Has the phrase “search engine optimization” lost all of its meaning? With two important search algorithm updates in 2012, Google devalued some common methods that website owners and search optimizers used to attain higher rankings in search engine results.
During a session at Podcamp Pittsburgh in late October, the speaker said those optimization methods were essentially “manipulation” and that the term “SEO” is dead. He was on target with his comment about manipulation. Using some pretty common “black hat” or “gray hat” tactics, a skilled optimizer could move just about any website near the top of search results for particular search terms.
But Google isn’t falling for paid links, meaningless content that links to a site or the ridiculous keyword stuffing that search engines have ignored — and even penalized — for several years. From Google’s point of view, those tactics were getting in the way of delivering useful search results.
I should probably step back for a moment and answer a question: What does all of this search and SEO stuff have to do with your business and your website? In 2012, when people need a service or are thinking about buying a product they start with an Internet search. Most of them will use Google, but there are some folks who use Bing, which also powers Yahoo!’s search. And in most cases, searchers will click on one of the first four or five results displayed, which means that websites that rank highly on a search results page have a distinct advantage over those that fall to the second, third or 50th page of results.
Search Engine Journal reported earlier this year that 75 percent of searchers don’t make it past the first page of results. Yep, it’s important for your website to rank high in search results.
That leads to the next question: How does Google decide which sites get the top rank. According to some, the answer to that question is one of the great mysteries of the Internet universe and is buried deep within the 1s and 0s of Google’s search code (algorithms). But it’s not really so mysterious. Google wants to give the best answer possible to whatever question a searcher is trying to answer. So Google looks for sites that contain keywords either the same as or similar to the search term and it looks for sites that have authority (measured mainly by how many other sites link to it).
For years, marketers have tried to optimize websites to make them more appealing to the search engines, hence “search engine optimization.” Depending on your business, high rankings are critical, and the top ranking can be the “golden goose.” That led to search engine optimization specialists who figured out ways to game the system. Along the way, Google has updated its search code to stay ahead of tricks that boosted a site’s ranking but didn’t yield useful search results.
Which bring us back to whether SEO is dead and why it matters. Search engine optimization is no longer about manipulation, but the core principles of SEO endure and there’s still SEO work to be done. When managing your business website, you can still make sure your pages contain informative content, relevant and unique page titles, and concise and action-oriented meta descriptions. You can write and update a blog with information your customers want and need.
And there’s the long-term work that goes into seeking links from other reputable sites back to your site and building an engaging social media presence.
SEO isn’t dead. It’s transformed, and with social media, e-mail, search advertising and content creation its’ a core piece in any business’ online marking plan.