Despite years of warnings from Google and especially from search quality guy, Matt Cutts, there’s a certain segment of internet marketing consultants that continue to give out bad advice: SEO shortcuts, tricks and loopholes with manufactured content and buying links to gain an artificial advantage that runs contrary to Google’s Guidelines. Complicating matters is the fact that large numbers of companies are taking that advice in their rush to win traffic and sales.
The result? Getting penalized, removed from the index or other consequences affecting visibility of their content in search. From the Florida update almost 10 years ago to the Panda and recent Penguin updates, it’s clear Google is committed to narrowing down what kinds of SEO tactics can have an explicit impact on search visibility in their quest for quality.
In my opinion the issue is not as much about complying with Google’s rules, but about managing risk and creating a sustainable marketing effort that bears fruit over and over again. The effect may be the same, but I’m in business to make our clients money, not Google. Serving our clients’ interest is #1 and since helping them connect with prospects and existing customers is the goal, our approach to optimization emphasizes customers as the priority over search engines. That said, a focus on both is essential to be competitive.
Webmasters and website owners need to not only comply with Google guidelines (which can seem a bit ambiguous with advice like “create good user experience”) by avoiding spammy tactics, but those operating in a competitive category will need to think about how to create a competitive advantage without putting their online business at risk with Google’s increasingly conservative approach to SEO tactics.
To Google’s credit, they have done an increasingly good job of creating content for webmasters on SEO basics, like this recent video from Maile Ohye “SEO for Startups in under 10 minutes”.
But those are the basics and a better understanding of the integration of search, social and content is necessary to win in competitive markets.
Content and social media are important means to connect with customers that also results in rewards from search engines in the form of better visibility. Unfortunately, many SEO tactics that are focused on rankings objectives rather than customer acquisition and engagement limit social media participation to pushing content out through social media channels. In those situations, there’s less of a focus on creating engagement or community, which can actually produce the signals that search engines really value: content, interactions, sharing. The good news is that many smart SEOs are educating social content producers on the use of keywords and other optimization efforts to improve visibility of social content within search. The win is to do both: optimize for search and social engagement.
Many SEOs are getting on board the content bandwagon, except the common approach so far is to produce “more” content or “great” content (what does that mean?) in order to cast a wider net within search results. This makes sense: The more web pages, the more potential entry points via search or shared links. But how much more effective would those ranking-centric efforts with content marketing be if there was more consideration of target audience needs during the buying cycle? What about optimizing for customers and business outcomes vs. keywords and rankings?
The best SEO advice isn’t about SEO. The basis of the book Optimize and what we write about here at Online Marketing Blog is to combine best practices SEO with a more customer-centric approach to developing content. With a strong base of purposeful content, bring in keyword and social media optimization strategically to reach business goals for any kind of content, not just getting products and services pages to rank on page one with Google and Bing. The outcome is a more efficient, effective and scalable online marketing effort that attracts and engages more customers through search and/or social, is risk free and helps grow social networks at the same time.
Successful search marketing isn’t about following the rules, it’s about creating your own rules that satisfy the needs of the market you’re doing business in to grow your own business. At the same time, it’s about managing risk and knowing what the boundaries are. Sometimes that means you have to push to see what pushes back. Ongoing testing and marketing program optimization will be your best source of information, not solely search engine guidelines or industry experts. There is a time and a place for any type of SEO, social media or other online marketing tactics. Just be sure to quantify or clarify advice that seems too good to be true and cross check with your own ability to test and analyze.