The following is a guest blog post by Jeremy L. Knauff from Wildfire Marketing Group, highlighting many of the recent changes to the field of SEO.
Marketing is constantly evolving and no form of marketing has evolved more over the last ten years than search engine optimization. That fact isn’t going to change anytime soon. In fact, the entire search engine optimization industry is headed for a major paradigm shift over the next twelve months. Like many of the major algorithm updates in the past, some people will be prepared while some will sit teary-eyed amongst their devastation wondering what happened and scrambling to pick up the pieces. Unlike the major algorithm updates of the past, you won’t be able to simply fix the flaws in your search engine optimization and jump back to the top of the SERPs.
Why is this change going to be so different? In the past, the search engines have incrementally updated certain aspects of their algorithms to improve the quality of their SERPs, for example, eliminating the positive effect of Meta tag keyword stuffing which was being abused by spammers. Anyone who has been in the SEO industry for more than a few years probably remembers the chaos and panic when the major search engines stopped ranking websites based on this approach. This time around though, we’re looking at something much more significant than simply updating an algorithm to favor particular factors or discount others. We are looking at not only a completely new way for search engines to assign value to web pages, but more importantly, a new way for search engines to function.
A number one ranking for a particular keyword phrase was once the end-all, be-all goal but now many searches are regionalized to show the most relevant web pages that are located in the area that you are searching from. While this will probably reduce your traffic, the traffic that you now receive will be more targeted in many cases. Additionally, it give smaller websites a more equal chance to compete.
This August, Google Suggest was moved from Google Labs to the homepage, offering real-time suggestions based on the letters you’ve typed into the search box so far. This can be an incredibly helpful feature for users. At the same time, it can be potentially devastating to websites that rely of long-tail traffic because once a user sees a keyword phrase that seems like at least a mediocre choice they will usually click on it rather than continuing to type a more specific keyword phrase.
Devaluation of paid links
Google’s recent attempt to eliminate paid links has scared a lot of people on both sides of the link buying equation into implementing the “nofollow” tag. In the midst of this hypocritical nonsense, Google has also been taking great measures to devalue links based on quantifiable criteria, such as the “C” class of the originating IP, similarities in anchor text and/or surrounding text, location of the link on the page and the authority of the domain the link is from to name a few. Regardless of the effectiveness of any search engines ability to evaluate and subsequently devalue paid links, the fear of getting caught and possibly penalized is more than enough to deter a lot of people from buying or selling links.
Visitor usage data
Again, Google is leading the charge on this one. Between their analytics, toolbar and web browser, they are collecting an enormous amount of data on visitor usage. When a visitor arrives at a website, Google knows how long they stayed there, how many pages they accessed, which links they followed and much more. With this data, a search engine can determine the quality of a website, which is beginning to carry more weight in regards to ranking than some of the more manipulatable factors such as keyword density or inbound links. This puts the focus on content quality instead of content quantity and over time, will begin to knock many of the “me too” websites further down the SERPs pages, or out of the picture all together. The websites that will prosper will be those that produce relevant, original content that their visitors find useful.
Simply pointing a vast number of links with a particular keyword phrase in the anchor text to a website was once a quick and easy way to assure top ranking. The effectiveness of this approach is diminishing and will continue in that direction as a result of TrustRank. In a nutshell, a particular set of websites are chosen (by Google) based on their editorial quality and prominence on the Internet. Then Google analyzes the outbound links from these sites, the outbound links from the sites linked to by these site, and so on down the chain. The sites that are further up the chain carry more trust and those further down the chain, less trust. Links from sites with more TrustRank, those further up the chain, have a greater impact on ranking than links from websites further down the chain. On one hand, this makes it difficult for new websites to improve their position in the SERPs compared to established website; one the other hand, it helps to eliminate many of the redundant websites out there that are just repeating what everyone else is saying.
Utilizing a combination of visitor usage data and a not so gentle nudge in Google’s direction, Google Chrome is set to change the way search engines gather data and present it to users. For example, when a user begins typing in the address bar of the browser, they are presented with a dropdown list of suggestions containing choices consisting of the #1 result in Google’s SERPs, related search terms and other pages you’ve recently visited. This gives a serious advantage to the websites that hold top ranking in Google and at the same time, gives a serious advantage to Google by giving their Internet real estate even more exposure than ever before.
So the question remains, is search engine optimization facing evolution or extinction? Certainly not extinction, not by a long shot, but in a short period of time it is going to be drastically different than it is today. The focus will soon be on producing a valuable and enjoyable user experience rather than just achieving top ranking, which is what it should have been all along.
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