As a digital agency, are always looking for ways to help our clients get more out of their websites. What good is a beautiful website with impeccable UX if you can’t find it? Implementing an SEO program to offer our clients seemed like a natural progression, and several have jumped on board.This could be where we brag about case studies and success stories, but I’ll spare you and just stick with today’s topic: the past, present, and future of SEO, and why it matters to you… maybe.
Google continues to make giant shifts toward improving search results for users, much to the chagrin of any search engine optimizer who has become set in their ways. I’ve worked independently in SEO for over 6 years, it’s changed a lot, and sometimes getting clients to break bad SEO habits is hard. However, before we dive into that, let’s take a look at the dark and sordid history of SEO and how those habits came to fruition.
The dark better forgotten past of SEO
SEO has been around as long as search engines have been around, but gone are the days of increasing rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs) by inserting a paragraph of keywords (usually the same five phrases copied and pasted over and over) at the bottom of your neon-colored Geocities website, complete with scrolling text and your page view counter…
Hold up, actually: Can we take a second to marvel at this internet time capsule?
Check out that Comic Sans! Pretty sure our purpose on Earth is to preserve this screenshot like the ancient relic that it is. Also, I’m pretty sure the page counter and block text of keywords would have been found just below this. Welcome home, indeed.
So if you haven’t clicked away to Google “90s Geocities sites,” then I still have your attention. Back to the matter at hand: Shady SEO practices have forced Google to constantly reevaluate the way its crawlers interpret your site. This is a great thing! It forces constant innovation and improvement of websites. It’s much easier to convince clients of the importance of making their sites mobile compatible when they see the all-looming hand of Google cracking down on sites that lack mobile compatibility.
Google continually seeks to better understand its users and search for ways to improve overall user experience. We are in a new era of looking at the way we build websites and implement SEO for our clients. We need to know where and what Google is going to target next. This forces us to be better or be left behind, and the latter isn’t an option if you want to stay afloat in the SERPs and be competitive in your industry.
SEO then and now
SEO is a world that changes constantly. Remaining ahead of the curve and at the forefront of the industry is essential. Hopefully, we’ve all now figured out that keywords are important to our websites, but what good are keywords if our content isn’t engaging to the user and bounce rates skyrocket? Meta-descriptions have lost rank value in SERPs, but they remain relevant in the click-through rate (CTR) from search results. What good does having all the right keywords in your meta-description do if the user reads it as ‘spammy mcspamface’? Backlinks? Interlinking? Canonicalization? Robots.txt? As SEOs we must constantly know the ever-fluctuating level of importance Google is placing on these things. But which matters most?
The big key attribute: user behavior and intent
The fact of the matter is if you look at the overall shape and evolution of Google’s indexing it all points toward a key trend: watching user behavior to understand intent. Google is like the proverbial internet Santa Claus: it knows when you’re being good to your users or being bad to your users, so be good for SEO goodness sakes. If there is one thing to take away from this blog post, it’s to write engaging content aimed at your users, and not aimed at placement in the SERPs. Google algorithm changes (identified with release names like Penguin, Rankbrain, Panda, Hummingbird, Pirate, and Pigeon) have shaped Google to become smarter and more intuitive for its users, and harder and harder for SEO blackhats to game.. Honestly, thank goodness!
Who is your user and what are you solving for them?
Do you know who is coming to your site? Who is your customer? Understanding who needs your solution or product is where you start to build great SEO. Google Analytics demographic information can give us some good insight into this, but think long and hard about whose life are you making easier, better, smarter with your product. It’s not enough to say you want to rank #1 nationally if you have a niche market that is only relevant to local searches.
For example, take someone getting ready for a BBQ cookout with friends who reaches your site by searching for best BBQ rib recipe. This user will be very disappointed on discovering that all your content is about your restaurant serving the best BBQ rib recipe in Arapahoe, Wyoming. I mean great work on making the SERPs, but you likely just got bounced on.
This is where we need to think about what our website solves for the user, and quit trying to trick people in for selfish SEO reasons. CTR only matters when it matters to the user. We want to make sure that a customer searching for “laser scanners” but intending to find a printer is not targeted the same as the user typing “laser scanners” but intending to find land surveying equipment. This is where you start to see high bounce rates and drops in keyword ranking. So while keywords are important, utilizing long-tail keywords and giving up going after erratic keywords that are too competitive is smart. Also, Google is getting smarter about targeting users based on their previous web use, location, and search behavior.
SEO future: what’s next?
As I ready myself to embark upon my second trip to MozCon, I hope to have better answers for you after the conference, but really as an SEO specialist, they first key is simply day to day planning and strategy. I have my inklings that the next big Google “mobile-friendly” like penalty round will come with ADA capabilities and maybe even data-protection requirements, but sometimes to gain insight into the future we can look at what is happening now. Right now we are seeing that Google is often using site data to solve users inquiries without requiring a click through. Just look at this example:
If I search “Incredibles 2” (my kid is really excited about this movie, so it’s first thing that came to mind), you’ll notice that Google is essentially giving me almost everything I need, even listing smaller independent theatres like the Bagdad Theatre. Does this mean that those theatre sites are having their information stolen from Google and losing SEO power? Well, I imagine that Google just solved a bigger issue by allowing them to compete with theatres like Regal Cinemas. Google helped in this case, as it gave the user a variety of choices and allowed a small independent theatre to compete with a huge corporate conglomerate. A loss in SEO to Bagdad Theatre website, but a win for the little guy in the long run. (Side note: Bagdad Theatre is not only half the price, but is half a block away from the Culture Foundry Portland office –a win for me and kiddo!)
Then there are cases where Google shows your content, gives users no need to click through to have their inquiries answered, and doesn’t help your business:
In this case, not only is Google allowing users to get the information requested, but also allowing for people to have information from multiple sites displayed without the user needing to click through. The pages featured in the Google snippets and knowledge graphs likely already have pretty darn good SEO, but what about the other SERPs unseen below this? What about the sites featured? They may lose SEO power, but Google and the user are happy with the results. Is this fair? Does this spell the end of SEO as we know it? Well, in short, maybe, but also let’s look at SEO back from a “whose life are you making easier, better, smarter with your product.” For Bagdad it is a win to have Google use its content, for spaceplace.nasa.org it is a loss, but the user wasn’t needing a product or service in that case.
In the end for the user it is always a win-win. Google is more and more aimed at helping the user. This is especially true with the introduction to screenless devices like Alexa and Google Home. So why bother with SEO? Well, for a product company like our client, Organic India, they are selling a product and teaching users about the tea and its benefits. They benefit from SEO as they want to compete against other tea companies, so yes, implementing keyword strategies and improving their SEO is a very smart move. If you are selling a product or service, SEO is your friend. If you are solely providing information, SEO may be a lesser focus for your company, than say, a strong content and social media strategy. If you are a brick and morter selling products be findable with Google My Business and strong local SEO. So your SEO strategy depends on your goals.
SEO might just be what you need… might…
In conclusion, SEO is still relevant and important but might not need to be the primary focus of your website’s goals. SEO helps you compete, and this is why as the resident SEO specialist I spend a lot of time understanding you, your business, what you are providing or solving for your users, and tailor individual SEO strategies to those goals. This is an ongoing process which is why SEO contracts aren’t a one-shot kinda of deal. So smart SEO targeting and refining keeps both crawler and user in mind, but mostly the user.
If you’d like to learn more about how Culture Foundry can help your site come up with a strategy that best fits your website’s goals, I’d love to chat! SEO programs are an important way to find and target your audience, and we’d love to help you do this for your website.