The Current State of Search

SEO

My wife and I love to travel. Who doesn’t? Recently, we were planning our next trip (which mainly consist of Disney World now) and were reminiscing about places we’ve been. One vacation in particular that stands out was our trip to Aruba.

This was my first time on an island and it was all inclusive so we felt like royalty.  Everything about this trip was perfect: the weather, the food, the beaches, I could go on forever with how impressed we were. Playing back the trip in my mind I remembered seeing a sign for an escalator that said “escalator broken, please use stairs.”

It didn’t occur to me then but reflecting upon it caused me to realize that this is the current state of search.

SEO is a lot like a broken escalator. It still works, we just need to work harder at it.


Now, to be fair, using my 20/20 hindsight I can see that they may have been planning some maintenance that day so the sign makes sense, but having not seen any maintenance crew, I will proceed with my original thought: Acquiring traffic used to be a lot less challenging before content, link quality and location were taken into consideration. Some of the less desirable methods that were used were:

  • Stuffing a lot of keywords into the meta keywords tag,
  • Using the same content on every page and just switch out locations

  • Placing text at the bottom of the website that was the same color as the background (white text on white background for example).

The problem with those method was that the results were often not exactly what a user was looking for. This prompted Google to make some changes. Since early 2011, Google has been working a lot harder to improve the quality of its results and only show websites that no longer employ any shady tactics. Over the next few years that followed, the search giant would release several more updates that further focused on returning more accurate results.

What works

SEO requires a lot of planning. Anyone who says otherwise is lying and stealing your money. You can’t build a building starting at the top just like you can’t increase a website’s presence, traffic and sales by guessing. Using the right tools can help with proper keyword research and content planning but should be used correctly. Always remember to pay attention to the data and see what story it tells. Here are several methods I use frequently that help my clients perform better:

Build a Persona

This is one of the more important and overlooked procedures of online marketing. If you want to craft content that resonates better with your audience then you need to know who you are marketing to. Build a persona that represents several different types of clients (depending on your niche) and the content will fall into place. If you don’t have a target audience in mind, content creation may be more difficult and you could be missing that connection with your audience.

Be Helpful. Don’t Always Try to Sell Them Something

I’m going to avoid saying “create good content” because that has been beaten into the ground, revived and beaten back down again several times over. What I am going to say is create content that is helpful. This means we should aim to answer a visitors question before it is even asked. Offer solutions to common problems (within your niche), give advice on ways to avoid those problems and be open and honest. Natural speech plays a big part in search and is only going to increase. Keep this in mind when crafting content.

Make Sure the Design isn’t Crowded

You can have the best product or the best prices but if your website is difficult to navigate, you’re going to lose the business to your competitor. Make sure you have easy-to-spot CTA’s and all contact information is equally easy to find. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard complaints from clients not being called and their phone number was either buried in the footer as a size 6 font, listed on the contact page or not at all.

Make sure their CTA is easy to spot and most importantly, don’t’ make them think.

What are competitors doing?

How you choose a set of keywords will greatly impact your next phase of planning. But what happens after you have completed your initial keyword research? Don’t ignore those terms with low or no search volume, do a search with them using different search operators and see exactly how many other sites are using those terms. We know by now that the keyword planner isn’t 100% in terms of average monthly search volume so this is a way to uncover other areas of opportunity.

There’s obviously a lot more I could write about but I’m just going for a top-level overview with this post.

What doesn’t work

Some of these were once considered viable strategies in digital marketing while others may have always been on the shady side but the one thing they all have in common is that people are (unfortunately) still using them today.

Link Wheels

Reciprocal Linking

Link Circles

Blog Commenting (not used as much)

Splash Pages

Micro Sites

Meta Keywords

Text that matches the background color of the sites

The last one (bottom right) is my favorite and yes, I have been asked that recently if that can be done. I say those tactics don’t work because Google has adjusted its algorithm to only display quality results which reward sites with helpful content and filter out those who employ shady quick traffic building techniques.

Search – Then and Now

The internet used to be document based and was a series of pages linking to other pages. This “popularity contest” method of ranking sites is what made Google stand out among other search engines. This method of ranking sites is still, in part, used today but has evolved to be so much more.

Universal Search rolled out May 16, 2007 and had a revolutionary impact on search. This new display provided additional opportunity for sites to rank based on other metrics such as images, video, news articles, maps and more. Many of you might not remember but Google’s SERPs used to only be 10 blue links.

Since the release of universal search we are seeing everything listed above along with relevant ads to go with our queries. Recently we have started seeing enhanced results (rich snippets),  auto complete, the knowledge graph and answer box. And that’s only within the past few years!

So, what are these things and how can they help? At a high-level overview, rich snippets are a way of marking up your data found and indexed  easier by search engines. It works by telling the SE’s exactly what your site is about by categorizing each piece of content on a page. The benefit here is twofold: content will be indexed faster and SERP listings will stand out. These enhanced listings can lead to a higher CTR since there are not many others doing them right now.

Wait. Back up. Indexed faster? Yes. Current search engines rely on context to best guess what a particular page is about. Schema tags tell them exactly what the content is about so you’re saving them a lot of guess work. The less work they have to do, the better it is for you.

What about social media?

A lot has been and continues to be written about social media so I won’t delve too deep into that right now. What I will talk about is Google Plus.

The Red-Headed stepchild of social media, Google Plus, Indexes at incredible speeds (i’ve seen posts be indexed within 3 seconds when signed in). Sadly, it’s not widely used when compared to other social sites (was it because Google forced it down our throats for the first year?).

I’m a little biased because I happen to love Google Plus and use it personally, daily. Hyperindexing is important because when your target audience are signed into their Google accounts, this increase the chances of your posted content being found much faster. This is especially helpful for blog posts that have just been published.

Social signal continue to redefine how someone performs a search and will, in my opinion, play a larger role in ranking algorithms.

Predictions for the future of Search

Where is it all going?

In my opinion we’re going to see a lot more natural speech occurring (hummingbird). The reason I think this is because the amount of internet connected devices are increasing and shrinking in size. Take for example Apple watch. It’s basically a remote control for a smartphone with all the features. An individual can perform a search by speaking into the watch. I think natural speech and regional locality is going to play a huge part in optimization strategies moving forward.

Will augmented reality become more prominent? Can we expect to walk past a business and obtain their information directly? This may place a larger importance on reviews and check-ins from friends.

What more do they want?

Will search engines become more Intrusive? Since mobile search is taking over, will search engines have access to ALL of our data? Is it possible that SE’s will want to know our contacts, medical Information, driving records and credit score all to provide us with the best results possible? I think that’s a bit Orwellian but I’m not ruling it out.

Conclusion

  • An escalator may do the moving for you but that doesn’t mean the stairs won’t get you there.
  • Search may be a lot more difficult now but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer possible, it just requires us to put in more effort so our work is of the highest quality.

  • SEO is always changing and so should our strategies. Just because something worked 10 years ago, doesn’t mean it still will.
  • The future is uncertain but the warning signs are there. Be prepared for more change in ways that make the most sense.

About the Author:

An SEO in NYC with a penchant for the technical side of things. Father, Husband, Novice Photographer and Music Lover.

2 comments

  1. Hameem Kader

    Excellent SEO strategy advice and display of foresight.

  2. […] a broken escalator, it requires more effort, but it still […]

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