Tags: Content strategy, Google, Matt Cutts, Search engine optimization, Web search engine
I was sitting in a hotel lobby preparing to present as part of a panel at OMMA Global in San Francisco when a co-panelist said something that shocked me. “People ask why I got out of SEO to focus on paid media. I answer that Google wrecked SEO, so all that’s left is paid.” The context: we were talking about all the changes Google has made recently to make SEO more difficult–some might say impossible. As the global search strategist for IBM and a co-author of a book on writing for search engines, I am well aware of the difficult times ahead for SEOs. But it shocked me that smart people like my co-panelist would abandon the field altogether because he was sure that Google is killing SEO and that trend will only get worse over time.
How is Google killing SEO? Let me count the ways:
- Panda. Google’s vastly different algorithm family, makes SEO much more difficult by focusing on an entirely different and more complex set of patterns than its founding algorithm, which was the basis for SEO for 10 years. I won’t go into detail here about it because you could write a book about it. In fact, I am writing a book about it. But if you want a primer, read my article in Inform IT: “Three Strategies for SEO Post Panda.”
- Withholding referral data. Those who do SEO will be quite familiar with this one. Google made a decision in December to stop releasing data on its signed-in users. We no longer get referral data from users of Gmail, Google Docs, Google+ and other software as a service managed through iGoogle. Initially, Google said this would not reduce reported referrals by more than a few percentage points. Most SEOs I talk to say they’ve seen up to 40 percent reductions in Google referrals. When your organic referrals go down by 40 percent, you have a problem, which is why my co-panelist got out of the SEO game. It only got worse when Firefox announced it would use the encrypted version of Google, reducing referrals by an estimated 20 percent for most companies (60 percent overall). How do SEOs keep a job if more than half of their key performance indicators (KPI) are not reportable? If you’re interested, I wrote about this in much more depth in my InformIT article “Is Google’s Search Plus Your World Evil.”
- Over-optimization penalty. Google has long been rumored as penalizing so-called over-optimized pages. But it was never explicitly built into the algorithm before. It always seemed more like a rule of thumb than the kind of rule you could run in an algorithm, as Matt Cutts, Google’s head of anti-spam has implied. He got more explicit about it at a recent SMX conference. The worry here is that this punishes the black hat and white hat SEOs alike. How do we know when to do less optimization? The question is rife with issues.
- Semantic search. According to Erin Everhart of Mashable, Google will soon deploy a semantic algorithm. How do SEOs traditionally optimize pages? By advising their clients to put keywords in strategic places on a page. When Google goes to semantic search, it won’t be as much about keywords at all, but on the meaning of the words you use. This might be the biggest SEO killer of all. If tuning our content for keywords our users care about is no longer an effective strategy, what is left for SEOs?
The answer to the last question is to get into the field of content strategy. If Google is all about rewarding companies for high quality, relevant content that naturally ranks in its search engine without any formulaic SEO intervention, the job is to build that content. How to do that is no longer quite so easy, however, which is why you need a strategy that helps you:
- Understand the content you have
- Retire the content you no longer need
- Build only the content you do need in the priority you need it
How do you do this intelligently? This will be the subject of my blog posts on this site going forward. Very briefly: Understanding what content you need is all about understanding your target audience. Understanding your target audience is all about learning the words and phrases they use in search queries, hash tags, and other social practices, and analyzing this usage to build relevant content for them.
As I wrote about in my other blog earlier this year, content strategy is the new SEO. I look forward to expanding on this theme in this blog each month.