I appear to have got a reputation as an SEO hater, especially since a post I wrote for Smashing Magazine. A lot of people misinterpreted the post as a call for business owners to stop hiring SEO people. As I went on to explain in my followup post this is not what I was saying.
Because the negative response I received was so strong I came away full of self doubt. Were my feelings that there were often more pressing areas to invest in than SEO unjustified? Could SEO really make that big a difference over just writing great content? I decided to do a little test and see.
I carried out the test on Boagworld. In many ways it made a good test case. It was a well established blog where I had been writing regular content for many years. However, at no point had I ever made even the slightest effort to improve my rankings. Could some SEO efforts on my part drive more traffic from organic search listings?
Setting up the experiment
The first step was to install Yoast’s much praised SEO WordPress plugin. Apparently this would do all of the heavy lifting from the code point of view and also guide me through the steps I need to take to optimise each of my posts.
I also installed a second plugin that tracked the performance of posts against certain keywords that I chose.
With these two plugins in place, it was just a matter of writing posts and watching what happened.
Generally speaking writing posts was business as usual. There were however a couple of changes I made.
Once I had picked my subject I went to Google’s Keyword Tool and researched appropriate keywords to target. Once I had picked a phrase that had sufficiently high traffic and low competition I wrote the post as normal.
On finishing the post I would fill in the appropriate fields that Yoast’s plugin had added to the bottom of the wordpress page. This included:
- Giving the post an SEO friendly title.
- Giving the post a meta description.
- Letting the plugin know the keyword phrase I was using.
The plugin would then scan the post and make some suggestions of how things could be improved. I would then go back through the post implementing changes where I felt they were appropriate.
It was necessary to make a judgement call over some of the recommendations because things like keyword density can make readability hard if overdone. However, I always endeavoured to get the plugins green dot of approval.
After that I added the url and keyword phrase I was targeting to the tracking plugin and sat back and watched.
Watching the data
Interestingly the experiment did seem to leave little doubt that these changes improved my rankings. I was able to rank in the top ten on a number of relatively highly trafficked search terms.
Furthermore looking at Google Analytics I was able to see a slow but steady increase in the amount of traffic coming from search engines. In fact there was an increase from 18959 visits in December (before I started working on SEO) to 24886 for April.
Even more interesting was the fact that both direct and referral traffic declined over the same period, showing that it wasn’t just that my posts were becoming better.
In my last post on SEO I made the following points:
- Website owners are unhealthily obsessed with their rankings on Google.
- We should be creating primarily for people and not search engines.
- The best way to improve your ranking is to produce great content that people link to.
- That great content is better produced in-house, rather than being outsourced to an agency.
- A good web designer can take you a long way in making your site accessible to search engines.
- Before you spend money on an SEO company, make sure you have the basics in place first.
I believe that all of these points still stand. That said, this little experiment has proved to me that (presuming the basics are in place) SEO is probably worth the investment. The additional effort involved was relatively low and the benefits have been obvious.
I guess the big question is; will I still continue optimising my posts for search engines now that my experiment is over? The answer is yes.