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Seemingly the last 120 days or so have brought numerous changes to Google’s algorithm and has forced marketers to diligently re-examine their overall SEO efforts. The landscape has changed so much that literally your first quarter SEO strategy can currently be rendered null and void.
Amidst the controversial blog posts stating that the multitude of search engine algorithm changes will change SEO marketing forever, there is one rumor that is more prevalent than all others: SEO is dead. SEO, indeed, is NOT dead. It is very much alive and kicking, and kicking more so than ever. In fact, the changes that are being made are much more conducive to a better user experience. These changes also help thwart any attempts to fool the system, otherwise known as black hat SEO practices. The updates have also forced marketers to completely rethink even their white hat practices.
A little known fact is Google has always rewarded marketers who have created useful and relevant content with less focus on keyword tactics and more focus on helping users find meaningful content. Over the years, Google has slowly created what is known as a Knowledge Graph. There are four major updates that are going to directly affect how marketers move forward with their search engine marketing campaigns:
1. Google is now encrypting 100 percent of keywords
Google is encrypting 100 percent of a user’s search in attempt to be more secure. This change has been incrementally increasing over the last few months. Some speculate that Google has moved to 100 percent encryption of keyword data due to the recent leaked NSA information about how the government is spying on its citizens. This means you will no longer be able to look in Google Analytics to understand why a user is coming to your site. This will now be at the top of your keyword section under organic in Google Analytics. It should look something like this:
This completely changes how we look at analytics and optimize keywords. One school of thought behind this is Google wants you to focus less on specific keyword optimization and more on content production that answers questions to key areas of user concerns. Google is forcing us to step back and reexamine our content marketing efforts and tie those efforts into our overall SEO marketing endeavors.
2. Major Algorithm (Hummingbird & Penguin) Changes
In an earlier article, we talked in depth about Hummingbird and its changes. What we didn’t speak directly to was that Google is still making updates to the Penguin and Panda algorithm changes. Google is taking a holistic approach to this algorithm rewrite in that it’s updating major parts of the search engine algorithm, but not entirely replacing it like in 2001. Think of it as a car — some items need replacing with frequency, like oil filters, fuses or brakes. Hummingbird is like a completely new transmission, which is a major part of the overhaul. However, it continues to use a lot of its old parts that don’t need replacing quite yet, much like Penguin and Panda.
When Google changed it’s algorithm in 2001, that was considered a complete replacement of how search engines worked. Its primary intent (which continues to this day) is to help the user find better information and get rid of spammers who try to game the system.
Google’s main vision and goal since inception has been to provide users with the answers to questions in a fast, efficient way that allows users to gain knowledge, information and potentially commerce at a moments notice. Let’s think of it this way: If you used a search engine (we won’t name any names here) and you continued to search for different information, services, products or whatever it may be unsuccessfully, would you continue to use that search engine? Probably not. Your goal is to be as efficient as possible (think internet speed plus ADD) in order to get in, get the information you are looking for, and then get out. You can’t possibly do this if a search engine continues to provide you information that “might” be relevant to your searches and at the same time cripples you with non-relevant ad information.
There is a method to all of this madness that is quite simple. Figure out what questions your customers are asking over and over again. Make sure that you answer these questions, not just topically, but in-depth, the good and the bad. Give your potential customers reasons why they should be looking into different areas of a certain subject or issue. Make them believe that even if they don’t decide to do business with you or buy your specific product, that after reading or engaging with your content, they will better equipped to make an informed decision. Even if they don’t decide to purchase at that very moment (Zero Moment of Truth or ZMOT), they will consider your content to be invaluable and, more than likely, look to you in the future for reference.
3. The Knowledge Graph
The Knowledge Graph is becoming more and more popular every day, with Google tipping its hat to the inter-workings of these “information boxes.” It attempts to build relationships between objects in order to answer more complex search queries. It enhances search results with semantic-search information gathered from a variety of sources. The following is a result of a search for Albert Einstein. You will notice that not only links for Albert Einstein appear in the organic results, but images, books and Wikipedia links also appear to the right, which is what Google has deemed relevant information based on how you are searching. Since the search is more general, it anticipates you want to know general information about this person and/or facts and information regarding this subject.
Google has also added a new comparison and filter tool as it is expanding its Knowledge Graph. The new tools aim to help searchers drill down deeper into topics and create filters around a specific search to get more granular results. Each time you do this, Google also learns more about the type of filters you are choosing so that in the future it can try to predict what information might be most relevant to you based on how you are searching for similar products or services. Notice on the image below the search term is “pizza.” Google also allows you to click on a drop down in the right corner and select from different filters like price range or user ratings. This is a great example of the filter tool inside of the Knowledge Graph.
Another key concept is the ability to compare some key facts about two things side-by-side. For example, you could be helping your child with a science project and need a quick comparison of two planets. Your search query might be something like “Jupiter vs. Saturn.” Your results would look something like this:
If you can remember what search was like 15 years ago in 1998, it’s easy to see the vast amount of changes that have happened over the years. From squawky dial up modems, 10 blue links on a page looking through a CRT monitor, to fast, sleek relevant results with the added ability to filter and drill deeper into exactly what you want to see. As users can explore the world with Knowledge Graph, and even ask questions aloud with voice search, they get information before they even need to ask. With this insight, imagine how relevant detailed content becomes in your overall marketing strategy.
4. Google Authorship
That last big component of how Google is changing is around how they are attributing rank based on what you write. Authority base don authorship is becoming a major ranking factor. Claiming your own Google Plus authorship for your content is becoming a vital part in any organization’s content marketing strategy. This also includes letting Google know other sites in which your content resides.
Currently there is no scoring system that has been released to the public about how content is specifically ranked. The main premise behind Google Authorship is the posting of relevant content. There has been previous mention of relevant content, and this is one area that directly affects how relevant content is displayed in the search engine results page. Not only relevant content on a specific subject, but also frequency of a specific subject matter that’s relevant to your target audience.
The second piece of Google Authorship is interaction. The more people who interact within your Google Plus Circles & Communities, the more authority you will have and be seen as an author by the search engines. Even though your original content may be hosted on your blog or your company’s website, identifying someone inside the company as an author will go a long way to increase rankings for a specific topic.
Lastly, guest blog posting on other sites and pointing your Google Plus page to these articles will help reach a broader audience and increase brand awareness for your company. Google released Authorship in order to reduce spam, eventually eliminate duplicate content and ultimately force quality content for the mass user base it serves. Authorship also intends to strengthen search results instead of relying on bots to make all rankings. This helps improve search rankings and relevancy by connecting the actual author to the original content piece.
A recent survey by CopyPress said that 65% of marketers surveyed answered that authorship “was indeed part of their content marketing strategy for the year.” That said, many marketers also said they weren’t as motivated to invest in having influential content creators produce content for them. They were more focused on identifying someone in the organization to take ownership of contributing great content and developing that author and voice within the organization.
With all the recent changes Google has been making to give the user a better overall user experience, you must consider that the way marketers were doing SEO in the past will eventually cease to work at all. While technical SEO strategies will still be important in facilitating proper layout, onsite and offsite SEO efforts are being forced to shift to the production of quality, relevant content for a targeted audience.
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