Good SEO doesn’t begin and end with a plugin or a site revamp.

If you’ve ever seen Gordon Ramsay’s tv show Kitchen Nightmares, you probably remember the premise. Chef Ramsay would visit failing restaurants; he’d try the food, inspect the kitchen, and observe the staff. Typically, he’d find problems with all three: the food was bland, stale, or canned, the kitchen had outdated equipment, and the line cooks and waitstaff weren’t dedicated to making the restaurant a success.

By the time Ramsay departed, it seemed like the restaurant was all set for years of great success – with new recipes, modern kitchens, and highly-trained staff. However, if you look up these restaurants now, you’ll see that they almost all shuttered soon after taping ended.

Why’s that? Because they didn’t continue evolving and improving after Ramsay’s departure. Out from under his stern supervision, each of these restaurants eventually fell back into their old ways. Only the select restaurants that treated Kitchen Nightmares as a lifestyle change, not a one-time overhaul, managed to thrive.

You guessed correctly: this was all an extended metaphor for search engine optimization (SEO). Time and time again, companies bring in an SEO expert to perform a website overhaul and create a new content strategy for them, but they don’t continue to evolve after the expert leaves. While that initial revamp can drastically improve a company’s search rankings, it’s important to maintain high quality and publish regularly. It’s also equally important to respond and adjust as search trends and algorithms change.

Things Change, But SEO Theory Stays the Same

Search engine algorithms change over time, but some aspects of SEO remain constant. Google ranks content by using keywords to determine what a page is about, as well as by checking how often it’s been linked from other sites to determine its quality and authority. For that reason, the four basic principles of good SEO are crawlability, site structure, keywords, and backlinks.

Crawlability refers to how easily a search engine can find your content and figure out what it’s about. This is primarily a task for developers, who may need to adapt code or use SEO plugins to ensure that Google and other search engines will find your content. Crawlability is also related to site structure: search engines don’t see every page on your website as equally important, so it’s important to structure your site to reflect their algorithms. Search engines look to your homepage first and then rank other pages on your site by how often they’re linked elsewhere in the site, so structure your site accordingly.

On the content side, SEO is all about keywords and backlinks. Search engines determine the topic of your content based on keywords and its authority based on how often other sites are linked to it. Remember that quality is king here: buying backlinks or using key SEO terms in a forced or unnatural way will get you dinged. Instead, focus on long-tail keywords that have a higher level of specificity, and nurturing relationships with publications and websites that will give you reputable backlinks.

SEO Tactics Are Always Evolving

Crawlability, site structure, keywords, and backlink encompass the overarching theory of SEO, but SEO tactics are always changing along with technology. Google refers to its search quality rating guidelines with the acronym “EAT,” which stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. While these standards always remain the same, Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm to get better at identifying which sites meet those standards, and you should adjust your site in accordance with those changes, which are usually tracked on the Google blog.

In addition, user search habits are constantly changing. For example, voice search and the shift to mobile have both radically changed the way that people search for information. Good SEO requires staying on top of these trends and adjusting along with them, while also maintaining the quality and cadence of your content strategy program. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be hard – it simply means making small and regular alterations to your strategy according to what’s new. By making good SEO a habit rather than a giant overhaul, you can keep your marketing program running as effectively as it did on day one.

Author Madeline Killen

Before graduating from Dartmouth College, Madeline studied English and Italian literature, edited the arts section of the campus newspaper, worked as an Italian tutor, and completed a senior honors thesis on Emily Dickinson. At L&T, she’s translated her passion for language — no pun intended — into success in her role writing and managing social media for clients across multiple industries. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her reading, running, or enjoying the perks of moving back to civilization after four years in the New Hampshire wilderness (even though she does miss the trees).

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