Google’s search index includes over 130 trillion pages and grows larger every day. Processing that amount of data takes time, even for a company the size of Google.
And beyond the sheer volume of information they process, Google makes hundreds of changes to their ranking algorithm every year. In 2018 alone, they made over 3234 improvements to their search engine.
Those two pieces of information alone would explain why you should approach search engine optimization (SEO) from a long-term perspective. But there are other reasons to consider SEO as an ongoing strategy as well. Let’s look at why you should set long-term SEO goals.
New SEO vs Old SEO
In the early days of the search engines, websites ranked almost completely based on the words found on the page. If you wanted to rank at the top of the results for a keyword or phrase related to your market, all you needed to do was have that keyword on your page more times than your competition.
This led to a strategy known as “keyword stuffing” which resulted in pages that were so poorly written they were barely readable to the human eye. Websites also used shady techniques like hidden text and cloaking, where they would send different versions of the page to the search engine crawlers than they would to human visitors.
When Google came on the scene, their search algorithm was based on how many links pointed to a page from other sites. The theory being if more sites were linking to a page, it was a sign of the page’s value.
That ranking strategy worked much better but was still open to being gamed. People started building massive networks of junk websites for linking back to their “money” site – pushing it up in the search results.
Google Gets Smarter!
These spammy tactics for getting higher rankings would work pretty quickly. You could create a new page on your website, create a bunch of links to it using tools that automated the entire process, and see your page at the top of Google within a few days.
That was open to abuse and a lot of low-quality pages ended up ranking. Most searchers think Google is endorsing the pages they show in their search results so if they click on a result and don’t get what they want, it hurts Google’s reputation.
Google makes regular changes to their algorithm to improve the quality of the results, some small and some pretty significant. In today’s world, those spammy techniques won’t work and will most likely hurt your results. Now it’s all about quality.
The quality of your content, the reputation of the sites linking to yours, the user experience, and many other things combine to determine how your website gets ranked.
Short-Term vs Long-Term SEO Factors
There are a lot of factors that contribute to how well your pages rank in the Google results. Some of them are foundational things that you can put in place relatively quickly.
This includes things like the page load speed, your on-page SEO, offering a mobile-friendly version of your site, and using HTTPS encryption on all your content. This is the stuff that you should be focusing on from the start because it lays a solid foundation.
It’s not going to get overnight results though. It only helps the long-term strategies work better.
There are quite a few ranking factors that you need to view from the long-term because they take time to implement on your end and Google needs a certain amount of data before it can analyze how your site should be ranked.
Content is King
There’s an old saying in the in-house SEO world, “Content is king.” Meaning the content on your site is the most important piece of the puzzle. It needs to be useful, interesting, and up-to-date so visitors who land on your page will find the solution they’re looking for.
Google’s ultimate goal is to provide searchers with the best possible solution to their problems. They can track what happens when someone clicks on a link in their search results and ends up on your website. If they click back to Google immediately, known as a bounce, and click another link, that’s a mark against you.
Creating quality content on an ongoing basis is essential for good search rankings. And that can be time-consuming work so it’s naturally going to be a long-term strategy.
Building a Healthy Link Profile
One of the most significant changes Google made to its algorithm over the years is how it values links pointing to your site. At one time, any link would get treated more or less equally but that’s not the case anymore.
Google only considers links from high-quality, authoritative websites when determining how your pages rank. Those aren’t the type of links that you can create overnight using automated tools. It takes time and effort to build relationships with those websites and prove your value to them so they want to link back to you.
Another piece of the ranking puzzle is what is known as social signals. Google watches sites like Twitter and Facebook for mentions of your business, your website, and other things that can be connected back to you directly.
These mentions don’t necessarily count as links to your site but they’re part of the bigger picture when Google creates a “profile” for your website. And once again, Google is smart enough to recognize when these mentions are happening naturally versus being manufactured.
To get the most out of this factor, you need people to talk about your website and/or business over time. Naturally, that means it’s a long-term strategy as well.
Short-Term SEO Goals Can Lead to Penalization
As you can guess from what we’ve covered so far, Google does its best to shut down any SEO tactic that can be gamed for short-term results. Most of the major algorithm updates they’ve made over the last decade have targeted specific techniques that they felt were spammy or not in their users’ best interests.
In many cases, those algorithm updates didn’t only stop the technique from working, they also penalized websites that were using them. So a technique that pushed your pages to the top of the Google results suddenly caused them to drop out of sight or even get de-indexed completely.
Even if you find an SEO technique that generates short-term results, it’s unlikely it’s going to work for very long. And in many cases, it’s eventually going to hurt your site. Always ask yourself if the long-term risk is worth the short-term reward.
Other Factors that Need Long-Term Thinking
Looking beyond how Google catalogs and ranks all the pages on the internet, there are other things that lend to SEO being a long-term strategy.
Your website doesn’t exist in a bubble. Your competition wants to attract the same visitors to their site as you do, and they’re likely working on their SEO to reach that goal.
That means that the SEO landscape is always changing. The various factors that your website would need to hit today to land a number one ranking are not going to be the same next week or next month. If you want to reach a top spot and then hold onto it, you’ll have to keep doing the work.
It’s never a one-and-done project.
Another competitive factor that affects how long SEO can take is the size of the market. The bigger the market, the more companies you have to compete with.
If you’re trying to rank for “Portland Oregon plumber” you’ve got a much different competitive landscape than if you’re trying to rank for “how to lose weight.” They’ll both take time and effort but one is several orders of magnitude more difficult to crack.
Along the same lines, it’s going to depend on how “SEO’ed” the market is. Some niches, such as weight loss, have a lot more SEO-savvy marketers than others. If you’re working in a market that uses SEO effectively, it’s going to take more time to rank than a market where you’re one of the few.
Taking a Long-Term View of SEO
When setting your SEO goals, it’s a good idea to think about the process from Google’s perspective. They have to comb through trillions of pages of information, determining the quality of the content on each page. They index trillions more links back and forth between websites and have to determine the relative value of each of those.
That takes time, even with the incredible amount of computing power Google has to work with.
And staying up-to-date with the latest SEO news so you know what’s changed, what’s working, and what isn’t can be a full-time job for you. If you’d rather focus on what your business does best and need SEO consulting, I can help.
Get in touch with me today to discuss your needs and find out what I can do for you.
My career in Digital Marketing started in 2010, and it’s been an endlessly evolving journey. The tactics to achieve online success are rapidly changing and I’ve always been amongst the first to try the latest tricks. Today, online business is focused around Growth Hacking and Content Marketing strategies.