As a general definition this is acceptable but, as the owner of a website or business, we must take things further. Search engine optimization, like all optimization, should be about user experience and providing valuable information. Recently, we have seen 3 major algorithm changes from Google (Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird) all with a focus on end user experience. Major search engines are constantly battling against spammy/highly-scalable SEO tactics used to increase rank for pages that do not provide true value.
Does This Mean That SEO Is Dead?
Absolutely not. Effective SEO strategies are constantly changing but search engine optimization as a whole will likely never “die”.
Recent algorithm changes have caused an incredible amount of frustration but, at their core, these changes are for the better. Change your point of view, for a moment, to that of a user. Would you rather see the top 5 search results for a given query be backed with spammy, keyword stuffed pages that contain no actual content? No. We all want the best source of information to appear first.
This raises another important concept: how should SEO be measured? Usually when we are approached for an SEO consultation the first question asked is how we can help rank their website in the #1 position for a specific keyword. For obvious reasons this is an excellent position to hold but it’s important to understand that it’s not the be-all and end-all of search engine optimization.
Which SEO Metrics Matter?
- Organic search traffic
- Engaged website visitors
- Genuine backlinking
Organic Search Traffic
Ranking #1 for any term on Google is exciting but, without proper keyword research and analysis, you may not get the results you expected. This process should begin with knowledge of your target audience. Create marketing personas and develop a strategy for anticipating search queries. Once you have compiled a list of terms, use a tool such as Google’s Keyword Planner or Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool to determine your chances or ranking for the selected term. These tools will also present you with estimated search frequency; there’s no sense in ranking for a term that only generates 2 hits per month, is there?
Our goal with SEO is to drive traffic to our website or to an important piece of content, not to achieve that all elusive #1 position. With proper optimization around a targeted term, you may drive more qualified traffic from the 5th or 6th position in search results. Again, search engine optimization is about your site/content and its relation to your audience.
Engaged Website Visitors
You will noticed that I placed extra emphasis on the beginning of this heading. There are countless methods of driving traffic from numerous sources around the web. But if this traffic isn’t interested in your content, it’s useless. First and foremost content needs to be genuine; never mislead or present false intentions.
If a page is optimized for “funny t-shirts” the page should not be populated with band t-shirts. This is often caused by “keyword-cannibalization” or “over-optimization”. Individual pages should be optimized for it’s unique content. Oftentimes website owners try to optimize each and every page of their site around a single keyword or group of keywords. While this may seem like a great way to rank a site for these keywords, the user experience is being ignored. When a visitor lands on one of your pages, they expect to find content relative to their search terms, not content that you want to rank for.
Traffic statistics are only as important as the value of each visitor. Similar to the focus on page rank, placing focus on traffic as a general number is not likely convert to sales or relationships on the back end. Instead try to optimize for real people and a valuable experience.
Gone are the days of mass blog commenting, exact-keyword anchor tags in forum signatures and low-quality guest blogging. Backlinking strategy has increasingly trended away from scalable techniques and instead shifted focus to quality.
Similar to search results, backlinks should improve the experience of web users. Website owners should stop focusing on getting as many links as possible and start focusing on getting links on from quality websites on relevant pages. Back to the previous example of t-shirts: a quality website about a band would be a great location to place a link for page selling shirts designed for that band. On the contrary, visitors to a website about cars most likely won’t care to click through to a product page for band t-shirts.
Quality web content strategically promoted through social networking and outreach can lead to organic, natural backlinks from related pages. Content that is focused on the user experience using natural SEO techniques will also yield better results when conducting link outreach campaigns. If your content provides genuine value to the users of another site, webmasters will be more inclined to accept your request for a link placement.
So, What Is SEO?
Search engine optimization is a group of strategies that should place quality web content in a prominent, easy to find position in major search engine results. Optimization should be done with both content and users in mind to ensure a quality user experience. Content should be optimized naturally, without excessive keyword usage or spammy headlines. SEO is about more than page rank and quantity of links, it’s about driving qualified traffic that will convert on the back end.