There have been a number of changes to the way Google has traditionally done things that people have started interpreting as signals to the so-called inevitable demise of SEO. While it’s understandable to think that it would be better to give up on SEO and focus on more social-centric optimizations, the truth is that we are stuck in the effects of a transition of sorts. Google has been pushing everyone away from tactical SEO behavior to a more strategic one that focuses on quality rather than quantity.
Rather than join the thankfully small group of people who have suddenly decided that search engine optimization is no longer relevant, I think it’s important to take a look at the most recent changes to figure out the direction Google and SEO will be taking in the future. Read on and you might find some valuable tips for SEO in 2014 as well.
Keyword Not Provided
Keyword data was central to SEO keyword research and performance reporting, so when Google moved to secure search and started encrypting all keyword referral data, it forced many marketers to take a different approach to how they optimized their websites and measured performance.
You can still get limited keyword data from PPC programs like AdWords, which shouldn’t be a problem if you already have one. You can also use the reports available in Google Webmaster Tools to extract keyword data. Two reports that are particularly valuable are “Search Queries” and “Average Position of the Page”. These provide you with a list of the top pages that have earned clicks and impressions in the SERPs for specific keywords as well as how their rankings have trended.
Now that keyword referral data has been encrypted for all search terms, marketers face tougher challenges as they try to optimize their pages. However, this particular change has driven many of us to focus on the quality of our individual pages rather than ignoring quality in favor of optimizing for keywords. Many of the forward-thinking marketers have already done this and so should you.
If you’ve been into SEO and internet marketing for a while, you should already know what PageRank is. According to Google:
PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.
It used to be relevant as it was one of the main algorithms Google used to determine a site’s importance. However, these days, it’s no longer as important as it used to be as Google relies on many other ranking factors to determine a site’s position in the SERPs. In fact, the last update early in December should indicate as much. It was their first update since February, which was historically unusual since Google typically updated it around a 3 month period.
In the past few years, it has become a rather crude measure of a site’s performance in the SERPs, yet people continue to rely on it, but Search Engine Watch says:
If Google shuts off this data flow entirely, which wouldn’t be surprising, then [marketers] will have to rely on other real world (and better) measurements instead. This would actually be better than using PageRank anyway, because Google says they don’t use it that way themselves, so why should we?
Back in late September, Google announced the new Hummingbird algorithm, which was supposed to allow the search engine to better interpret user intent and deliver more accurate results. The new algorithm governs how it looks at over 200 ranking factors and according to Google’s search chief Amit Singhal, it is the largest major algorithm update since Caffeine in 2010. The key difference between the two is that Caffeine was an infrastructural change designed to optimize the indexation of the billions of internet documents that Google crawls, while Hummingbird:
…is not a newer optimization of the indexation process, but to better understand the users’ intent when searching, thereby offering the most relevant results to them.
Relevant sites that have already been ranking for certain keywords shouldn’t see their position in the SERPs being affected by Hummingbird. Because Hummingbird is meant to better understand user intent based on context, as well as conversational queries, sites that should see an impact are those that have been relying only on those long tail queries on specific pages, particularly if the site itself has little to no authority.
With this in mind, there are certain types of content that should perform well with Hummingbird. How to’s and other educational content should continue to perform well along with longer in-depth posts. Social and Viral content is still a work in progress, but Google and other search engines are working hard to better understand social signals. According to Search Engine Journal:
If you have fallen into lazy habits such as broadcasting marketing spam on social networks, start re-evaluating your behavior now. It could be months or over a year before Google figures out how to handle social signals. Don’t wait until they do so to clean up your act. It could be too late by then.
The Role of Content in 2014 and Beyond
All of these changes within Google point to just how important content will become to SEO. Keep in mind that content doesn’t just mean text, but also images, videos, and other visual and auditory forms of communicating ideas. Search Engine Watch says:
Think about the various ways people learn. Some individuals are kinesthetic and hands-on while others are auditory learners and can take something straight from what they hear, while a great many are visual many prefer to read something straight from a page or on a screen.
So don’t just think about churning out blog post after blog post. Mix it up with a lot of videos and info-graphics. Not only will it help diversify your content, but it will also help you stand out from your competitors.