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How to Future Proof Your SEO Strategy

May 20, 2012 · 10 comments

in SEO

Ways To Future Proof Your SEO StrategyLast year, Google’s Panda update created a storm of hurricane-like proportions in the world of search engine optimisation.

After the cataclysm many websites were left sailing low in the water while others were catapulted to the warm tropical waters of page 1.

Then all was quiet… for a while.

We had a year of relative calm waters while SEO-ers who’d been hit hard patched up their sites and waited for successive re-runs of the Panda filter – each time hoping to catch a gust of wind that would get them back to the kind of traffic levels they were experiencing before. Those who’d benefitted from Panda just kept on doing what they were doing.

Then came March 2012 and another significant update – ‘Venice’. All of a sudden locality is a huge factor in search engine results on certain terms with a local weighting like ‘plumber’ or ‘taxi’. This proved a huge boost to many local businesses while hurting larger, nationwide brands or directories which previously monopolised those terms.

And then before the sky could even clear we had a triple-whammy. The 19th April brought Panda 3.5, the 24th ‘Penguin’ and the 27th Panda 3.6. Never before had we seen such a deluge of updates from Google – at least not when it concerned such major changes to its algorithm.

Penguin was all about devaluing links – especially those with over optimised anchor text and from spammy domains and link-networks. In other words, all those links that look like they’ve been paid for or were the result of manipulative linkbuilding campaigns. Many more websites ended up wrecked and ruined having run aground on the jagged rocks of their link profiles.

It’s clear that these algorithm changes aren’t going to cease any time soon. In fact, as Google repositions its search offering to incorporate social media and fend off competition from the social sphere, these changes, like extreme weather events, are only likely to get more and more frequent and more and more intense.

So how does a site owner guard against them? How do you implement a risk-free SEO strategy that will keep providing returns no matter how much weather Google throws at you?

Stop doing what we’ve all been doing

Your old, tried and trusted SEO tactics just aren’t going to cut it anymore. Here’s a selection of old-school methods and why they aren’t going to make it into the second half of this decade:

Link directories: Google doesn’t need these dusty old relics from the early days of the internet anymore. Nobody actually uses link directories to find things they want – they use search engines. Google will cut them loose soon so don’t waste hours of your time trying to find them and submit your site. Put your energies into more holistic link building efforts (see later).

Different pages for every keyword: Tons of pages, each of them targeted at a slight keyword variation aren’t going to have the same effect once Google unleashes its much talked about ‘over optimisation’ algorithm update. Besides which, the increasing prevalence of semantic features in Google’s algorithm means that all these pages will be competing against each other. Instead make sure that what pages you have cover all the bases and of high quality.

Exact match anchor text: Stop doing it. It’s already started to be penalised by Google and this trend will continue. If all your links have anchor text which contains valuable commercial terms you need to work on rebalancing.

Internal linking: Keep it natural. Pointing loads of links at internal pages isn’t going to help you rank better. As long as each page is easy to crawl and your site architecture is good, that’s enough.

Paid links: While you’ll probably still get away with the odd one-off paid link (after all, who’s to know?) you won’t get away with using offshore link building services for much longer. Why? Because they don’t take enough precautions to ensure your links don’t look like they were paid for. Grouping loads of the same clients’ links together on different sites, not paying attention to context – all signs that Google will soon pick up easily.

Reciprocal links: It just looks manipulative – especially in large numbers. When you have a genuine reason to exchange links then go for it but if you’re just doing it to get links, then don’t.

Article/content spinning: It’s hard to stop others scraping your content and publishing it elsewhere (though adding rel=author markup is pretty effective) but if you’re doing it to yourself you only have yourself to blame when Google spots it. Tools like copyscape show how easy this technology is to implement and why enhanced versions will soon be making it into an algorithm update near you. Soon. The same goes for publishing chunks of keyword spattered gibberish – it’s not hard to spot.

But surely, you must be thinking, there are still some SEO-specific tactics that I can employ to make my website rank higher? Actually, I’d argue that while some techniques are still working, all the ones that are definitely the domain of an SEO are on the demise and all the rest are just plain old marketing…

In fact, forget SEO and build your brand on the internet

There are two reasons I think SEO is becoming increasingly irrelevant:

On the one hand, Google has never really trusted SEO – whether ‘White Hat’ or ‘Black Hat’. Google has only ever trusted itself and its ability to create a search engine which doesn’t need to rely on the ‘help’ of self-appointed experts. And as you’d expect from a company with in excess of $72 billion of assets, Google is catching up to SEOs.

On the other hand, Google is losing control of the internet. It’s fighting hard, hence all the updates, but where before there were just loads of websites and two or three search engines through which to find them, now there’s a whole complicated landscape of social media platforms, apps and widgets as well. Much of what happens on the internet no longer happens on the web and can’t be accessed by Google – so why devote all your time trying to trick/help Google? After all, your web developer should make your site easy for search engines to crawl – after that, why focus so much effort on plain old search?

Now that the internet contains as many complicated and diverse ways of interacting as the real world, we’re back to the same old marketing techniques that we’ve had since commerce began – paying for advertising and generating free publicity. SEO used to be one of the tactics for the latter. It’s not going to be for much longer – hence the growing trend of SEO consultants rebranding themselves as inbound marketing consultants.

If you want to seriously future-proof your digital marketing efforts then you need fall back on these time tested methods, using your website and social media profiles as a cohesive platform through which to execute them. Be the best brand in your field, give the best customer service, produce the most helpful content, run the best competitions, have the best website, be the most engaged.

That way, if Google is still doing what it does in ten years, you’ll still be picking up all the most valuable links. If it isn’t; if social media has taken over search, then you’ll already be in the best position to make the most of it.

In other words, if you want to future-proof your SEO strategy, build a strategy that makes itself redundant.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Amrik May 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm

One of the most important things to remember is that recovering from the Penguin update is a little bit different than recovering from a Panda update. Google used to ask websites to file requests when the site was hit by an update, but Google has made it clear that these requests won’t do anything for those trying to recover from the Penguin update. Simply make sure that you avoid black hat SEO tactics in addition to the suggestions listed above. All you have to do is clean up spam.
Amrik recently posted..Why I Think SEO Is Still Alive After Google Penguin UpdateMy Profile

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Jamie Griffiths May 21, 2012 at 11:21 am

That’s right Amrik – Penguin was all about devaluing links that Google thought were manipulative. No penalties were applied to sites who had these kind of links pointing at them (hence there was nothing for Google to reconsider in light of a request) but rather they stopped getting value from these links. For sites with backlink profiles dominated by such links that meant plunging rankings (see Shalu’s comment below).
Jamie Griffiths recently posted..Best Internet Services Website: New Brand Vision GroupMy Profile

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Shalu Sharma May 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm

One of my sites was thrown from the warm tropical waters of the first page to the shark infected back pages. I need to monitor and do something about it. Thanks for these tips, I will try some of these things.
Shalu Sharma recently posted..Fiverr Gig IdeasMy Profile

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Curtez Riggs May 21, 2012 at 2:18 am

Yeah I agree with you 100%. After the impact of penquin I’ve decided to avoid SEO tactics on my latest blogs. I truly want to let things happen naturally and then measure the results. While I doubt it will be as quick as SEO, I do believe the results will be longer lasting.
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Jamie Griffiths May 21, 2012 at 11:15 am

Hi Curtez,
I’m not saying SEO is dead – it’s just not going to be sufficient by itself for high rankings in the future. I’d still make sure that your blogs are search engine friendly in terms of link structure, title tags etc but to avoid the old aggressive SEO techniques like keyword stuffing and loads of exact match anchor text links. Keep the on-page stuff natural and focused on the user; the off-page stuff requires the kind of imagination and flair which has always been essential to marketing and PR.
Jamie Griffiths recently posted..Best Internet Services Website: New Brand Vision GroupMy Profile

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Leslie Denning May 21, 2012 at 5:09 am

I guess I’m glad that I have never quite gotten a grasp on SEO. It seems like every time I think I’m starting to understand it, another animal or bird pops up. I’m going to take a closer looks at your blog to see if I can figure out what direction to take next.

All the best,
Leslie

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Jamie Griffiths May 21, 2012 at 11:26 am

It’s a constantly changing beast Leslie but one whose fundamentals are fairly easy to get a handle on. Check out the SEOmoz Beginners Guide to SEO for the best introduction to SEO on the web. In my opinion, after you’ve mastered the basics it’s all about online PR – building relationships and offering something of value (be it content, advice, reciprocal publicity) to users and others in your industry in return for links and social mentions.
Jamie Griffiths recently posted..Best Internet Services Website: New Brand Vision GroupMy Profile

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Zena Wehbe May 21, 2012 at 5:56 pm

I keep seeing the emphasis on quality quality quality and that’s what I love to see. I think things like Bounce Rate and Repeat visitors is a great way to quantify quality. Manipulation of the SEO techniques get people to the top fast, but as quickly as they go up, they come back down, and sometimes it’s a shame because some of their information is quite valuable. Thanks for sharing this as I think it will encourage others to spend more time on their content – good for us and for them!
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Kevin Dorival @BoastingBiZ May 24, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Proofing your SEO can be done by quality content and blogging will always give your website justice. I’m glad the we have never done Paid Directories (other than Yahoo, in which we recommend $299.00) but there are high PR directories for local businesses that are great. Quick SEO techniques that I’ve seen and heard other experts use just won’t cute it any more in 2012. Quality content and natural link building through Guest Blogging, Social Media Buzz, and back link variations are the best way’s to go.

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