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A recent article in the Guardian made a very bold statement that SEO (search engine optimisation) ‘is dead’, and inferred that social media is replacing it. A number of robust arguments from the SEO community ensured a swift retraction, including a comment from Martin Macdonald, who demonstrated that search, social and online in general are all thriving.
Ultimately, with a continuing demand for organic search results and channel growth, it’s evident that organic search isn’t dead. However, one point that Tim Anderson of The Guardian was subtly making, which appears to have gone unanswered, was whether SEO actually works.
Can you still optimise a website so that its performance is improved within a search engine? Of course you can!
Granted, it isn’t as basic as it once was, but sure enough it’s still feasible. The more interesting question is, if SEO isn’t dead, what now constitutes SEO?
Of course SEO is alive - it has just evolved!
SEO is a long way from a dying art. Like everything, SEO has simply evolved, requiring a change in both strategy and execution in order to succeed. Unfortunately, possibly due to the constantly increasing change of pace, a lot of people seem to be getting left behind. This results in people believing SEO is dying as, at best, their tactics are simply not having the desired impact or, at worst, they are damaging a site’s rankings.
So, where are people potentially going wrong? Let’s compare the historic tactics, which some people are still deploying, with more modern approaches which reap better rewards.
On-page / Technical Optimisation
Historically, the general tactic was to match keyword mentions and densities of sites ranking highly, and then up the ante for good measure. Fortunately, this phased out pretty quickly after Google made its stance on over-optimisation very clear. Although that didn’t stop other onsite tactics such as hidden content, cloaking, sneaky redirects and more.
In terms of modern requirements for optimising on-page elements, don’t overlook keyword inclusion out of fear, but restrain yourself from being too heavy handed. If you look at the majority of competitors who rank well for a given term, they typically still include those terms within key on-page elements but in a natural manner.
Try to do whatever you can to improve your website for both users and search engines – a well built and correctly structured website is a great starting point. Top this off by properly integrating elements which improve Google’s experience and understanding of your website - such as rich snippets, authorship and hreflang sitemaps (almost a given for big international brands), to name a few. Thinking of the search engines will inevitably help Google deem your site(s) as more legitimate and higher quality.
In the past, the main use of content was to ensure a website had a page for every keyword it wanted to rank for and, at least in the early days, it worked. Many people treated content in a similar fashion to on-page optimisation – flooding copy with as many keywords and keyword variations as possible. This quickly resorted to people thinking that the more keywords the better, resulting in almost unreadable babble on certain pages.
These days it is much more about legitimate, well-written content that people spend time reading, typically using a single page to target multiple related terms. Again, don’t fully ignore keywords but try mentioning them using a logical sentence structure, rather than shoe-horning them in.
While it is imperative to not have individual pages per keyword, having depth is still important to being perceived as an authority. Make sure you are covering your subject areas in depth, providing as much useful and related information as possible, rather than diversifying into unrelated subjects.
It goes without saying how strict Google has recently become on the content front. Any signs of duplicated, weak or thin content, right through to spun content sets, will set alarm bells ringing to varying degrees. These days, anything automatically generated is likely to trip a filter, so simply avoid it.
Duplicate issues can be underlying and, in many cases, unintentional, but it is still as damaging. To mitigate any risks, a thorough audit is required and whilst this can be time consuming, it is time well-invested.
Everyone knows the story of links! Once the backdoor to high rankings was opened, it never really closed. In the early days it worked, similarly to when content optimisation was discovered - more links, with keyword focused anchor text, pointing to your target pages.
Post-Google’s many link targeted updates, this gradually shifted to lower quantities of links with less focus on keyword specific anchor texts.
Since the more aggressive link updates, known by most as Penguin, Google is scrutinising links heavily. Now, the search giant is looking to only count “natural” links and punish those with “unnatural” links. This has changed the direction of link deployment, forcing websites to leverage links in a more natural manner with a variety of strong, informative, creative and engaging content. Additionally, building the strength of your overall domain is just as important as having strong pages.
Social is still evolving but, as with links, for some this started out as a quantity game with brands acquiring ‘likes’ and ‘tweets’ in bulk, typically via automated software or offshore service providers. It is debatable how much of a direct influence the signals had or have on SEO therefore, unlike links, manipulated activity is likely to be under less (if any) scrutiny.
When it comes to the argument between SEO and social media, the best and most logical strategy is to couple the two together, taking advantage of a multi-channel approach. Using social to syndicate your content, amplify its reach and, in turn, improve SEO performance (typically by gaining more natural links) while benefiting from driving social visibility.
Ultimately, you should use social how it was intended. Bu using social to seed and share valuable content, communicate with your customer base and engage brand advocates, a legitimate increase in signals should follow - provided you’re not syndicating junk.
Dead or not working?
If you’re of the opinion that SEO is dead, because your recent activity hasn’t been having the desired impact, then the likelihood is that you’ve been doing (or are still suffering from) one or more historical issues/tactics.
Taking into account a handful of considerations, our top-level advice would be:
- Run your website legitimately but keep optimisation in mind when creating new pages and content. Check for underlying technical issues – you might not know they even exist.
- Thoroughly audit your content and make sure new content adds true value to your site.
- Clean up historically engineered links and ensure your future strategy is compliant with Google’s current requirements.
- Use social properly and ensure it is an integral part of your search and content strategies.
- Ultimately, make your website great for your users but try to think about the search engines when doing it.
That being said, there are still a lot of simple mistakes which can impact your site’s performance, so keeping SEO in mind when making changes really is key. If you’re unsure about something, then it’s highly recommend you consult with an expert before taking any chances. The recent positional shifts of numerous sites from high ranking positions is evidence of the business impact which uninformed or unsophisticated SEO strategies can bring.
And remember, SEO is now a multi-discipline channel. You can’t just focus on one thing and expect it all to work.
Get in touch to find our more about our innovative approach to SEO.