Search engine optimization is constantly evolving. For more than a decade SEO experts have been able to adapt many of their strategies in relation to the periodic changes that Google has made to its search algorithms. Now that one of Google’s major algorithms is transitioning to more continuous updates, SEO is becoming an even more fluid practice. With this shift, understanding both the core fundamentals and the latest factors involved in effective SEO will be more important than ever.
Google’s Webmaster Tools
With so many experts and firms out there offering a variety of services and advice, it’s easy to overlook the valuable resources that Google itself provides for free through its Webmaster Tools. It’s Webmaster Guidelines, for example, offer a concise overview of the fundamentals of SEO, dividing them into three key areas. The design and content section recommends creating “a useful, information-rich site” that has “a clear hierarchy and text links” and points to best practices for media content and rich snippets. The technical guidelines cover the basics of how Google “crawls” websites and the importance of the robots.txt file. Perhaps most important, though, are the quality guidelines, which, in addition to listing specific “illicit practices” to avoid, identifies four basic principles to follow:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.
- Don’t deceive your users.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.
Planning for the future
Google’s latest algorithm updates are likely ushering in a new era of SEO. “The old linking tactics and the old junk content — they’re not part of a valuable strategy and won’t bring the results you are looking for,” Search Engine Land columnist Aaron Friedman warns. This will make the principles listed above even more vital, but fortunately they align quite nicely with good online reputation management practices. “Create good, high quality content,” Friedman recommends. “Earn relevant and solid links because of the incredible content you build.” That echoes my own outlook back in 2012, when I wrote that “creating great content is the only long-term strategy for building page rank.”
Content isn’t everything, of course. With developments like Google’s new “Mobile Friendly” ranking and the growing popularity of voice searches, user experience is also becoming a more important part of SEO—as is social media. Outdated practices will give way to these factors, but not much will change for those already employing smart ORM strategies and adhering to Google’s principles. SEO engineer Mike King put it best in a Search Engine Land post compiling experts’ predictions for 2015: “Great SEO is really no different than it was a few years ago. Terrible SEO is what’s changed drastically.”