Guest contributor Reid Bandremer argues for honest and relevant SEO as the best way to future-proof your rankings.
Generally, when a major search engine algorithm change occurs, those playing by the rules win and those that don’t play by the rules lose. If you figure out the game, examine and mitigate your risk of penalty, play nice, and stay in the loop, you’ll be ready for any game changers.
If you don’t want to be blindsided by future search engine algorithm changes, you need to know what’s ahead of you. Predicting the future isn’t as impossible as it seems—the first step is to learn from the past. Take a deep look at some of the previous major algorithm changes to understand how and why search engines have evolved to their current state.
Doing your homework
Once you’ve looked at historical updates, make sure you understand where the search engines currently stand.
Be sure you’ve read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, especially the Quality Guidelines—Google specifically tells you which things it does not want SEO professionals to do. Google also has information on what it wants webmasters to do.
Bing’s Webmaster Center Blog had a nice article this Spring on their stance towards SEO, where Duane Forrester explained, “When it comes to SEO, if your investment is centered around building a more useful, useable website, then you’re on the right track. If your goal is simply to game your way to a top ranking, thinking “SEO” is a short-cut around investing in quality content or a solid UX, in the long run you’ll fail.”
And that’s where the search engines stand and have always stood: SEO that improves the overall user experience (white hat) is to be rewarded; techniques that do not help the engines connect users with content they will have been glad they found (black hat) are likely to be punished.
It’s all about quality and relevance.
Adding quality and relevance to webpages is a concept that applies not only to the content on your website but to your link building as well.
When thinking about building a link, ask yourself: “Is there a real chance users might stumble upon the link, click, and be happy they did?” If this answer is yes, then the link is relevant to the page it is on and contributes quality to the internet as a whole. Thus it is unlikely that such a link would put you at risk of a penalty or link profile devaluation when the next algorithm update comes around.
So take a look at the search engines guidelines and be honest with yourself: are you black hat, white hat, or even grey hat? Perhaps a questionable gambit pays off in a particular situation, but it remains true that you are at some level of risk when the next update comes along.
Tactical diversity and user engagement are key
If your SEO strategy consists solely of a single element, like reciprocal linking with link partners, or only tweaking title tags, you need to diversify your portfolio to mitigate risk. Smart, long-term-oriented SEO experts also incorporating other marketing elements into their SEO plans, such as:
- Traditional public relations
- Social media
- Market research for targeting people, not just keywords.
Another element to look at is your engagement rates and conversion rates from organic search engine traffic. Does that data suggest that people are finding what they are looking for when they land on your pages?
The engines will continue to make algorithm adjustments that better help their users find quality relevant content, and this will continue to hurt black hat SEO. Specifically, the engines will improve on:
- Knowing which linking sites are trustworthy
- Understanding how users feel about site quality and relevance by looking at engagement metrics like time on site, bounce rate, etc.
- Weighing the importance of social sharing
- Personalizing search results to fit specific user wants and needs
Staying on top
Prepare for future algorithm updates by staying in the loop. Make sure you are able to get information on updates as soon as they happen or, even better, when they are announced (or even rumored).
Look again at the historical updates and try to recall how long it took after their announcement before you learned about them. Well-connected SEO professionals catch wind of major algorithm news within 24 hours.
If you feel out of the loop, improve your RSS and news feeds, follow the right SEO people on social media, and make sure you are as plugged in as possible to the fast-paced, ever-changing world of SEO.