Because Google won’t tell us exactly how their search algorithms work (come on already Google!), oftentimes the answer we get in SEO is “it depends.”
While this is an unsatisfying answer, there are many valid reasons for it – different websites, different niches, different audiences, different competition, etc.
But what if I told you there was a foolproof SEO strategy you could leverage to succeed in SEO regardless of your vertical or type of business?
That would be great, right?
Well, this is possible and the only thing you must do is… keep learning!
OK, so that might not be as cut and dry of a strategy as you were hoping for, but it’s true.
Ongoing education is essential to SEO success.
It’s how the top SEO professionals, and the brands they manage, stay on top.
SEO is an ever-changing industry and landscape. The same rule that applies to search rankings applies to SEO savvy: if you remain status quo, you’re losing ground.
What would your SEO strategy look like if you were still following best practices from 2010? 2000? 1996 when search engines rose to prominence?
You would have keyword-stuffed pages and be chasing blog comment links, and you would not be performing in search.
As an SEO, to avoid getting left behind you must constantly educate yourself to keep up with the changing times and best practices.
Just Look at 2019!
To understand how rapidly SEO changes and why continuous education is necessary, we don’t have to look any further than this current year.
In 2019 alone, we’ve seen major changes and important trends emerge that have a drastic and lasting impact on the SEO landscape. These trends include:
- The evolution of how Google measures E-A-T and its significance in terms of search rankings.
- And Google’s continuous push to answer queries within the SERP and the emergence of zero-result queries.
This is not the entire list of everything that happened in 2019, but it demonstrates how quickly things can move in SEO. Let’s take a quick look at each of these developments.
The Influence of E-A-T on Search & Our Understanding of It
Right off the bat, I want to explicitly state E-A-T is not a ranking factor.
However, this does not mean E-A-T doesn’t influence rankings, or rather, our understanding of and investment in E-A-T influences our ability to rank.
Ryan Jones explains this concept well in a tweet from Pubcon:
remember when we talk about rater guidelines, EAT and YMYL aren't actual things in the algorithm. they're plain english ways to describe what groups of things in the algorithm are trying to do. #pubcon
— Ryan Jones (@RyanJones) October 10, 2019
We should be working to improve the expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of our site because these improvements correlate with the actual signals (content quality and backlinks) that Google is trying to measure with their algorithm.
While this all may seem somewhat ambiguous – I can hear Matt Cutts saying, “create good content!” – Lily Ray has done a great job of sharing actionable insights.
Some things you can do to improve the E-A-T of your website include:
- Improving your online reputation via third-party review sites.
- Minimizing ad placements on your site to avoid diminishing user experience.
- Being transparent about who your brand is and who the people are behind it, particularly the authors of your content.
- Citing credible sources and earning citations as a credible source.
You can see more of Lily’s helpful tips here, or check out these other helpful E-A-T resources here on Search Engine Journal:
- 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Google E-A-T Rating
- Google’s John Mueller is Asked About Links and E-A-T
- Google’s Mueller Asked About increasing E-A-T with Structured Data
Is Google Trying to Create an Answer Engine?
With the recent trends we’ve seen from Google, it seems that they are pushing more and more towards having an answer engine rather than a search engine – Google wants to answer queries within their platform, rather than provide links to external resources.
The idea of zero-result SERPs is a frightening prospect for SEO professionals who work to build search visibility and gain organic traffic from Google’s search results, and for some queries, this notion is already a reality.
Furthermore, there has been a rise in queries that show results but result in zero-clicks – obviously, this isn’t ideal for an SEO either.
This type of “future-casting” is a great example of why you need to be continuously learning and experimenting in SEO – you need to identify trends to understand where the industry is heading and how you can get ahead.
For example, if you’re targeting a keyword because it has a large monthly search volume, but it’s tied to queries with zero-clicks, you’re going to struggle to earn organic traffic.
Operating based on outdated assumptions (big search volume = big opportunity) can lead to ineffective and inefficient work.
These are just some of the changes and updates that we saw this year that demonstrate how rapidly the SEO landscape can evolve. If you’re not paying attention and leveling up your skills, you will be left behind.
Staying Informed with SEO
So how do you stay informed and continually grow your knowledge base for SEO?
The SEO community, in general, is great about collaborating and sharing information.
Since nobody really knows how Google’s search algorithm works exactly, it seems to foster a “we’re in this together” mentality within the SEO space where people share their tests and findings to help move the collective understanding forward.
Some of the ways you can tap into the community to support your ongoing SEO education include:
- Attending trade shows and industry events.
- Staying active on social media.
- And reading and watching online content.
Each of these channels provide opportunities to challenge your assumptions and further your SEO knowledge.
Trade Shows & Events
One of the best ways to keep tabs on what’s happening in the SEO industry is to attend trade shows and industry events.
The presentations at these events typically feature discussions and research from the bleeding-edge of SEO. These are the platforms where industry experts like to share their new studies and discoveries, and sometimes these shows even feature experts from Google sharing best practices and updates on search.
You can find a list of the top SEO events here on Search Engine Journal.
Paying for tickets and travel to these shows can get expensive.
So, If you’re unable to make it to the show itself, it’s always a good idea to follow the sponsored hashtag on Twitter and keep an eye out for recap posts.
While these options aren’t as valuable as going to the shows – you miss out on all the networking opportunities – social posts and recap blogs will keep you abreast of the biggest takeaways from the event.
Speaking of social media, you can learn a lot about SEO via social.
Twitter, in particular, has an active SEO community.
While 280 characters may not seem like enough space to have in-depth SEO discussions, the way the platform is designed, combined with an active community, makes for a great learning environment.
Twitter is often the place where updates and major changes to search rankings are discovered.
SEO pros from across the industry can share and compare the changes they are seeing in real-time, which makes it possible to spot trends and draw conclusions about how search results are changing.
In fact, Twitter often provides an opportunity to speak directly to Google employees. Some notable accounts you should be following include:
- John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google
- Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google
- Danny Sullivan, Public Search Liaison at Google
- Official Google Search Liaison
- Official Google Webmasters account
Outside of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn groups provide great platforms for SEO discussion as well.
There are also several great SEO forums, such as:
The key is to find the right group for your knowledge level and area of interest, and of course, you want to find a group that is active and start engaging yourself – often, the best way to learn more about an SEO subject or theory is by trying to explain it to someone else.
Quora is an excellent place to answer SEO questions and demonstrate, and test, your SEO knowledge.
There are also numerous SEO experts to follow that share industry news and insights daily. Check out Search Engine Journal’s list here to find some of the best and brightest minds in SEO to learn from.
As mentioned before, the SEO industry is great about sharing knowledge, and as such, there is never a shortage of fresh, quality SEO content.
Whether it’s a video, podcast, or blog post, there is always new, informative content available. News sites like Search Engine Journal provide the best of both worlds with in-depth, actionable blog posts as well as analysis of the latest developments in SEO.
I’d recommend subscribing to the SEJ Today newsletter to keep a pulse on the industry as a whole and to keep an eye out for content that may provide a solution to the current challenge you’re facing. The Moz Top 10 is another great resource that curates the best SEO content from around the web every two weeks.
Again, explaining SEO concepts is often the best way to learn more and writing your own SEO content is an effective way to increase your knowledge base.
Personally, I’ve learned much of what I know about SEO from conducting the necessary research associated with the post I write.
The process of writing an in-depth guide on a new topic requires a deep understanding of that topic, so if you want to learn something new, try writing a post about that concept.
Of course, if you’re not a writer or are looking for outside perspectives, there are many great SEO blogs to follow, and Search Engine Journal has a solid list here,
Test Everything You Learn with SEO Experiments
Really, the best way to expand your knowledge and challenge SEO assumptions is by doing the actual work and experimenting.
Again, no one outside of Google search engineers – and with all the machine learning, maybe not even them at this point – knows all the intricacies of the search algorithm, so even the most widely accepted SEO theories are still just theories.
You should always be tracking the results of your SEO efforts to make sure you’re working toward your goals, but you can also leverage these opportunities for learning experiences.
Learned about a new link building tactic? Test it on a small scale within your own campaign and measure the efficacy.
Heard about a new best practice for on-page SEO?
Implement the change on a subset of your pages and track the results.
The best way to learn is by doing, and it’s no different with SEO.
There are so many mitigating factors in SEO (different business models, different niches, different websites, etc.) that you need to take any best practice with a grain of salt anyway, so testing on your own site is necessary.
The key with SEO testing and experiments is to contain your test to a small sample size and then scale up as you see positive results.
Through continual learning (and testing of what you learn), you’ll ensure that you’re always following SEO best practices and implementing changes that improve the performance of your site in search.
While there is no “magic bullet” in SEO that will guarantee you success, through ongoing education, you can hone in on what has the largest impact on your website, overcome any challenges or obstacles, outmaneuver your competition, and the results will feel like magic!