SEO: More Than Smoke and Mirrors

It can be difficult for businesses to truly understand what they’re getting when they sign up for an agency’s search engine optimization (SEO) services. Complex terms like co-citation, page segmentation and semantic distance can make the discipline feel unapproachable. All these businesses know is that the Internet’s digital marketing battle is being waged on Google & Bing, and they want to get involved.

Because of the widespread confusion that often can accompany SEO engagements, disagreements between clients and partners are not uncommon. These disputes often center around the timing of results, quantifiable improvements, or implemented techniques. After a poor engagement, false presumptions may be made about the validity of the SEO industry as a whole. Left with a bad taste in their mouths, some chalk up SEO as a smoke-and-mirrors marketing tactic, providing little to no value for those duped by its appeal.

Unfortunately, there are SEO agencies out there who are better at selling the sizzle than delivering the steak. They avoid accountability, have little or no transparency into their techniques, and earn backlinks and keyword rankings for their clients by dubious means. However, they by no means represent the entirety (or even the majority!) of the field.

As a business, if you’ve been burned by an SEO service provider in the past, know now that there are better options out there. And the first step to finding one is to be better informed.

SEO Is an Evolving Entity

Through a series of both minor and major updates to their interface, algorithm and system deployment, Google is always changing in an effort to provide users with the best search results possible. As a result, in the world of SEO, the methods that used to yield improvements (and even the ways we measure them) are changing, too.

Methods that used to be commonplace can now cause more harm that good. Keyword stuffing, link bombing with anchor text, and inter-linking website farms are just a few examples of these outdated tactics. They’re easy-to-implement quick fixes that fail to provide long-term answers, and may even prompt the dreaded “manual penalty.” Use them at your own risk.

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For businesses that have been holding steady for dozens or even hundreds of years, constant change in SEO may feel like a sleazy sales tactic or smoke and mirrors to weasel more money out of unwitting clients – but it’s not. Like any other reputable industry, SEO is one that’s subject to change to account for the newest needs of its customers and to provide a better, more stable product or service—just like your business does. For agencies, this often means that when Google releases an algorithm change, advice to clients has to pivot, even to contradict recommendations that seemed firm just a few weeks ago.

Where We’re at Today

So, what does SEO look like in 2016?

Providing a simple answer to the fairly convoluted question is Digital Strategist Warwick Bettles,: “The heart of SEO is understanding Google’s motives. They want to connect the world with relevant information as easily as possible. Provide that and earn authority and your site will rank.”

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If you think that sounds too vague to base a search strategy on, we agree. That’s why we’ve highlight four more defined, actionable recommendations for improving your search performance this year. While there is no one-size-fits-all SEO strategy, the following four points contain the basic directives you’ll need to gain positive momentum:

1) Valuable Content Continues to Be Important

It’s become an overused digital marketing buzzphrase of sorts, but content is king. It always has been, but with each algorithmic update—most recently Google’s well-documented Panda and Penguin updates— quality, user-focused content has been given even more power. No matter the type of content you and your marketing team produce (blog posts, e-books, videos,infographics) the more your content addresses your customer’s intent, the better.

2) Take Advantage of Localized Content

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates were certainly important, but for local businesses, the search giant’s Pigeon update was a game changer. A portion of the Pigeon update dealt directly with local companies and their content creation, giving localized information more value with generated search results. Needless to say, if you run a local business, direct your content towards the needs of the community in which you work.

3) Artificial Intelligence Craves High-Quality Websites

As previously made mention, high-quality sites that regularly produce meaningful content will always receive the help from Google they need to more frequently connect with potential customers. This first became a priority in late 2014 when Google began searching and indexing sites with newsworthy headlines.

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Then, in late 2015, Google took things a step further, experimenting with artificial intelligence to more accurately determine what high-quality website looks like. Think about it – when was the last time you saw an unattractive site with poor user experience (UX) ranking first page for even a moderately competitive term?

So, while it’s important to concern yourself with off-site SEO strategies, pay special attention to the overall look, usability and value of your own website. It can make a tremendous difference.

4) PR and SEO Are Gradually Coming Together

With the passing of each algorithmic update, one thing is for certain—Google’s most favored websites are industry-leading authorities. And while Google obviously takes a number of factors into account when determining domain authority, much of the score hinges on the number of backlinks to the host site, referencing it as a credible source.

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This is where digital public relations (PR) becomes involved. Now, more than ever before, the ability to acquire inbound links from authoritative sites is extremely important. Because of this, developing relationships with industry-specific publications is vital for solid SEO.

It’s Not Magic – And It’s Not a Scam

At one point or another, we’ve all been duped by a skilled salesman using smoke-and-mirrors sales tactics to pocket our hard-earned money. And while there are black-hat SEOs out there who earn cash without providing any real value in return, the vast majority of SEO specialists are hardworking digital marketing professionals. Give your SEO expert the time and flexibility s/he needs to deliver results. Soon enough, when done the right way, you’ll have them.

Do your search rankings need a desperate dose of TLC? Or maybe you’re doing well in search, but wonder what your next steps should be? We have a powerful, comprehensive SEO Audit that evaluates a number of ranking factors and provides you with a simple, actionable, prioritized to-do list. If you’d like to learn more, let’s get started.