To say that the Search Engine Optimization and digital marketing world has been a rollercoaster ride of algorithm changes and updates over the past year would be an understatement. It’d be like saying the Timberwolves have underperformed over the last decade. No kidding, huh? And within the internet marketing world, with professionals who deal with sweeping SEO changes on a regular basis, it seems like we’re constantly chasing after new ideas to get sites ranked higher in search result pages, finding new link building or content generation strategies that will make a client’s website stand out, or banging our head’s against the wall as Google strikes down another one of our brilliant strategies we once used to help rankings. All for naught!
Of course, when these changes are made you’ll regularly find SEO professionals espousing how a certain technique for online marketing is dead. Recently, it’s been the idea things like guest blogging or general link building have been put in their grave. As a reminder, guest blogging has been a great way for websites (websites that have blogs, anyway) to generate content, share links to their site, get their brand out to customers, and more. Other link building techniques – like directory listings, databases, PR sites, and more – have all been devalued to various degrees over the past year or more. We’ve seen this as we’ve covered changes in Google Hummingbird algorithm updates, as well as Google Panda and Penguin updates, and others.
But with all these changes, what should you really be changing on your website? As an SEO professional, what are you changing in your SEO practices? I recently came across an article at Search Engine Land that discussed a number of ways why building links to your site is a futile use of time, but was happy to find an argument in the article which, at the same time, basically stated link building WASN’T a futile effort. Seems contradictory, right? I’ve found that it isn’t. And here’s why.
We’ve all seen these algorithm changes over the last year or more. In these updates, it’s been acknowledged that different severe SEO strategies were targeted, and websites who used these strategies were penalized. Whether it was aggressively buying links, engaging in business-irrelevant communities to promote your work, keyword stuffing, or whatever else, these bad practices no longer reaped search engine benefits with these algorithm changes.
And everyone seemed to panic. Professionals no longer wanted to build links, or guest blog, or do anything that we use to do. But why? The updates we’ve seen recently have been targeted towards extreme cases. Google’s Webspam head, Matt Cutts, who typically alerts people of these changes, has never said to flat out stop doing certain SEO tactics, he’s largely said to stop doing them to an extreme. Or, essentially, stop abusing the system.
Abusing the System vs. Working with the System
Now, isn’t search engine marketing in general abusing the system anyway? Sure, from an Obi-Wan Kenobi, certain point of view. But like most instances in life, there are going to be shades of grey (50 of them, even!). As the Search Engine Land article stated, while buying listings and links in a directory that has to do with fishing, when you are a company that sells CNC machines, would be an abuse of the system, purchasing a listing in an engineering directory that helps people find machine manufacturers locally would make total sense! What about linking in a directory for a local business association you are a part of? Of course! Seems pretty natural.
And examples like this can be found in many SEO practices. Say, keywords. Whereas we once knew specific keywords from Organic visitors to a page, Google and Yahoo! have since secured their searches, and no longer share this information. This has forced people from hyper-focusing on a specific user, and instead now focus on many users who would be similar, or a theme of users if you will, and content on page. So instead of keyword stuffing on a page, you’re now optimizing for several users at different points in their engagement funnel, creating an overall better user experience. Basically, you’re making your website less of an overt sales machine, and more or a trusted resource.
Same thing with commenting on websites as a form of link building. When people discovered this tactic affected page rankings, they would do any and everything they could to spam comment sections on websites with links to their site, regardless of website topic. Now, most of these comment sections are no-follow links, and can be penalized by Google if abused. But what if you actively engage in a community as a brand, leave links to build awareness, and are respectful of site guidelines? It may not be strictly a link building effort anymore, but commenting can still be a great marketing technique to raise brand awareness and connect with a customer early in the engagement funnel.
Everything in Moderation
The key here, and what I think Search Engine Land was trying to say in general, is that all of your SEO practices should be in moderation. Whether it’s link building, content creation, keyword optimization, or more, the goal shouldn’t be to find a quick-fix method that is going to cheat a search engine for a couple of months and run this tactic into the ground, but to create a great website experience that falls within acceptable algorithm guidelines. For so long in the SEO industry, professionals were looking for a quick fix for clients instead of focusing naturally on building worthwhile content, providing important information on their site, and prioritizing the user experience highest among their goals. Do this, and your marketing efforts grow and come naturally, without worry of penalization for shady tactics.
In essence? Just build a good website. Be interesting, informative, and relevant. Engage with your users, and value your customer. Treat everyone who is looking for you with respect and intelligence, and people will reciprocate. Don’t, and you’ll slide down the page rankings eventually.
Need help creating a great user experience for your website? It doesn’t happen overnight. Contact Ecreativeworks and let us get you started.