People who are aware of what’s going on with Google, but aren’t mired in the details of SEO every day may have heard the oft-used-but-incorrect phrase, “SEO is dead.”
My utter contempt for any phrase that says “______ is dead” notwithstanding, SEO is anything but dead. True, it has undergone some serious transformations, but calling it dead means you don’t understand what SEO actually is.
What SEO Used to Be Like
It used to be that everything was based on keywords and links. If you used the right keywords in your domain name, your website title, the headline of any page or post, and even inside the meta description and the right number of times within the body copy, you could rank higher for that particular keyword. Do it more than anyone else, and you could win search for that keyword. Then, get dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of backlinks (links that go back) to your page, and you could dominate.
But Google realized people were cheating the system, writing nonsensical garbled posts stuffed with keywords, and creating crappy websites that were filled with hundreds and thousands of backlinks that pointed back to their (or their clients’) pages.
When Google launched the Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, they pretty much said “we will no longer value any of these old techniques. In fact, if you try to trick us, we’ll penalize your ranking and possibly even drop you.”
Keywords Matter, But They Don’t Give You Juice
But that doesn’t mean that SEO is dead, or that keywords are useless. Far from it. Keywords are still valuable, because they tell Google what your page is about.
Imagine creating a book with no title, no keywords about what it’s about, no listed author, and nothing to give you an idea about what you can expect to read. Now imagine trying to find the book in the library.
Just like we (and libraries) need descriptions and titles to know what books are about, Google still needs keywords to understand what our websites are about. So don’t stop using keywords in your headlines, tags, categories, and body copy. Just quit obsessing about them so much. You don’t need to count keywords, or come up with 20 different tags, or list every possible variation of keyword tag.
Just because Google changed the face of SEO doesn’t mean they stopped indexing pages, or doesn’t want to try to understand what the page is about. Many people think that’s what it means, but remember, Google is an information engine. They want your information about your website and blog, and it’s up to you to do a good job providing it.
What DOES Matter?
Good content matters. Things that people will find valuable and interesting. Stuff that’s well-written. Interesting photos. Captivating videos. Anything that people will want to read/study/watch. If it’s interesting to people, Google wants to give it the attention it deserves.
They no longer want trickery, they want value.
That means you can’t rely on SEO tricks anymore, like a blog post that pulls the first 100 words of a news article and includes a link forwarding it to the original article. (Or worse yet, a post that leads to a different post on a different site, which leads to yet another post, and that goes on to the news article.)
This has created some interesting problems in the content marketing world. It means you actually need content. And companies that made their living doing SEO stuff have now turned to becoming writers, photographers, video producers, and podcasters.
They stopped being click jockeys and are becoming word slingers.
Google declared 2011 the year of video, 2012 the year of mobile. But thanks to Panda and Penguin, it looks like 2013 is going to be the year of the writer.
Next week, we’ll talk about what parameters Google does look at to determine whether a site is valuable or not, and to help you understand whether you can deliver it or not.
Photo credit: Adam Foster (Flickr, Creative Commons)