Earlier this year, Google rolled out Penguin 2.0, a major algorithmic update that promised to devalue websites with large numbers of manipulative links in their profile. As usual, this prompted yet another round of doomsayers decrying the state of SEO and all but pronouncing it dead.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth.
But, SEO has undoubtedly changed. And, it’s certainly a useful exercise to explore the state of SEO and what is to come. At Elasticity, we’re not focused on delivering quick results that could erode away as algorithms change. We’re interested in building long-term equity in organic search that will pay dividends for years to come.
First, Let’s Recap
In the past 24 months, the world of search engine optimization (SEO) has been in turmoil. While Google had warned companies for years about the dangers of relying on low quality link building and optimization tactics, many in the field of SEO had grown complacent. In 2011, they were caught off guard when Google unleashed major algorithm updates – code named Panda and Penguin – designed to finally curtail the overt manipulation of their search results. Since then, Google has continued to roll out updates for both Panda and Penguin, punishing sites seeking ranking while rewarding sites devoted to delivering their users value.
Search According to Google
As Google has maintained for years, their formula for success in SEO is simple:
- Focus on Users: Build a great website, focusing on users, not search engines.
- Avoid Manipulation: Avoid tricks intended to improve search rankings.
- Create Great Content: Develop original content focused on your audience.
- Profit!: Users will find your content and magically flock to your site.
Of course, unlike Field of Dreams, if you build it, visitors probably will not magically come. It requires sustained, ongoing promotion, marketing and outreach to make this work.
And this is where we begin to see the convergence of multiple disciplines that are so very critical to success in search in 2013 and beyond.
So, if outright manipulation is no longer effective, and the prescription offered by Google is too simplistic, what is the magic formula for higher rankings? While there is no single panacea, there are some practical strategies that will build organic search traffic in the long term.
In 2013, success in SEO is dependent upon business weaving together a robust strategy that brings together an understanding of the technical underpinnings of a website, great content that resonates with your audience across channels, and the public relations and marketing savvy to build and leverage relationships to promote your site and content. Oh, and don’t forget mobile. Piece of cake, right?
The reality is that SEO today requires skills that cross marketing disciplines:
- Web Development: Technical understanding of the website
- Content Development: From copywriting to video development, great content is the cornerstone of modern SEO.
- Social Media: Social media is playing an increasingly important role in how sites are ranked. We anticipate this trend accelerating in the future.
- Public Relations: Relationships with media and online influencers are critical to promoting your website, your content and your (real) news.
- User-Experience: A holistic SEO strategy should not simply end with the click. Rather, it should look at what happens post-click, helping to optimize your conversion rates.
- Mobile: Mobile optimized sites are increasingly important as both the growth of mobile search accelerates, and as Google’s mobile search results are increasingly focused on mobile-optimized sites.
Building Long-Term SEO Equity
In the wake of Penguin 2.0, gone are the days of a quick rise to dominance in rankings. Rather, companies should focus on developing strategies designed to deliver long-term benefits to their site and their brand.
At its core, this involves a completely new way of approaching SEO. Rather than trying to systematically manipulate Google, you must focus on understanding and delivering value to your audience, building your brand and distributing your content across new channels.
While there are certainly others, today we’ll focus on three pillars of a modern approach to SEO:
- Social media.
The Rules of our Attention Economy
We live in an attention economy, where marketers are feverishly vying for the attention of their distracted audience – set against a backdrop of media fragmentation. While Google councils companies to “create great content,” the reality is that simply isn’t enough. You have to create amazing content that is unique enough to break through the clutter and connect with your audience.
Nothing new here. In fact, we recently wrote about the craft of content creation plays a critical role at Elasticity.
Ultimately, the goal of content creation from a SEO perspective is simple: attract inbound links, social shares and greater brand awareness. How do you do that? It’s no easy feat, so we’ll table that discussion for a future post.
However, one aspect of content creation that should be front of mind is Google Authorship. You’ve probably noticed that increasingly author profile pictures are showing up in search results. It should come as no surprise that results with author pictures have dramatically greater click-through-rates than regular results. Some studies have show increases greater than 100%! Given the potential gains, if you currently have a blog and regularly post content, I would strongly encourage you to visit Google to learn how to link your Google+ profile to the content you create.
Promotion: Spreading Your Message
You’ve written the most amazing guide to tackle the most pressing challenge faced by much of your audience, but shockingly, the magic traffic fairies haven’t blessed your site with more traffic. What’s up?
The reality is, after you’ve produced an amazing piece of content, you have to let the world know about it. That requires relationships. And, this is where a classic approach of public relations comes into play. Conducting outreach to traditional media and online influencers will enable you to connect with your audience and demonstrate expertise in your field. This requires an adept, experience hand. It requires a staff that understands the delicate art of the pitch.
The keys to success include:
- Deliver Value: More than anything, you must recognize that your mission is to help make their job easier. They get plenty of pitches. You must understand what they typically cover and understand what would be of value to their readers.
- Know the Landscape: Understand the influential voices that matter to your audience.
- Build Relationships: Build and nurture relationships in advance.
- Don’t Waste Their Time: Forget the long-form press release. It’s our belief that press releases are generally a waste of time in most cases. And, more than anything, cut to the chase. Keep things brief and to the point.
- Personalize Everything: In most cases, it’s insulting to send out an announcement en masse. Avoid this at all costs.
Embracing Social Media
Social media has had a profound impact on SEO. Beyond the rise of high-ranking social media sites, today social signals are having a direct impact on how sites are ranking in the search results pages. In fact, there are numerous studies that have demonstrated a strong correlation between social media activity and organic search rankings.
A 30,000-foot playbook includes:
- Start with Google+: From a purely SEO perspective, it’s critical to have a presence in Google+. Google has explicitly noted that social signals from Google+ play a role in how sites are organically ranked. And, if you’re using paid search, there is an ad extension that allows you to show how many people have +1’d your site, increasing CTRs and enabling you to capture a larger share of traffic.
- It’s all about content: Content forms the foundation of any social media strategy. Long-form content, while great for some audiences, doesn’t translate well in social media. Rather, consider distilling content into 100 character summaries and linking to any additional assets.
- Engage with the Community: Of course, social media is, well, social. It’s about people. To excel, you must connect and engage with your followers and give then a reason to come back for more (see content).
- Make it Easy to Share Content: For all content you produce, enable users to easily share it on social media.
The world of SEO has gong through a tectonic shift in the past two years. But for savvy search marketers who have been paying attention, not much has changed. To build long-term search engine equity today, marketers must focus more on their users and less on the search engines.