Master the SEO Basics Before Following the Latest 2024 Trends
With the start of a new year, marketing’s favourite tradition is speculating about the hottest trends for the next 12 months. The discussions imply that these trends are the most important things to focus on for the year ahead and there’s always a strong bias in favour of the latest technology. Unfortunately, the emphasis on new trends often creates an unhelpful mentality of always looking to the future for answers, instead of focusing on what really matters now.
Marketing Has a Problem With SEO Trends
The marketing industry has an unhealthy relationship with SEO trends. It’s formed a habit of speculating about the next big thing, constantly promising that major breakthroughs are just around the corner.
Voice search was supposed to change everything, then it was chatbots and now generative AI is making all the headlines. Trends may come and go, but the SEO fundamentals are just as important as ever and companies should dedicate as much resource as possible to the core foundations: content, technical SEO, UX, etc.
This bad habit isn’t unique to marketing or SEO – it’s prevalent across tech-driven industries. In fact, AI hype propped up the entire stock market in 2023 but investment is already cooling as the tech falls short of expectations.
Marketers shouldn’t emulate the tech industry’s hype machine. Doing so, feeds into client expectations, suggesting they have to chase the latest trends to keep up. When, in reality, the things that matter most in SEO haven’t changed all that much over the past decade.
Master the SEO Essentials & Build from There
Google’s Gary Illyes, John Mueller and Martin Splitt emphasised this in a recent episode of its Search Off the Record podcast, raising a few key points:
- “If Googlebot cannot reach your site, or rendering fails miserably, or there are no tokens (words) on the site or a page, then there’s not that much that Google can do for you.” – Gary Illyes
- “What if quality is actually simpler than at least most people think? What if it’s about writing the thing that will help people achieve whatever they need to achieve when they come to the page? And that’s it.” – Gary Illyes
- “But this is the kind of stuff that everyone should be doing on their site, like reconsidering, ‘Do I actually need this content? Is this content still relevant? Can I combine this? Can I simplify it?’ I think that’s the kind of stuff that everyone should just be doing over time” – John Mueller
Throughout the episode, Gary, John and Martin poke fun at plenty of trends – current and past – including ChatGPT, other AI tools and voice search. The key point they keep coming back to is that too many marketers chase trends or get distracted by specifics, instead of concentrating on the fundamentals.
Gary sums this up by saying: “What I really wish is that people focused on the very basics, like basically how the internet works”.
What Do We Mean by the SEO ‘Basics’?
When we talk about the SEO basics, we’re not suggesting this stuff is easy. We’re talking about the stuff that really matters and excelling at the fundamentals is one of the hardest things to do in SEO. This is probably why many website owners seek easy answers from trends, hacks and other shortcuts.
As a starting point, there are three key SEO fundamentals you should focus on:
- Technical SEO
Technical SEO starts with making sure your website is crawlable and indexable for search platforms. It also ensures platforms like Google, Amazon, etc. have all the information they need to show your pages, product listings, etc. for the most relevant searches.
Finally, it optimises and maintains technical performance to make sure you’re giving search platforms and users everything they’re looking for – eg: working links, descriptive URLs, loading times, etc.
Call it content, call it messaging, call it whatever you want – at the end of the day, information is the currency of SEO. People click through to your website, your Amazon store, your app listing page, etc. for one thing: information.
The questions you need to answer are: what information are they looking for and what are they going to do with it?
Broadly speaking, you can break down information into two key categories: practical and motivational. Practical info is the information your audience needs; motivational info is what keeps them engaged, coming back and moving towards conversion.
Experience is the third key fundamental you need to prioritise in your SEO strategy. It doesn’t matter which keywords you optimise for or how well you match user intent if the user experience of your page saps all of the motivation out of users. Google knows poor experiences kill search sessions, which is why it has incorporated so many UX signals as ranking factors in recent years (mobile-friendliness, responsiveness, etc.).
Looking for Answers in the Wrong Place
Every year, new trends catch on in the SEO industry that lead website owners down the wrong path. For example, a few years back, a bunch of studies found the average word count for top-ranking pages was 1,400 to 2,000 words.
This was misinterpreted in a whole bunch of ways – namely that word count is a ranking factor and that Google boosts pages with 1,400+ words. Neither is true, but the trend caught on and there’s no telling how much time and money was wasted on cramming words into pages that didn’t need them.
Word count is not a sign that a page is thin content. You're the expert on your site's topic (or you should be), you can make a qualified call on what's helpful for users, and what's fluff. Don't use word count. https://t.co/lnuYObPiY6— I am John – 🍟 Say no to cookies, biscuits only 🍟 (@JohnMu) September 15, 2022
Stop Gambling Your SEO Budget on the Latest Trends
Chasing the latest trends is a dangerous habit and it’s a waste of resources that you could use to improve what really matters: the fundamentals that make a difference, year after year. If you’re struggling to master the SEO basics, Vertical Leap can help.