With each Google algorithm update there seems to be a new proclamation about the “death of SEO.” It seems to me that those who report the death of SEO are actually referring to SEO’s even twin – sometimes called “black hat SEO.” Black Hat SEO is an industry built around the idea that you can trick your way to higher rankings by identifying patterns in a search engine bot’s algorithm and exploiting them. These businesses (and those who are unfortunate enough to hire them) are the folks who generally suffer most after a major algorithm change at Google. Those who employ SEO using best practices, however, generally benefit. The very goal of the algorithm updates are to devalue dishonest behavior and reward those who are doing things the right way.
I have been in the online marketing business since late 1999. While technical elements have evolved, the keys to success with your Google rank are pretty much the same. The primary driver is still content. And it will likely always be content. Google repeats this refrain constantly, as Matt Cutts recently stated on the Google Webmaster blog:
“We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites. As always, we’ll keep our ears open for feedback on ways to iterate and improve our ranking algorithms toward that goal.” ~ Matt Cutts on Google Webmaster blog
In short, white hat SEO is a focus on the following:
I am certainly not the only internet marketer who has repeated this refrain. Marketing Consultant and MOZ contributor Kristina Kledzik posted an article today on MOZ’s Search Engine Trends that hits the right note. In her post “Be the Result that Google Wants to Rank” she illustrates the most essential lesson in all of SEO; your website must be of value to the end user. If there isn’t something tangible for the reader, the inevitable changes to Google’s algorithms will eventually lower the rank of your site pages. Lower value = lower rank.
Kledzik points out that even since her relatively recent introduction as an SEO person in 2010, Google’s ability to rank and sort a pages has improved. And, as she mentions, they will continue to improve their ability to connect searchers with the content they want. Kledzik offers up some helpful tips on how to help your marketing efforts in form and function on your website while outlining some industry changes in the past three years. All in all, a very helpful outline for small business online marketers. Here’s an excerpt, followed by a link to the full article.
“… if you’re a white hat SEO who keeps up on search engine trends, Google has probably led you into doing some good online marketing without even realizing it. To explain this a little more clearly, here’s a comparison of some of the top white-hat SEO strategies from 2010, when I started, and how you should handle them in 2013:
On-page keyword usage → content strategy
2010: The best way to rank #1 for a keyword was to use it in the <title>, the <h1>, maybe an <h2>, and a few times in the text (but no keyword stuffing! Google had figured that out, at least.)
2013: Google understands synonyms now, so you can use a keyword once and show that it’s highly relevant with other similar terms. Experts recommend using keyword groups (an idea that I had been hinting at for ages but didn’t think of concretely until I read Cyrus’s awesome post): Use a number of keywords that all mean approximately the same thing, so you can be relevant for all of them.” Read more “Be the Result Google Wants to Rank” by Kristina Kledzik
If Black Hat SEO should finally die out, I believe it would spare many small business owners from falling into the Black Hat trap. My philosophy is that small business folks would do best to replace “SEO” marketing dollars with strong, user centered content and a method of distribution that makes sense for their industry. I’ve shared a brief case study below.
MM Case Study | Firing an SEO Company and Improving Traffic and Conversions
I once worked with an “SEO” company that was not producing for the eCommerce client I was hired to consult for. The young man explained to me about how feverishly they study Google’s updates. And yet, even with nearly a year of work with a budget of $1000 a month, they were not able to produce a significant change in traffic to the site.
What were they doing? They created farm sites that hosted content they wrote on behalf of my client (and their other clients). The content they created was absolute nonsense, stuffed with keywords in an effort to target low-hanging keyword fruit – not the most profitable for the company, but the keywords that they felt would be easiest to manipulate.
Even if this method produced more traffic, it usually does not produce conversions, as no actual human being could have found an ounce of value in junk content. The poor quality of the content was not contested by the SEO company. “The content was written for the search engines, not people” they said. So, what happens when your customer finds this gibberish? When is the last time the Google robot purchased something from you? This was an enormous waste of money for the small business.
The SEO company was let go and the budget released for alternative efforts. We added new shopping engine properties and a data feed management service, updated the product data sent to Google Shopping, tweaked their online search function, and made a few small changes to the shopping cart design which resulted in:
[ Year-over-year 2012-2013 ]
My client had very little original content on their site, but they had over 50,000 skus in their database. This product based strategy made the most sense for them with this limited budget. However, long term, they could produce a content based marketing strategy that would keep them competitive in the free SEO space for much longer.