“The term SEO is too often aligned with the unprofessional practices like link buying and web spamming for article assignment,” Sandeep Kumar Aggarwal says. He believes that SEO needs a big makeover and that, in 2015, marketers should be thinking in terms of “Optimizing Content for Discovery and Conversion,” Aggarwal happens to be one of many voices calling for the business and marketing industry as a whole to ditch search-gaming procedures in favor of a focus on serving high-quality content that people crave. In essence,: Be a publisher, not an SEO-scammer.
With all of this understood, publishers do still need to practice sound SEO strategies to get eyeballs on their content. Despite claims that social media has grown it as a traffic driver; search still remains the primary way people find great content. Subjective studies from individual publishers have created a sense that social media is eclipsing search as the primary driver of referral traffic, but broader studies tell a different story. While the site Buzzfeed has released data that showed that the site received 3.5 % more traffic from Facebook than Google, Define Media’s Marshall Simmonds was quick touch on the fact that a review of 48 billion pageviews across 87 sites showed that search is still driving 41 percent of pageviews, compared to just 16 percent from social. So how do you optimize content for search today? It helps to first understand how search engine optimization has evolved into a very complex entity.
SEO: A Brief History
So, for the past 20 years, search engines haven’t stopped tweaking their algorithm. The goal of this process is so that users have the highest quality and most relevant content possible. Additionally, marketers and publishers haven’t stopped trying to game it, either.
This reached and became a crisis point in the mid-aughts, when content farms like eHow and Associated Content flooded the search results pages with large volumes of low-quality, highly-optimized content. This happens to be a big problem for Google, and in 2011, they responded by implementing the Panda update. This Panda update allows for downgraded sites engaging in shady link schemes and implemented algorithm refinements to surface higher quality content.
While though, Google was calling on the publishing world to reevaluate their priorities. They claimed that “Their advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites and not to focus too much on what they think are Google’s current ranking algorithms or signals,”
Today, following the Panda update, other search engines like Yahoo, Bing, Ask, Aol Search, WOW and Info.com followed search engine practical monopoly Google’s lead, and since then, search engines have continued to get better at delivering high-quality, contextually-relevant search results. People, too, have become even more savvy about asking for what they want and how to get it.
By 67% of the search market, Google remains king of the industry, and is becoming increasingly more stylish at not only returning the richest query results, but also anticipating what someone will want to see next.
As Sandeep Kumar Aggarwal puts it, the difference today from years past is the shift from individual keywords to concepts: “If I search for ‘movie about tiger on boat’ Google will likely understand that I am asking about the movie “Life of Pi”, not about pages optimized for those specific keywords.”
Aggarwal, Director of SEO and Content Strategy at SKA Management advises his clients to take a more contextual view that goes beyond a simple keyword query and considers a brand’s larger reputation on the web. This includes offsite references, reviews and social links. “All those signals tell Google a lot about you,” he says.
Aggarwal’s 4 Keys to Successful SEO
1. Be Original. This is the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth most important key to SEO. Publishing stories that people are obliged to share, link to, and write about is simply the most organic pathway to great SEO. Google’s practically begging you to do so. Last year, after discovering that a large share of users were searching for in-depth, original long-form content, they gave premium, “in-depth” articles a prioritized place in search results.
2. Keyword and audience research still matters. Keywords are possibly more than the summation of their phrasing, but publishers should still use the available research to help them determine optimal content themes. Keyword tools like Google AdWords Keyword Planner, Bing Keyword Tool and others will help you understand the volume of content already optimized for key terms relative to the amount of queries made for them. Google Trends can also help add context around those terms, based on what themes are trendy in a given time and place. It’s simply a good way to gauge what content your potential audience requests.
Another way to gain audience insights: Ask for them. Social media can be a great, low-cost way to do this. Create engaging posts that pull information about what an audience wants from your brand, and then develop content accordingly.
3. Lastly, Great headlines are key. Boring headlines are poison for publishers; at the same time, racy, misleading headlines may bring short-term traffic volume – especially on the social web – but are not a sustainable practice. After the initial clicks fade away, search engines may no longer see the point in driving traffic to your content.
4. Better content rather than more content. Businesses using their budgets to produce a large volume of content at the expense of quality should rethink their strategy. Honestly, if your site has a bunch pages with variations on similar content, consider consolidating or updating them. Otherwise, the site’s overall ability, not just the status of a single page, may be devalued by search engines.