Since the birth of SEO cries of “SEO is dead!” have been heard, with claims that constant changes brought in by search engines and the emergence of new technologies and practices (i.e. social and content marketing) combine to make existing search strategies somewhat futile. However, another camp takes a more considered view of the impact of these changes, arguing that rather than ‘killing’ SEO they have necessitated a richer, more complex and nuanced approach to search engine optimisation.

What is SEO?

At its most basic SEO is the practice of increasing the ranking of web pages in search engine ‘organic’ results. The higher the ranking in search the more visitors a site is likely to receive. The practice of SEO considers the way in which search engines work, considering the different algorithms and elements that go into making a site rank well, combined with the keywords that target audiences use to find you.

Traditional methods of optimisation can be roughly divided into two forms. Internal, which consists of editing content, writing html that increases visibility and relevance of keyphrases and removing barriers to indexing. External includes building inbound links (backlinks) from other sites.

Changing With The Times

Search engines, such as Google, use complex algorithms to evaluate a site and assign it authority and ranking, and over the past decade these algorithms have become more sophisticated, taking more metrics into account.

Two significant updates to Google search have been released in recent years that have caused many to ring the death knell of SEO. Panda, released in 2011, aimed to demote sites with perceived poor quality, derivative content, and Penguin, released in 2012, which penalises sites that don’t meet Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and have evidence of clearly-manufactured backlinks.

In addition to these major updates, Google consistently releases minor updates at a frequency of around one a month. Digital marketers today must also take into account other types of search marketing and targeting, including geolocation, mobile and device specific, and display advertising. Indeed, YouTube is now the world’s second-biggest search engine.

Taking The Old With The New

Some elements of traditional SEO remain important.  Best practice in site design is still essential, ensuring that your site is easily indexable by search engines, promoting visibility of keywords and increasingly, making sure content is sharable and social. Meta tags, on the other hand have significantly lost their importance and weighting in modern SEO.

External SEO remains essential, but has become much more complex than disseminating as many backlinks as possible across the web. Backlinks on sites that Google deems to be of poor quality will have a negative knock-on effect on your own ranking. However, building connections on sites that contain rich, credible content that is related and relevant to your own will enhance organic ranking.

What’s Next?

By far one of the most visible trends to have emerged in digital marketing in the last year is content strategy. We have discussed the importance of content marketing in our previous blogs. Onsite content such as blog posts, articles, informative product pages, should be highly relevant, sharable and regularly updated. In addition, strategies should be employed that determine the goals of your content so that success can be measured and you can improve your approach.

It’s also a good idea to establish which other platforms might be relevant to your content strategy. Nowadays social media channels are almost ubiquitous, but every brand and organisation needs to analyse which are the most suitable and effective for them. It’s important that you explore how to best adapt and produce content that plays to the strengths of the platform, rather than merely regurgitating it across channels.

In addition, effective, but restrained linking between your own presences on the web can help improve rankings. Embedding rich content on your own site, and across platforms helps build a denser brand network.

Be Sociable

Another buzz phrase that is gaining currency in the digital marketing world is social signals. They are increasingly becoming an integral part of the ranking algorithm, drawing upon social footprints that online users leave across the web. Facebook was the first to extend a social layer across the Internet with its ‘Like’ buttons. The number of people who share, like, tweet, comment, reblog and watch your content will have a major impact not only on referrals from social sites, but also your site’s ranking in search.

The crux of this development is that not only does your content need to be engaging, it needs to be interesting enough for people to want to share it and be seen as brand advocates, and it needs to be relevant enough for people to come back for more. Content needs to be regularly updated and widely disseminated. Make use of Google’s Webmaster Tools, employ the Author and Relationship tags, which aim to build legitmacy and reputation of both brands and individual content makers.

This is Not The End, It’s Just The Beginning

Google and others are engaged in a process of deep cleaning - cleansing algorithms and search results, and demoting sites that attempt to trick the algorithm and users. This doesn’t however mean that SEO is dead.

In fact, SEO is still well and truly alive, and it relies on adhering to best practices and transparency. Other factors such as quality, relevance and social are now being given more weighting. It’s not in Google’s interests to create a situation in which there is no competition in search, and no space for affecting rankings. Rather what Google aims to achieve is that those sites that do rank highly are of a good quality and are relevant to users and their social circles.