Search engine optimization remains one of the most important promotional methods available to today's digital-focused businesses - despite suggestions that it's time to give up the SEO dream. In order to find information, consumers use (and do so heavily) the facilities of popular search engines, so it would only make sense that these outlets are and will be important to consumers in their quest to discover information in the future. But SEO has changed, and depending on to whom you are speaking, not always for the better.
In my position as Editor-in-Chief of Website Magazine, I'm a believer that SEO as a marketing practice is now far more difficult than ever before (and there's much in the way of proof to support that), but it's also become, well, better. It's harder to follow and capitalize on the myriad technical challenges and the preferences of search engines, yet the proven SEO strategies of today are better at helping businesses provide users with meaningful and actionable information and even at protecting us - search engine marketers - from ourselves.
In the past, with far less competition and attention paid to the quality of the search experience, Web workers would focus more on the mechanics of what would get you a top listing in search engines for competitive phrases, and manipulate everything they could to move their way up the results pages. Many still do. The result is that it has created what you might expect when there are no rules - chaos. Search engines today however care (and care deeply) about the experience you as a website provide to their search users.
As Google and Bing have become more sophisticated in the way they crawl, index, filter and display websites for users, those sites that most regularly top the search results today are those that have also become more sophisticated in their optimization strategies over time as well. Sure, there are still some edgy, incredibly innovative strategies in use but for the most part those that receive organic/unpaid/natural traffic from the search engines do so ethically, in the most white-hat ways imaginable. What's more, it is also the most sustainable approach possible. The beauty of Forever SEO - where we develop an SEO strategy that works now and will work "forever and ever") is that these same principles are available to anyone and everyone - from the Fortune 500 to those that barely make $500 per year (at least right now).
So what are the principles of Forever SEO? What are the approaches to take if you want to achieve some level of success with search engine marketing for a very long time - you know, like, forever? You already know them, but perhaps a refresher course is in order (just to make sure).
For years you likely heard that content was king. That's not 'untrue' by any means but it leaves out something very important. If there were no audience (no citizens if you will) there's not much need for the content (the king), right?
An interesting infographic was released this week from domain marketplace Flippa which revealed that forums had a higher resale volume on average than sites built atop content management systems. That's right... forums. What should make this interesting to Web workers is that by their very nature, forums are communities of audiences - audiences keen on discovering others with shared needs and interests. Forums have become an immensely profitable type of Web destination, exemplified well I believe by the news this week that forum network CrowdGather released a self-serve forum advertising solution dubbed Adisn. The opportunity is there, the consumer demand is present, and it's a proven model. But forums aren't the only way to put your audience first.
The rise of social login capabilities such as those provided by JanRain (check out this trending whitepaper in Website Magazine's Resource Center) and platforms which facilitate simplified commenting and participation such as Disqus or Intense Debate, for example, are terrific ways to help build a community around your products, services or brand.
Without question, creating forums requires an immense commitment of time and resources. By developing a virtual location where like-minded users can share, collaborate and more importantly interact with your brand, you'll dramatically shorten the road to digital success. As you'll see, every success story you hear today will cite "interaction" in some capacity. Forum for example are participatory in nature and thus drive interaction on their own - but so can content.
Nearly one year ago, Website Magazine published my article on Knowledge-Base Optimization. It was well received by our audience at the time and contained some important lessons - none more important than this:
"The objective here is not to "game" the search engines through what we know about our users' search queries, but rather optimize and distribute an enterprise's total knowledge and experience directly to those entities that matter - users - wherever they are and however they seek those answers."
Read the whole article to discover the essentials of optimizing knowledge bases but know this - when you create content that is in demand and do so in a format that is in demand by users, your enterprise will be well suited to driving deeper interaction. And again, interaction is the name of the game today.
Take video for example. For years, the measure of a video's success (in the eyes of businesses creating them and video destinations like YouTube indexing and ranking them) was that the number of views was the best indicator of popularity. But now, as search engines have become more sophisticated, there are additional metrics which are analyzed and need to be considered - as was mentioned in this post about "time watched and annotation clicks" being as meaningful (if not more so) than the number of video views.
The point is not to just create content, but content that people need and content that inspires people to take action. Today's most savvy content marketers are focused on what's happening right now and optimizing for the immediate experience. That may actually sound like a fools errand but it may just be a good thing. When you know what your audience is doing with your content, what they are saying and more, you're able drive even greater interaction. Ars Technica for example collects/accesses data through the Parse.ly API to recommend other articles based on relevant topics.
With all the attention being paid to audience and content (and yes, interaction too) you might think the case has been made - but it hasn't (at least not yet). If a user can't access your site or the experience you provide is not optimized for a beneficial experience you're just spinning your digital wheels.
Search engine marketers tend to be rather serious people - mathematic in their approaches - and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that at all!
One of our most popular posts this year was "SEO Meta Data Mechanics: Titles & Descriptions" which analyzed results from Google and Bing to determine optimal title tag lengths and whether descriptions were important. It was popular - as defined by reads and shares - but I believe there was something wrong with that post. It mentioned nothing about the role of audience or community and little in terms of the importance of content and driving interaction. Yet, it was well received. Beats me! Well, I actually do know the reason. We're all looking for the easy answer, the shortcut, the sound bite to success. Analyzing what others are doing with their titles and descriptions gives us an opportunity to mimic the best - but there's a better way: build strong foundations.
There's a better way to put the critical minds so respected in this industry to good use - have them focus on accessibility and developing a reliable infrastructure. The sheer number of sites suffering from downtime in the past week alone should serve well as a call to action. We'll be distributing (and linking to) an article shortly about "Maximizing Site Architecture for SEO: Using Silos to Establish Content Hierarchy & User Experience Improvements" that shouldn't be missed so do subscribe (if you're not already) to access this article.
You'll notice that quite a bit was left out of the "Forever SEO" approach/strategy. You won't find suggestions on title tags and description length. Neither will you find insights into the best keyword research strategies or the optimal ways to interlink your pages for on-site SEO. You can actually find much of that in this past summer's post on "Training for the SEO Olympics." What we're discussing with relation to Forever SEO is a philosophical approach to search engine marketing.
The approach is to put audience and community first, focus on creating content that drives interaction and stay focused on providing an accessible, reliable infrastructure.
Should you miss one or more of these steps, know that your efforts may be in vain. But all needn't be lost however- build forums and engage users with more robust commenting features, test new content formats and encourage interaction within them, and commit to constantly refining and improving your site's infrastructure. This is the only way to achieve SEO success over the long term. That my virtual friends is Forever SEO.