Portent Staff Survey: “What’s your biggest question(s) about SEO?”

Question Cards

Recently I did a survey of our staff here at Portent to see if anyone had any questions about SEO they wanted answered.

I made the survey anonymous using Survey Monkey, because sometimes people feel more comfortable asking a question without their identity being revealed. In the spirit of sharing and transparency, we decided to post the results of our survey right here on the Portent blog.

So – how’d I do with my answers? Do you have any additions you’d like to make? Any strong disagreements? Don’t worry, I can handle it if you don’t agree… if anyone needs me I’ll be in the bathroom crying.

SEO survey questions & answers

What are the top 10 easiest things a blogger could do on their own?

Presuming no SEO expertise on the part of the blogger in question, here are some fairly easy tips to help with SEO:

  1. Before writing, do some simple quick keyword research on the subject at hand and determine what topically-related keyword(s) people are using when searching Google. Tools to help with this are Google’s AdWords keyword tool, Google suggest (start typing a search, watch what Google suggests – or use Ubersuggest), Google Trends (look at the related terms and rising terms), and also do a search in Google then look at the “related searches” under the “show search tools” heading in the left sidebar.
  2. After completing step 1, use the target keyword in <title> tag, <h1> tag, in the meta description, and use in a natural and not-forced manner in the page content 1-3 times (that last part is a rule of thumb, not a hard and fast rule).
  3. Put a topically-relevant image on the page and name the image your-keyword.png (or whatever extension it is) and use the keyword in the image alt attribute.
  4. Use a good URI structure such as one of these Permalink structures:
  5. Use tags and categories appropriately. Example: blog theme = cooking, category = spicy recipes, tag = ghost peppers. Tags should be more specific than categories. Should you use your keyword? Maybe/probably; opinions differ here but Google seems to be fond of tag URLs for some reason. Don’t overuse tags, 1-5 is enough.
  6. Use good internal linking: link related blog posts to each other. Vary the anchor text, don’t try to be “too perfect.” Use a blend of targeted keywords and generic terms (such as “here” or “this article”). Use anchor text that makes sense and is not awkward to a casual reader.
  7. Add visible social sharing buttons – social overlaps with SEO because if people share your content, they may link to it, which can boost your page / site authority.
  8. Look at your Google Analytics Content > All Pages report; what content has been successful in the past? Write more content on popular topics – content that has had good engagement metrics. Note: never duplicate content or make “thin rewrites” merely for SEO purposes.
  9. Set up Google authorship – link your Google + profile to your blog. Eventually your picture will show up in Google’s search results and improve click-through. Use a good picture!
  10. View keywords that currently drive organic traffic to your site – look in Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and internal site search terms; mine this data for more content writing opportunities.

If Google consistently changes their algorithms, how are we certain the recommendations we give are the right ones which will benefit the client 6 months or a year from now?

Google does consistently, and constantly, change their algorithm. This is certainly something they do to best serve their users because Google’s revenue is mostly from AdWords clicks, and they want happy users who continue to use Google. And click on ads.

So in a sense, with respect to organic results, we’re chasing what Google is chasing and recommendations we make are, to some extent, evergreen. Examples of this include making sure that clients’ sites load fast, don’t have any technical barriers, roadblocks or SEO deal killers, and are optimized on-page/site with SEO best practices so that search engines can easily crawl and index those pages.

From that standpoint the recommendations we make today should for the most part still be good recommendations in 6 months or a year. Note: none of this should be interpreted to mean that SEO is unchanging, or that Google won’t make dramatic changes, or that the search landscape itself won’t undergo radical unforeseen changes. The basic foundations of relevance and authority will very likely stand the test of time even as tactical adjustments are necessary due to algorithm changes.

What is driving placement in Google search results so that I can tell my clients to do that?

Generally speaking (and presuming no technical barriers or problems exist) relevance and authority matter most.

When a searcher performs a search, Google is doing its robot-best to serve up the most relevant, satisfying results to the searcher. It’s extremely important for your clients to optimize their site for how people actually search for the product, service, cause, or issue they want to be found for in Google’s SERPs.

That means “getting inside the head” of their target market / audience and discovering how they search online. Organizations frequently talk about what they do using jargon or technical terms that their target market would never use in a Google search. Their website may even be rife with such jargon or technical terms… that their target market is not using in organic search.

Optimizing a website using those terms is of course only one of many recommendations that an SEO specialist will make, depending on the specific needs of that site.

Why does it take so damn long?

Why does what, specifically, take so long? Take longer than what?

I presume the question is asking why organic visibility and resulting traffic and conversions take longer than, for example, other methods such as well-managed PPC campaigns.

When you stop to think about it, it’s a fairly large undertaking to index, categorize, and rank the many documents that exist on the web.

In order to gain visibility and traffic from organic search, a website needs authority and relevance. The factors that influence authority and relevance such as garnering links from important and/or related sites and producing high quality relevant content – those tasks themselves require consistent effort.

Do rankings even really matter anymore? What about the whole personalized search thing?

For sure personalization, universal search results, local results, etc. have affected the SERPs (search engine results pages) layout and organic listings. That said, visibility does matter – how many times do you go past the first page of SERPs?

(I have my Google search settings at 100 results yet I still go past the first page).

For now I’ll set aside any discussion of whether people will bother to click on your result (even if you’re highly ranked). And I’ll also set aside any discussion of whether those people find what they’re looking for, much less trust, believe, or like on your site.

More to the point is the fact that rankings are not a business metric. Visibility is important; if no one finds you in organic search… you get the idea. But the more important metrics to pay attention to are engagement and outcome metrics in your Analytics reports.

Why are my search results less progressively less helpful every time Google has an algorithm update?

The helpfulness of a search query’s results is, to a large extent, ostensibly subjective. There are those who’ve publicly stated that updates such as Panda and/or Penguin have only marginally accomplished the goals of reducing spam in search results and thwarting the success of manipulative tactics.

Will a site with crappy content that’s been optimized outrank a site with stellar content that has not been optimized?

In the past, people have used SEO techniques and shortcuts to get crappy content to rank. The idea was to use all on-page optimization techniques but also game the algorithm by buying or otherwise procuring links fairly rapidly and typically with keyword-specific anchor text. These techniques, generally speaking, have been fairly successful.

The above is working less often than before due to ongoing Google algorithm updates such as Panda, Penguin, and others we surely don’t know about. Google is definitely aware of the fact that, for example, people have used “article spinning software” which takes a piece of content and replaces various verbs or other words with synonyms and so on; the net result can be dozens or even hundreds of “spun versions” of the original content which is then placed on various web properties linking to the main site.

Do I really need to input meta descriptions for all my blog posts?

Yes. I strongly encourage you to use well-written meta descriptions for all blog posts.

Here are some guidelines for optimal meta descriptions:

  • 150 characters or less including spaces
  • Include the page’s target keyword (it will be bold text in Google’s search results helping your listing to stand out to the searcher’s eye)
  • It should give the searcher a very good indication of what they’ll get after clicking through
  • As practicable, include a call to action and/or make it compelling

Is this really anonymous?

Yes, Josh, it really is; SurveyMonkey does not show me who asked any of these questions.

I’m curious about the influence of social on SERPs. Do we have any data or any correlations we can show clients that will help them to see that activity on Facebook / Twitter / Pinterest is playing a role in their keyword rankings?

Because rankings are not a business metric, I suggest that it’s better to tie social activity to metrics in GA – referrals/visits from social activity and associated engagement and outcomes (goals) data, rather than to try to tie that to SERP rankings.

There an excellent SEOmoz article here that does speak directly to your question of social as correlated with rankings; I suggest a careful read of this and not a quick scan in order to get all the data straight. It’s likely that social signals influence ranking in an indirect manner such as the more people who are exposed to a piece of (great) content due to social sharing, the more likely it is to garner links that do help with ranking.

I’ll end where I began here: it’s better to tie social activity to better metrics than rankings. Check your Google Analytics reports to see how your social activity is translating into traffic, assisted conversions, and goal completions.

The new HTML5 elements (i.e. <section>, <article>, etc.) are a big deal for accessibility. How do they play into SEO?

Examining the W3C documentation, it may be content in the <article> element will weighted more heavily by search engine spiders because that content is supposed to be “…a self-contained composition…” as opposed to the <section> element which W3C says is “…appropriate only if the element’s contents would be listed explicitly in the document’s outline.”

I’d suspect that as more sites use HTML 5 that Google et al. will evolve how they weight content in those sections and use <section> to get topic or especially sub-topic signals comparing that with the signals they receive from the <article> element to determine the relationship between content in those 2 elements in order to classify and index that content.

What is the single most important thing a website must have in regards to SEO?

Generally speaking – and crudely put – the single most important thing a website must have for purposes of SEO is relevant, index-able content.

That content must be valuable and unique, of course, and it’s best if the website has some sort of theme or main topic so that all the content “fits under a single umbrella” so to speak.

For the long and short term, for search engines and for humans, the single most important thing a website must have in regards to SEO is relevant high-quality content that is useful to humans and easily crawled and indexed by search engines.

Does a link in the first 100 words of a blog post really pass more authority than one in the middle of the content?

I presume we’re talking about how Google treats those links. And there are 2 possible scenarios – the link points to another page on the same site, or it points to different separate web property. Frankly, I doubt anyone outside of Google (and few inside) really knows for sure in both of those instances. My sense is that beliefs such as “only the first link passes link juice” etc. are not true and that there are more complex and sophisticated factors involved with how or even when and if a text-based link passes authority.

How few links should a 500-700 word guest post have to ensure our anchor text links pass the maximum authority to client sites?

Each page has a certain amount of authority or “link juice” to pass to another page. The more links on the page, the less authority each link passes.

Certainly we want to maximize our outreach and not undercut those efforts; I’d say don’t worry about including other links (to non-client resources) if they’re truly relevant and helpful to human readers of that content.

How does a link in the middle of a guest post compare to a link in an author bio appended at the end of the main copy compare to a link in an actual author bio box at the end of a post?

First, read the answer to the question above “Does a link in the first 100 words of a blog post really pass more authority than one in the middle of the content?” because that’s also relevant here.

Next, I’ll add that it’s quite likely that the link in the text is seen as more important than the links in author bio boxes.

How is optimizing a title tag and an h1 different? Should one be more catchy, the other more keyword-rich?

Ideally they should both be catchy and utilize the target keyword.  The main difference is space constraints (more on this below).

The <title> and <h1> should definitely smoothly relate to each other because if a searcher sees a search result (<title> tag is the search result “headline” and clickable blue link), clicks on that result, and the page headline (the content of the <h1> tag) is far different than the <title> tag in search results, that can create a post-click mismatch of the searcher’s experience with the pre-click expectation that was set in the SERP.

Another way of saying that is that the landing page headline should concur with the promise of the <title> tag in the search results to create a smooth experience, and the searcher feels like they found what they’re looking for.

For SEO purposes, the <title> and <h1> ought to both include the targeted keyword. Both SEO and searchers needs can and should be met when writing those tags.

Space constraints of the <title> tag: Google tends to display only 70 characters including spaces. After that they’ll either truncate or machine-replace the <title> tag (the latter is a more recent development announced by Google). If the company or brand name will be included in the <title> tag (typically at the end in most cases) then there’s even less space to work with.

The <h1> tag contents does not have this limitation so it can obviously be more expansive.


People will continue to search online. Whether it’s a search that’s typed or spoken (or maybe even, gasp! – thought someday!?), people will be searching the interwebz to find information, answers to questions, and to make purchases. Companies like Google will continue to strive to present searchers with the most satisfying results possible. Search Engine Optimization professionals will continue to bridge the gap by helping companies with their online marketing efforts. Here at Portent we believe that great marketing can save the world by connecting people to what matters. What do you believe?

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