Its human nature to LOVE and EMBRACE change, right? Not really, at least not for most of us. And the ongoing changes inherent with SEO hardly elicits enthusiasm from those in the digital industry, unless of course you’re one of the geeks coming up with these genius algorithms. Maybe it’d be easier for marketers to embrace changing SEO if we didn’t think of it as change but more as an evolution, and then evolve along with it.
In year’s past, Google’s dropped large algorithm changes and provided a rundown for how those will affect a website’s performance. But these days, changes are done more frequently and on a smaller scale – tweaking Panda and Penguin, and introducing Hummingbird to understand more natural language and voice activated queries. It’s negligible whether “tweaks” are changes, or if they’re an evolution but I prefer to think of them as the latter.
Part of the evolution is evolving how we look at SEO data. I advocate the focus being not only on what should be done, but also what should NO longer be done. There’s a right and wrong way to approach SEO.
The Wrong Way: Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO is internet slang that refers to unethical practices that increase a page’s rank through means of gaming the system which violate search engine’s terms of service.
Common tactics include hidden text or links, keyword stuffing, sneaky redirects or cloaking – a technique where content presents to the search engine in a different form than it presents to a user’s browser.
Additional Black hat techniques include link manipulation through buying, advertorials and schemes as well as link farms, wheels and networks. Creating pages, domains, or subdomains with duplicate content is also a Black hat technique. But gone are the days when you can game the system with these methods. Google (and the other engines) are on to you. Not only will they NOT reward your site for Black hat behavior, they’ll quite possibly penalize it as well.
Back in the day, link building was a tactic that meant the more links equated to higher page authority. Today, links are still important but not in the same way as before.
According to Smart Insights, the key for link building in 2015 is going to be to make sure that links appear natural and that they are from a diverse range of sources. Those sites that have high authority already will be optimal sites to link to.
There are two types of White Hat links:
– “Express links” are url’s linking back to a web page
– “Implied links” are those that don’t actually link but are brand mentions
An example of implied links would be mentions in a blog post, as the aforementioned Smart Insights was cited above.
— Smart Insights
But in the end, Content is King and that’s the baseline methodology behind White hat SEO.
It’s not just about ethical behavior that follows guidelines, White hat SEO is about ensuring the content a search engine indexes and subsequently ranks is the same content a user will see. Generally, it’s summed up by
Creating Content for the Searchers
NOT the Search Engines
And, then making the content easily accessible to the spiders, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose.
Long-tail keywords are effective White hat SEO for better content optimization and search personalization. Queries by users are becoming more and more specific. If a searcher queries black suede boots they expect to arrive at a page with black suede boots – not a page with a variety of boots. So if you’re selling boots your long tail keywords need to be just that – longer than “boots”.
A website with specific information using long-tail keywords variations is going to be seen by search engines as more of an authority, and more reputable than a website that’s merely repeats standard, generic industry keywords.
Developing content is no longer about what you want to communicate. It’s about developing content based on what people want to consume. Search behavior requires keyword research and semantically relevant content should be delivered based on those results.
Build Website Content Around Semantic Search
It’s essential to have a strategic approach to keyword analysis and an understanding of the consumer’s intent as it relates to your product or service. Have your team or agency conduct a gap analysis for keywords. The basics for on-page SEO is natural language featuring keywords you’re targeting in the page title and headings.
Much of what we consider as “emerging common wisdom” about how search changes (evolves) is the result of research and testing by experts who independently come to a rough consensus. SEO experts Marcus Tober, Dr. Leonhard Hennig, and Daniel Furch showcased four content factors in their 2014 Ranking Factors Study:
1. Semantically relevant and semantically comprehensive wording
2. Long form/higher word-count content
3. Enriched content with diverse media
4. Easy to read content
Within content there are “proof terms” and “relevant terms”. Proof terms are words that search engines expect to be included on a page. If the page is about Golden Retrievers then “dog” or “puppy” would be proof terms. Some experts consider proof terms to be those keywords on the list that didn’t make the cut. They’re the natural words you’d expect to co-occur with your long-tail keywords.
“Relevant terms” are slightly different. They’re those words best described as being part of a sub-topic. So for the Golden Retriever page, grooming could be a subtopic that captures related keywords relevant to that. But a word of caution about relevant terms – too much of a good thing can be bad. Don’t overdo the use of relevant terms or you’ll fall in the trap of over-optimization which can also adversely affect rankings.
LSI, or Latent Semantic Indexing, is used by search engines to determine if content online is on-topic or nothing more than spam. When engines look at articles, blogs and content, it will determine the keyword density in LSI terms. It’s been said that Google will reward content handsomely in 2015 that has a good balance of LSI terms along with those long-tail keywords.
So what you need to know to keep up with the SEO evolution is pretty simple. Scrap any Black hat techniques and tactics your web developers have employed over the years. SEO more than anything is about content. But good content isn’t good enough. OUTSTANDING, useful and relevant content is where the bar should be set. Search engines will differentiate the good from the outstanding. When it comes to SEO think holistically – that is naturally, not forced.
Let me know your thoughts and how your business approaches SEO strategy.