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SEO is dead. Long live content.


“It slowly dawned on Ralph that it was getting harder to be seen in the crowd.”

Matt Cutts, Google’s sheriff of all things SEO, caused quite a stir among search folks when he let slip at SXSW that Google is essentially rolling out an official algorithm update that will penalize sites that engage too vigorously in search engine optimization.  To paraphrase, Cutts said that, as part of Google’s ongoing effort to rank the most relevant results (i.e., the ones most satisfying to the user), their engineers are actually developing a way to promote good content (regardless of how “optimized” it is) over content that might not be as good, but has clearly had some work done from an SEO perspective.

In a sense, this should be no great surprise. The kind of “over optimized” content that Cutts is referring to is often not a very good result if you’re the actual searcher. As such, this fits into the overarching Google theme that good content should win. What’s striking about it, and what has gotten the attention of the SEO community,  is that it singles out SEO by name and almost lays down the gauntlet. That seems to have really spooked some people who do SEO for a living.

The real problem is what people (and even Cutts to a degree apparently) think that SEO is all about. There’s a perception (well-deserved in some cases) that SEO is a bag of virtual parlor tricks. Let me reach in and grab a few tags, some keywords and a couple of links and voilà your site will levitate to the top of the page. It should surprise no one that Google wants to fight this perception and the underlying problem. Low quality content ranking because of a few SEO tricks is bad for Google, it’s bad for the user and it’s ultimately bad for whoever is achieving the ranking.

Any search engine optimization exercise should start with an analysis of what you should legitimately be ranking for. From there, the SEO is about creating really good content (if it doesn’t already exist) and making it easy for Google and the other search engines to find and deliver that content at the right time to the right people. It’s not rocket science, and it certainly shouldn’t be shrouded in a veil of binary mystery.

Too many agencies and marketers want to do SEO over on the side, segregated from the really legitimate marketing efforts. This is why you’ll often see a series of landing pages tied to paid search campaigns and a series of totally separate landing pages created to rank organically. That in itself should be a major red flag if you’re looking to avoid this new “over-optimization” penalty. If you’re creating a page that you don’t want to deliberately send keyword-driven paid search traffic to, why would Google or any other search engine want to point their users to that content by ranking it prominently?

So if you want to get ahead of this new algorithm update, take a good look at the content you’ve been trying to optimize. Is it the result you’d like to see if you’re the objective searcher? Is it content you’d like to present as the best possible result for that keyword if you’re a search engine engineer? If not, it’s probably time to put your “optimization” efforts on hold and work on creating really good content. For that, there will certainly never be a penalty.

Scott Ensign, Digital Planner & Channel Integration Specialist

 

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9 Comments

  1. Steve Masters, March 21, 2012:

    “Is it the result you’d like to see if you’re the objective searcher?”

    This is excellent advice in a good article. I believe many marketers are guilty of just publishing stuff for the sake of it – to fill space, to make a noise, to capitalise on popular keywords. If we look at our content with objective eyes and we are not enthused by it, we shouldn’t be surprised if Google isn’t either. I’m loving the changes that Google has been implementing over the past few months. They really are all about trying to show people valid and credible content as opposed to the 80% of drivel that’s only produced to either build lists or generate Adsense commissions.

  2. Steve Masters, March 21, 2012:

    “Is it the result you’d like to see if you’re the objective searcher?”

    This is excellent advice in a good article. I believe many marketers are guilty of just publishing stuff for the sake of it – to fill space, to make a noise, to capitalise on popular keywords. If we look at our content with objective eyes and we are not enthused by it, we shouldn’t be surprised if Google isn’t either. I’m loving the changes that Google has been implementing over the past few months. They really are all about trying to show people valid and credible content as opposed to the 80% of drivel that’s only produced to either build lists or generate Adsense commissions.

  3. Jason McCormick, March 21, 2012:

    I somewhat disagree. For tracking purposes almost all larger companies focus their PPC campaigns to certain very targeted but separate pages for PPC as opposed to organics.

    Matt Cutts was more specific and targets numbers of keywords and types of links coming to a website in terms of SEO. I think he is taking a shot at page relevancy for a targeted keyword to a page and links that are cheap to get and used frequently in SEO from off shore providers.

  4. Jason McCormick, March 21, 2012:

    I somewhat disagree. For tracking purposes almost all larger companies focus their PPC campaigns to certain very targeted but separate pages for PPC as opposed to organics.

    Matt Cutts was more specific and targets numbers of keywords and types of links coming to a website in terms of SEO. I think he is taking a shot at page relevancy for a targeted keyword to a page and links that are cheap to get and used frequently in SEO from off shore providers.

  5. Mike Monahan, March 21, 2012:

    Since Mr. Jason commented I thought I would too. I think specifically Google was going after Angela’s And Paul’s Backlinks methods as that was the topic of conversation that sparked his remarks.

  6. Mike Monahan, March 21, 2012:

    Since Mr. Jason commented I thought I would too. I think specifically Google was going after Angela’s And Paul’s Backlinks methods as that was the topic of conversation that sparked his remarks.

  7. Scott Ensign, March 22, 2012:

    Hey guys. Thanks for the comments. I really feel like Cutts was making a much broader point than specific linking or on page tactics. He starts out his response by saying that in a perfect world we wouldn’t need SEO. It’s clear to me that Google wants to get smarter about choosing the most relevant content, regardless of traditional ranking signals. That’s why things like keyword density and links in general are becoming less and less important. What matters is providing meaningful answers to the questions searchers are asking. That’s achieved through good content. The post title was meant to be a bit provocative, but I certainly don’t really think SEO is dead. It’s just evolving, and what it means to be “search engine optimized” will look very different in a few years.

  8. Scott Ensign, March 22, 2012:

    Hey guys. Thanks for the comments. I really feel like Cutts was making a much broader point than specific linking or on page tactics. He starts out his response by saying that in a perfect world we wouldn’t need SEO. It’s clear to me that Google wants to get smarter about choosing the most relevant content, regardless of traditional ranking signals. That’s why things like keyword density and links in general are becoming less and less important. What matters is providing meaningful answers to the questions searchers are asking. That’s achieved through good content. The post title was meant to be a bit provocative, but I certainly don’t really think SEO is dead. It’s just evolving, and what it means to be “search engine optimized” will look very different in a few years.

  9. Why do you say that SEO is long dead? Hmmm. I don’t quite agree. SEO together with content should go hand in hand.

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