There has been much talk in the last couple of years about the “death of SEO”. Such words are dramatic and catch your attention, but I never believed, not for an instant, that SEO would die. If you’re a professional in the SEM space you come to understand that the world is constantly shifting, changing, and evolving – not dying. And like any smart species – you adapt to the changes – or you die.
The world of SEO has absolutely shifted on its axis. SEO has suffered some serious earthquakes in the last few years. And in researching some facts for this post I found it kind of creepy that those higher Richter scale quakes started at the same time as the 8.0 earthquake that shook Japan to its foundation in March 2011 and created a catastrophic 30 foot tsunami. That earthquake moved Japan’s coastline by 8 feet and it shifted the Earth on its axis by 4 inches. Incredible.
The same sort of shakeup has been happening in SEO. Google has been telling people for years that “the big one” was coming and they’ve been preaching the decline of the power of the keyword and the increase in importance of outstanding content that is useful to the visitor as well as social presence and activity.
In February 2011 Google released “Panda”, a fairly small SEO earthquake. I bet the tea cups on your website shelf rattled. Panda was an effort to penalize websites whose web copy was not original, i.e. the same copy lives on other websites. Panda also penalized sites that had duplicate or repetitive copy on their pages. Google has made it clear that keyword stuffing on pages no longer games the system and creating a large number of pages just for the sake of trying to get more pages indexed no longer works.
In April of 2012 another SEO earthquake hit. And Google named this one “Penguin”. Penguin was all about untrustworthy and spammy backlinks. Now gone were the days where you would purchase 1,000 links for $100 with the goal of flooding the internet with links back to your site. Google’s algorithms now pick up low-quality, spammy links with the scent of a bloodhound.
And in August 2013 the SEO world experienced a Richter 8.0 earthquake called “Hummingbird” (funny how Google’s animals get smaller as the algorithm changes get bigger…). An article I read on Search Engine Journal likened Panda and Penguin to car maintenance. These two changes were like changing out the spark plugs and replacing the battery. Hummingbird was like replacing the whole engine. All the chirping about Hummingbird has to do with Google introducing “contextual search”. That is, Google wanted to look beyond the base nature of keyword usage and really dive into the INTENT of the user’s search. You can just imagine how this approach takes the conventional keyword, in and of itself, and nearly makes it meaningless. For example, let’s take the keyword phrase “best restaurants san diego”. What is the searcher’s intent here? Do they simply want a list of the best restaurants? Do they want to eat at one and they need directions? Are they just interested in where Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, showed up? Google’s mission with Hummingbird is to, as best as it can, match search results with what the most logical user intent is. Quite a feat. It seems to me that Google’s efforts are akin to making a sentient robot.
So….the days of using keyword tricks, meaningless backlinks, and meaningless content are gone. Long gone.
Not only has the META “keywords” tag been useless for nearly 5 years, last year Google switched to secure search and essentially removed organic keyword data from Analytics. Bing/Yahoo followed suit. Their message is quite clear.
SEO professionals and their clients need to understand how this has changed. Websites still need to be optimized, and when that happens, SEO professionals still do keyword research to try and find the higher volume phrases that searchers use. And they’ll take care of all the little SEO tactics; like ensuring that each page has a unique and properly formatted title and description; creating a valid XML sitemap and robots.txt file; ensure that domain names properly redirect for the “www” and non-www variations, etc. But there is no longer any haggling with keywords.
Clients need to understand that their SEO person cannot guarantee that they will rank highly for any keyword. Because ranking algorithms today pay very little attention to the keywords you’ve chosen. They look at how well your site is designed, how well the copy is written, how often you are contributing copy, how many errors your web code contains, what web server you are hosted on, how active you are with social media, how many likes and +1’s and comments you get, how often the content of your site is shared, the age of your domain name, and 100’s of other factors.
How well a website ranks in the search engines has become a very multi-faceted thing that focuses on quality content, social activity, referrals, and relevancy as determined by visitor interaction with the site. Creating a website that ranks well has become a cross-function team effort between web development, social media, internet marketing and the marketing efforts and involvement of the company itself. It’s all pieces working together that ultimately impresses your visitors – and Google.
So… SEO’s and Clients – start focusing on gaining rank by providing quality content that helps your visitors and gets shared and referenced in the social space. Write content that answers your visitors questions – that teaches, guides, informs. Establish better search engine presence by showing Google and others that your website is a valuable “go to” resource such that your content gets linked to frequently and it encourages traffic to your site. Accept the fact that good search engine ranking now take a hell of a lot of effort, on the part of everyone involved.
SEO/SEM’s – start selling your services in this new reality and take time to explain to your customers how things have changed. An internet marketing program cannot be successful if your client thinks one thing and you another.
And Clients – stop yelling at your SEO person about why you aren’t #1 for some obsequious keyword that you and you alone feels is critical for your business. Stop expecting that placing a keyword on your page will get you on the first page of Google. Stop expecting that your marketing person is soley in charge of making things happen and that you and others in your company have nothing to do with it. Start being an involved member. It’s your company, They are your business goals, and you need to be in the driver’s seat.
New world. New rules. New opportunities. And hang tight. The SEO World isn’t done rattling and shaking.