For many marketers and small business owners, search engine optimization (SEO) used to be a lot like the Wizard of Oz – you knew something odd was going on behind the curtain, but you didn’t really want to know what. As long as someone else was pulling the strings, you were OK with your great and powerful website presence.
Today, however, SEO has changed – and it’s critical for both marketers and business owners to understand how and why. So let’s take a look at where SEO was, where it’s heading, and what this all means for online business.
Search Engine Land provides this definition:
“It is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines. All major search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have primary search results, where web pages and other content such as videos or local listings are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users. Payment isn’t involved, as it is with paid search ads.”
SEO used to focus heavily on the individual words used on a website page or in the metadata of a web site. Google and other search engines used these words to determine if a site was relevant as a search result.
Because of this, some SEO “experts” began gaming the system with something often called “keyword stuffing”. As Google explains:
“‘Keyword stuffing’ refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.”
Google got wise to this (and other black hat SEO practices), and it began changing its algorithms. A lot.
Most of Google’s algorithm changes relate back to one goal: Providing Google users with the best, most relevant, most trustworthy search results.
If you do too, then you have to pay attention not only to SEO, but also to your website’s content. Because today, SEO and content are best buddies.
Here’s why: For Google to consider your website best-relevant-trustworthy, you have to prove your authority with amazing, best-in-industry content. As Michael Brenner, Head of Strategy for NewsCred, wrote in a recent Content Marketing Institute article:
“You have to have great content. Your content should live on a platform that has some existing or growing domain authority and follows standard best practices for SEO. If your content is great, you will gain the holy grail of content marketing and SEO: inbound links from websites of higher authority.”
Today, the exact keywords you use in your content matter less than writing content for actual people about interesting, relevant topics.
Rand Fishkin of Moz gives a great overview of modern SEO in his Whiteboard Friday video:
As Rand says:
“Google certainly seems to be getting very good at recognizing relevancy of particular websites around topic areas. Meaning that if I’ve done a good job in the past of showing Google that I’m relevant for a particular topic like bowling shoes, when I put together custom, graphic-printed, leather bowling shoes pages, that page might rank right away. Even if I haven’t done very much work to specifically earn links to it and get anchor text and those kinds of things, because of the relevancy signals I’ve built up in the past.”
However, it’s important to remember that although content plays a critical role in SEO today, simply producing great content is not enough to increase your organic search rankings. CEO of Stone Temple Consulting Eric Enge explains in this Fortune article:
“It is true that creating good/great content is a part of the puzzle, but you still need to architect your site so Google and Bing can find it, there is still a role for keyword research, you probably should be implementing Schema on your web site, and a lot more.You also need to market your site in some manner to build your reputation and visibility. The ranking algorithms still use inbound links as a major ranking factor, as it provides the search engines with information on which sites are the most valuable in response to a given search query.”
So there are SEO best practices that still apply today – even if you are consistently publishing great content. CoSchedule’s Garrett Moon writes:
“From what I can see, the opportunity for content marketers to use SEO-driven tactics is more applicable now than ever. We already have the content. What if we add a little science and tactic to our work–who knows where we might go in the future? We could even put ourselves on page one of search. Wouldn’t that be something?”
Yes, yes it would. [I’d recommend reading CoSchedule’s The Complete Guide to the SEO Driven Approach to Content Marketing for detailed information about how to make keywords and metadata work for your content.]
And you most likely will never understand everything involved in Google’s algorithms. But you can begin to produce great content, optimize that content, use smart strategies and tactics to share that content … and get ahead of many of your competitors.
TopRank’s Lee Odden writes:
“Make an effort to find out what formats, topics and measurable actions could be applied to content planning. Also consider how that content will be discovered and employ SEO, social media promotion and even targeted advertising to attract relevant “buyers” of your information.”
Michael Brenner sums up nicely:
“Brands that want to gain the biggest SEO bang for their content marketing budgets have to balance original, licensed, and community content. They have to balance volume, value, and variety. And they have to challenge the myths and learn from their own tests in trying to regularly reach their audience with great content.”
What questions do you have about content & SEO? Let us know in the comments section. And don’t forget to subscribe below for more tips on crafting and sharing a story that will engage your audience and grow your business.