This month, more than 700 digital media professionals gathered in Dallas to discuss digital trends at the first annualDallas Digital Summit.
The future of SEO was a hot topic on the list. For years search engine optimization has been a buzzword in digital marketing. Savvy marketers are constantly inventing new ways to bump their rankings in search results.
The Battle to the Top
How does Google determine search rankings? It’s a sophisticated search algorithm created by Google engineers made up of several hundred signals and tested by external human raters. And, it’s iterative. According to MOZ, Google changes its search algorithm up to 500 to 600 times each year.
So why does Google change its algorithm? It’s all in the interest of the user.
Ultimately, Google looks to align its interests with the interests of its users. Google wants to deter spam and make their users happy by providing SERP (search engine results pages) with relevance, quality, and speed, despite the best efforts of more than a few bad actors.
“Black hat” SEO manipulators have tried to cheat the system with smoke and mirrors tricks to raise rankings.
“Doing the unnatural can be tempting to get visibility and traffic, but it will bite you in the end,” Marshall explained to summit attendees.
There is no doubt that keywords, effective navigation labels, and appropriate linking are vital aspects of SEO that will never go away. But fighting against the Google algorithm with keywords and links is an uphill battle. And, some marketers believe it’s a battle you can’t win … alone.
So how can marketers make strides to ensure they show up in relevant searches?
Use Content Marketing to Create Engagement and Value
Gaming the Google system will get you only so far. Nothing can replace consistently creating and publishing content users will find relevant, engaging, and valuable.
This is content marketing. It’s a shift from keywords to relevance. It’s about producing content to attract, acquire, and engage consumers in service of driving a particular customer action.
Content falls into two basic categories: education and entertainment. Online content comes in many forms, including articles, blogs, videos, images, e-newsletters, whitepapers, and case studies. The best way to determine the right content for your brand is to understand first what appeals to your target audience.
Simon Heseltine, director of SEO for AOL/Huffington Post, spoke at the summit about creating content on the web: “Write what people are going to be searching for, don’t write for the Google algorithm.” Instead of jamming your online copy with awkwardly placed keywords, write content that your users will like. And will share.
Promote Online Content via Social Media to Establish Authority
Social signals are becoming a more important part of SEO as Google adapts its algorithm to emphasize social sharing.
The “virality” of content is more important than ever. Google is placing particular weight on social media actions (i.e. shares, likes, comments, follows, tweets). The more viral content is, the more popular the page will be. So why does Google care about popularity? Because it indicates authority and credibility.
In particular, Google+ has taken the front seat in search, with the opportunity for Google authorship of online content. Google+ members who contribute content to a site can have this content linked to their Google+ profile and picture. For Google+ users and brands alike, this means a higher click through rate (CTR) via rich snippets (pictures) in search, among other benefits.
Linking authorship to Google+ is another way Google is tracking content via social media in service of establishing authority and credibility of high-quality content.
This is the rise of content marketing. It’s a fundamental shift in SEO from keywords to relevance and authority. And in the end, it’s just about common sense: creating and promoting quality content that users want to see, talk about, and share.