Evan Prokop

Does SEO Still Matter?

Evan Prokop     Online Marketing, SEO

SEOWe’ve all heard “SEO is Dead” from alarmists, the uninformed, and in countless link bait articles (irony?). But is there any truth to it?

While Search Engine Optimization may look completely different than it did even a year ago, I firmly believe that SEO is not only alive, but thriving. Here’s why:

Some of SEO is Dead

Many tactics that have fallen under the SEO umbrella can safely be considered dead, either because they don’t work anymore, never worked, or still work but are in violation of Google’s guidelines. I’m not going to spend time discussing why they don’t work or are risky, because that’s not what this article is about, and there has been plenty written about the topic.

Just so we’re on the same page, here are some examples of basic SEO tactics that aren’t worth your time:

  • Keyword stuffing and hiding
  • Buying mass links, directory links
  • Duplicating websites (or categories) on different domains
  • Content spinning, automatic content
  • Optimizing purely for “ranking” outcomes

SEO Keyword Spamming

What SEO is Today

SEO at its core is the art and science of making high quality content easier to find on search engines. The key point being ‘quality content’ that helps customers answer questions that lead to purchase or some other business outcome. Most of Google’s algorithm updates are intended to reward good content and punish spam. While it may not always feel like it, most of Google’s best practices for SEO are really on your side, you just need to learn and master them.

Here are some SEO tactics that are alive and well:

  • Keywords that support customer targeting
  • SEO copywriting and on-page optimization
  • Link attraction
  • Internal link optimization
  • Technical SEO (anything designed to make your site more accessible to search engines)
  • Optimizing for engagement and conversions

Quality Content is Good, Optimized Content is Best

If search engines are just trying to reward high quality content by making it more findable, isn’t it enough to just create great content and call it a day? Unfortunately, no.

While search engines are getting much smarter, more efficient, and overall better at ‘screening’ content, they still pale in comparison to people’s inherent ability to pick out the nuances and meaning of content. So it’s important to send the right signals to search engines and make those signals as easy to understand as possible.

Content quality comes down to relevance for customers and there’s no better way to target customer interests than through keywords. Every search begins with someone typing keywords into a search box, and ends with them clicking on one of the sites listed in the search results. If your site doesn’t include the keywords or closely related phrases on web pages, in meta-data, or inbound link anchor text, you’re not giving the search engines (or buyers) the information they need to understand your site’s relevance for that search query.

Optimization of on-page copy and meta elements can have positive effects on search traffic and rankings, in particular for sites that are strong in most other aspects. For example, I have been working with a client in the software industry who has a well designed site that is technically sound, has useful and compelling content, and a strong back-link profile. 

However, competitor keyword research and customer targeting analysis indicated that the keywords which are most relevant to their audience related to consideration and purchase stages of the buying cycle weren’t being effectively targeted (i.e. they didn’t appear enough or at all in on page copy, meta elements, or cross-linking).

Within 3 months of implementation of basic on-page content optimization, we achieved a 320% increase in organic search traffic, a 15% decrease in average bounce rate and page one rankings in the major search engines for nearly all of our identified target keywords. Better visibility for what customers are actually looking for leads to more traffic and sales. 

Links Still Matter

While Google’s recent announcement about the decreased importance of links is significant, it is far too soon to write off quality links altogether. Crawling links is an important way for search engines to discover content, thus the more links pointing to your site (from relevant, quality sources), the more opportunities the search engines have to find your content.

Don’t fall into the trap of treating links as more important than quality content, or that enough links pointing towards bad content can somehow make it good. This is the definition of misguided effort, as great content will not only attract quality links on its own (with help from effective promotion and social media shares), but is far more likely to increase visitor engagement when it’s found, and result in those all-important conversions.

Social shares are as important as links from other web pages, so ensure your content creation efforts include content promotion efforts through social networks. Grow networks on a regular basis to increase the audience reach of the optimized content you’re promoting too. Google+, Facebook and Twitter are must-haves with any content promotion efforts through social media. Just make sure you’re promoting plenty of other useful content, not just your own.

Increasingly, it has become important to not only acquire quality links, but to monitor and potentially remove low quality links, especially if you have received an unnatural link warning from Google. Regular monitoring and auditing of your site’s link profile is a good preventative measure, as bad links often have a cumulative effect, and can be very difficult to clean up once they become a clear problem.

Recently, a preliminary audit of a new client’s site indicated the prevalence of several nasty kinds of links, including paid site-wide links, and several thousand links from blog networks and link farms. Given the severity of the problem, we prioritized an extensive inbound link audit and disavowal initiative to ensure the quality content being published would not be negatively affected by previous SEO link building efforts.

Technical Problems can Prevent Search Engines (and People) from Finding and Engaging with Your Content

As fast as things change in SEO, the chances that search engine algorithms will start to penalize sites for functioning well from a technical standpoint are slim, and humans are no different. How many times have you wished a site would load slower?

The importance of optimizing your site so that your pages load fast, your content is easily accessible and your navigation is intuitive cannot be understated. People will leave a site and never return if they get confused or have to wait too long, and search engines will too.

This is one area in particular to keep a close eye on, as small technical issues can have wide-spread and severe effects on your site’s search engine friendliness. Many companies with large sites that employ digital marketing agencies with strong SEO skills, receive their value many times over just from ongoing technical optimization.

For example, un-intentionally  blocking pages or a whole site from being indexed in search engines via robots.txt is not only an SEO killer but very easy to do. Often development teams will temporarily block parts of a site when making updates, and unfortunately neglect to restore the robots.txt file following the updates.

As site updates can often introduce indexation as well as other technical website problems, it’s a good idea to include a step for an external team to check for any problems following  a major update, as well as on an ongoing basis.

Modern SEO is Alive and Well

By definition, SEO is about an ongoing effort to improve the performance of your website content to be found both by search engines and customers using search engines. What better time is there for your useful content to be found than at the exact moment your customers need it? That’s the value search engine optimization brings to the online marketing mix. As long as people use search engines to find information and businesses have content they want potential customers to see, SEO will be important. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

How are you using SEO in your company to attract, engage and convert more customers?

Image source: Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. The struggle many face with marketing online is a misguided impulse to put various tactics into separate boxes, instead of seeing each as an aspect of one strategic process. People still refer to content marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) as three different things — as if each is a tactic that can get you there alone.

    • Evan Prokop says:

      Could not agree more Patrick. These days it’s neccessary to have a holistic online marketing strategy.

  2. Hemant Malav says:

    SEO is not just a fixed process anymore, where you hire a link builder and do the magic. Every step involves analysis and strategic planning. Like, what keywords you should target, identifying the content audience, placing it properly. Then analyzing the output and changing it again if required.

    • Evan Prokop says:

      Yes, it’s very important for companies to spend enough time and effort in the keyword planning stage to make sure they are targeting keywords that are relevant to their target audience, correspond to the stages in the buying cycle their content is intended to address, and have enough search volume to be worth targeting.

      I think a lot of companies who may have taken shortcuts with their SEO strategy are unfortunately paying the price now, as bad links and cut-rate optimization are increasingly becoming a detriment, and not an easy one to fix in most cases.

  3. The great form of SEO becomes main priority to the main business leading person : thanks for this information.

  4. David Okedion says:

    Well done Google, its now high time we that have quality content to rise high on Search engines if we properly apply these rules. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great points – I agree that particular SEO strategies are dead – not all. I would simply separate them into black hat SEO and white hat SEO. Black hat is definitely dead.

  6. Great to step back once in a while and reflect on specific action items and the intricate side of SEO like this. Nice work, and thanks for sharing…

  7. Katherine Stott says:

    Great post, thank you! What I love about the current state of SEO and the way it’s evolving, is that it’s ethical. If you’re doing everything legitimately with the intention of offering quality to a human, you’re probably doing it right! 🙂

    • Evan Prokop says:

      Thanks Katherine!

      I agree, it is a good direction that we’re going, where quality content is increasingly rewarded. As a marketer, that’s the kind of content I love to create, and as a consumer, that’s what I want to find.

  8. I think SEO dies every time Google releases an update. SEO will never die.

    There are strong signs that social networking is what SEO will be based on (the human ranking factor) rather than links though.

  9. This post really reflects the current state of SEO.

    What’s your point of view on guest posts?

    • If you can get a regular “column” on a blog for posting, great. But doing “one off” posts on a variety of blogs isn’t the SEO link building magic it once was.

      • You’re probably right, consistency is something Google are focusing on lately more and more.
        With that said, it still probably has some value especially if it’s linked to your G+ profile.
        but you have to be very careful with links. Aggressive anchors are a big no no….

  10. Mark Bryan says:

    SEO can’t die and never will. This is the same nonsense from the same people that claim blogging is dead every year.

  11. Although SEO has changed a lot in past few years.. Its not just a game of link building now..but its not dead and it can never die. Each time google provide the updates, SEO take different look. Thanks for sharing the post!! It has reveal that SEO is still present in its modern outlook.

  12. Lory Zhang says:

    Love your concepts and mindset about modern SEO. As a SEO newbie, I am glad that I learned the new concepts about today’s SEO

  13. Blog writing is very good. I do not know there is no interest in exchanging links

  14. Adrian Hayman says:

    Interesting reading. The way forward in terms of link building seems uncertain. I’ve always lead with content, but rarely found it enough to achieve top rankings.

  15. r hals, interesting yes. Page speed was important before it was made a SEO factor.

  16. Paul Rone-Clarke says:

    It seems that SEO has become a synonym for link building, and if that’s the case then it’s old fashioned and in many niches will not work.

    If you have a serious business with one site then just having and SE professional build links for you is not going to make a great deal of difference. You may get some SERPs improvements up to a point, but the top positions for global and national businesses are going to be taken by those companies with a higher online profile.

    A synergy between recognised on site authority and consistent and believable offsite presence.

    Having said that, at a product level, and for those who run many small hight focussed sites (such as dedicated affiliate marketers) then links are still pretty much the be-all-and-end-all. I’m guessing that is not many of you guys here at toprankblog.

    The “build content and they will come” approach seems to be such a failure still, that alone, without offsite support of sime kind, traffic levels for most niches will not remain viable.

    Looking at phrases like “social proof” and “content marketing” the end game is that there is always a link in there somewhere.
    Content marketing offsite? How do they get from the offsite content to your site? A link!
    Content marketing onsite – how do they get from the content to the landing page page or the checkout? A link!
    Social media. How do your customers get from Facebook ,Twitter or +1 to your site or landing page… Guess what. It’s a link.
    Not only is it a link – but it’s a link that Google can SEE is a link that they count.
    Albeit that many social network links are transient, they still exist for days, weeks or months. The consistency of new ones appearing therefore becomes an important factor and weeds out those in SEO that would use “blast” linking techniques.
    The important of chronological consistency to build authority.
    I’m guessing this is exactly what Google Hummingbird is looking at (well we know it’s what Hummingbird is looking at if we believe Google) A very similar update to Caffeine in 2009

    http://www.demondemon.com/2013/09/09/introducing-the-google-pelican-algorithm/

    The Google Pelican update predicted here might never have happened, (yet?) but the rebalancing of social proof from various sources seems pretty certain to occur. Facebook had extremely hagh value, combined far higher than Google’s own +1. Initial figures suggest that’s been tempered a little though what can be extrapolated from RS analysis is always prone to the reader putting the cart before the horse.
    Performance of various metrics against both time and peers rather than just peers would be better, but Hummingbird is too recent for anything meaningful concluded as yet. Hoping the guys at SEmetrics sort through this before 2013 is out.

    • We advocate content planning, creation, optimization, social promotion and ongoing performance refinement. Amplification has to be built in to the content planning and development process in order to attract buyers actively seeking solutions. Content Marketers know this and “build it and they will come” doesn’t exist except amongst the naive.

      Google’s motivations are becoming clearer with each algo change and withholding of data. That means SEOs need to adapt more quickly than they have in the past in order to remain relevant and capable of driving business results.

  17. mickjgreenwood says:

    No SEO isn’t just consider link building. Not if done properly. That’s a sweeping statement really.

  18. Stella Maris says:

    First of all, I thank you for your posting. I agree with your points. Its giving the basic concepts of SEO. I hope you it will be beneficial to new learners.

  19. Quickawake says:

    This is a great and informative article. The way you showed D.e.a.d was in an
    informative, eye catching way to actually show us SEO is alive! i am glad to here so many thing to learn. Thanks!

  20. SEO is a foundation for the websites who want to rank well.Any new strategy launched will not make SEO dead.

  21. Until Google implements some form of artificial intelligence to rank websites, it all boils down to an equation that requires your website to conform to a certain standard. Back links will always relevant. Google is always reworking its math to be smarter about what is considered to be a bonafide link source. Great for everyone who are building authority site instead of internet marketer who are gaming the system and offer little value to people searching for information. What if they were to purge these sites from their database so we don’t see a total of bazillion of results. What is the the point? No one ever gets past the 10th page.