SEO is changing but it is certainly not dead

seo is changingThere have been many within the digital marketing industry who have been commenting of late that SEO is dead; Here are a few examples:

Although I agree with the authors that SEO is indeed changing; stating that it is dead is just naive – and no, I cannot claim to hold an objective opinion here 😉

This counter opinion is also nothing unique to me; @bill_slawski gave his thoughts here.

The thing is that Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have never really changed their tune; for a search engine to be successful it needs to return the most relevant and useful results to users when they key in a search. They have always been actively fighting webspam; you can read this post from Matt Cutts from 2006 that explains what they were doing about webspam back then and why they removed BMW from their search listings. The only difference today is that they are getting better at achieving what they have always been striving to achieve. It is getting to the point now where it is difficult for spammers as well as small scale SEO practitioners to earn a living through short term SEO tactics. When this point is reached, and I do not think that it will be long then we will see a fundamental improvement in the quality of content on the web as well as a reduction in the type of spam that has been prevalent over the past 10 years.

What I think that everyone would agree on is that things have changed a bit and that techniques and practices consequently have to change.

How can I get success from SEO nowadays?

There are 4 main things that you need to do; none of them are difficult or complicated to understand, but I do think that SEO is now, more than ever about a long term commitment to building a reputable brand (an individual or an organisation) and also link building is now tougher than ever (but still worthwhile and do-able).

1. Onsite SEO

This has never been easier; most web platforms such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal all come with basic SEO built into the platform and supplemented by theme creators and plug in creators who understand SEO and who take care of it for you.

All the end user really has to do is to understand their business niche and to research properly the keywords using tools such as the Google Keyword Tool that users are searching on to look for the right keywords to use within their content and core HTML tags such as the title, H1 and H2 tags, image alt tags as well as the meta description.

For ecommerce sites and also those in the food industry there is also the benefit of using structured markup for seo. I think that the support for structured markup will grow significantly over the coming years as all search engines have collaborated on I am not sure if this is the first example of all major search engines collaborating but it is the only case I am aware of.

I think that the focus of onsite SEO will move towards content layout that encourages interaction and sharing. I saw a great blog post by Derek Halpern on the perfect layout for a blog post and there is also the KISSMetrics info-graphic on the anatomy of the perfect landing page.

What is written in the content of the page will remain very important and the use of both internal linking structures as well as external linking structures will also remain very important. Of growing importance will be the authority of the author of the content; this will be the brand domain and/or the individual author of a piece of content (e.g. a blog post).

2. Being Creative in content production

Creating content for SEO used to be about ensuring that target keywords are included a certain number of times at a certain density along with synonyms and variations. There was less focus on the quality of the actual writing. Content for SEO has now gone far beyond simple textual content.

I feel like content marketing is probably much like the wild west days of onsite SEO was 10 years ago (I wasn’t there to verify this). Content for the web is going through a very experimental period as companies try blogging, making infographics, running research projects, video production, interviews, podcasts, content curation, app development, review content, product guides, e-books, white papers and the list goes on and on and on.

This is exciting as companies are being forced to understand what their customers require in terms of information, then think about the best way to communicate this information to them and to then disseminate the information in an effective way so that it reaches the right people.

The key over the coming months and years will be:

  • Using data such as web analytics to understand how users are consuming the content on your website – what is popular and what is not and where can improvements be made.
  • Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods to better understand your customers needs.
  • Using conversion rate optimisation and constant testing to improve the experience on your web properties
  • Using social sharing data from your own site as well as competitors to understand what pieces of content garner the most interest and are shared the most.

Once you have a solid understanding of the content that you need then you can put together a content plan that delivers this. But as well as looking back in order to make safe bets going forward it will also become important to budget for some high risk marketing efforts that test new waters and try new things.

Clever use of new tools and apps is growing in importance so staying ahead of the curve on technological developments is also important to do. This may mean having an element of link building/blogger outreach automated at an early stage in the process so that it can be scaled efficiently and then all follow ups handled manually as they will need a personal touch. Or it may mean simply putting tools such as Rapportive and Boomerang to use in Gmail to make your link outreach more efficient.

3. Becoming an authority in your field

This is another long term effort that will not be achievable by all of us as it requires true expertise as well as the ability to communicate that expertise and knowledge so that others enjoy listening to what you have to say.

I think that everyone in the SEO world now understands the ability of social media to aid SEO efforts. There is still discussion as to whether or not social sharing actually impacts search engine rankings; although research pieces such as the Branded3 Twitter research claim that they have objectively proved that it does.

What is for sure is that social media can get your content in front of the right people. If you are in the SEO field and write a blog post that @randfish, @ericward, @seobook and @dannysullivan choose to share then you know that your content is going to receive thousands of views and probably thousands of shares as these four people all have authority and influence in the field of SEO.

If people with authority recommend your content then not only will others view your content and share it but some will also undoubtedly reference it in the content that they are writing (link to it) – in the same way that I have referenced content in this post. As well as that you will pick up a lot of followers on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc that you can then leverage for greater sharing in the future.

Through this kind of experience you will also gain kudos and awareness of your brand (either personal or company depending on how you brand your site and social profiles). This takes you a rung up the ladder towards becoming an authority.

There are many ways to go about gaining authority in your field but all of them involve sticking your neck out and being honest about what you stand for and communicating it well and convincingly. Once you have some awareness through blogging then you can perhaps try to start speaking at events, running webinars, contributing to books as well as conducting interviews; basically anything that gets you a platform where you can have your message heard. Once you have a stage it is then dependent on how strong your message is as to whether you continue to climb the ladder.

4. Blurring the boundaries of your marketing channels to formulate an integrated approach to linkbuilding.

This is perhaps where my opinion aligns most closely with those that are commenting that SEO is dead.

Search results are now heavily personalised for each user; this is based on location, content preferences, past search history, social sharing history and perhaps other things too that I am not aware of yet.

Because of personalisation a ranking in position 1 does not necessarily mean a ranking in position 1 for everyone which unfortunately means that your traffic may not grow in spite of SEO success (by traditional measurement).

Additionally; even if you do the first 2 things stated above – build a great website and optimise it well for SEO and then create fantastic content without number 3 to add into the mix you are not going anywhere fast; as you can see I am not a great believer in the build it and they will come philosophy.

Getting users to view your content is vital to SEO success. How you do this requires creativity and hustle. This is basically how I see linkbuilding over the next few years:

  • Building social relationships with influential bloggers, industry experts and press
  • Guest blogging on high traffic sites in your niche and promoting your content in your bio.
  • Using PPC to target low cost informational keywords that are in the very early stages of the search funnel or even targeting your peers rather than your prospects. The idea is to get people to your content and for them to then share it socially and to link to it so that the SEO ball gets rolling; once you have momentum then PPC is turned off.
  • Contacting and interviewing experts in your niche – preferably who are also active social media users and keen to promote the interview along with you.
  • Researching content resources and curated resources for your niche that have not included you and then running outreach exercises to get your content added to the resources.
  • Submitting to niche directories – yes, I still think that it is worth submitting to high quality niche directories as well as high quality general directories e.g. Yell, Yahoo, DMOZ and best of the web etc.
  • Speaking at industry events.
  • Leveraging email marketing to drive traffic to your content – on a similar approach to the PPC – you are helping users solve problems; not selling them something. Although outbound email is perhaps a declining industry, and one with a poor reputation it still can be done effectively and ethically through buying your list carefully.
  • Running occasional press releases when you have something interesting to announce, not just a new recruit that no-one cares about.

I am going to stop there as this has grown in to a much longer post than I initially intended. There is probably a lot that I have missed so please add to it in the comments.

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