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Ethical SEO: A Four-Step Guide to Improved Search Results

If you have had a website for any length of time — or even if you don’t have a website at all – you’ve likely been inundated with spammy emails from less-than-reputable sources promising to get your site to the top of search engine results. Many of them will purport to have conducted an analysis of your site and are keen to share their report with you about how they can dramatically improve its performance.

Ignore these emails. There’s a very good chance that implementing their practices will not improve your SEO. In fact, it is far more likely to severely impair your site’s search performance, and may even get your site delisted altogether.

Even if they resist these offers, however, many website owners are still leery about trying to actively improve their search engine results. They have heard scary stories about how Google is constantly amending its algorithm to defeat and even punish active efforts at search engine optimization. While it is true that Google is in a constant battle against those who would try to game its system, there are several ethical SEO tactics you can and should implement, and that Google itself would encourage.

1. Put your user at the centre of everything you do
Google, in a nutshell, is optimizing for user experience. Put simply, everything you do on your site should make it easier for users to find the information they are seeking. Don’t bury it under a flurry of display ads at the top of the page. Don’t bombard users with strong-arm sales messages. Try to anticipate what your visitors need, and then answer their questions, provide the information they need, and make it easy for them to move through your sales process.

2. Take care of the technical fundamentals
There are technical and structural issues related to website design that, if not done correctly, can significantly impair your search engine results. If you update your site, for example, and the URLs of some pages have changed, you need to create a 301 redirect, a bit of code that tells Google where the content can now be found. Similarly, you need to be thoughtful about the page title tags you use. They are one of the most important on-page elements Google considers, and so should be unique, accurate and brief.

There are several other technical fundamentals that need to kept in mind; fortunately, any competent web developer will be thoroughly familiar with what needs to be done here.

3. Forget about search engine optimization (SEO) when creating content
I know it sounds counter-intuitive but I have long preached that content developers need to set aside SEO objectives when they are creating content. My conviction is that if the content you create tells the story your users need to hear in a straightforward and natural manner, you have inherently optimized your content for search. On the other hand, if you are overly preoccupied with SEO — such as making sure that the proper search terms appear with sufficient frequency — you will torque the content out of all recognition, thereby defeating rule No. 1 above.

4. Mobile optimization is becoming increasingly crucial
Among other things, the Hummingbird algorithm update that Google released last year recognized that more and more people are using mobile devices for search, and it placed a far higher premium on how well a site functions on such devices. This means it’s a very good idea if your website uses responsive design, which ensures it is properly programmed to display content differently depending on which device visitors are using to view it. With an abundance of different screen formats and operating systems, this is no trivial matter.

Similarly, people are looking for different kinds of information when they are on the move than when they are surfing at home. Your Google Analytics account can tell you what your mobile visitors most want to see; make it easy for them to find it.

The bottom line
The best news is that effective internet marketers have been following these rules for as long as internet marketing has been a practice. As in all business endeavours, putting your customers’ interests foremost and dealing with them in an honest and transparent fashion is always the best long-term strategy.

What has been your experience with effective — and ethical! — SEO techniques? Share your best practices with us in the comments section.

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