We, at StubGroup, a top-tier Google Partner digital advertising agency, strive to keep businesses informed about the ever-changing landscape of digital advertising through online marketing. This includes conducting interviews with experts in the field. Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Cottam, a distinguished consultant specializing in technical Search Engine Optimization (SEO), to explore the remarkable changes and advancements that have taken place in his field over the years.

Michael Cottam has been a featured speaker at leading industry events, contributed to top business resource podcasts, and successfully managed multiple businesses. It’s safe to say that Michael Cottam is a leading authority when it comes to online advertising and search engine optimization.

This blog post marks the first of two installments focused on Michael’s insights, where we delve into the history of SEO as well as the dos and don’ts of SEO advertising.

How has SEO evolved over time?

The story of SEO began roughly two decades ago when Google emerged as the dominant search engine. Back then, SEO primarily revolved around links and anchor text. Google’s algorithm was simple: if a webpage received numerous links, it was considered authoritative. Furthermore, the anchor text used in these links influenced Google’s perception of the page’s content. For instance, if multiple sites linked to a page using the anchor text “best Italian restaurant,” Google inferred that the page was about Italian restaurants.

As time passed, Google began analyzing on-page content more extensively. Elements like keywords, page titles, and the body of the page gained significance. SEO practitioners, however, soon began exploiting these factors, engaging in practices like keyword stuffing to manipulate rankings.

Google’s algorithms had to evolve to address these issues as well as to assess the quality of content beyond keyword density. They started examining images, including alt text and file names, as well as the uniqueness, originality, and genuine value of these images.

The search giant advanced its algorithms to understand user intent better. Instead of fixating solely on exact keyword matches, Google began analyzing related terms and subtopics. If a page discussed “Tahiti,” it was expected to touch on subjects like overwater bungalows, honeymoons, and scuba diving. Google evaluated how comprehensively a page covered these associated terms.

Structured data, introduced several years ago, enabled webmasters to mark up their content using schema markup. Initially used for showing rating stars and availability in search results, schema markup has expanded to encompass various content types, such as events, recipes, and more. Google has increasingly relied on schema markup to enhance search results.

Over time, understanding user intent became crucial for Google. When users searched for “Pad Thai,” Google needed to discern whether they sought a recipe, a restaurant, or information about the dish’s history. To cater to this, Google began presenting diversified search features like featured snippets, knowledge panels, and “People Also Ask” sections.

This then extended to link relevancy, social media signals, EAT (Expertise, Authority, and Trust), and the overall user experience. Google has continued to keep pace with digital progression, and SEO has been at the forefront of that evolution, transforming to meet the needs of businesses with each new technological and social advancement.

Is Google using GA4 data to inform SEO ranking?

In UA (Universal Analytics), bounce rate was a metric of interest, where a bounce was defined as a single-page visit. However, this could be misleading, as a user might have found exactly what they needed on that page.

Google Search operates differently, tracking user interactions with search results. When a user clicks on a search result, Google records various details like IP address, country, device, and search term. If a user quickly returns to the search results, it suggests a potentially poor experience with the clicked page, and this data can influence search rankings.

In comparing GA4 and UA, GA4’s rollout has been challenging, and many users are unsure how to set it up effectively. Trust in its data may take some time to build. Additionally, there seems to be a disconnect between the teams working on search algorithms and those handling analytics at Google. In conclusion, GA4’s implementation has been a complex process, leading to discrepancies and challenges in data interpretation, in other words, a “Hot Flaming mess.”

What are the most important keys to SEO?

In discussing the core elements of a successful and ethical SEO strategy in today’s digital landscape, there are several key points.

  1. Effective Communication: Ensure that your website communicates effectively with search engines like Google. This involves making it crystal clear to search engines what your web pages are about, who authored them, and the content they contain. Basic technical aspects such as ensuring crawlability, meaning that Google can access your pages within a reasonable timeframe (typically within 20 seconds), are fundamental.
  2. Technical Issues: Address any technical issues on your website, such as broken links or missing elements, as these can hinder search engine visibility. These aspects are often checked using automated tools or SEO reports.
  3. The Website Pages: Consider how Google perceives your web pages. Elements like the page title and meta description play a vital role in conveying your content’s essence to search engines. In cases where you have multiple variations of a page (e.g., different filters or sorting options on e-commerce sites), employing techniques like rel canonical tags can help ensure that Google understands these are variations of the same content.
  4. High Quality Content: Make sure that your content is high quality. An interesting development in SEO is Google’s ability to assess the quality of content. Reverse image search, for instance, allows Google to determine if your images are unique. Google also analyzes top-ranking pages for a given keyword to identify common, relatively unusual terms. If these terms appear on competitors’ pages but not on yours, it may be necessary to cover those topics to improve your ranking.
  5. User Experience: Stay aware of user experience. Factors like Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS), which measures the stability of page elements during loading, are now considered in search rankings. Pages that provide a smoother user experience are rewarded by Google.
  6. EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness): Google increasingly evaluates the authority and expertise of content creators. Showcasing your credentials and expertise, such as through author bios and external references, can enhance your content’s credibility in the eyes of both users and search engines.
  7. Brand Promotion: Promote your brand. Engaging with social media channels, even if you’re not a fan of all of them, is vital because your audience is likely spread across various platforms. Active engagement on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and more is essential. It’s not just about posting content but also actively engaging with your audience to signal to search engines that people appreciate your content across different channels.

What SEO Practices should you avoid?

In the realm of SEO, it’s equally crucial to understand what not to do as it is to know what to focus on. Let’s delve into some practices that should be avoided.

  1. Relying on AI: It’s not advisable to overly rely on AI-generated content. While AI can be a valuable tool in content creation, it shouldn’t replace human expertise and creativity entirely. Think of AI as a helpful assistant, similar to spell checkers. It can be used to generate initial drafts or ideas, saving time and effort. However, human editing and fine-tuning are preferable to ensure the content’s quality, coherence, and accuracy.
  2. Web pages with only text: Avoid creating web pages that consist solely of text. Such pages may pass core web vitals metrics but provide a dull user experience. Users prefer content that’s engaging and not just blocks of text. Incorporating multimedia elements like videos can enhance the user experience and improve rankings, as Google rewards pages with embedded videos.
  3. Cheap paid link building: Steer clear of cheap paid link building. While link building remains effective, obtaining links from low-quality sources or engaging in shady link-buying practices can harm your site’s credibility. Google can detect patterns of paid links and penalize sites associated with them. Focus on acquiring legitimate, authoritative, and relevant backlinks.

In short, it’s best not to rely on short cuts. The more time and energy you put into your online business experience, the better quality it will be, hence boosting your profits.

Want to contact Michael for help?

In conclusion, Michael Cottam, an expert in technical SEO, shared valuable insight to help businesses grow using search engine marketing. Michael is available to assist with various SEO projects, including small, niche engagements for those who are looking for his consulting services.

To contact Michael Cottam for his expertise, you can reach out to him via email or visit his website at michaelcottam.com. For PPC-related assistance, you can explore our website at stubgroup.com. We at StubGroup share Michael’s mission in helping businesses succeed in the world of search engine marketing.

Make sure to check the second installment on our blog from our interview with Michael where we dive into common myths about SEO marketing.

If you would like to listen to the full interview, you can watch the video below or visit our YouTube channel.