Explaining the importance of search engine optimization, or SEO, and its role in developing successful marketing campaigns can prove to be a challenge.
Much of SEO’s uncertainty can be attributed to a constantly evolving search industry. Google is regularly refining the algorithms responsible for processing search results, relying on more than 200 undisclosed signals, to determine what websites rank in relation to a searched keyword or phrase.
So why the constant changes and secrecy on Google’s behalf? The short answer is it prevents us from gaming the system, forcing us to think strategically about creating content that provides actual value.
In the early days of search engine optimization, SEOs discovered it was entirely possible to rank a piece of content just by acquiring external links — the quality of that page or how well it answered a Google user’s search query were not considerable factors.
It’s not difficult to imagine how this tactic could be exploited and ultimately taint the user experience. Google has since established a comprehensive system of checks and balances to safeguard the quality of their search results.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression “SEO is dead.” There’s actually some truth to that. The rules have changed. Modern search engine optimization has radically evolved, resembling something closer to content marketing — a marketing discipline far less susceptible to manipulation.
What does it take to top organic search results these days? As well-known SEO Cyrus Sherpard describes it,
All the SEO secrets in the world don’t mean squat if you don’t have something of value to rank up there before you begin
— Cyrus Shepard (@CyrusShepard) April 13, 2016
Making sense of SEO
SEO is easier understood when broken down into two camps:
Both of these elements are equally important and complimentary forces.
Optimization refers to how well Google understands your website. It reveals how well algorithms comprehend the keywords you target and what products or services you offer. This mostly concerns on-site elements under your direct control such as title tags, URLs, and body content.
Authority refers to how influential your website is or how often people share and link to your content.
The more trusted and relevant websites linking back to your content, the stronger signal you send to Google that you’re actually providing value.
External links remain the backbone of successful search engine optimization, a guiding principle that won’t be going out of style anytime soon. You’ll quickly find yourself facing an uphill battle to acquire those links when your website doesn’t provide value.
It essentially boils down to this: your website must be optimized for bots and humans to succeed in today’s SEO.
Informed content marketing
We’re really talking about informed content marketing when discussing what works in SEO — so much of your website’s ability to rank depends on your ability to produce the type of content people value.
Many businesses fail to look at their SEO from a content marketing perspective. They continue to latch onto outdated strategies, generating uninspired content that essentially rehashes the same information, ultimately fighting against existing content they’ve already published.
The hard truth is you’re wasting your time if your idea of SEO is creating content that adds nothing new to the conversation. This type of static content is essentially tone deaf, yielding virtually no organic growth opportunities long-term.
If you can’t dedicate time to developing content real users value, you can’t bill yourself as an authority and your organic rankings are sure to reflect this.
Crafting valuable content
Creating content that has clear value is no easy task — if it were, SEO would seem far less mystifying for marketers. While there’s no proven formula for creating inspired content, there are many qualities we know it must exhibit.
Have you ever noticed how often Wikipedia tops the list of organic search results? It’s not a coincidence, and it’s not luck.
Google is fundamentally one giant answer machine. An estimated 3.5 billion searches occur across the search network each day, millions of users from around the world seeking solutions to their queries.
Valuable content answers a question of the searcher. Arguably no one does this with the same level of efficiency as Wikipedia, hence the site’s prominence in search results.
In developing your content, browse online forums in your industry and see what questions are being asked. Fall back on your previous customer experience and create content that answers common questions.
Do you want to create content people value? Provide something they need and become an expert at anticipating those needs as your products and services evolve.
People appreciate it when your content provides utility, actionable information they can use right away. Create a resource that saves people time or provides convenience and you’re bound to attract attention.
Let’s say many people in your industry commonly spend time scouring the web for tools to assist their social media marketing strategy. Why not create a thorough list of social media tools and save them the trouble?
Content that provides utility is more likely to receive external links. External links remain the cornerstone of all offsite SEO efforts.
Creating a single piece of valuable content doesn’t make you a trusted authority. It’s delivering valuable content with consistency that merits that type of reputation within search results.
Many highly-ranked resources share something in common. They churn out massive amounts of content their audience finds valuable. Websites like Search Engine Land offer daily insights on the latest trends and strategies in search, a level of consistency that’s made them a trusted resource in the industry.
Of course, you’ll want to find an appropriate balance between quantity and quality in terms of content creation.
Most of us don’t have the ability to dedicate the time and resources required to create valuable content every day of the week, and that’s okay.
Just remember two things …
- There is little, if any, value in creating tons of content if it provides no value.
- You have little chance of being recognized as an authority in your industry without providing value with some level of consistency.
Ultimately, if your priority is to drive repeat visitors and more subsequent traffic, maintaining a level of consistency is key to your content process.
Reframing the conversation
It’s not easy to game the system when the rules are constantly changing, and if you’re a seasoned SEO strategist, gaming the system should never be considered. The days of stuffing keywords into monotonous content and seeing your rankings increase are long gone. Today, your success depends on the capabilities of your content marketing — how consistently you generate new ideas and provide utility and value to your users.
It’s time to do smarter search engine optimization. It’s time to start talking about SEO the same way we talk about content marketing.