In a little over a year, Google has rendered 10 years of SEO dogma mostly useless. Go ahead and throw out everything you used to hold dear, such as link building, keyword-rich content, internal links, and tracking results on SERPs. It’s time to start over.
Is all that drama necessary? Yes, it is.
Recently, Google made changes that together have dismantled what we have taken for granted in the world of SEO. Each of the six major changes focused on one aspect of search. The cumulative impact of the changes has me calling for the end of an era.
Let’s review each change chronologically.
- Google Panda. The change to Google's search results ranking algorithm was a well-publicized move to shutdown “content farms” (sites that exist solely to rank highly in search results, grab traffic, and monetize that traffic with paid ads for actual content sites). A total of 12% of search traffic was rumored to be impacted. The result was that quality sites ranked higher in search.
- Google+. Google created Google+ as a social networking service---and intended to leverage its power in search to put a dent in Facebook’s run. Google's Circles were touted as the core differentiator (a feature that Facebook quickly copied). However, the true differentiator was (and remains) the ability for Google to index social traffic in its search algorithm.
- Secure search. Google started hiding your organic search details (the terms you searched) from websites if you were logged in to Google (at first Gmail, but now all Google properties). Now, 15-30% of a site’s organic traffic is “unknown,” which places a massive hole in the marketing tool box.
- Freshness update. Targeted at news results, Google changed its rankings to display the most recent content first. For example, if you search for information about the NBA Playoffs, Google displays the 2012 playoffs, not playoffs from other years. (That change is not limited to news items. Now, the more recent the content, the more likely it will come up at the top of search results.)
- Search plus Your World. Google now indexes your social feed and includes results from your feed ahead of other natural searches, so all search results are personalized for you—when you are logged in to a Google account (and to a lesser degree, even when you are not). Now, my results are really different from your results.
- Penguin. The change will lower the search engine rankings of pages that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Google has signaled an intent to penalize sites that over-engineer the search results using keyword-stuffing techniques. The penalties will be targeted at the worst offenders.
The dynamic of managing how your company shows up in search has changed---forever. What does a “page one result” mean when every search engine results page is personalized? How can you use keywords on your site to ensure people find your business? If 30% of your organic traffic is hidden, how can you know what terms your visitors are searching?
Be Prepared for Constant Changes
You can do the following four things to help your content rank high in search results, no matter what changes Google continues to roll out.
- Write high-quality content... and write regularly. It is more important than ever to tell your story in as many channels as possible. Make sure your content is well-written, relevant, and timely. In this new web environment, good stories win readers.
- Audit your content. If you have high-quality content that hasn't been touched in a while, update it. Refresh it, share it, reuse it. Get your reimagined content out into your community in new and interesting ways.
- Get more contributors. An easy way to expand your content is to expand your list of folks creating content. Get more people in your company blogging or writing for the website, or sharing content via social channels. Tap into other sources for content, such as your user community or technical teams. Remove any technology roadblocks that make it hard to add contributors and post new content.
- Engage your community. Think about your entire web footprint holistically rather than consider them disconnected silos. Use each social channel to fill in gaps in your content strategy.
These dramatic changes may have snuck up on you. However, the good news is that we are all in the same position. Businesses that recognize what these changes mean---and can adapt to the new SEO reality fastest---will gain a critical advantage.
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Rollercoaster Ride)