As an SEO professional, things have changed a great deal over the last 6 months. What a long time ago February seems now… I remember when I was a lad, SEOs could often operate almost independently of the client they were working for. We’d report to them once a month, drop the occasional mid-month progress update, and get down to hard work managing link building projects for the rest of the time. Back then, I think it’s true to say that SEOs could often get results despite the quality of a client’s website content (within reason, of course) and the effectiveness of their other PR and marketing strategies. These were the expensive and time consuming activities that other people worried about, but which we would happily take secondary benefit from when it resulted in useful content or links.
I’m not saying that SEOs should not have been utilising these other disciplines more back then; rather I think it is fair to say that cheap, easy and effective links are like free cake: very difficult to resist.
The Penguin and Panda updates of 2012 have ushered in a new era. All of a sudden, SEOs are being forced to adapt and expand their skill set. We are having to work more closely with clients, rather than performing our mysterious art in some distant darkened basement. It is now almost essential that you utilise your clients’ contacts and specialist knowledge, and actually help them to develop a more unique and marketable online product. Everybody is talking about content marketing, the potential impact of social signals, and genuine marketing / PR as being the only way to get bullet proof links… if such a thing exists.
Those easy links of old are now temporarily effective at best, ineffective at second best, and at worst, they can get your site de-indexed. Some people will of course cling to the techniques of old, like a child reluctant to leave the reassuring comfort of their mother’s bosom. It was so cheap and easy back then! Why does life have to be so hard now?
But SEO, the young industry that it is, has reached that ‘awkward’ age. The voice is starting to break, the old trousers are swinging above the ankles and that mullet hair-do? Come on!! That was never cool… was it?
Note: “mullet hair-do” is code for the word “awesomeness”.
Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, recently tweeted that, if you’re going to engage in black hat SEO techniques, you had “best be sure your tactics are smarter than anything [the] world’s best paid, most talented computer scientists could catch.” The recent updates, plus the hundreds of thousands of ‘unnatural links’ messages that Google have been sending out over the last few months, delivered proof of this statement in emphatic fashion. Google are getting better at spotting spam, so you really need to be honest with yourself and ask, “are my links really an endorsement of the quality of my site, or are they there to make Google think that they are genuine endorsements?”
Links from article sites and private networks are not only less effective, they are downright dangerous. Many thought leaders in the SEO industry have been telling us this for years, but in the face of strong results from these shadier techniques, I think many SEOs could be forgiven for thinking, “hey, if it works and my client is getting sales, I’m going to do it.”
So, what do we do about it? In a recent article on Ecompensation, James Crawford makes a valid point that PR professionals have been slow to realise the impact that their activities have on SEO. The same can undoubtedly be said for the reverse, at least in the sense that most SEOs did consider PR as an efficient way to get links until they were forced to accept that tricks and quick-wins are a risky business.
In a world where there is a clear and increasing convergence between these disciplines, we now find ourselves in an arms race. PR, social media and marketing professionals appear to be waking up to the treasure trove of useful information they can gleam from Analytics, and the exposure to targeted demographics that search marketing can offer. Meanwhile, SEOs are looking at PR, social media and marketing as the ultimate way to boost online exposure and thus attract durable links from high quality, relevant sources. Who is going to reach the flag first? It’s time to take a look around the office and wonder: “who might develop my skills, and take my job, if I don’t start learning their skills first?”
Link attribution – Geograph
It all boils down to the fact that Google wants to promote sites that genuinely deserve to rank on Page 1. Not sites that have a bunch of keyword rich content that ‘makes sense’ but add nothing to the community. Or sites that have a few thousand links with carefully crafted anchor text from networks that real humans rarely or never visit. This concept is nothing new, however it’s arguably more important than ever to listen to this advice now.
If you want to rank above your competitor within 6 months and still be there in 5 years, you had better start doing something better than them. You need to identify gaps in the market, create great marketable content, push that in front of the right audience, thus generating interest and discussion between your customers, peers and the linkerati. (Er, what the hell is the linkerati?).
Google want sites that have fantastic, unique, interesting, useful content that is worthy of being referenced and/or shared by the online community. Pipe down, old man, I know you were saying this years ago. The modern and indeed future SEO needs to think more like a PR professional: what kind of content do my audience really want, where do they consume it, and how can I market it to get the desired result (i.e. links)?
SEO is no longer an island, if indeed it ever really was. If you want to survive, it’s time to adapt, to be creative, and to think more about real qualitative results. Don’t just consider the link.