Search engine optimization is a scary term to many people. Most business owners know it’s important for their website and overall business, and that you have to implement SEO correctly in order to not get in trouble with Google (or Bing or Yahoo). But unfamiliar terms like “meta data”, “title tags”, and “SERPs” can make it seem like conquering the SEO world is too technical for the average person to achieve without significant amounts of help.
Enter: SEO plugins & keyword research tools
There are several paid and free tools, and website plugins that aim to help you with all facets of your SEO. There are tools that can help with keyword trends and keyword phrase popularity. There are browser add-ons that reveal other websites’ SEO tagging, counts of backlinks, and counts of indexed pages. There are automated processes that “grade” your website or blog on several SEO-related elements. And there are plugins you can add to your website to provide a way to add title tags and meta descriptions to your website pages, or even to help you choose which keyword phrase to target for each page.
So, all these tools should make implementing SEO a breeze, right? Surely you’ll be ranked at the top of Page 1 in just a matter of weeks!
I hate to break it to you, but all the tools in the world won’t make SEO easy if you don’t have a firm grasp on conducting keyword research and “white hat” SEO best practices.
My opinion on this matter is rooted in 2 things:
- Google makes the rules, and can (and does) change them whenever it wants. How often are SEO tools updated to reflect the latest from Google?
- There are many ways to conduct keyword research, but how would you know which keyword phrase is the best one to select for each website page without having a strong foundation in SEO? Are you aware of the latest opinions on keyword density and exact match phrases? Do you know what ALT tags are or how to add them? The knowledge list goes on…
To give a specific example of what I mean, let’s take a look at Yoast’s SEO plugin. Lauded as one of the best SEO plugins for your WordPress website, I actually think it can (almost) hurt you more than help you if you don’t know what you are doing.
The plugin asks you to enter your focus keyword phrase into the top field, and then bases its ratings of how well you are doing with that page’s SEO from that focus keyword.
The Yoast plugin uses a green, yellow, and red system to “score” your SEO work for each website page or blog post. This color code system is supposed to help people unfamiliar with SEO to easily know if they are doing a good job and where they need to improve.
So what’s the problem here?
The problem is that Google made it clear some time ago that repeating the exact match keyword phrase is no longer ideal. In fact, Google prefers natural, conversational variations of relevant keywords instead of repeating the same exact phrase throughout your copy and SEO work.
Basically what I’m saying is, getting all green lights from your Yoast plugin may actually be a bad thing for your SEO.
This is where having a solid understanding of SEO and SEO best practices come into play.
If you know what you’re doing when it comes to optimizing your website, you won’t fret if your overall color score from Yoast is yellow. In fact, yellow may be your preferred color.
But if you aren’t well-versed in SEO, you’re likely going to be shooting for all greens (which may also result in your on-page copy sounding like you’re writing for robots instead of writing for people).
The bottom line: SEO tools can be great and do have a use! But you can’t rely on SEO tools alone to do a great job optimizing your website for search; you need to have a solid understanding of SEO and the current set of best practices, or hire someone who does.