What Web Designers and Their Clients Need to Know About SEO


SEO has become one of my least favorite topics. It’s something that I’ll begrudgingly discuss with clients, but only when I have to. And writing about it? I’d rather hide under my bed. In some ways, it feels like one of the dark arts.

But here I am, attempting to change my own sentiment. Why? Because it’s simply too important to ignore. Both web designers and their clients need to have an understanding of how SEO works. More than that, a healthy realization of its pitfalls is also necessary.

It’s easy to develop the wrong expectations for SEO and the required effort it takes. And the market is littered with dubious claims – making it difficult to determine sound advice from hyperbole.

In an effort to provide some clarity, I reached out to a place I knew would have some answers: Yoast. The free version of their Yoast SEO plugin has over 11 million active installations – making it one of the most popular on the market. In addition, they provide a massive amount of sound advice on their company blog.

Yoast’s Edwin Toonen Talks SEO Essentials

The following is a short Q&A with Yoast content manager Edwin Toonen, where we dive into the essentials of SEO. Some answers have been edited for clarity.

What’s the most common SEO myth or misunderstanding that you see from users?

I think people tend to forget that SEO is a lot of work. While advances in technology have made it a lot easier to build a site, it hasn’t become much easier to rank with that site in search engines. So, you really need to put some effort into it!

At Yoast, we jokingly call SEO Seriously Effortful Optimization as that is what it is. With Yoast SEO, we are lowering the barrier of entry and giving everyone a fair chance at good results in the search engines.

Unfortunately, we can only do so much. We can’t write that epic piece of content for you. We can give you hints on what to improve, but we can’t set out a strategy for you. You need to put in the work.

Some people seem to think that you’re done with SEO once you install Yoast SEO. Of course, that’s not true — it’s only the beginning.

Yoast SEO plugin settings screen.

Should every piece of content on a website be optimized, or should the focus be on the most important content?

Ideally, you should have thought about every piece of content on your website. Every article or every page should have a goal.

Of course, that’s hardly how it works in practice. You might have a site with hundreds or thousands of posts and pages collected over many years. That is the reality for many sites.

In cases like this, you have to go through all that content and make hard choices — do I really need this? Do these pieces of content fit my goals? Do they bring traffic? Do they help my brand?

You can start going over everything and improve the pieces of content you want to keep while deleting and redirecting the ones you don’t need. In addition, you can also choose to merge a couple of low-value posts into a single really good one.

And then, there’s cornerstone content. These are the epic, all-encompassing articles that show your expertise and that you want to rank with the search results. These should be your main focus. Cornerstone articles should be updated and improved regularly. Linking your supporting, relevant articles to the cornerstone helps boost their importance.

For a small, local business on a tight budget, what would be the best area to allocate their SEO resources? Is there one investment that stands above the rest?

I always say you have to build an awesome business first. Make something that customers need to have or experience.

From there, get reviews and tend to them. Build a full Google My Business profile, including up-to-date information and great photos.

In addition, make sure that your site is properly optimized for local results and write high-quality, local-oriented content that can get you local links and citations.

Google search button

If one had to choose between quality content and keyword repetition, what’s the better option? Do search engines really know the difference?

Content quality should be your number one priority. It’s one of the things that Google keeps hammering on about: improve your content. Search engines are smart enough to look beyond keywords, so it is better to find ways of improving your content instead of trying to fit in more keywords.

Of course, things like keyword density have taken on a different meaning as it is no longer about fitting in a certain percentage of keywords based on the length of the text. Today, metrics like this are more like a guide that helps you keep everything in check and warns you when you are overdoing it.

How often should SEO for existing content be reviewed and tweaked?

It depends, this is not set in stone. Some content does really well, even without touching it for years. Other pieces of content need constant tweaking to get results.

The main thing to remember is that you have to keep an eye on your content. You need to know what particular content needs to do and regularly check in Google Analytics if it does what you set out to do.

If it doesn’t work, you need to fine-tune it or replace it with something else. Of course, there’s a lot of room to experiment — and sometimes you get the best results accidentally. And keep at it — SEO is not about quick results.

A website analytics graph.

The Keys to Effective SEO

A hearty thanks to Edwin Toonen and the team at Yoast for taking the time to chat! If anything, I hope this helped to separate some of the fact from fiction when it comes to search engine optimization.

As Edwin points out, SEO requires a good bit of work to find success. But even then, there’s no guarantee that the likes of Google will reward you with high rankings. To be sure, there will be some trial-and-error in the process.

In addition, we learned that content should have specific goals. If you want search engines to prioritize your content, it has to be both high-quality and focused.

Above all, SEO is something that both designers and clients need to stick with for the long haul. The game is always changing. Thus, it requires regular analysis and adjustments to stay on top.

Maybe SEO isn’t quite as bad as I’ve made it out to be? While it’s still not my favorite subject, this talk has helped me exorcise some of those past demons. Hopefully it did the same for you!

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