We are EDOT3, a digital agency based in central Newcastle upon Tyne, North East UK. We’ve been helping our clients Find, Convince & Convert their target audience since 2007 with Search Engine Optimisation and Websites that deliver real results.
With Google often keeping quiet about its numerous ranking factors, and the plethora of contradictory opinions and techniques, many marketers find themselves somewhat baffled by SEO. The search engines are heading towards becoming as good a judge of quality content as people themselves, and this after all, is Google’s ultimate goal. In their constant battle to weed out spam and offer value in the form of relevant and quality results to their billions of users, the search engine giants of the likes of Google and Bing are evolving all the time.
The SEO of old is steadily dying in order to make way for consumer demands for content that is relevant to them and offers them something that is genuinely of interest. That said, SEO is not quite dead as some people might claim, but newer optimization techniques and ranking factors do make the industry very different compared to how it was before.
The Relevancy of Keywords
Ask any SEO professional a few years ago what the most important factors were with regards to website optimization, and they’ll almost certainly mention keywords. However, the focus on keyword-based optimization has dropped out of favour enormously in the last few years, not least because major Google algorithm updates crushed many websites and low-quality content farms for their excessive on-site optimization.
The search engine crawlers are robots, and just like all robots used to be, they were once very simple in nature. SEO was much simpler too, in theory at least. In its early days, Google would rank online content solely based on the keywords and links that its crawlers would find on websites. Marketers and webmasters would target certain high-value keywords in an attempt to drag traffic in from the search engines whenever a user would search for the keywords in question.
Back to 2017, the days of such keyword-based optimization and the inevitable keyword-stuffing that resulted from it are long behind us. In other words, the search engine robots were stupid, making it relatively easy for marketers to manipulate them. These practices later became collectively known as black-hat SEO, and while some such tactics do still work, they are less sustainable than ever before as the world of SEO continues to evolve at an alarming pace.
There is still a very important relationship between search engine visibility and keywords, but this relationship is far more complicated and sophisticated than it ever was before. Most marketers would agree that keyword placement still plays a role, but its diminished importance makes it preferable to focus on other areas of SEO in order to build a more sustainable, long-term strategy. However, paying attention to dated concepts such as keyword density will have little beneficial effects.
Google does still need to use textual content to understand what your website is about, and it ultimately uses keywords to provide this information. However, more important than stuffing your chosen keywords in bodies of text X number of times is putting your keywords in the right place. Keywords still have a place in meta tags and headers, but this is only because the search engine crawlers prioritize this content when breaking down webpages for analysis.
The Rise of Semantic Search
What illustrates the fall of keyword-based optimization more than anything is the rapid rise of semantic search, whereby the search engines look for intention and meaning behind the search queries rather than keywords themselves.
The rise of semantic search means, that rather than focussing on keywords when defining your website for the search engines, you should focus on meaning. Targeting multiple keyword phrases which all still have the same meaning is increasingly becoming ineffectual.
Semantic search was the main focus of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm in 2013, and it exists to help users find answers to specific questions, even if the queries they type into the search engines don’t actually match the exact keywords in all of the results. The whole point of semantic search is to focus on the intention and meaning of the query, and as far as marketers are concerned, this means delivering relevant content to a clearly defined target audience regardless of matching actual keyword phrases.
The Changing Role of Social Signals
Just like keywords, backlinks have also long played a key role in SEO. Social signals are somewhat closely related as well, since they largely refer to links to your website shared on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, effectively acting as an endorsement of your company or website. However, such things can also be easily manipulated, and whether backlinks and social signals will continue to play an increasingly important role in SEO remains to be seen.
Social signals are undoubtedly still an important ranking element in the search engines, with marketers often dubbing search engine marketing as the new SEO. However, while establishing a social media presence is essential for any company to engage their audience directly, a social media marketing campaign can quickly become inundated with spam when the focus turns to search engine rankings. After all, social shares, comments and followers can be, and often are, manipulated.
Social networks also come and go, with the mainstream ones changing constantly. While it is wise to consolidate the entirety of your digital marketing efforts to an extent, it is preferable to approach social media marketing in its own right. After all, establishing major ranking factors based on social media activity can be problematic in the longer term due to the rapidly changing social climate. Facebook and Google are also competitors in many respects, so it stands to reason that the latter will be shying away from Facebook-related metrics in its ranking practices.
SEO Newcastle Google Safe Backlinks!
Link building, long one of the pillars of SEO, incorporates various social marketing practices too, but like keyword-based optimization, it has also changed beyond recognition in recent years. Like social shares, inbound links theoretically act as an endorsement to your website, and also like social signals, link building has long been abused by unscrupulous marketers hoping to manipulate the search engines in return for quick results. Google has fought back against such activities to severely penalize websites that use these questionable link-building techniques.
Another problem with relying heavily on backlinks as a ranking factor is that they tend to favour older content in a time when consumers are searching more than ever before for up-to-date and relevant content. The manipulation of links also poses a serious problem, and Google has made a variety of high-profile changes to the way it uses a website’s link profile to determine its authority, relevancy and quality. In other words, the days of article marketing, low-quality guest blogging and link farming are already far behind the times.
Approached in the right way, link building remains an important element of SEO, but it can easily spiral out of control to the extent that your website can get penalized. After all, having high-quality backlinks on relevant websites, which are actually useful to people, is still a majorly important ranking factor. Ultimately, you need to ask yourself whether a link will be genuinely useful to visitors before attempting to place it. If you’re not sure, then it is always safer to use the rel=nofollow attribute or look elsewhere.
SEO & the Increased Accessibility to Online Content with Mobile Devices
Google has been around since the late nineties, but like everything regarding the Internet, the nineties are very much ancient history. Back in the early days of SEO, the relatively few people who had access to the Internet browsed the Web using a bulky desktop computer, but in the last half a decade in particular, such browsing habits have been relegated to a relatively small niche.
Although the desktop computer (including laptops) are still preferred in the business world and by power users and enthusiasts, most Internet traffic these days comes from mobile devices. Since using a mobile device, such as a tablet computer or a smartphone, provides a very different user experience, webmasters find themselves under increasing pressure to accommodate the small screen. Most people already have an Internet-enabled smartphone, and the number of mobile-only Internet users is also growing rapidly. As a result of this unprecedented change in browsing habits, SEO has become inextricably linked with mobile usability.
Google favours websites that offer an impeccable user experience, and recent algorithm changes have started to favour mobile-friendly websites in the increasing number of mobile search queries. In fact, when you search the Internet from a mobile device, the results will often be significantly different to those displayed when using a desktop computer. Mobile-friendly websites generally do much better in mobile searches, and are clearly marked as mobile-friendly in the results pages.
In an effort to encourage webmasters to deliver more mobile-friendly content, Google provides tools for testing your website on the small screen. There are many factors that can make a website more mobile-friendly, including responsive design techniques and larger text and buttons. However, while many marketers have been talking about the ‘Year of the Mobile’ for some time now, it is important to remember that, ultimately, there are really only devices and connectivity.
Responsive Websites = Better Search Rankings
While companies with limited time and financial resources would do well to prioritize mobile, the best websites respond to any device, whether it’s a desktop computer, an Internet-enabled TV, a smartphone, a gaming console, a tablet or a laptop. A carefully crafted responsive website design can go a long way, being the Jack of all trades that they are serving multiple size devices and browsers with a the same site which configures itself to usable standards.
As Internet accessibility becomes ever more ubiquitous and diverse, delivering a great user experience to the multitudes is far more challenging than it once was, but for a website to enjoy a high degree of exposure in the search results, it needs to pay attention to user experience across all devices. In the coming years, the search engines will no doubt continue to change their algorithms in order to accommodate the growing range of Internet-enabled devices.
In order to succeed in the fast-changing online world, digital marketers need to understand what consumers want and how the more technical aspects of online search are rapidly evolving to the point that they are becoming more and more difficult to manipulate. In conclusion, your long-term focus should be on providing excellent content backed by a solid user experience.
EDOT3 are a digital agency that specialise in responsive website development with all the benefits of the WordPress Engine for CMS and the best optimisation plugins on the market.