SEO at a Crossroads

According to an article on SearchEngineLand, everything we may have known about the search industry is changing, in fact, it is continuously evolving. Google rolls out new algorithms, tools, and products on a regular basis, Bing has partnered with Facebook, SEO toolsets are being forced to change their approach, and techniques used by SEOs are continually being re-visited to test their validity.

Yet, there’s a paradox that exists amidst this feverish pace of change: classic, boring, “old SEO” is still what works best.

Now, before you publicly flagellate me for sounding off with such sacrilegious puffery, please continue reading.

Signs Of Evolution

There are, no doubt, some striking developments in search. Primarily the result of Google’s relentless pursuit of innovation (in the quest to seek ever higher profits while delighting users, a balance they teeter on from time to time), the search we see today may resemble that of 2010 superficially, but it is a different animal.

Google’s shopping blend is now paid, PLAs account for nearly 30% of non-brand paid search for e-commerce sites, Panda and Penguin dwelt a one-two punch to short-term SEO and paid links, and we see glimpses of the future in authorship, Google+ and the Knowledge Graph.

The Knowledge Graph, in particular, certainly points to a future far different in how Google may score pages.

 

Google is increasingly seeking to understand entities and their aspects.

Google is increasingly seeking to understand entities and their aspects.

Ranking Entities & Their Aspects

RKG has seen the influence of Google’s a priori knowledge of people, places, and things (known as entities) on Web search results. These entities have certain aspects associated with them. These aspects can be used to inform how a SERP is built, a method of ranking beyond the classic PageRank model of webpages and links.

For example, we know that Blake Mycoskie is the founder of TOMS Shoes, has a non-profit, is married, is a Christian, etc. Influencing a search result for a Blake Mycoskie query is made much more difficult if Google understands certain realities about him, because rather than just trying to shuffle results up and down the page with link tactics, SEOs would, in fact, have to change reality to change the SERP. This has serious ramifications for online reputation management work, notably for celebrities.

Social Search

Bing continues to be the leader in integrating search and social media, pulling data from nearly every major social network in a ‘separate but integrated’ presentation. Why doesn’t Bing get more attention for this? For one thing, it’s hard to change deeply conditioned habits.

There’s another problem, too, with their strategy: no one actually knows if integrated search and social media have value. There’s a lot of interest in the theory, but the practical application of combining search and social media is still nascent. We haven’t seen if the users care. (It’s mostly us marketers who are excited.) Yes, Bing has increased marketshare, but it’s still just a few ticks over 16%.

Google takes a very different approach to search and social integration. Rather than embrace the social Web and partner with Facebook and others, Google+ represents a proprietary “social layer” that pervades Google search results and integrates with all of Google. Google+ is Google, and Google is Google+.

I grant that Facebook’s Graph Search is very cool, but no one’s sure what it will become. Signs point to the potential for a disruptive approach to search as we know it or, at least, a useful tool if you’re looking for single women nearby who enjoy getting drunk and like men. Only kidding…

Facebook has serious data and there is immense power in Graph Search for marketers. But, the powerfully revealing queries one can perform on Graph Search help to illuminate a whole universe of unsolved problems with social search.

 

80% of iOS6 traffic is hidden for our SEO clients.

80% of iOS6 traffic is hidden for our SEO clients.

 

Mobile

Mobile is increasingly playing a big role in the future of search. In fact, global mobile traffic is nearing 15%; roughly 20% of our clients’ traffic is now mobile. With varied behaviors based on the device, smart marketers need to be thinking in ever more sophisticated ways about how to serve content on smartphones, mobile phones and tablets. And, guess what, Google justchanged the game on that for paid search, while the iOS6 hidden traffic problem is still not widely known by SEOs.

The Old Stuff Works

The acceleration of mobile is actually a very good example of how so-called old SEO techniques remain especially relevant today. The complexity around handling mobile content and SEO is not trivial.

Google lists useful documentation covering three basic approaches. Technical SEO expertise is key in order to successfully understand and deploy any of these approaches. And beyond that, it takes technical SEO to understand when a Google best practice could potentially create a sub-optimal user experience for your site.

Technical SEO remains the foundation of quality, comprehensive organic work. In this era of less is more SEO, our teams consistently move the need for companies by getting their house in order: pagination, duplicate content, faceted navigation, internal linking, mobile sites and site search are a few of the major technical areas needing attention. This is important work that most every large online business can justify.

Panda’s classification of Web content has magnified the need to create compelling, engaging content that users find valuable. While the emerging field of content strategy is new and exciting, the idea of building great content is nothing new. After all, Bill Gates proclaimed that content is the key back in early 1996.

 

Bill Gates saw content as the key in 1996.

Bill Gates saw content as the key in 1996.

Social media has the potential to drastically change the game of SEO (and with it, online marketing). Social media is powerful and here to stay. However, just when it changes the game of SEO is anyone’s guess.

In fact, links remain the single most important off-page ranking factor for Google (as Matt Cutts has insinuated). SearchMetrics’ study of ranking factors placed backlinks second only to Facebook Shares. While on the surface, this seems to suggest the influence of Facebook metrics over Google’s ranking factors; deeper thinking makes it apparent that popular content — which tends to gather more links — is also correlated with high Facebook activity. SearchMetrics’ conclusions are very much in line with those of experienced SEOs: links are still gold.

It must be granted that Bing’s approach to ranking pages marks a clear distinction from Google’s, specifically in how they are actively using social signals in their algorithms. We’re encouraged by Bing and their innovation and hope it leads to increased adoption and marketshare for Bing.

Back To The Future: Panda & Penguin

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates fundamentally changed the game for SEOs. Panda handily demolished thin content and the strategy of scaling infinite thin, poor-quality pages supported by an authoritative domain. Penguin cleanly discounted many manipulative links. The irony of these two massive updates is the way in which they reinforced the “old SEO” approach so many of us never stopped believing in.

Panda made high quality content and happy users matter more for SEO. Penguin made relevant, topical and useful links matter more than anchor-text stuffed spam. Ready the flux capacitor for 2009 because that’s pretty close to where we were back then, too.

SEO At A Crossroads

There’s a paradox in our work today: what’s coming is amazing (Knowledge Graph, Graph Search), what’s here is changing more rapidly than ever (authorship and rel publisher), and what’s always worked still works.

That’s why it’s called sustainable SEO. Much of the SEO industry suffers from “shiny new object” syndrome, always curious about the Next Big Thing. I don’t blame us for it. Things change so rapidly, it’s a bit of a professional ailment. We just need to remember: the more things change the more they stay the same.

 

 


The above article was originally written by Adam Audette for SearchEngineLand, and can be accessed by clicking here.

About The Author:  is the Chief Knowledge Officer at RKG, where he blogs regularly. You’ll find him speaking at conferences around the world when he’s not riding down mountains on something fast. Follow Adam on Twitter as @audette

Comments

  1. Great post. It is true that Google is constantly updating their algorithms. Anyone working in SEO needs to be constantly up to date.

  2. What a great article and a timely reminder that only web sites that have volume quality content and make users happy (returning and staying) are of use to search engines. A competitor, some time ago, wanted to charge me to exchange links. He cited the fact that his google page rank was four points above ours. Along came Penguin and Panda, noted that his 2000 links mostly had nothing to do with his content, and his page rank spiralled downwards rapidly whilst our went up. Good on ya google.

  3. However, based on the latest penguin 2.0 update, the “old” method of on-page has become less important as the off-page integration through the use of guest posts, social mentions and likes, followers etc. It makes it incredibly hard for SMEs to compete with large publishers.

  4. Since this is PPW website, one thing I have always wondered is portals use content from other people’s (in our case, estate agents websites) websites, most use XML feeds importing our data which is basically a carbon copy of our content. Why do portals not get hit for duplicate content? Some of the portals that I see on the net have very little editorial content and a vast amount of properties basically imported from estate agent websites but they still rank high. Shouldn’t it be the opposite way around as they are ranking off of other agents content?

    • Alistair Helm says:

      A very interesting statement, well in fact a good question. I think the fact is that the nature of SEO allows portals to leverage the larger aggregation of content from individual agent websites’ own listings to outrank them. Added to which portals are literally born with an SEO mindset whilst real estate businesses are rightly focused on providing real estate services.

      To the issue of who owns the listings and who controls where they appear, some of my comments in this recent post titled “Industry owned portals – the Aspiration” will provide some more detailed response.

Leave a Comment

*