Basic SEO should be invisible
In my apology post, I argued that SEO lost a PR war it didn't know it was fighting, and one of the reasons was people thought they were rockstars. The opposite was the case; for SEO to be impactful, it needed to be mundane.
I want to further argue that basic SEO should be invisible in this post. Good SEO, great SEO, is different but requires a foundation of basic SEO to build on.
I don't mean secret and invisible like a spy.
Keeping SEO secrets is pointless. Staff move and people figure the same things out, and most importantly, Google makes changes all the time. You don't get to keep an SEO secret; you only get to find the next one.
I don't mean invisible like the proper form of a ringwraith, either, and SEO isn't black magic.
I mean invisible, as in people shouldn't see it. There should be no point in developing a website where some think, "We better insert the SEO in here". It should already be there, and if that's been part of a well-designed process, you won't have seen it.
"Supporter language" if you're a charity, "user language" if you're a developer or "staff language" if you're designing an intranet, but it doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is that your site design is tailored for the needs of the people using your site.
For example, "digital services" isn't a phrase people use to Google people to build websites for them. As a result, your portfolio site should use the phrase "build websites", "website design", or something like that. A failure to do that is poor UX, user experience, at the very least. You should use your customer language as part of your process to build a good site and, in doing so, invisibly tick the first basic SEO box.
If you want to rank for the term, good luck, and you'll need at least one page all about your web design prowess. Of course, if website design is something important to you, you'll have something to say about it, and this skill of yours will be more than a bullet point on your site. You won't be adding pages because an SEO reminded you; you'll have naturally built your profile around your skillset with case studies, thought leadership, examples and other evidence.
You'll have done the SEO, you'll be proving your EAT, but you could have done all of this without even seeing any mention of "keywords" or "hub pages". The SEO wins would have been had invisibly.
Invisible Technical SEO
Even in the era of React or Node.js, you'll have built your site with web accessibility in mind. The chances are pretty darn high that means if you are using React or something similar, you'll have server-side rendering in place.
Basic hygiene in technical SEO is achieved without worrying about SEO, and it's another invisible victory.
Knowledge Graph and Schema
You also may have all the schema that Google would want. It is likely already a requirement.
I concede that this is the weakest part of my pitch that basic SEO is invisible if your web build process is robust enough. It assumes schema knowledge, but that's not Google-specific best practice.
Honestly, I've not seen an RFI in years that doesn't ask for schema, and it's hard to imagine a web build team without knowledge of it.
Anyone reading this far (thank you) might be wondering, "Yeah, what about links and other quality signals?"
Good point, and I'm going to skimp here and do for three reasons. Firstly, this post is about basic SEO, and I've said that good SEO is different, and earning quality signals should no longer be considered "basic".
Secondly, this post is about your web build process, not what happens afterwards. If you've built your site to reflect customer language and their needs, you should launch content relevant to your audience. That's the prerequisite to earning links. If you have no content relevant to your audience, you are underwater from launch, and that's not ideal.
Thirdly, this is topic is a post in its own right.
However, in summary, if you then take the necessary marcoms steps to maintain your brand's relevance with your customers and audience, then you'll be taking the basic steps required to build better SEO signal generation.
To sum up
I think I've waffled my way through keyword research, site structure, content and technical SEO at this point. I've even set out the basics for how to steer your online presence with SEO in mind after launch.
I hope I've done that in a way that argues it's all best practice anyway. Basic SEO comes your way by stepping empathically into the shoes of your audience and customers and paying attention to their needs. If I've done that successfully then I think you'll see why basic SEO is invisible; it'll happen, it'll be there, but you won't necessarily see it.
Unlike the original Invisible Man, who thought he was someone special, SEOs shouldn't.
Image credit Michael Dziedzic.