Every year, we’ll hear people declare that SEO is dead. Well known entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has declared that its been dying for quite some time. It might be changing, but it’s not dying. Not even close.
Wouldn’t we all love to go back to the late 1990s and early 2000s – a time when simply stuffing keywords into a website’s meta tags, footers and CSS files was enough to guarantee high rankings in the search engines? Not to mention getting paid big money for these simple hacks.
As search engine algorithms have become more sophisticated, most of these tricks have died out. You’ve probably already heard the tagline “SEO is dead”, but for some reason the mindset still persists that figuring out the latest on-page tweaks is the key to natural search performance.
When we think about the future of SEO, I believe we need to be focusing on an entirely different set of principles. Here are 3 principles to keep in mind when doing modern day SEO:
Interestingly, the biggest news story in the SEO world of late – the release of Google’s Penguin 2.0 update – was only noteworthy because its impact was so much different than what was expected.
Following on the heels of the initial Penguin rollout in April 2012, Penguin 2.0 was widely expected to trash sites that used manipulative link schemes based on low value backlinks. Nearly every SEO blog packed its front page with “tips and tricks” lists designed to help sites clean up their backlink profiles and minimize the risk of penalization.
But what’s important to keep in mind about this update wasn’t that its impact was smaller than expected. What’s interesting is that so many of the industry’s big names believed that a much more devastating update was possible – and that should tell us something.
At the end of the day, this much is true: some people might be able to outsmart Google’s algorithms but it’s often only for short periods of time. Trying to consistently beat some of the smartest engineers in the world is a fool’s game.
But what’s also interesting is that, since the release of its Disavow Links tool, Google has more information than ever about both natural and unnatural link graphs. Combine that with the head of Google’s Web Spam team Matt Cutts’ past references to a potential on-site over-optimization penalty, and it’s clear that “old school SEO” won’t be around forever.
So if traditional on-site SEO and backlink building practices won’t have the same impact in the future, what can webmasters do to gain an edge in the search results? The answer is to build content and relationships.
In a recent Google Webmaster Help video on the top 3 – 5 SEO mistakes most webmasters make, Cutts gave the following piece of advice:
Don’t think about link building – that limits you to a certain mindset. Think about compelling content and marketing. As soon as you think “my job is to build links for search engines” you’re really cutting off a lot of avenues.
When you start to move beyond thinking of SEO in such narrow terms and begin to focus on how you can help your customers and market your website, achieving great website performance becomes much easier.
To see how this works in practice, take the KISSmetrics blog as an example. The company releases a ton of helpful information through its blog posts, infographics and marketing guides – but the impact of these pieces isn’t just the education of its audience. One infographic on the site (titled, “How Do Colors Affect Purchases?”) has received more than 6,500 “Likes” on Facebook and more than 5,700 tweets as of the writing of this article.
Releasing great content like this helps KISSmetrics in a number of different ways:
Because the content is so good, people link to it in order to share it with others – creating important natural backlinks without any direct input from KISSmetrics. This both reinforces the company’s presence in the search results and minimizes the risk that the site will fall victim to future search penalties designed to weed out low value backlinks.
The result? This single piece of great content drives – and will continue to drive – powerful SEO results without the need for ongoing optimization efforts that could eventually backfire.
As for implementing great content marketing I’d check out Neil Patel’s Advanced Guide to Content Marketing.
Now, the second piece of the “new school SEO” puzzle is relationships. Building high quality content is important, but if nobody knows about it, your marketing materials won’t gain the kind of traction needed to generate positive results.
In particular, there are two types of relationships you need to be concerned with:
Customer relationships are obviously important, given the number of competing businesses operating both online and offline today. If you don’t stand out, which should be done through consistent engagement using the proper social channels, you risk losing business to your competitors.
And from an SEO perspective, the strength of these relationships tends to correlate with high social shares, which are known to play a role in a site’s natural search performance.
Beyond the relationships with your customers, your influencer connections may be even more important when it comes to SEO. A single mention on a major industry blog creates an extremely powerful natural backlink, which is why it’s worth it to invest time getting to know your field’s movers and shakers.
So how can you go about building these relationships?
The easiest way to do it is to promote their content first, as doing so gets you on their radar and can lead to reciprocal sharing. As an example, take a look at the Unbounce blog’s recent list of “75 Must Read Marketing Blogs.” Not only does this collection provide exceptional value for the site’s readers, it “scratches the backs” of others in its industry, creating mutual goodwill and leading to the type of relationships needed to drive SEO.
Of course, there’s more to building strong relationships than simply linking out to influencers’ pages. But that’s the whole point. SEO in the future isn’t going to be about the location and frequency of keywords on your website – it’s going to be about the value you bring to your industry. By starting to focus on the quality of your content and relationships now, your site will be well positioned to take advantage of future digital marketing trends.
Business has always been about relationship building and Google’s latest algorithm updates are starting to push things in that direction. Instead of focusing on acquiring ‘exact match anchor text links from high domain authority sites,’ you should now be focused on delivering as much value to others in your community and building long lasting relationships. A relationship is infinitely better than a link anyway.
Andy Dunn has spent the past ten years building Bonobos. He’s funded about 15 other ecommerce companies, advises even more, and serves on the board of three others. In this interview, he shares his thoughts on better fitting pants, 100M in capital, and why men should embrace a world run by women.