SEO is an ever-changing industry. We all know it. Not long ago, SEO used to simply be about keywords, then it became about links, then it became about all that plus social signals, plus site speed, plus less ads above the fold, plus, plus, plus. So what do we really need to consider in this new era of SEO?
Here’s how SEO looked like not long ago:
It was mostly about links. Then Penguin happened.
What I used to think when someone says the word “penguin”
What comes to mind now
We all need a little change in perspective. Linkbuilding is no longer as high and mighty as it was before. It’s a new era in SEO and here’s what is left for us to work with.
Here’s how the New SEO looks like:
It’s a whole flurry of combinations. SEO has stepped up from being about keywords and links to being all that plus a lot of other stuff. Stuff that makes the SEO game even harder to play – and harder to cheat on. Let’s go through them one by one shall we?
Having a good overall user experience in your website makes way for good user activity. Have you ever tried going in to a website which had great content but you had a problem with navigation, or with its overall design, or with its load speed? All of these things affect how a user perceives your website. It affects a user’s emotions. Positive emotions = happy users.
Great User Experience traits:
- Provides the direct answer and information to the user’s query
- Ease-of-use, easy to navigate and to understand
- Accessible to modern web browsers
- Quality overall design
- Solid, actionable and credible content
You may not know it, but user experience affects your SEO in a huge way. Providing a great, empathetic user experience to your visitors goes a long way. It means that the moment your visitors lands in your website, they would perceive it in such a way that signals ‘value’ and ‘quality’ to them.
This makes way for them to react positively to your stuff – encouraging sharing, bookmarking, links, higher dwell time metrics, return visits, oh and did I mention links? Such signals are powerful factors to your site’s SEO. This is the kind of user activity that a lot of webmasters would die for.
Well technically no, but hey it’s getting wiser and wiser so… Anyway, Google keeps on improving its algorithm. A few years ago Google rolled out the ever-popular Panda update (Read about how it affects your SEO) which affected 20% of all Google search results. This algorithm is based on Google’s human evaluators manually rating thousands of websites. They gathered how their human evaluators rated the websites and incorporated this logic into their algorithm. The result? Google wisened up.
It’s a learning machine.
Meaning all the crap previous SEOs did to beat the algorithm has all phased out. And if they come up with more, undiscovered ways to do so, it will cost more than just doing it the right way.
User Experience combines all of the traits to have a great user activity profile – which is very, very difficult and costly to replicate in a massive scale.
No one likes to recommend a bad doctor. It just doesn’t make sense for you to send your sick friend to a doctor who you know will make things worse or will make the ‘going-to-the-doctor’ experience a bad one. Likewise, no one likes to give away a link to a crappy website. It just doesn’t make sense for a crappy website to have lots of good links but there is no real value in there.
Traits of a Linkable Asset:
- Unique, Actionable, Credible
- Simple to understand and ‘digest’
- Fun, communicative, empathetic
- Solves a problem and provides value
- Easy to read, eye-friendly
There is no other justifiable way to get a lot of good links, other than having that solid content at the end of it all. Your links will be modified by user activity – social sharing, dwell time metrics, return visits, bookmarks, etc. If you’ve got a lot of great links but your user activity is no good, the value of your links may well be minimized.
Plus, how can you ask people to link to you – either through guest posting, asking for reviews, or giving away some freebies, if you don’t have content that they would link to? The most they would do is link to your homepage – which is not at all flattering.
Chances are extremely slim that you can make it on top without starting with outbound marketing. You’ll need that link outreach strategy – and it just won’t work if you don’t have linkable assets for those webmasters to link back to.
There is a huge difference between linkbuilding now and linkbuilding some 3 years ago. Before, you can get away with a lot of auto-approved or loosely moderated blog commenting, forum posting, directory listing, etc. You can even automate some of these methods and watch your rankings soar.
After Google Penguin hit April 24 of 2012, tons of websites that relied on this sort of low-quality, automated linkbuilding saw their rankings sharply plummet. (We have an article that talks about how Google Penguin affects your SEO) Google wisened up. The old way to build links is gone. Almost a year has passed since Google Penguin and lots of rumors are going about that even guest posting might be affected by the next Penguin-like update.
The fact of the matter is, links can only take you so far. If you don’t have great stuff in your website that is worthy of those links, sooner or later it won’t help. SEO companies that rely heavily on linkbuilding alone will soon find themselves in a rut. Things are changing – you have to include content strategy in your linkbuilding campaign.
Traits of a good Link:
- Relevant anchor text
- Coming from a relevant website with a good inbound link profile
- Linking to great, link-worthy content
- Gets a good number of click-throughs
Building the Right Relationships
Getting links from so many sources can only be so good. It doesn’t have to start from there. Great linkbuilding starts with relationships – between you and a few handful of powerful influencers in your industry. These influencers can be especially motivated to link to you if you have awesome value to bring to their community.
Remember, no one likes to link to crap.
I personally consider social signals a modifier to your links. It is something that can verify your number of links – the more links pointing to a specific page, the more social signals that page should generate to get the maximum value of its inbound links. The reason behind it is simple: How can you get a lot of links but no social signal to back it up? If a lot of websites are linking to that page, it must be something share-worthy in the social space too, shouldn’t it?
Social Signals include:
- Facebook Likes and shares
- Twitter Retweets
- Google +1′s and shares
- LinkedIn shares
Embedding social sharing buttons is an awesome way to encourage your users to chip-in some positive social signals to your pages. On top of it all, having a lot of social shares can mean traffic, which can mean more user activity.
This is probably going to be the most important data that will affect SEO someday. If Google can become smarter by hiring human evaluators and studying how these people evaluate a website, and ultimately integrating that logic into their algorithm, chances are, Google can also detect a real, natural user activity and make it a bigger factor than it is right now.
Linkbuilding is becoming rampant and status-quo. All SEO companies engage in linkbuilding activities. While it is true that linkbuilding is here to stay, it’s weight as a ranking factor may well decrease in the near future. User Activity will take the stage.
User Activity Factors:
- Dwell time – Time on Site, Bounce Rate
- Social sharing
- Clicks (Internal links or navigational links)
- And all other possible natural activities of a user in your site
What it all Comes Down to
A great User Activity profile (Check you yours via Google Analytics) will be the ultimate data to gauge a website’s relevance, impact, usability, and value. It gauges whether your website is worthy to rank well or not. Crappy websites with crappy content and crappy design will not make the cut – even if they build great links.
The new era of SEO is one where you will need to broaden your skills.
These 5 new grounds work together:
- User Experience
- Linkable Assets
- Social Signals
- User Activity
There is no longer any such thing as a linkbuilding-centered strategy for SEO. The new SEO has to work in an all-in-one approach.
It’s not easy – but then there lies the opportunity. Harder things require more skill and that’s where SEO specialists who don’t adopt grow to be extinct.