written by Duncan Lowe

Assorted Beers in a Flight Ready for Tasting

A few weeks ago I was standing at a bar on Divisadero street discussing SEO with a friend – not my typical Friday night. “SEO is dead!” he shouted. My friend had consumed a few IPA’s so I took what he said with a grain of salt. I didn’t believe that SEO would ever be irrelevant but our conversation stuck with me for most of the weekend.

On Monday morning I immediately consulted Liz O’Donnell about my friends over-zealous claim. Liz is our in house expert for SEO and all things digital and as a Boston local, is a straight-shooter. “Is SEO really dead?” I asked her. “Definitely not,” she answered. But she’d noticed a few recent articles about Google updating its page ranking metrics. She forwarded the articles my way and here’s what I discovered:

Google’s search engine exists for one reason – to connect people with information. It’s really that simple. The more effective Google is at connecting users with relevant information, the better the user-experience and ultimately the more people will trust Google as a search tool. Because self-publishing has become so prevalent, there’s a superfluous amount of information all over the web, making it increasingly more important for Google to be able to sort the good from the bad and feature the most quality results at the top of the page.

Why does Google’s search engine matter? Because in the U.S., users conduct over 12 billion web searches a month and out of those 12 billion searches, 33% of total users click on Google’s top ranked search result – meaning Google page ranking is extremely relevant when it comes to connecting people with businesses and brands.

Maybe this is common knowledge – so why the blog post? Because Google recently updated its algorithm for ranking websites. Dubbed the “The Phantom Update” by digital experts, Google activated the update without announcing it publicly and still hasn’t released specific details about the change. However, Google made one thing clear – the updated logarithm reflects Google’s growing emphasis on quality content.

But isn’t quality content a subjective assessment? Great question but not the time to indulge in a philosophical debate. For now, we should consider the following criteria when creating content for a web site:

–         Are you producing original content? Or just repurposing what’s already out there?

–         Clean up your page! Avoid clutter and anything that detracts from the user-experience.

–         “Keep focusing on building out a better web site, aimed at your users and overall quality.” – Barry Schwartz

–         Avoid ads above the fold and popups, self-starting videos, duplicate content, thin content and poor design.

More than ever before, Google will prioritize web sites designed to give users a positive experience. Any site that continues to post thin content, or sites littered with pop-up ads and self-starting videos, will see tangible results from Google’s quality update. Search Metrics has already reported that sites like Examiner.com, Rotten Tomatoes, Answers.com and WikiHow.com have experienced lower page rankings on Google.

In my opinion it is a bit frightening to recognize that Google can quietly change its algorithm and cause tangible changes in web hierarchy and website traffic. But despite a recent logo change, Google is not undergoing a re-brand. Since Google’s first iteration in 2000, the company has prioritized quality results and stayed constant to its mission –  connecting users with relevant content. What has changed? By updating their algorithm, Google can link users with relevant results with greater efficiency and accuracy.

So, no SEO is not dead. Far from it. It’s still important to pay attention to keywords, hyperlinks and other tools for making sure that users can find your website. But is it possible that Google’s recent update signals a collective re-prioritization might be taking place online where SEO matters less and quality is king? Potentially. For now, start worrying less about how people will find your website and start investing more time creating fresh, original content. You accomplish this and Google will be your friend.

 Sources:

–         The Content Strategist

–         How Google’s Algorithms Are Making SEO Seriously Simple

–         Return of the Phantom: Google’s Phantom II Update

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