If you are an SEO consultant or working at an SEO agency, you may have come across clients who believe that a keyword-focused SEO effort is equivalent to a successful SEO strategy. They might present you with a list of keywords they intend to rank for and ask you how much you will charge for that.
Many businesses fall into the trap of thinking that SEO is solely about getting to the top of the search engine rankings for a particular keyword or set of keywords. However, this approach is not only outdated, but it can also lead to wasted time and resources. The truth is, SEO is about much more than just rankings.
SEO involves a comprehensive and strategic approach that focuses on the bigger picture of driving traffic, generating leads, and converting customers.
In the past, we failed to educate our clients on the limitations of such an approach and emphasize the importance of defining their website’s overall goal and target audience. We tried to, but the allure of quick wins and high search rankings can be powerful, and it can be challenging to convince clients of the need to take a more holistic approach to SEO.
The reality is that SEO agencies exist as businesses, and at the end of the day, we need to make money to survive. As SEO professionals, we must find a balance between meeting our clients’ requirements and delivering effective solutions.
Understanding Modern SEO
In today’s digital landscape, it is essential that we distinguish between outdated SEO ideas and modern approaches that drive tangible business results. In this article, we aim to shed light on some of the common misconceptions and client requirements surrounding SEO that have become outdated and ineffective. By doing so, we hope to provide a clearer understanding of the modern approach to SEO that focuses on aligning with overall business objectives, understanding user intent, and delivering valuable content that engages and converts the target audience.
Let’s look at some outdated SEO Concepts first
One problem with a keyword-focused approach
The trouble with a keyword-focused approach in SEO is that many clients do not fully comprehend which keywords to target.
For example, a car dealer may desire to rank for popular brand terms like Audi, BMW, or Mercedes. However, targeting these brand keywords often results in low engagement rates, as searchers may want to visit the official website or learn about the newest models.
More experienced SEO specialists may recommend keywords like “buy cars,” “buy Audi,” or “buy BMW.” But even these keywords can have a complicated search intent, with many searchers hunting for the nearest location.
A broader evaluation of Google search results exposes keywords as complex puzzle pieces that must fit perfectly with the site’s offerings and its intended audience’s search intent.
Keywords are an important part of SEO, but they must be appropriately and thoughtfully integrated into the overarching SEO strategy.
Another problem with a keyword-focused approach …
… is that some clients believe the SEO agency should only work on specific pages, optimizing title tags, meta descriptions, and rare cases warranting a tweak of headlines or even the rephrasing of existing content.
Such an approach shows a limited understanding of the comprehensive nature of SEO and fails to grasp the importance of creating valuable content that satisfies searcher intent and builds engagement.
Old fashioned Keyword-Optimization
This keyword-focused requirement of clients – if the agency does follow the call – often leads to “stubborn” focus on this very one keyword in all elements for the target page. The exact match keyword will be used in Title, Meta-Description, headlines and in every (or every second) paragraph on the page to proof to the search engine, that this one target page is relevant.
This neglects how people are thinking and how search engines know that people are thinking – in topics, not keywords. 15 years ago there was the SEO trend of “latent semantical optimization” starting to appear in Google SEO.
A few years later, SEO specialists re-discovered the information retrieval approach of WDF*p*IDF from a time before search engines existed, which they believed search engines might be using as well, to understand if a document was highly relevant for a topic apart from the exact keyword (or semantically close terms) were used.
But often SEOs focusing on an exact match keyword approach, forget to pay attention to both latent semantical and WDF-IDF approach.
Optimization of specific URLs only
While some clients have advanced their understanding of SEO, they may still have a limited mindset concerning the optimization of specific pages. They may provide a list of URLs to their SEO agency, requesting the optimization of these pages to gain more traffic.
While this is a step towards a more modern SEO approach, it still presents a problematic mindset. Clients may expect the SEO agency to focus exclusively on optimizing these pages, while neglecting the rest of the website.
But as we have already mentioned, the success of an SEO strategy is reliant on holistic optimization across all pages, with a focus on tailored content and a user-led experience. In other words, an effective SEO strategy must consider more than specific URLs; it must embrace the comprehensive nature of SEO, encompassing all the components required to drive long-term, organic traffic, with a focus on the user experience.
From Baidu to Google: How Recent Updates are Shaping the Search Landscape
Understanding the target audience is crucial to the success of search engines like Google and Baidu, which aim to provide users with a list of links to websites that are most relevant to their search query.
Achieving this calls for search engines to evaluate various signals to determine the content of the pages they are ranking, how important they are within the larger web environment. Signals evaluated by search engine algorithms include backlinks, content quality, meta descriptions, and other page-level elements.
Additionally, the search engine algorithm must understand the user’s search intent so that it can provide the most accurate results. The goal of this complex process is to ensure that users receive only the most relevant results and can find what they are looking for quickly and easily.
The evolution of search engines has come with the implementation of new technologies and adjustments to rules, known as algorithm updates.
While algorithm updates can be a cause of concern for SEOs trying to manipulate search results, they are necessary to ensure that search engines remain committed to their mission of providing users with high-quality, relevant content.
Understanding the subtle nuances of these updates is crucial to a successful SEO strategy, which requires a focus on the underlying principles of audience engagement and niche authority. Ultimately, only those who conceptualize this shared mission between search engines and SEOs can achieve long-term success and remain at the forefront of the search landscape.
Let us highlight just a few of these search algorithm updates
Google Penguin / Baidu Money Plant
Backlinks are a vital signal used by search engines to gauge the authority and credibility of a website. However, some SEO specialists have attempted to manipulate this by engaging in link-trading and buying backlinks from other websites to improve their clients’ rankings in the SERPs.
The response from search engines, such as the Penguin update from Google and the Money-Plant update from Baidu, was to devalue artificially-built link-authority, thereby punishing link-purchasers and sellers.
The search engines aim to evaluate genuine recommendations towards specific websites or pages, emphasizing the importance of well-earned links rather than purchased or manipulated backlinks.
Google Panda / Baidu Pomegranate
In the quest to feed the insatiable appetite of search engine algorithms, some SEOs have employed a “more is better” approach, pumping out masses of low-quality, keyword-stuffed content. To save time in this process, some have resorted to spinning existing content or publishing standardized, mass-produced content.
This quickly became a popular tactic among website owners who sought to quickly rank their sites – but at the expense of quality content. Google and Baidu responded with their own suite of updates (Panda, Hurricane, Drizzle, Forceful-Wind, and Ice-Bucket), designed to devalue such low-quality content.
These updates underline the importance of publishing high-quality, relevant, and original content to succeed in SEO
Google’s Hummingbird, BERT, MUM / Baidu ERNIE
Google’s and Baidu’s initiatives aiming at harnessing the potential of AI and machine learning in making search engines better understand the intent behind search queries and content. These updates aim to improve the relevance and accuracy of search results by ensuring that only the most relevant and deserving content is ranked.
The objective is to match the user’s intent with the most appropriate results. By leveraging AI and machine learning, search engines can gain a more accurate understanding of content, in turn providing users with more relevant and high-quality results. As such, digital marketers must focus on creating high-quality, user-focused content that satisfies user intent and can be accurately understood by search engines.
Google’s E.A.T. guidelines focus on Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, serving as a blueprint for quality search raters and SEOs emphasize the importance of genuine expertise, real-world experience, and authoritative advice from trusted sources.
Getting ranked by search engines now means demonstrating authentic, high-quality content that builds trust with users rather than relying on spam-laden tactics.
While it is difficult to algorithmically measure these qualities, search engines are leveraging their AI departments to understand and detect the subtle signals that suggest trustworthiness.
The Holistic SEO Process
A holistic SEO strategy begins with a solid technical foundation to ensure that high-quality content can flourish.
After that, it’s essential to define the website’s target clearly.
The website owner must be able to explain what they want to achieve with their website.
Once that’s understood, the site’s overall strategy can be developed, including which pages and content are necessary, how they will be structured, which information is required, and what call-to-actions are needed.
A comprehensive SEO strategy considers all aspects of the website’s design, ensuring that each element works in harmony to reach the desired outcome.
Keyword research is vital for creating content that meets a page’s specific targets.
By conducting in-depth research, you can identify the most effective keywords for each page, focusing on the intentions of search engine users.
The keywords selected must reflect the user’s intentions and search intent, ensuring that each page serves the target audience most comprehensively.
The page must still serve the site’s overall purpose, delivering value and relevance to users while staying true to the website’s overall objectives. As such, choosing the right keywords is critical for developing highly targeted content that resonates with users and boosts the site’s search engine visibility.
Focusing on getting all of these details right is the only way to get the most out of a website’s online presence.
Taking a 360-degree view of SEO: Our approach to delivering outstanding results
We’re excited to unveil our holistic SEO approach to our clients looking to drive real results in China.
With our modernized SEO services, we’re moving away from outdated approaches and instead offering a highly targeted, end-to-end solution that’s built to succeed.
By stepping back from meeting previous client requests of optimizing their given list of keywords or their given list of URLs and offering a more meaningful service, we’re confident we can help our clients reach their full potential in China, delivering sustainable growth and meaningful results.
With 2023, the year of AI, just having started, we’re excited to offer this new approach to our valued clients and look forward to helping them achieve their business objectives through targeted, effective SEO.
Step 1: Interview
At the beginning of each new SEO contract, we make it a priority to truly understand our client’s business and goals.
Regardless of how extensive our initial talks might have been, we recognize that the client’s needs and objectives can change over time.
By taking the time to identify what our clients are looking to achieve with their website, we can develop a targeted SEO strategy that speaks directly to their target audience and is optimized to deliver results.
This requires us to consider things like the desired target group, the problems they want to solve, and the topics they’re interested in, going beyond just relevant keywords.
We work closely with our clients to ensure they understand the potential changes – both in terms of website development and optimization – that might be necessary to succeed online.
With this approach, we believe we can deliver a highly targeted, effective SEO solution that drives results.
Step 2: Competitor Analysis & defining the necessary SEO steps
With the client’s targets and business objectives identified, we turn our attention to the competitive landscape to develop a comprehensive SEO strategy.
By analyzing the competition and the SERP landscape, we can determine what it takes to succeed in the online marketplace and set clear, achievable goals for our clients.
This in-depth research allows us to develop a detailed SEO plan that is unique to each client’s business goals and optimized to succeed in their particular niche.
By focusing on the specific needs of each client and taking a strategy-first approach to our SEO services, we’re confident we can deliver the results our clients need to grow and succeed online, regardless of their current website setup.
Step 3: Technical SEO Analysis
We understand that every client’s website is unique, which is why our technical SEO analysis is customized to meet their specific needs.
We recognize that not every client has the same level of technical support, so we work closely with them to determine the depth of analysis required.
Whether a quick scan of the website highlights key technical issues or a more in-depth assessment is required, we work to address the most pressing technical challenges while staying attuned to the client’s technical limitations.
By bringing the technical side of the website up to the best possible level for SEO, within the client’s technical abilities, we can optimize the site to drive traffic, improve engagement, and ultimately deliver the results our clients need to succeed online.
Step 4: Content & SEO Performance Audit
Our content and SEO performance audit is designed to match the broad SEO steps we identify during the interview and research phases of our process.
We take a granular approach to this audit, looking closely at the pages that exist and analyzing their performance in key areas like rankings, impressions, and clicks.
By leveraging a range of tools and technologies, including Baidu Webmaster Tools, Dragon Metrics, Searchmetrics, SEO Clarity, Semrush, 5118, and Aizhan, we can gather a wide range of data and develop a detailed picture of the site’s content and overall SEO performance.
We analyze the keywords that are driving traffic to the site and evaluate how well they align with the search intents we want to target.
Finally, we conduct a close analysis of the site’s content, looking at how well it serves user needs and aligns with the goals of the business. With this detailed analysis in hand, we can develop a tailored SEO strategy that is optimized to drive results for our clients.
Step 5: Creating a new tailored Content SEO strategy
Our approach to creating a content plan is grounded in the results of the SEO audit we conduct for each client. We begin by identifying the must-have pages or changes that are required to cover the very basics of SEO.
From there, we identify the additional content that we need to create to extend the site’s reach and capture more relevant rankings for the topics that matter most to the client.
We work closely with our clients to develop a realistic content plan that takes into account their resources and limitations, recognizing that it’s not feasible to create 150 high-quality pages and contents every month for every client.
We rely on expertise and experience to create the best content possible, never turning to ERNIE bot or chatGPT to generate content that doesn’t reflect the client’s unique needs and objectives. While we aren’t opposed to leveraging AI for certain tasks, we believe that real human expertise and experience are critical to creating content that truly resonates with target audiences and delivers the results our clients need to succeed online.
Step 6: Creating the Offpage (SEO) strategy
We believe that the Off-page strategy is all about building a strong brand identity and reputation, not buying backlinks. While we have done this in the past (and continue to do so if clients insist), we recognize that it goes against Baidu guidelines and is considered a Blackhat technique.
Instead, we focus on leveraging PR opportunities and working with platforms like Baike, Zhidao, and Zhihu to share our expertise and help people find the answers they need. By providing real value and expertise rather than spamming these platforms with unoriginal content, we can build up a brand identity that people recognize and trust.
We also leverage social media platforms like WeChat, Douyin, and Kuaishou, as well as run targeted ads on search engines and social media, to raise brand awareness and help drive traffic to our client’s websites.
With a strong Off-page strategy focused on brand building, we can deliver the long-term results our clients need to succeed in the competitive online marketplace.
Step 7: Setting up a meaningful Monitoring
Setting up a meaningful monitoring to keep track of clients’ SEO plan progress is important for us and for the client.
We regularly review the status of critical technical issues that have been fixed, optimized existing pages, and create new pages as necessary, ensuring that we are staying on target with our planned schedule.
We closely monitor off-page progress, analyzing the impact on impressions and clicks, and tracking the performance of meaningful keywords that will help us understand how well we are achieving our goals.
Additionally, we track a range of other metrics that give us a meaningful view of how our SEO efforts are resonating with target audiences.
By establishing a robust monitoring framework and reporting regularly to our clients, we can effectively measure progress and make data-driven decisions to optimize our SEO approach over time.
Step 8: Execution, Rinse & Repeat
Depending on our client’s needs and requests, after having worked through all the above steps, we are acting like an Inhouse-SEO colleague for the client. Together we discuss who on the team will work on which tasks. Anything we can work on, we will certainly offer to do so.
It is important to stick to a plan both the client and we can follow together in order to achieve the best to reach the real targets our client has – and that is not raising the traffic for a specific URL or gaining better rankings for a specific keyword.
Because the specific URL or the specific keyword is not what the client’s managements have in mind as business goals.
More Information on SEO for China in our book:
Where can you buy this SEO book?
Here are the links to the different Amazon websites, where you can buy the book. If your country is not listed, go to your Amazon website and simply search for “SEO for China” and it will show up 😉