. Once that is accomplished, organic link growth will take care of the rest.
The tactics we have outlined above can provide significant search engine ranking improvements if they are implemented carefully. Before trying them out, however, it would be wise to check with Google’s webmaster quality guidelines, which outline their stance on the usage of particular SEO techniques, as well as penalties for their misuse.
Not all these tactics provide the same result and it is ill-advised to try them all at the same time. Consider only using one strategy at a time, first finding out more about what it involves, and then implementing and gauging its impact.