First there was Panda. Panda was the end of thin sites with low quality content. Panda relied on human quality raters to evaluate sites and determine if they are worthy of high search engine rankings. The focus was on design, user experience and user metrics as well as content quality..
The Page Layout algorithm was launched in January of 2012, devaluing sites with too many ads above the fold. This was a move towards increasing their emphasis on improved user experience.
Penguin was implemented in late April of 2012. Penguin was basically a way of closing all of the loopholes for acquiring unearned links. Paid links, blog networks, web 2.0, and article sites stopped helping and, in many cases, resulted in severe penalties.
Combine Penguin with a patent called Rank Modifying Spam Filter, as well as Googles hundreds of thousands of Unnatural Link warning letters, and you create a very effective way of creating panic around building unearned links or trying to artificially modify your search engine rankings.
Still there was a loophole. If you bought a domain with the keyword in the URL, you could often, with few links and content, rank well for your target keyword. September 27th 2012 closed this loophole. With their Exact Match Domain algorithm update, EMDs no longer have an unfair advantage over other domains.
What Does This Mean For Search Engine Marketers?
Most short-cuts and loopholes have been eliminated by Google. You can continue to try some of those techniques, but the risks now outweigh the potential gains. Even if you succeed for a few months, the danger of being penalized and losing everything youve worked for is always looming above you.
Its the end of unearned links and achieving high search engine rankings with low quality sites created specifically for higher rankings.
The Increase In Social Signals As A Ranking Factor
Theres been much talk about how Google is relying more on social signals to rank websites. Think about it. As theyve decreased emphasis on unearned links, anchor density, and other factors that were easy to manipulate, they had to increase emphasis on other factors.
Of course social signals can be gamed, just as links can be gamed. Yet all of us, as social media consumers and producers, have a very identifiable footprint. Algorithmically identifying the difference between empty profiles used to fabricate likes and actual users that have hundreds of friends, followers, comments, images etc is extremely simple. Grading web producers based on their footprint is another way of measuring value, just like links are measured based on hundreds of factors. To learn more, you can read Bill Slawskis post: Are you Trusted by Google?
Google Plus is Googles social product and is highly emphasized. To prove this, you can see that Google Local merged into Google Plus Local, they are launching updates continuously including Events and other features. Google Plus is the glue that will unify all of Googles properties and convert all of the data being shared into a score for each Author, or content producer.
So What Now? Is Seo Really Dead?
Search Engine Optimization will never die. Google, and other search engines, will always be fundamental in helping us find information, and as a method of organizing the billions and billions of documents being created.
If we define SEO as optimizing websites to improve traffic and conversions to the game, it simply means that SEO will simply always evolve as algorithms evolve.
In Googles announcement of their new tool to disavow links, Matt Cutts writes the following statement:
Links are one of the most well-known signals we use to order search results.
If you have been following Matts content for as long as I have (since 1999), then you will know that you can often learn more from what he DOESNT say than what he does. In this case, place close attention to the words Well-known. The key here is that links are a well-known signal. The question you must ask yourself is, what are the other, Lesser-known signals?
While millions of people focus all of their time and attention building links, taking down links, disavowing links, is it possible that Google is quietly shifting their ranking algorithm to rely on other factors?
Content Marketing Is The New Name Of The Game
What can you do now to promote your website in the current landscape? Earn links. Dont build links. Earn them. And how can you earn them? By producing AMAZING content. Good content is just not enough anymore. You need to produce incredible resources that go above and beyond anything that is currently available in your industry. Dont just post 500 word articles that say the same thing everyone else is saying.
Dont believe me? Check out this podcast from SocialMediaExaminer.
Content Marketing is the glue for an integrated social SEO campaign. Creating amazing content can easily lead to earned links. For example, consider how hard it is to build link to your sites home page, especially if you have a commercial site selling a product. Now imagine you create an infographic about your industry. By promoting that infographic, you can easily earn hundreds of links to an internal page of your site, which is important when building a natural backlink profile with a high deep links ratio. Instead of promoting your site, creating content assets gives you targets to promote amongst different sites and industries.
Another example is an educational video. If you create an educational video, host it on your site, and wrap it around a Giveaway for that product, you can generate substantial links and social mentions, as well as engagement.
Think your industry is too boring for excellent content? Think again. Heres an example of a site that found a way to create interesting content out of a dry topic Transparent Language created an infographic sharing statistics about language usage around the world.
This infographic was tweeted over 300 times, liked on Facebook over 1300 times, and generated a high number of inbound links.
This infographic from BlueGlass Interactive talks about a very similar topic as this one, and transformed it into an easily digestible piece of content. It generated almost 100 links, and several hundred user engagements.
The key takeaway is that, using a little bit of creativity and out of the box thought processes, everyone can come up with interesting, valuable content that generates those Lesser-known ranking signals that Google is now using, including Author Rank and social engagement.
How To Create A Content Marketing Strategy?
Below are a few steps to help you craft your content marketing campaign:
1. Create Buyer Personas
Who are your buyers? What do they do in their spare time? What types of jobs do they hold? Do they have buying power? Are they social media participants?
Create a very comprehensive profile of your buyers, including possible images and names, so you can become highly familiar with them. Most importantly, determine what problems they have surrounding your product or service, and what they need to solve those problems.
2. Determine the buying stage of each buyer persona
Do they even know they have a problem? Are they ready to purchase? Do they hold the purse strings? Do they trust you?
3. Topic Research
Once you know who you are creating content for, and are aware of the many stages of content required, you can start identifying the topics that would address your target buyers at the different stages of the buying cycle.
To do this, you can do keyword research around their problems. You can also mine your analytics to see what long tail terms people are using and convert those into content assets.
Finally, you can monitor social media channels to determine what questions people have about your industry. You can search Twitter, Quora, or other social media sites to see what your personas would be searching for.
4. Content Audit
Before starting to create new content, perform a content audit. What content have you already written? Is it properly optimized? Can you repurpose your content? This content audit can help you maximize your existing assets and identify gaps.
5. Create an Editorial Calendar
You can use something as simple as Excel to create a content calendar. This editorial calendar will be the culmination of all of your research. You can create themes based on seasonal events, sales, and other relevant dates.
When you create your editorial calendar you can also determine what is the best format for all of your content. Perhaps an ebook would be a better way to reach one of your personas who is in the beginning of the buying cycle. Social media is also at the top of the funnel, so perhaps a series of social media updates would be a viable method of helping your personas move to the next stage of the buying process. Some format types are blog posts, ebooks, webinars, podcasts, infographics, emails and videos.
6. Create Content
Now you have your themes, titles, and content types. All you need is to actually produce the content. At this stage it is important to focus on quality. Dont try to create low quality content just for the sake of having content. Focus on producing extremely high quality, unique pieces of content sharing information that is not easily available in your niche. For example, would video tutorials help your target audience at any stage of the buying cycle? Perhaps what they really need is how industry news affects their business? Figure out where the gaps are and fill them!
7. Promote your Content
This is where you can actually focus on link building. Instead of building links to your generic pages, you can seek out links for your extremely interesting, extremely informative, super high quality content.
If you wrote an ebook, you can offer it on Amazon or other ebook platforms. Your videos can be uploaded and promoted on Vimeo and Youtube. If you wrote a tutorial, there are hundreds of sites that feature high quality tutorials. Additionally, there are industry specific sites where you can contribute excerpts of your content. Blogengage, Business2Community, and BeforeItsNews.com are examples of sites that will accept repurposed content.
Social Media is another way where your content marketing campaign becomes fundamental. If you are not producing amazing content, what you share on social media may not receive much of a response. If you create incredible assets then your content can take off in the social media space and you can generate high quality signals and engagement.
7. Track Track Track!
Now you need to establish baselines and benchmarks for your content. How many unique visitors are you receiving from your content pieces? Social Engagement? What is your bounce rate and ratio of return visitors? How many links have you acquired as a result of your content marketing strategy?
Forget Building Links
With human raters, Penguin, Panda, and all of the other changes, you have no choice. Regardless of what kind of business you run, you have to become the best content provider for your niche. This content will be the glue of your inbound marketing campaign.
Your content will provide you the material you need to acquire links and social engagement. Your content will lead your buyers through the sales funnel. Your content will improve the quality of your site so if a human rater reviews it, it will go to the Rank Higher pile.
There are no more shortcuts.
Even if you sell the most boring of products, its time to unleash your research power and your creativity to find the best way to market your product. If you offer a dog poop scooping business, talk about how diet affects a dogs gastrointestinal health. Produce an ebook about the different types of dog foods and their ingredients and how they affect dogs. You get my drift.
Content Marketing will pay dividends like no other marketing strategy can. That content will work for you for months and years, especially if its evergreen content.
If you stick to a content marketing strategy, then all of these Google updates will not affect your business or rankings. Its the only way to move forward.
Marcela De Vivo has been an search marketing consultant since 1999. She focuses heavily on SEO, SEM and Social Media Marketing, and loves to help businesses of all sizes to improve their online visibility. Connect with Marcela on Twitter or Google+