Correlation, Causation and Other Fringe SEO Topics

The other day, I came across this article on SEOMOZ.  In this article, the author concludes that:

Over the last decade, in case after case of marketers optimizing for the causal elements of Google’s algorithm, this pattern of short-term gain leading to long-term loss continually occurs. That’s why, today, I suggest marketers think about what correlates with rankings as much as what actually causes them.

google-logoI definitely understand the author’s point.  Ten years ago, it was widely known within the SEO community what the main variables were in the Google algorithm.  Optimize your title tags, meta description tags, meta keywords tags, throw in some content and you were good.

Not so anymore.

Now, the Google algorithm is so complex that it is impossible to assess what factors are impacting rankings.  I do think that this decline in the ability of SEOs to determine the factors impacting the Google algorithm has led to the “great hypothesization” of the SEO industry.

SEO blogs are just full of speculation on the many factors that might be driving rankings.  Speculating on some new SEO algorithmic factor might drive eyeballs.  But, does it really do anything more than take SEOs and marketers away from their real mission of improving rankings and revenue?

In this highly complex SEO world that we live in, I think it’s key to simplify SEO.  K-I-S-S is more important now than ever.  Instead of “Keep it simple stupid”, I would like to recommend, “Keep it super simple”.  At the core, there are certain SEO fundamentals that will not be going away anytime soon.  

  • Get your title tags right
  • Optimize your meta description tags
  • Get quality, unique content on pages
  • Implement effective internal linking
  • Be consistent with content

I would always start with these.  90% of sites that fail to achieve rankings fail in these areas.

Sure, you need external links.  Gotta’ have it.  But, these links are just getting harder and harder to acquire.  And, frankly, the risk to Brands in acquiring them is now too great.  These are too easy to uncover – and not worth the risk.  In this environment today, I think that Brands that play in this space are crazy.  Sure, there are many effective gray and black hat methods.  But, if you have a site that is worth anything, you probably don’t want to be in this space.  Over time, I think you just have to keep investing in the fundamentals – including content – and work toward partnerships and content efforts that will lead to links in the long-run.

Once you nail down the fundamentals, I do think it’s helpful to think like Google.  In this discussion over correlation/causation, you can’t take action every time you here some theory that the Google algorithm may be factoring in “x” element.  Can’t change your strategy and direction like that.

But, it is helpful to think “big trends”.  For example, when the Google algorithmic update began to favor sites on mobile that have a better mobile experience in 2014, it’s clear that this is a priority for Google.  So, it’s important to note that and make sure your site has the best mobile-optimized experience possible.

Also, given Google’s concerns about security (e.g., the refusal to pass keyword data to the site), it would not surprise me if Google either is or will give more favorable positions to https sites in the future.

Either way, these are large trends.  These are trends worth noting and preparing for.

In addition, it’s worth noting the even larger objective of Google:  giving people the best user experience possible so you will keep coming back and giving Google more money.  So, what does that mean to you?  To me, it means that the top sites served up mesh with the user’s intent.  What’s a good indicator of whether the site matches up with the intent?  I would say “bounce rate”.  If people are coming back to Google after clicking through the SERPs, that’s probably a good indicator that the result did not match up with the user intent.  So, what would I do?  Make my site as sticky as possible to keep the bounce rate down.

I point all of this out to say that it is easy to go down the path of present and future-proofing every time you hear of a “new theory” about some factor that is loosely correlated with rankings in the Google algorithm.  But, you can’t waste your time on that.  Focus on the fundamentals, first.  Then, think like Google.  Listen to what Google does more than what it says.  And, focus on the factors that contribute to the core objective of Google to provide for the best user experience possible.






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