search engine optimization: the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. —Google (so meta!)
It’s 2014, and SEO is still not dead. Its death has been declared time and time again, but the truth is, it will never go away. It will evolve, it will mutate, it will become unrecognizable to many—but it won’t die until search engines do.
SEO firms, however, have and do fade away as they fail to update their toolbox of techniques. What worked in 1997 won’t work today. Hell, what worked in 2012 won’t work today. If you manage an online presence with the help of an SEO partner, it’s good to know how to spot a bad one.
So in typical linkbait form, here are 5 SEO trends we should all stop talking about—or at least change in our conversations. If your SEO specialist keeps dropping these buzzwords and phrases like it’s still 2013… It’s time to move on.
#5. Pleasing the Google-bots.
From the humble beginnings of the SEO industry, two camps emerged: black hat and white hat. For the unfamiliar, black-hat techniques are meant to exploit search engine algorithms, delivering results that might seem impressive but are all-too-often busted by the next algorithm update. The rewards are short-term at best, and devastating at worst.
It’s easy to laugh at black-hat techniques with the advantage of retrospect. Oh, keyword-spammy page footers! Oh, link farms! Oh, Anglo Rank! But big websites are still being penalized by Google’s police force for engaging in shady link-building tactics. If you want to know more about that, ask Rap Genius. They’ve just recovered from a hefty penalty that cost them 80% of their traffic for eleven days. Even major retailers like J.C. Penney have faced “manual action” that Google has taken against them.
White hat techniques, on the other hand, are generally considered to be ethical practices founded on sound marketing principles. It might take more investment upfront, but the results are geared toward the long term. These strategies put the customer first — not the Google-bots.
The fact of the matter is, your primary focus should always be your customers. What you’re doing on your website (and off) should never detract from your customers’ experience or perception of your brand. Stuffing your content full of keywords and doing other things “to please the Google-bots” will only alienate your audience and raise your potential for a hefty penalty. Don’t let a rogue black-hatter trick you with get-clicks-quick schemes!
#4. Mobile websites.
Hey guys, did you know mobile is the future?! If you don’t have a mobile website, you’re done for!
Just kidding… kind of. Though if you don’t understand the impact mobile devices have had on the way we read, watch, talk, shop—you know, live—well, I’m not sure anyone can explain it to you. Ol’ Steve Jobs really changed everything with the iPhone, you know?
Speaking of the legendary visionary, here’s an interesting factoid: He really didn’t like Flash. He even wrote a lengthy treatise about it in 2010. The fact that Apple refused to support Flash on any of its devices really dealt a blow to Adobe’s widely-used platform. So much so, that even Adobe says Apple killed Flash.
So Flash didn’t really make it to mobile, which was too bad for all the companies that invested lots of time and money into creating dynamic content in Flash for their websites.
For this and other reasons, the differences between coding for websites and mobile sites led most companies to adopt a two-website strategy: one with a mobile domain (mobile.something.com) and one for desktops. This strategy was meant to optimize customer experience, though most of us know that the mobile versions were often stripped-down to the point of being restrictive. Sure, it helped with speed and smaller screens, but shouldn’t there be a better way?
Yep. It’s called responsive design, and if you’re not investing in it, it could be costing you.
Responsive or adaptive design eliminates the need for multiple websites, which is great for several reasons:
- The “mobile or desktop” paradigm is outdated; we now have tablets and devices of all sorts and sizes.
- Responsive web design will react to the needs of the viewer, no matter what device or browser they’re using. Your customers get the same great branding experience, every time they visit your site.
- Google now penalizes duplicate content—so having two websites with the same content is a liability.
- Google also clarified its stance on mobile website strategies and search results, with strong support for responsive design.
- Maintaining one site (and one SEO profile) is cheaper, plus it’s easier to push out updates when you only have to do it once!
Ditch the separate mobile site and start thinking about responsive web design. When your SEO guy says “mobile-friendly,” make sure he means “responsive.” And as for Flash… Better to use HTML5 instead.
#3. Cloned geo-targeted pages.
There is no better example of “pleasing the Google-bots” than creating cloned geo-targeted service pages. They’re essentially carbon-copies of a business’s services with localized keywords thrown in. These pages don’t offer anything new to the customer, and can actually be downright confusing (wait—does this business even have an office here?).
Now understand me: this is different from redirecting users with geo-location techniques based on the user’s location. As long as you aren’t cloaking your techniques, Google won’t give it a second thought. It’s also good practice to create geo-targeted pages that feature unique information about each store location—address, hours, great employees, service awards, you name it. That’s valuable for your customers.
No, what I’m talking about is Some Guy’s Plumbing Service hosting a bunch of pages that look like this:
- http://someguysplumbingservice.com/every city in the state
And no matter which one you read, the message is the same: “If you need [plumbing in CITY, STATE], call Some Guy’s Plumbing Service. We offer all the [plumbing in CITY, STATE] services you need!” Except for about 300 more words. Guess what that looks like to customers and search engines? You got it: straight-up spam.
For businesses who serve a radius-area, there are ways to create great geo-targeted pages. But it takes a little more work than saying to your SEO, “Write 25 new pages, one for each city on this list.” You’re going to have to provide some information and make some basic strategy decisions. If your SEO isn’t already asking questions… Prepare for duplicate content and a potential penalty.
Lest you think I’m blowing smoke, here are a few articles about engaging ways to optimize for [your keyword in CITY, STATE].
#2. You’ve gotta be on Pinterest!
Ahh, Pinterest. The popular blogging platform has captured the hearts and screens of Hispanic & white females in the 18-64 age bracket. Turns out, that’s a pretty big chunk of the US market in general, so it’s no surprise that trendspotters are shouting “Land ho!” while pointing to the craft & recipe paradise.
But what do the numbers really mean? Should articles like this determine your business’s social media strategy for the new year? Well, that depends. Whether you’re considering Pinterest or any social networking/blogging site, first ask yourself a few important questions:
- Who’s using the site? If your target market isn’t actively using the site, don’t bother. There are so many sites to choose from, there’s bound to be one that closer aligns with your target audience. You can’t (successfully) use them all, so pick the ones that give you the best odds of reaching your base.
- What are they doing there? Just as important as who is there is what they’re doing. Each social site has its own culture and “code of conduct” which unsavvy businesses can easily break. Look at tumblr and Reddit, for example. Users on tumblr (a very visual platform) share images and GIFs, using tags to build tight-knit fandoms and communities. On Reddit, it’s all about ideas, as subject-focused subreddits delve deep with long-reads and discussions. If your content doesn’t play by the rules, it’s not going anywhere. It’s important to understand user behavior on any network, and Pinterest is no exception.
- Can I commit to creating/curating content on this network? So you know your audience is there. You know the types of content they like. Before you throw another social account into your marketing mix, consider — Do you have the time and energy to fully engage for the long haul? Social network success depends on cultivating relationships with fans, customers, and the curious. You can’t repin a few photos and call it a day. Whether you’re curating content from other users or crafting your own, it will take time and consideration to do it right.
- What will I get out of it? Social media is notorious for being difficult to measure in terms of ROI. If you’re looking for a discrete effect on your bottom line, you’re going in with the wrong attitude. Social media is about managing your brand and connecting with customers—being part of the conversation. There are excellent examples of businesses reaching out on Twitter and Facebook, and brand success stories on nearly every social network.
If you can find the right site and mix of content, you’re going to increase your share of mind with the people who matter most. Could that site be Pinterest? Maybe. But if the above questions don’t point in that direction, well, tell your SEO specialist that you’re “not Pinterested.”
#1. Content is King.
We’ve known this phrase was going to be problematic as soon as it started catching on. Having trouble in the SERPs? No problem! Just get some content on your low-performing pages and watch the traffic roll in. People love content. Content is valuable.
Fast forward to where we are now, and it’s even more obvious that this strategy isn’t going to work forever. People’s web browsing habits have made it clear that quality wins over quantity, every time. The SEO’s rallying cry of “More content!” ignores a vital fact: Content is not inherently valuable, because “content” isn’t actually a thing at all.
No, really. “Content” is one of those words that doesn’t actually mean anything (like “concept” or “value”) until you fill it in. It’s defined as “something contained.” The contents of a book. The contents of an unopened box. The contents of your stomach. Sure, you could put anything in there—but they don’t all guarantee the same results.
And that’s what it’s all about: results. Your content strategy should be driven by business goals and the desired results. It should have purpose. Content for the sake of content is empty and pointless. It fulfills no promise. Content created with a goal—to inform, to persuade, to entertain—is more likely to use vision, strategy, and effort to attain that goal. To fulfill its promise.
There are four main types of content, and the business who wields them wisely will easily pull ahead of the pack. Sharing information effectively in right type (whether it’s text, audio, image, or video) will ‘make’ your message. Ineffective content will break it. Therefore, content should never be your king… It should be your messenger.
This is the logical conclusion of all the previous points I’ve mentioned. Put them all together, and it becomes clear that good content:
- Puts the customer first, not the Google-bots
- Is shaped by website design and the customer’s user experience
- Provides real value, delivers on its promises, and is not empty or repetitive
- Is accessible and shareable on the sites that matter most to your customers
And the best part of all? This is the kind of content Google—and your customers—will always be looking for.