Does SEO exist any more or has it lost its relevance?
In the internet marketing world, a debate has been hotly raging over the past few years – has SEO lost its relevance for website page ranking? Does SEO exist any more, according to our old definitions?
Google’s algorithms just keep a-changing
The SEO debate was spurred by the effect of Google’s major algorithm changes (some of which were pleasingly named Pigeon, Panda and Penguin). The Hummingbird update of 2013 in particular, created major changes in how Google search works. Hummingbird, more plainly known as the semantic search update, intended to help Google respond not simply to keywords in a search query, but to the user’s actual search intent behind the keywords they chose.
Whereas keywords had always been King of the Castle in the past (followed closely by Crown Prince Backlinks), now Google was actually trying to think like a person. For example if you type the phrase ‘just put your lips together and blow’ into Google, the first result is a link to a YouTube clip of the famous Bogie and Bacall scene from To Have and Have Not. Luckily!
So, do these changes spell the end of SEO as we know it, as the most important influencing factor in your organic search engine page rank?
What does SEO mean anyway?
First a bit of a primer, because Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is confusing. This probably stems from the fact that SEO has never been just one thing, but rather a collection of ‘best practices’ to help your website show up. SEO best practises include using the correct title tags on web pages (semantic mark-up); strong and logical URL addresses; using keywords relevant to your topics; and relevant hyperlinks between pages.
However, along the way these SEO best practices developed an evil cousin, now known as ‘black hat SEO’. Black hat SEO techniques included seeding links to a site from multiple low quality sites or link farms; stuffing a site with multiple keywords; and using invisible text, which involves hiding keywords within page code.
Google’s changes weren’t made for the sole purpose of pinpointing sites with bad SEO practices and penalising them (although they did have this effect).
The major reason for Google’s changes was (and still is) to make search engine results increasingly relevant to the user. In turn, this keeps Google in its position as the most dominant search engine in the world, because users are happy with the quality of search results they receive.
The thing about black hat SEO techniques was that while they could lift a website high in the page rankings, when a visitor clicked on the link they would find a site that could be devoid of the useful content they were seeking. And that made searchers grumpy.
The rising importance of relevant content
Bill Gates first wrote his essay ‘Content is King’ in 1996. In this much quoted piece, he spoke about how increasingly important content would be in the future of the internet. Gates was seeing content as a commodity that could be sold and not as a technique for making websites more valuable and higher ranking, but many of his insights are still relevant almost 20 years on.
We’ve written about the importance of Content Marketing before for bringing visitors to your website – here’s a Content Marketing primer if you missed this. Here’s a short and sharp take-away:
If your website or blog is seen as a source of up-to-date, relevant, and credible information on your industry, or offers educational content based around the problems that your business solves for clients, Google search will now seek out and prioritise your information.
Of course, the search engines do need to be able to find your high quality content, which leads us back in a rather neat circle to SEO or rather – CO – Content Optimisation. By optimising your content such as blog posts by using keywords, images with alt tags, semantic headings and more, you are giving your great content a change of being found.
How to Implement an SEO Strategy today
So SEO isn’t extinct, it’s just…different.
Digital marketer Samuel J Scott has come up with a new paradigm of what search engine optimisation means in 2015:
- SEO means designing and developing websites that include items like good site hierarchy, XML sitemaps, and fast loading pages.
- SEO means guiding visitors towards a desired action such as a product sale, contact-form submission, gated content download, subscribing to email lists or reading case studies. This includes testing the effectiveness of Calls to Action and landing pages and adjusting if necessary.
- SEO means creating quality content such as blog posts, videos, infographics, e-books, white papers and reports and infographics to show up more often in search results. The more high quality posts and pages you add to your website, the more Google will index. An advanced content strategy will involve creating different types of content aimed at supporting customers through different stages of the sales funnel or process.
- SEO means being social, and sharing out your quality content on the right social networks to help people discover your website. The right social networks can vary, depending on what your service or product, and target market is. Create useful pieces of content and other authors are likely to mention them, giving you a natural way to build relevant and quality links.
- SEO means working to ‘earn’ media coverage from reputable sources – this is also known as PR or media relations. Having your brand or product independently covered by an authoritative news source or blogger can bring a whole new audience to your website.
- SEO means checking and learning to understand your website analytics and understanding how various types of traffic are converting to your marketing goals.
The New Focus is on Value
Traditional SEO techniques were all about optimizing websites for other computers, servers, robots and spiders. Now that Google has started teaching these machines to think like humans, the focus of optimisation needs to be on creating a good user experience with genuinely helpful content on your nice-to-use website.
With Google running 500–600 algorithm updates a year, it’s likely that they will continue to find new ways to reward useful, educational content.
So rather than fixating on SEO, focus on creating value for your visitors – thereby giving search engines a great reason deliver you to your prospects.
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