Life on the Internet changes quickly. SEO is no exception and Search Engine Optimization continues to evolve at a rapid rate. What SEO is and isn’t today is quite a bit different from a few years ago. This rate of change frequently causes confusion for people that are unfamiliar with SEO. Here are some key points to help de-mystify recent SEO changes.
Google Changes Fuel SEO Changes
A major factor in the changing nature of SEO is that Google also continues to change at a rapid rate. Since Google generates roughly 70% or more of search engine traffic Google’s changes have a very profound impact on search engine optimization.
Multiple rounds of major changes to Google’s secret search algorithm, referred to by names like “Panda” and “Penguin”, have had a dramatic, continuing impact on the search results that Google presents to searchers. These changes have also had a dramatic effect on the steps businesses have to take for their sites rank well in Google.
Rapid Growth of Social Media
Another huge impact on SEO in the last few years has been the enormous growth of social media. Four years ago social media was relatively low on the priority list when it came to SEO and web searching. Some of the fastest growing social media platforms (think Pinterest) didn’t even exist four years ago.
As noted in a recent article on Search Engine Journal:
“Social is its own search. YouTube is the second largest search engine, outstripping Bing, Ask, AOL, and Yahoo in sheer volume of searches. Twitter manages 2.1 billion queries every day. Facebook’s own search engine handles an estimated half billion searches on a daily basis.” (Full article here)
Ranking Well In Google has Changed
The days of creating boatloads of cheap, high volume links with targeted keyword anchor text on low quality websites and rocketing up the rankings to the first page of Google are long gone. In today’s world those types of tactics are much more likely to get a website penalized by Google than they are to boost rankings.
Key Takeaway: Google’s search engine has gotten much smarter.
On Entrepreneur.com Jason Demers wrote an excellent piece about the changing nature of SEO:
“Just a few years ago, search-engine optimization was widely considered a specialized knowledge of how to manipulate Google’s search rankings with clever, secret tactics. While that was an accurate assessment then, the SEO industry has matured. It is now a dynamic, multifaceted online-marketing discipline that transcends clever trickery, and has become an essential requirement of expertise for every online marketer. “
“Google has facilitated and accelerated this shift by changing the game in ways that help users find information faster and in a manner that emphasizes the giant’s own products.” (Full article here)
Growth of Mobile Search
The rapid growth in the number of searches performed on mobile devices is another significant change that has impacted SEO. The last few years has seen a huge increase in users that access the web via a smartphone or tablet computer. This dramatic change has created platform dependent search results. Google frequently differentiates between mobile search and traditional desktop/laptop web search. The search results on various device types can be quite different.
If a business website performs poorly on a tablet or smartphone (slow page load times, tiny text, buttons too small, etc.) Google may potentially lower the website’s search rankings in mobile search. If your website ranks highly for important keywords on standard web (desktop) search and yet performs poorly on a mobile device your website may also perform poorly in the search engines on a smartphone or tablet.
Key Takeaway: Be sure your website performs well on smartphones and tablets.
SEO Then Versus Now
Neil Patel, in his Quick Sprout blog recently posted a very useful infographic “What SEO Used to Be Versus What SEO Is Now” that helps explain some of the changes in the SEO world over the last few years. Some of the key takeaways from Neil regarding these changes are:
• Focus more on how people engage with a particular brand, product or service.
• New SEO is more “ROI focused.”
• Create content to provide real value to the audience.
• Focus on the audience your content will attract.
• 70% of search traffic comes from long tail keywords.
• 69% of businesses focus on conversion rate and performance metrics.
Many Old Rules Still Apply – As Standards
While many new aspects of SEO have developed, many of the more conventional, nuts-and-bolts aspects of SEO are still quite important. They have just evolved to become standards. Additional insights from Search Engine Journal:
“Conventional SEO doesn’t make you rank better. It just keeps you from doing worse.”
“But this kind of SEO — the robots.txt. the rel=canonicals, the 301 redirects, the optimized H1s, and the sitemap.xmls — that’s not winning you links and generating conversions. That’s just keeping you from having a shoddy site. See? You’re not going to win rank by just complying with standards. Sure, you’ve got to comply, but then what?”
“We’ve watched the Google algorithm change dozens of times. Maybe you can remember the days when all it took was some good ol’ fashioned keyword stuffing and a few spammy directory links, and you were hitting the first position on Google. Bam! Easy!”
“Now, the algorithm is wiser and more complicated than our conjectures and prognostications. Recent algo rollouts have introduced a more intuitive search process. It’s simply not possible to game the system anymore. There is no such thing as “tricks” that really work over the long run.”
SEO and online search have changed dramatically and will continue to change. Businesses that will be successful online will adapt to these changes. A longer term approach that provides value to visitors will build the greatest business ROI over time. Using a short term, game-the-search-engines strategy won’t work.
In a current SEO strategy businesses should be creating content to provide value for visitors not search engines. Quality content with depth, information and value for visitors engages readers and drives return visits, conversions and sales. The power of blogging for business and ecommerce websites can be significant in building website traffic and engagement.
At the same time conventional SEO tactics such as keyword research and utilization, tagging, sitemaps, metadata and other technical aspects are still quite important. Even with all the SEO changes, these items are essential.
Website page loading and display times have become more important to both search engines and visitors (think customers). Optimizing your business website to perform well on both desktop and mobile platforms is crucial. Slow websites lead to a less enjoyable user experience, lower rankings and less website traffic.
SEO isn’t what it used to be. And it isn’t what it’s going to be two years from now. Adapting to ongoing SEO changes is a competitive advantage that will help drive your online business success.
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