Since Google released its most recent algorithm, called Hummingbird, in September 2013, a popular topic for debate among online marketers has been whether or not the new changes mean that search engine optimization (SEO) is dead. Unlike previous algorithms Panda and Penguin, which were updates to the existing algorithm, Hummingbird is an entirely new algorithm that replaces the old.
According to Amy Gesenhues, Hummingbird is, “Designed to be more precise and provide faster query results, the algorithm is based on semantic search, focusing on user intent versus individual search terms.”
While the goals is to provide more relevant searches for users, Google has also encrypted all organic searches. Thom Craver explains the impact of this change to online marketers, “Encrypted Google searches don't pass the keyword data through to websites, thereby eliminating the ability to track users by their keyword searches. The biggest impact for many site owners has been not being able to segment users by keywords within their web analytics software.”
Without access to the keyword data, loading website content with keywords, called “keyword stuffing,” will no longer increase search results.
Another impact of the Google changes is that “link baiting” with low quality content designed to encourage incoming links to the site will devalue your site’s ranking. The goal is to create shareable content that has the potential to go viral – creating high value inbound links back to your site. This practice builds site authority.
According to Eric Enge, the secret sauce of SEO success is meeting the content needs of your audience and providing them with a pleasant experience on your site. Another component of this strategy is to ensure that your site architecture is constructed so that search engines can find you easily.
In a Forbes article entitled, The Aftermath of SEO’s Death This Summer, Eris Poringer maintains that content marketing is now the primary SEO strategy.
Content marketing is not focused on selling, but communicating with customers and prospects. The idea is to inspire business and loyalty from buyers by delivering consistent, ongoing valuable information.
The ‘New SEO’ targets this kind of content marketing as its top priority for page ranking and validating authorship. Google’s complex algorithms can tell by popularity, low bounce rates, repeat views and other analytics how relevant and attractive your content is to your target audience and your business expertise.
Actively using social media to spread your content will make your content available to more people and encourage valuable inbound links to your site. Social media is also a proven strategy for building personal authority and expertise. One of the many factors built into Hummingbird is an evaluation of the quality of social media activity associated with particular people and sites. It goes into the mix of determining authority and so is important in supporting your website.
Sean Burton of Hallam Internet reminds us that one traditional SEO technique that is still useful is meta descriptions. These descriptions are the snippet of text that is displayed about your web pages in search results. And while meta descriptions don’t contribute directly to page ranking, they have been proven to lead to higher click-through rates. If you don’t supply these descriptions, you leave it to Google or other search engines to choose the description of your company. Using meta descriptions keeps you in charge of your message. Burton also maintains that keywords are still important. By including them in your meta data, you can increase search results.
Google is the largest search engine, and so we tend to keep our focus on them. But it’s good to remember that Google’s primary goal is to help their users have the best search experience possible. So, when they tweak their algorithms, their intention is to further this goal not make online marketers unhappy. When online marketers keep their focus squarely on developing and sharing great content, they have nothing to fear from Google’s changes. It is those who attempt to scam the system and shortcut their way to authority that will lose out.
It’s also good to remember that Google is generous with tools to help marketers get the most out of their search engine marketing initiatives. Here is a sample instructional page on getting the most out of meta descriptions, for example.
So while SEO is changing, it is still an important tactic in the online marketer’s tool kit. There is less of an opportunity to “trick” search engines into listing your website prominently in search results. The best way for companies to move up in search results is to create a valuable site and refresh it regularly with fresh, usable content, thereby increasing their authority. When you provide this kind of value to your audience, Google will reward you with higher page rankings.