In the last 2 years, SEO has had a huge shakeup. First of all there was Panda and then there was Penguin; hopefully there will be Piglet, Puma and Platypus too. OK, it’s a coincidence that Google’s 2 largest algorithm updates of late begin with P; but hopefully it’s a sign, albeit convoluted, that the basic principles of strategic marketing (4Ps or 7Ps depending who you speak to) can once again be central to SEO and how brands use organic search within their marketing mix.
To Wickedweb, it seemed that Google had overlooked the voice of the user for too long – their algorithm remained too top-down focused, looking at authority measures and perceptions that could be manipulated and overlooking more obvious metrics of quality and relevance like bounce rates, page views and repeat traffic – user information that they hold for millions of sites globally. The cynic in me suggests that Google had been more concerned about interface changes that would result in a greater number of ad clicks than algorithmic changes – many key stats would support this cynicism. We are certainly keen to monitor how the Knowledge Graph evolves in the coming months beyond informational searches and how it will impact organic site click through rates.
This lack of user-focus in recent years has allowed large parts of the SEO industry to become lazy, losing its strategic edge - the focus is almost exclusively on generic link building and having content pages that targeted a keyword without truly understanding the intent or needs of the searcher. Moving forward, this has got to stop and many SEO consultants will need to take a leaf out of the content marketers’ book, thinking about the layers of information the searcher needs and their motives for using a keyword phrase to truly engage and convert them. With Panda and subsequently Penguin, we live in a Google world where content is genuinely king once more and how we purpose that content is central to consumers and their subsequent behaviours.
At Wickedweb, we talk a lot about “digital brand engagement”, where we place our customer’s customer at the centre of what we execute digitally. As with any digital strategy, SEO and paid search has had to complement this, often lead it. We therefore think about our client’s target audience, develop personas and create strategies around how they behave and engage online. This quite often results in a content and keyword strategy on a persona level that is integrated to an overriding SEO Strategy. By taking this approach, we are able to think outside the “algorithm box” and focus exclusively on our target audience and what we feel is important to them. It is only once we have this information that we think on a tactical level; how we can begin to achieve our client’s goals, or look at potential developments to search engine algorithms as a means to safeguard and strategically place our clients. Whilst this is nothing new or necessarily unique, it is always good to remind yourself at these algorithmic junctures that you should take a marketing approach to, well, marketing! The truth is, search engines like Google will continue to make refinements to its algorithm, to benefit user experience and leverage additional information that becomes available as the digital landscape evolves. We are pleased to say that post-Panda and Penguin, our clients’ strategies and results are stronger than ever.
There’s an element of irony as I write this and talk about Google’s increased emphasis on the user; Hitwise announced Google’s market share in the UK fell below 90% for the first time in 5 years, but I genuinely feel that this will be short-lived and that user-centred results, based around effective measures of content quality, will serve to increase Google’s share once more – if they get it right of course. But how will it affect your site’s share? Whilst Panda and Penguin have helped to create a level playing field, other developments may have an adverse-effect and we should be conscious of these as we develop our strategies and value proposition. Google’s Knowledge Graph and use of rich snippets, for instance, are now allowing them to get greater contextual understanding of content and reduce their need to serve your site as a reference source to a search. Google giveth and Google taketh away.
The future of SEO remains very bright, but we see the next 12 months as a growing up period. SEO has had its adolescent years of being able to operate in isolation of its strategic parents and we will see more and more changes that will require SEO to work closer with its siblings – Development, UX, Social, Paid Search, Display, Branding, PR and Content, amongst others. SEO needs to have more focus, taking an interdisciplinary approach that leverages the best knowledge about the user from all facets of digital and beyond. As new technologies develop or search engines open up APIs, content will become accessible from a wider range of means and our understanding of our audience should become even greater – but content will remain at the core and good SEO will ensure your product will be in the right place, at the right time and, hopefully, at the right price.
Senior SEO Manager
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