It's Not What You Do, It's Why You Do It
In Deja Vu Part 1, we talked about how no matter how much things change, the more they stay the same. Things evolve, but they do not change in respects to why they are there in the first place.
Search Engines are no different. Over at Cre8asite Forums a few weeks back, I mentioned something to the effect that "A search engine's goal and objective is to provide the most relevant and useful information to the searcher." I was quickly told that this was not true, that a search engine's goal had changed during the course of my absense from the industry and that its new primary goal was to generate revenue. As supporting evidence, the fact that the generic results are often interrupted by videos, news articles, pictures, maps, and various other things. And then these generic results were all nicely framed by paid advertisements.
To this person, the distractions from what they considered to be the most important thing (their own web page, I would suspect), were proof that search engines didn't have a desire to provide relevant answers to questions. To me, it's proof that they still do.
In the olden days, information on the internet was dominated by text. Thus, when search engines first started doing their thing, they focused their efforts to "deliver the the most useful and relevant information" on indexing this text and trying to do their best to figure out a way for a machine to figure out what it all means.
All the while, there was this new thing emerging as the millennium approached - it was called "Multimedia." When we weren't hoping against hope that our computers were going to explode at midnight on January 31st, 2009, we were also exploring different possibilities of what we could do with it all. Movies, flash, streaming radio stations.
As I mentioned in part one, I had a dynamic web site before the search engines could actually crawl it. As more and more dynamic applications hit the scene, it's no wonder that the search engines spent a lot of time and effort trying to make it so they could successfully spider such information. Nowadays, you would be hard pressed to find a web site that isn't dynamically generated. In the end, the evolution of dynamically generated web sites was slowed by the lack of ability of the search engines to be able to index it. We, as content creators, didn't want to risk losing all our traffic by switching to a CMS or other database driven solution if there was no way to get in the search engines
Back to Multimedia... Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure I've heard the term "multimedia" since my return to the tech arena. It's not multimedia - it's web content. Text, videos, pictures, interactive maps, and all sort of other widgets and wadgets and things that go Ping! - they have gone from being "Web Sites" and "Multimedia Sites" to "Web Sites". In the same way that there used to be a stark difference between dynamic web sites and static ones, the difference between multimedia and web media has blurred. And this is in no small part due to the fact that the search engines have spent lots of time and money on figuring out useful ways to index these alternative information delivery systems.
If the search engines had been slower at learning to index dynamic sites, the growth of dynamic sites would have been slower. If they had developed it faster, it might have grown more quickly. And the same is true of multimedia indexing. Of course the search engines wanted to figure out how to mix text and videos and images and news and everything else into their results! They are each ways of us being able to deliver and receive information.
Don't get me wrong. The search engines are definitely doing all of this to make money. But, they do this by providing access to all the information (in any form that it exists) that we are looking for in a way that we can best find it.
Why We Do What We Do For SEO
Back before Search Engines, there were Search Directories. There was the DMOZ and Yahoo Directory, and a whole lot of other places that acted as sort of searchable "phone books" for the web. In order to get into these directories (for free, anyway) we had to do several things. First we had to build a web site that had some value - that contained useful information that people would want to see. It didn't hurt if we could also demonstrate that it wasn't something we just put up last night and decided to submit. It should be something that encouraged traffic outside of the search engines, via links from other sites and whatever else we could do to get it looking active and useful. Next, we had to create a title for our page that would trigger on search terms, but that didn't sound spammy. Then, we needed to create a short description of the page - probably with some more keywords in it, but also not sounding spammy and not misleading anyone.
In a few weeks, or a month, or even a year, we would eventually find out if we got in. The more interesting our site, the more "popular" it was, the more our site reflected the description and title we had submitted, the faster and more likely we were to have our submission accepted into the directory. The better job we did at obtaining the balance between keywords and good descriptive text in our descriptions, the better our traffic would end up being once it was in the directory as well.
Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Aside from the submission process (though in the early days of search engines, we did actually have to submit our sites - and they did often come under human review before inclusion) everything I described above sounds very much like what the basic fundamentals of good SEO are today. We need good titles, we need good supporting text, we need to demonstrate usefulness and popularity (through external links), and we need to put together a fundamentally sound site that is going to be useful and interesting to people regardless of whether the search engine exists or not.
Do we create good titles, get keywords into text (at that magic density level someone told you about) and content and get links because that's how you do SEO? If so, then SEO probably is an ever changing minefield where you have to be always adjusting your tactics, always getting more links as your older ones are discounted or devalued.
If, on the other hand, you create good titles, get keywords into the text, and get links because that's how you build a useful and popular web site, then the basics are covered. Will it make you automatically rank? Nope, but as you keep doing it and as you grow and build upon these fundamentals, you are going to work you way up the ranks, and you won't have nearly as many sudden drops out of the SERPs. Any change the search engine makes to their keyword density considerations (if those really even exist anymore in the way we typically think of them) isn't going to affect us so much - we didn't put the keywords on the page to match what the search engine likes - we put the words on the page in the way and in the density that makes the most sense. (Hint: The values search engines use for this type of thing are always going to be changed in the direction that seems to be the direction toward making the most sense, not in the direction that they think is going to mess up the most web site owners).
But Videos and News and Maps and Pictures! They're Knocking me Off The Page!
Since the beginning of the Internet, it has always been evolving toward a medium that can go beyond everything we considered in the past. A book is linear, you read it front to back. The internet is three dimensional - you can be at one point, find it interesting and click a link and be off on a whole new subject. The Internet has always tried to present things in new ways - presenting a chart or graph right in with the content so we can look at it and get back to the reading without flipping pages or losing our place.
As the technology has advanced, new ideas come in and they don't quite fit right away. A video would have to be clicked on and viewed in another program - after being downloaded. Dynamic charts required you to download some sort of plugin before you could visualize it. There was all this new content floating about and the search engines had some work to do.
Meanwhile, back in SEO land, the battle for that #1 Generic Search Ranking continued. People studied up on the new "trick of the month" - the perfect balance of keyword to other copy ratio - the linking schemes - scooping up keyword domain names (and building them up) - and all the other things. Even many of the "fundamentalist" SEO types (we used to call them "White Hats" " Black Hats" back in the olden days) have kept focus on text based content and didn't notice the evolutionary step toward multimedia becoming seamlessly integrated into text based content.
How Do I Get My Non-Text Based Content To Rank, Then?
If you have been paying close attention to this article - you already know the answer. You do it the same way we've always used to get things to rank. You get relevant links to it, you come up with a good title, you give them a good description - the same thing you do for search engines and the same things we used to do for directory submissions.
The one major thing that you have to look at a bit differently here is that when optimizing for search terms, the ones with best low competition to high number of searches ratios are the easiest ones to rank for. When it comes to the "new content" types, you need a certain amount of competition in order to even get the video, image, or other inserted results to appear. For Google at least, it not only wants a decent list of videos that meet the criteria, but it wants enough different sources to make it so that if the searcher hops out of the generic "web page" results to video or images or whatever, that there is something worth seeing.
Is this good news or bad news? I look at it as good news. Because ranking #1 for competitive terms with your text based page is a lot of work - and often impossible unless you focus so much energy into it that other things fall to the wayside, or so you can't possibly hope to get your investment in it back any time soon. Luckily, not everyone is going to read this article, so for those of us who do, and who realize that we can capitalize on the new media type listings, we'll have an easier time of getting ours to rank number one.
Just go back to your fundamentals of SEO and apply them to your vidoes and pictures and whatever else you have. (HINT: Google and Bing and others are making a move toward visually representing text style search results - so images are going to become even more important in the coming years.)
Web Media SEO is the new Web Page SEO which was the new SDO (Search Directory Optimization).
Fundamental Purpose Drives Function: Fixed Purpose = Fixed Fundamentals
The internet is, and always has been about storing, presenting, and accessing information. That is it's purpose. That is what drives the technology forward. It is the fundamental notion behind everything we have today. While we have all new ways of getting at this information and presenting it, there is nothing new in respects to the underlying principles. As such, it doesn't matter what you are trying to optimize to get found on the internet.
Twitter is the new thing, right? It's all new. Maybe - probably a fad. If you want to take advantage of the fad, how do you get a good following? You post things with good keywords that people are going to find. You make it interesting looking so people will click the link and look at the full story. You make the full story really good so people will retweet you or post their own tweet to the article. When you boil that all down, it's the same as fundamental SEO, isn't it? Keywords, Title/Description Hooks, and Links.
The main danger we fall into is losing sight of the next new evolution and not recognizing it before everyone else does. Once we identify the "next new thing" (that is really just a new and improved version of the old thing), we apply our same fundamentals to it and fine tune the specifics as needed, and we're off to the races. In the next part of this series, we'll look at how we can identify these things and be ahead of the game.
For now, I'll leave you with this thought... The "Content is King" is dead. Long live the "Content is King!"