SEO (Search Engine Optimization) — everyone needs it to drive traffic from search engines like Google, Bing, and a dozen others, but hacking the mysteries of SEO and figuring out how to rank on the first page of Google for your topic remains elusive for most of us. Don’t worry if you think SEO is a challenge. You’re not the only one!
Why is SEO so hard? Lots of reasons, unfortunately for all of us! Here’s some:
- The rules change 500-600 times per year. Amazing, but true. Here’s a useful article from a company called Moz, detailing some of the more major SEO changes. It’s impossible for one person to keep up with that many alterations, which is why companies like Moz exist! They invest all their time tracking the changes, writing about them, building tools to help you navigate the changing waters. It’s truly a full-time job.
- No one knows the rules. Google is famously guarded about how their search algorithm works. They give you guidelines, which are helpful, but not much else. Some consultants try to summarize that for you, like in this infographic, for example. The more advanced companies, again like Moz, scan billions of web pages to do their own big-data analysis trying to reverse-engineer how the algorithms work. Here’s a fantastic overview of what they’re seeing in 2013. But of course, since the rules change several times a day, mostly subtle but sometimes drastic, even this wonderful data goes out-of-date very quickly.
- There’s dozens of *other* search engines with their own unique rules. Google isn’t the only search game in town. There are lots, and each one has its own set of rules about what gets your site ranked highly, and for what keywords. Many of these search engines are geographically local. For example, Baidu is like “the Google of China,” and often drives more traffic than Microsoft’s Bing. Who knew?
What this all boils down to, is that it’s hard for WP Engine to give you dependable, up-to-date advice about SEO strategy. It’s almost impossible even for the consultants and companies who do nothing but dispense such advice!
Having said all that, there are a few questions we can answer with certainty:
- Will the fact that I share my IP address with others sites hurt my SEO? No! Google has been clear on this, and in fact we’ve confirmed it personally with Matt Cutts (the head of search algorithms at Google). According to Cutts, Google understands that it is the nature of companies like WP Engine to host many unrelated domains (in our case, between 100,000 and 1,000,000) and their algorithms know there’s no association between those domains.
- Can I get multiple IP addresses so my sites can pass “juice” to each other? Google has stated many times this doesn’t work, and independent studies confirm this assertion. Thus, there’s no value to your SEO using this sort of tactic.
- Will having a faster site increase my search position? Yes! Google has been clear and consistent on this point. Faster sites are ranked higher than slower sites. However, “site speed” is one of over 200 factors that go into rankings, therefore although it’s true that all else being equal a faster site will beat a slower site, all else is never equal, and thus this isn’t something you can depend on. Some of our customers see dramatic changes in search position after moving to us, whereas some see none at all.
With other commonly-asked questions, we can not give you definitive answers (because no one else can either, and the answer changes over time). For example:
- Do 301-redirects pass any “juice?” Google has suggested they might pass 100% of juice, but other sources say it’s more like 30%-60%. It might depend on the reason for the redirect, for example whether it’s through a URL-shortner or an affiliate link.
- How important are correct use of <h1> tags and similar? Google used to care about this, but even several years ago the data showed that it made absolutely no different whatsoever. It might matter more what the style is, rather than what the tag is. This is even more true with the advent of HTML5 which discourages some old-style tags.
- How important are inbound links versus SEO that can be done on my site? Google says off-site stuff is far more important than on-site, which makes sense if you think about it — on-site stuff you can control and manipulate, so therefore they can’t trust it! But it’s not as simple as “number of inbound links,” because it’s clear that the nature of the pages which originate those links matter, the anchor text in the link matters, etc..
At the end of the day, many of these answers are unsatisfying, because it comes down to “no one knows, and it changes all the time.” However, that is in fact the truth, and it’s why we can’t offer you much advice on the subject of SEO.