Every business with a website chases elusive first page rankings for the searches that will bring them customers. If you sell a product online to a nationwide audience, then you are competing with a wide variety of big players in any of the larger retail categories. If you are a local business – or a place with multiple physical locations – your job is a little easier since the number of players is smaller, but you still compete with national level aggregator sites.
How SEO Used to Work
First page rankings matter because, traditionally, the click-thru-rate of the first few sites that appear in search results get far higher traffic than those farther down. (For those who don’t know, the number of clicks as a percentage of the number of times your site comes up as part of a search.) If your site is on page two (or three or ten), then the amount of traffic you can expect as a result of searches is significantly lower than if you were in one of the coveted top slots. Optimizing your site for search engines is seen as one of the most powerful ways to generate “free” traffic from sites like Google and Bing.
But as Google changes its search algorithm in an effort to create a better experience for searchers, the traditional methods of SEO – and even what we think of as worthwhile SEO goals – have become less effective. That’s good news! As the focus of SEO work changes, you have the chance to level the playing field against entrenched competitors by providing high quality content and worrying less about obscure strategies like massive backlinking and “article spinning”.
Here’s a list of 5 cool and interesting things you might not know about the new shape of SEO.
1. Being first isn’t as important as it used to be. Once upon a time, there was as much as an 80% fall off in click-thru traffic between the first and fourth listings for a google search result. That’s why it was so important to rank highly. However, with the advent of author tags and rich text added to search results, searchers are digging deeper and giving more traffic to search results below the top rankings.
Getting listed on page one is still a very good goal for any SEO campaign. But new additions to search listings make it possible to get traffic even from further down in the rankings.
2. Content is king, queen, and the entire court. Google’s attitude is that the highest ranked sites should be those with the most “authority” on a particular topic. Their goal is to provide searchers with the most relevant search results possible. For example, if you own “ACME Widgets for the Home Co.” in Salem, Oregon, and someone searches for “ACME Widgets for the Home Co. in Salem, OR”, then you are pretty darn likely to come up #1 without much more effort than having a website with your name on it. Sadly, the volume for that particular search term is so low that Google doesn’t have any volume data for it. But, search traffic for widgets in Salem, Oregon is quite a bit larger. In order to be listed first for that traffic, ACME Widgets for the Home Co. would need to be seen as an authority on the topic. They accomplish this through having a website that has lots of information on widgets and their use – and they also have an active presence on social media sites, bookmarking sites, and forums that talk about widgets offering great advice and content that users of those sites will link to.
Being an expert and providing that expertise to a wide audience is now the best way to rank well in Google.
3. If you can’t be at the top of page one, try for the top of page two. Human behavior is a funny thing and in the digital age of quickly scanning copy in the search for content, people tend to lose interest in the middle of a page and start hoping that what they are looking for is at the top of the next page. So, if you can’t rank number one, two, or three, then ranking eleven through thirteen can get you decent traffic – and you can concentrate more on providing your users a great experience than worrying about backlinking tricks.
4. Social Media sites matter. Not only does an active presence on social media sites give you the ability to reach new customers and build your relationships with existing customers, now the major search engines are including the velocity and quality of your social media content and links as part of their algorithm. At its most basic, this means that creating an active audience on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media properties is a very good way to generate high quality inbound links and better pagerank for your site.
5. Keyword density and anchor text is no longer as important as natural language. Google’s webmaster guidelines discourage “unnatural links”. In addition to frowning on links from low-quality directories, Google is also cracking down on keyword based inbound links that don’t occur naturally in the paragraphs they appear in. Google’s example is hilarious – but all too commonly found linking to and as part of poor quality sites.
“most people sleep at night. You can buy cheap blankets at shops. A blanket keeps you warm at night. You can also buy a wholesale heater. It produces more warmth and you just turn it off in the summer if you are going on france vacation.”
No one with a command of written English would write like that – and it is painful to read. Whether the keywords appear as part of an inbound link or as part of your website, search engines are getting wiser and penalizing sites that rely on this sort of tactic. In fact, repeating the same phrase even three or four times in a piece of content can alert Google’s Penguin and get your pages penalized. (This also means that your H1 tags are more important to your readers than they are to Google. Make sure your titles are accurate and compelling to users – don’t worry so much about stuffing them with keywords.)
Where To From Here?
There are scads of other great results of Google’s continuous tuning of its search algorithm. And while having a site that was built on old school SEO get penalized for poor quality content and sketchy backlinks is a drag, the new face of SEO allows all site owners to concentrate on creating sites and content that will appeal to audiences. That’s really the essence of good marketing (and business in general) and aligns your SEO efforts more closely with the rest of your sales cycle rather than making it the province of technical professionals whose work you don’t really understand.