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Search engine optimization can be described in many ways. One of the most apt analogies for SEO, especially moving into 2020, is comparing it to a game of chess. According to the US Chess Federation, about 8.6% of the world’s population or roughly 700 million people play chess and 81% of people associate chess with strategic thinking. Despite the many who play, the majority of these players will never reach even 1000 rating level which is considered to be a beginner’s strength.
Unfortunately, the same is true for companies practicing search engine optimization. While many “play the seo game”, very few organizations actually reach even a moderate level of mastery.
Search engine optimization involves equal parts of data analytics (or information) for decision making, strategic planning to establish a plan of attack / goals (for end game), and game pieces, which are equivalent to your website content which can be used in a variety of ways to influence the end game.
What many people don’t understand about search engine optimization is that it’s NOT primarily about how well you “optimize” your pages, and getting to be the number one result on Google (as opposed to page one) on Google is no longer as important as it once was. Page two results are essentially obsolete, a page one result, however, is likely to result in consistent traffic over time. When we use the term search engine optimization, we are really talking about search engine visibility. Search engine visibility, or organic visibility are the steps you take to help your website and business be more visible online organically.
Like chess, search engine visibility isn’t a “one move and you win” game – rather, it’s about making a series of coordinated moves, playing your “pieces” as your comprehension of the rules increases, and continually making moves based on the data to increase your chances of winning the game. With SEO, winning the game equates to being “seen” online by the people you actually WANT to see you. After all, if your moves are enticing the wrong people to visit your website, then these visitors are not very likely to convert. As a result, if your traffic isn’t converting, you are not making the best moves and the amount of conversion (or conversion rate) is essentially the score of the game.
To play well you have to understand how each piece moves and works together with the other pieces. Trying to figure out the strategy, and then implement each tactic alone as a business owner is like playing chess with just pawns. The pawn is seen as the weakest piece on the board. In their first move, each pawn has the option to move forward one space or two spaces. After the first move the pawn can only move one space, and the direction is always forward. You may have some limited success but it will not be sustainable in a competitive industry. In the book the E-Myth Mastery, author Michael Gerber discusses the different roles a business owner must play, and how understanding your strengths and your role, allows you to better support your business. Each chess piece has a different role, moves and strengths, and as one person you are often not able to carry out the roles of each piece to their full potential.
It’s not always a lack of knowledge, or lack of process, sometimes an inability to achieve success is simply because one person cannot carry out all the moves in an efficient manner. This is where other supporting partners such as marketing professionals can help by stepping into the roles that are not the best fit for you as the business owner. Even if you are able to carry out the majority of the roles yourself, the strategic plan must be developed. Do you understand enough about the game and the pieces to be able to develop a plan that will help you achieve visibility online? Think about your strengths as a business owner while considering the “moves” that search engine visibility requires.
Pawns, Rooks, Knights, Bishops, your King and your Queen – every single chess piece has its own moves on the board. An excellent chess player looks at all the pieces to see how they can function as one towards a common goal. The goal in this case is the organic visibility of your website and business online.
Think of pawns like basic optimization practices that keep you moving in the right direction, but are unlikely to achieve success on their own. When you begin using the other pieces, you are able to incorporate the more powerful aspects of search engine optimization such as technical seo, UX or user experience, and one of the most powerful pieces – content.
“Content is King” is a quote that is fairly well known and often used. The quote “content is king” is originally from an essay Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote in 1996. In it, he describes the future of the Internet as a marketplace for content.
Search engine visibility has ALWAYS been about content – and this isn’t going to change in 2020. This includes your website copy, your blogs, videos, podcasts, images etc. There are always best practices that can be used as the “rules” or “foundation” for playing the game properly. According to studies, 47% of consumers view 3-5 pieces of content created by a company before talking to a salesman from that company. If you think about a website and how it is put together, or the purpose behind it, typically your content is developed with your visitor in mind. You want the person coming to your website to know who you are, what services or products you offer and how they will benefit from these products and services. Properly developed content should generally lead to a conversion or sale.
Each action you take should support the “King”, or the content you develop to help you grow organically.
The skill levels of chess players and SEO experts is diverse because of the time commitment required in both to truly grasp not just the rules and concepts, but how to accurately apply the constantly changing tactics. In both chess and search engine visibility, if you stop learning your competitors will win the game.
Taking the time to research and plan effectively makes all the difference in the end results. This way you can adapt quickly when your opponents (search engines, competitors) act in unpredictable ways.
Unfortunately, there is no way to permanently “win the game”. Unlike chess, the rules related to SEO are constantly changing due to the increasing complexity of the algorithms and artificial intelligence that drive them. BERT, a recent major update made by Google is a prime example of this. The BERT algorithm (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) is a deep learning algorithm related to natural language processing. It helps a machine to understand what words in a sentence mean, but with all the nuances of context.
While the best practices won’t change, the rules will continue to be refined. As a result, if you have some success and become complacent with the results, you can fully expect the results to erode over time. The most relevant keywords and phrases are always changing, because the sophistication of the search engine users are always changing. Keyword research and analysis is something that MUST be a continuous process if you want to stay ahead in the game. Keywords and keyphrases are the primary way search engines understand your content. Therefore, if the words and phrases you target or include in your site no longer reflect what people are ACTUALLY seeking in the search engine, the search engines will eventually place more relevance on the content from another site – even though your content may be just as relevant to the end user.
Did you know? Google runs an AI research institute and has hundreds of published scientific papers?
Strong chess-players consistently make purposeful moves that are focused on achieving their objectives. These objectives essentially serve as part of the guiding strategy that help you to make moves with a strong purpose and guide your thinking-process in the right direction.
If you don’t keep your objectives in mind, you will waste a lot of time thinking aimlessly about moves that don’t serve a purpose. On the other hand, when you know what to aim for, you will have the necessary motivation to search for the best way to implement your plans. In chess, the goal is, of course, to checkmate the opponent’s king. But objectives are smaller, more manageable actions that work together to help you reach that goal.
SMART goals define criteria that can be used for setting marketing objectives. SMART goals are easy to remember since SMART is an acronym that stands for — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timelined.
Basically, search engine visibility is about the ongoing practice of setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic goals on a timeline. SMART can be applied to any visibility goals. When creating your plan, make sure that your SEO objective is clear – there are many objectives that will force you to think and plan differently.
The six most common objectives are:
Creating a brand identity is the most effective way any organization (startups, small businesses, agencies, nonprofits, etc) can gain a competitive edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Brands we recognize by name or by logo don’t happen overnight. A brand must be built and developed over time…and is in many ways like playing a board game. As you play often, you begin to develop a certain style that is recognizable to other players. This style can be your mannerisms, thought processes, even a lucky rabbit’s foot – all contribute to how you are seen as a player. A brand isn’t just your logo, or your name. It’s not ONE thing. Your brand consists of many things pulled together that bring a feeling of consistency, expectation and recognition from a consumer. Think about McDonald’s for example. The golden arches are just part of what is instantly recognizable. If you see the arches, you understand how the building will look, how the ordering process will work, what the menu options will be, and how the food will taste. All of this just from one symbolic image.
A few brand building activities –
Guest Posting: A great way to get your brand known on the web is to deliver GREAT content to share on other blogs. Guest posting (despite what some might tell you) is still a powerful way to get your name known in your industry. This doesn’t mean basic content. To get noticed it needs to be long (2k+ words), well written, noteworthy and attractive. This means no ugly stock photos! Take your time with the content and it is much more likely to be shared.
Infographics: Take a well-written article and turn it into a powerhouse infographic. This content often gets shared far and wide, making them a great tool for brand building and thought leadership. Canva is a great tool for creating beautiful infographics. If you need easy templates, you can also look to Envato Market, for paid infographics that can be edited with premium tools.
Local Partnerships: An often under-utilised brand building strategy is to get involved and partner with local businesses (this can be applied for other businesses as well as being very helpful for local businesses). Partnering with other local businesses to hold joint seminars and workshops, sponsor local sports teams, showing your brand on festivals and events will make a big impact, especially if you have the web presence to back it up.
We have seen websites of all shapes and sizes, from brilliant to completely dysfunctional. Your site may live solidly in the middle of the bell curve in this regard, however that doesn’t mean your site couldn’t stand to benefit from some amount of modernization. Just like all other technology, the technology of websites is constantly evolving and changing. Often times, elements of a site which were highly effective when a site was built lose their effectiveness over time; and depending on the nature of your business, you may not even realize how significantly even a small issue can affect your business.
While it may be difficult to fully comprehend and validate the decision to move forward and modernize, it is important to keep in mind that time flies as it relates to technology and user expectations fly right along with it. Your website is a 24-hour, 7-day a week representation of your organization online. It needs to properly showcase your brand, your message and your mission. It should drive results, rather than hinder your efforts.