While the debate over the future of SEO continues amongst digital marketers, the truth about driving revenue from search is that you now have to ‘follow the rules’ more strictly, and to the ultimate benefit of online communities and shoppers. And while these changes are not across the board in all search engines, for the purposes of this post I will focus on Google because it accounts for almost all UK and European search queries.
2013 saw a number of different updates to Google's search engine. The most discussed were Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird, which modified the search engine giant's algorithms to make search more semantic, disavow purchased links and create a better search experience for users.
So what do all these changes mean for SEO professionals in 2014? Well, there's good and bad news, as in most cases with Google updates.
So let's start with the bad, and work our way up to the good.
The bad news is that SEO is no longer just about the technicalities of link building and climbing search engines into visibility, it's all about organic growth. This means that while black hat SEOs may have been successful in the past in boosting their clients' websites to the top of rankings, now they will be strapped for progress in the same manner.
Black hat tactics may not always be a negative thing, and in fact, many growth hackers employ black hat tactics to do their job. However, Google is out to get these tactics banned from their search engine, so not following the rules they set out will eventually, if not already, catch up with you.
Panda was first introduced as a Google update in 2011, and it strove to devalue content that was either duplicated, or created by obvious content farms. This included articles with less than 500 words, and link heavy blog posts that added little value to their readership. Sites that used these tactics were eventually found out by Google and slid down in rankings accordingly. Stripping websites from such content is the only way to recover from such a blow, and many websites suffered by not doing so quickly enough. But those that were worthy of climbing up in SERPs are getting their deserved exposure.
Then there were the Penguin updates, which were a series of changes to Google's old search algorithm, and devalued link building tactics that included click farms allowing website owners to purchase links. This was by far the most prevalent SEO tactic in the past, and Penguin's introduction in 2013 meant that this option was quickly becoming unusable, and punishable as well.
Hummingbird is Google’s new search algorithm that was switched over to without much notice late in 2013. It retained some of the updates that helped create a better user experience, but with significant enhancements that would affect up to 90% of its users.
Google has also recently hidden keywords from marketers view, except of course when driving revenue through PPC campaigns, which means that keyword research must evolve into industry and market research. Google no longer cares as much about keywords as it does about contextual phrases. This is mainly to reflect user behaviour, since users no longer search for just ‘red trainers’ but ‘best red trainers in London’. Google is leaning towards providing users with the ability to contextualise their queries further, which proves to make SEO a different playing field.
Climbing Up the Ladder
While this may sound scary for some marketers who were perhaps hoping to keep capitalizing on older black hat tactics that garnered results before, today’s Google plays quite differently. This is far from a travesty; in fact, it means SEO professionals can now differentiate how they drive revenue to websites through search.
- Act Natural
SEOs can feel free to relax a bit. Google wants users to get the best content and results that they can, so make sure that the products, descriptions, and content that you display on your site will answer your core market’s queries. In order to do that, you’ll have to get in close and personal with your visitors, subscribers and customers. When you produce content that is engaging and relevant, backlinks will follow naturally and progressively increase.
- Be Responsive
Smart phones and tablets have heavy and significant usage in the UK, Europe and US, with numbers continuing to grow in 2014. If your target customers use them, which, hint hint, they probably do, make sure your website content is viewable, scrollable, digestible and sharable on at least a couple of devices.
- Write Your Heart Out
The debate still continues amongst content marketers. Should I increase the amount of content I produce, should I focus on length and quality, or should I hit my head against a wall?
From Google’s perspective, you should do more or the first two, less of the third option. Increasing the amount of content you produce on your website can greatly affect the amount of attention you get from the search giant. Not only will this keep you climbing the search ladder, it will keep your audience engaged, which is the ultimate goal.
Google also wants content producers to avoid short unintelligible and uninformative content, which there is now too much of floating around the web. So focus on answering vital questions for your audience, and keep your word length in mind when producing content.
On the other hand, optimizing for mobile also means optimizing for an audience with a short attention span. Readers on smart phones don’t want adjectival-heavy novellas; they want concise answers to specific questions. In effect, they want you to cut out the fluff. Creating mobile-specific content through apps can easily solve this dilemma, but the added expense is something your team will have to discuss.
SEO may be a different landscape in 2014, but it will also create opportunities for retailers and content producers to put their best foot forward and please their audience all the more. Making sure that you have the right content strategy in place will ensure that the elements of SEO your website requires will create the best experience for your users. And maybe it’s time to put those black hat tactics to rest; the rules are there for both users and producers in the digital world.