This post is updated, but holding true to much in SEO, the main idea holds true over the years, while the details change a little over time. This post was originally posted in August 2018, but updated in 2021.
I have had a number of people recently tell me about frustrations with SEO tools like Yoast for their WordPress sites. There are a lot of great tools out there to help you with your SEO, but many tend to overpromise or try to make it seem like they are all you need. SEO plugins for WordPress like Yoast and All in One do a tremendous job of allowing you to make on-page SEO edits to your title tags and have even expanded to help you with more advanced things like controlling your site indexing, etc. but they also tend to try to sneak in automated “suggestions” or “scores” that can confuse and mislead people. Often the suggestions are based on very generic overarching rules, and as anyone following SEO closely in recent years knows, there is no one size fits all and every search has different sets of factors.
In SEO, Everything is Relative
One thing to keep in mind is that in SEO, everything is relative. Tools are meant to help you have more information to make your decisions, or in the case of tools like Yoast, make the functionality easier to manage things like meta tags and indexing. However, since Google is in the business of providing the best “answers” to searchers’ queries, every query has a different competitive landscape and need for content. In 2017, some content-related updates swept the SEO world, pushing for longer content and pushing down what we call “thin content” in the rankings. In general, Google prefers a thorough and complete answer to a search query, so typically it is a good idea to have a thorough explanation of the problem you are trying to solve, how you solve it, and why you should be chosen to solve it if you are a business owner.
Small Business SEO Content: Write for Humans, Not Bots
The average top-ranked URL the last time I checked was over 2,000 words. The problem with that is that the best answer is not always over 2,000 words. When content tools try to tell you how long your content is supposed to be, they tend to work on overall averages and not on the specific terms you are looking to rank for. As a Google representative once said, you don’t need 2,000 words to explain how to hard boil an egg. Everything is relative. Sometimes you need to be succinct. Following general rules like that could actually get you in trouble. Your advantage is you know your product and market and should write content that includes and explains the most important aspects of your customer’s purchase decision. That typically needs to be thorough and digestible, but don’t write to a number, write to your visitors.
Content for Need and Audience
Instead of following general rules, look at your specific competitors for what you are trying to show up for. Use the tools for the functionality or information they give you, but apply them to your specific need. Perhaps, for your term, Google is only looking for 400-800 words, or maybe you do need to aim for 2,000, but you will do better at looking at whoever ranks currently than taking generic advice from a tool that just uses overall standards as a guideline. There are tools that help analyze content length and how it relates to your search term, but I am currently unaware of free tools that do this for you.
SEO Link Strength is Relative
On the same theme, you don’t have to have the link strength of Google or Amazon if you are a local business trying to rank in a specific industry. Tools like Moz, Majestic, and SEMRush all have link strength tools, but your link strength only matters in comparison to who else you are competing with. You don’t need to be stronger than these huge sites to beat your local competitors. Link strength is still a huge and important factor in ranking, but you may be closer to your competitors than generic tools may have you believe. Look at yourself compared to those showing up for your targeted search terms, not compared to national sites that are not in your market. Also, consider strength by URL and not overall domain, as everything is getting more specific. Links tell Google a lot about your site, but they also need content to work. An irrelevant page isn’t going to rank just because it has link strength.
SEO Speed Comparison
There was a “Speed Update” from Google in July 2018 and research came out about that time showing that pages ranking in the top 15 in Google results averaged a less than 3 second load time. We now have an impending “Core Web Vitals” update in 2021. I go into more depth on core web vitals and tools to compare in this recent speed post.
In general, it is better to be faster, but it is again all relative. If you only have so many resources, you want to focus on the things that make the biggest difference. If you are .1 second behind in load time with competitors in your market, but significantly behind in links, you may want to focus more effort there. If 3.5 seconds is getting competitors on the first page, getting to 2.5 seconds may give you a significant advantage there, but be aware of your other factors too. It is often impossible to be better than your competitors in every factor. Focus on getting as good as you can everywhere, but focus on where you can make a big difference in relation to how important the factor may be. Now if you have 8 second load times, you need to worry about speed, but if you are competitive, it may not be your highest priority.
In general, use the tools for their functionality and to get you information on how you can best improve your standings, but don’t expect the tool to do the work for you. A hammer needs a person to swing it to hammer a nail in. You need to know how to operate the tools and sometimes tools try to lead you into thinking they do more than they should. Be aware of the reasoning behind tool suggestions and always try to provide the best content and user experience to your visitors. Don’t let tools giving you advice with general data lead you down the wrong path.