Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has been around for nearly as long as the Internet has. It didn’t take long for marketers to realize its incredible potential for traffic generation. Along the years, the rules have changed quite dramatically.
And yet, some of them haven’t. For instance, the now very popular saying “Content is King” isn’t exactly novelty. For many years, Google has valued content in its ranking algorithm. The shift went from valuing volume (number of indexed pages per website) to valuing quality content (length, depth, how shared an article was, etc.).
Doesn’t seem like much? Well, this ‘little’ tweak in the way we look at content has BIG implications on the long run. I’d like to detail (1) what we are going towards, and (2) how it impacts little folks like us.
1. To a Transparent, Conversion based, and people-based search.
Google has a vision. The great idea is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Basically, Google aims to deliver the best search experience to its users. What is a great search experience, you ask? Well, your users need to find the information they are looking for. Fast.
In this context, Google started to focus on content, and chose to value quality over volume, to serve its users best. Yet, Google has released a number of features particularly interesting… and many other Tech Giants have followed.
1.1 Content is becoming transparent
Even though Google’s search algorithms seem to become more obscure every year, an opposite trend is noticeable as far as content is concerned. How is content becoming transparent, you ask?
A. You might have heard of the authorship tag. The idea is to identify the author of any piece of content. Once identified, the tag will show on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) displaying a picture, name, and number of Google+ followers. It is safe to assume that Google will soon value content via AuthorRank rather than PageRank (already being rarely updated lately). Then, it no longer will be about page optimization, but rather about Authority of an author on a certain topic.
B. This trend is also visible on many User Generated Content (UGC) websites. By allowing Single Sign On from social media profiles, website guarantee to display publicly who is commenting / posting what.
Thanks to social media, we know who links to what, often publicly. Endorsing publicly (ie. on social media) a piece of content is the best possible token of appreciation, and Google knows that. Links will slowly become traceable, and this is how you kill ‘black hat’ automated link generation methods J
Long story short, we are getting to know who’s writing, commenting, sharing a great piece of content. And this is quite unprecedented.
1.2 Conversion is the new Ranking.
Old SEO was about ranking. New SEO is about converting.
Ranking was all marketers ever cared about for one reason: Click through rate on SERPs was mostly depending on how well you ranked. The quality of your title and meta description might as well have impacted it a little, but not nearly as much.
Now the game has changed, and the game changers are named Rich Snippets and structured data. The idea is to enrich SERPs with pictures, rankings, music, videos, etc. As you can imagine, you might not rank #1 position, but if your search engine result looks more appealing than the results ahead of you, your content will still be clicked (woop woop!)
But wait, there’s more. Your content can be enriched with other Google services (Google maps, Google+ to name a couple). Clearly, the trend is here to stay. The key takeaway here is to work on your markups so Google can display all the great things your page has to say directly from the SERPs J
1.3 You know what’s cooler than bots? People!
As a man working in a tech startup based on kickass node.js robots, it hurts me a little to admit it, but it is nonetheless true. Yes, my friend: Google encourages content creators to write for people, no longer for robots.
Along the years, Google has greatly improved its semantic technology. Therefore, it can now understand normal human language. Good news is: you can forget about keyword stuffed, spinned, unnatural, bullsh*t content. (Yay!). Bad news is, there are no bad news J
Here’s the key takeaway here: instead of spending an unbelievable amount of time and energy optimizing your content for SEO, you can go crazy and write longer posts, more in depth content, than real people will actually benefit from.
2. New SEO = New risks + New returns
“With great content comes great responsibility.” Like good old uncle Ben Parker understood, (1) new SEO offers an incredible opportunity for conversions. As always when there is opportunity, there is a gold rush. And when there is a gold rush, (2) cheaters start to appear. As we know, (3) Google doesn’t react well to SEO frauds, so they developed (4) new tools for the ‘SEO police’.
2.1 New opportunities
With the rise of social media, and content transparency, SEO is becoming a two way street. We can only imagine how conversation will disrupt inbound SEO in the upcoming years.
The way I see it, SERPs will become even more engaging with time. Via social media interaction, sharing, via more snippets, via higher quality content, etc. marketers will have no choice but to shift from an outbound to an inbound marketing approach.
Hopefully, this will pair up with the decrease of intrusive advertising (unsolicited cold emails, display advertising, etc.), and will lead to an open, transparent, and conversational web.
2.2 No more cheating
Yet, some people will always try to automate the process as much as possible, in order to leverage the power of SEO. Google has gotten used to be cheated, and has updated its search algorithm accordingly in the past. I have no doubt it’ll keep happening in the future.
In the past couple of years, Google has dealt with duplicate content (Panda update), with over optimization (Penguin update), and many other SEO tactics black hats have pulled. What will cheaters come up with next?
2.3 Fear my wrath, mere mortal
Black hats SEOs do not seem to understand how Google can break a business. There are many examples of business who tried to go around the rules and got blacklisted to some extent (Interflora, Overstock, more recently Rap Genius, as Techcrunch recently reported, etc.). If you ask me, it is not worth the trouble.
Still, there is, to date, no counter power to Google’s judgment as far as shady SEO practices are concerned. I guess all you can do is to stay as “white hat” as possible, and pray a little to make sure Google doesn’t come after you. There will be no appeal process then.
2.4 Desperate times, desperate measures
To make sure websites are not wrongfully accused, Google provides with the tools that can, again, make or break a business.
You might have heard of the tool to disavow inbound links to your own website. This tool is crucial. It basically says “I, Google, have given websites the opportunity to get rid of shady links, so you guys can’t complain, if you get caught, it’s totally your fault”. It rules out the possibility of you pretending to be unaware of SEO malpractices committed on your behalf. Hint: monitor closely your inbound links, and do not hesitate to disavow a link when it feels ‘funny’.
Also, you might have heard of a tool to denounce SEO malpractice. This is the best way to get the eye of Sauron Google on a (competing?) website. Even though I 100% disapprove of denunciation, this is one more reason to monitor super closely your inbound links.
TL;DR, What’s your point?
Cool story bro, but can you wrap it up in a couple of paragraphs? Sure thing.
Search is changing. SEO is becoming more powerful, and has still a great potential for development in the future, with social, localized and mobile search. Yet, the risk is great if you were not to respect the ever-changing rules of SEO.
Here’s how we applied this for Upfluence: total compliance to the Google guidelines. That means (1) no follow links, as we do NOT want paid content to affect page rank, (2) Clear “Sponsored article” mention, and (3) a framed picture of Matt Cuts on my bedside table so I don’t forget his pretty face to keep ‘white hat SEO’ in mind in my daily Digital Marketer life.