Prior to Google’s rollout of the Panda and Penguin updates and the introduction of Hummingbird, which completely replaced the old algorithm, there were basically two types of SEO campaigns; black hat schemes that used manipulative practices to trick the search engine and quickly move web pages up to high rankings on the results pages and legitimate practices that were designed along the lines of Google’s search parameters. In this environment, black hat techniques often achieved results bordering on the immediate, much to the frustration of the companies that were playing within the rules, as well as Google, the company that was trying to enforce those rules.
Backed with increasing sophistication in detecting black hat techniques, the Penguin and Panda updates attacked spammy links and content in a big way, essentially rendering both practices as obsolete. The re-tooling of the algorithm brought about by Hummingbird was the next significant step in leveling the SEO playing field. The result of these three steps is two-fold; it has become incredibly difficult for black hat techniques to deliver results, and the listings that rank the highest in search results now do so because they answer questions rather than containing a high percentage of keywords that match the search term.
In addition to the modifications in how Google determines which web pages are surfaced, the new SEO paradigm includes the following changes:
Successful SEO strategies will increasingly look like branding initiatives – Google has always wanted to surface quality content and now has the tools to deliver this objective. The emphasis on content that adds value for readers requires published materials to be informative and provide solutions which, rather that pitching products, tends to build trust and credibility over time. These are generally the same objectives of branding initiatives.
Links are valuable, but not in the way they used to be – Within the Google algorithm, the number of links to a page has essentially been replaced by the quality of the originating site. Inbound links from authority sites as well as from social media platforms (aka social signals) now matter more than the sheer number of inbound links.
Keyword research is dead, replaced by market research – Content that answers questions and solves problems is what Google is looking for now, meaning that companies that can publish material that serves as a resource will see an increasing number of their web pages listed at the top of search results. Of course, this requires an understanding of what is being asked by potential customers, hence the need for market research.
The SEO universe has undergone some drastic changes. To ensure continued success with your SEO endeavors, assess your current strategy to determine whether drastic changes are needed there as well.