It seems like about every ten minutes, someone is proclaiming that SEO is dead. Or, if it’s not SEO that’s dead, it’s an industry keystone that’s gone on to a better place – like PageRank sculpting, or Press Release marketing, or guest blogging. Every one of Google’s major algorithm updates, without fail, throws the SEO industry into an apocalyptic tailspin.
But why? Google’s algorithm updates aren’t intended to destroy the rankings of honest, hardworking businesses. True, honest content occasionally gets dinged in updates, but by and large these updates are targeted to counteract the efforts of those who are using shortcuts to spam the system. Their end goal is to reward truly authoritative sites that have ethically optimized their website and built quality content for their audiences by weeding out the internet’s bad seeds.
The businesses and SEOs who really struggle through Google’s algorithm changes are mostly those who’ve been relying on practices that lie in a murky gray area around Google’s guidelines. They may be adhering to the letter of Google’s law, but they’re clearly not in the spirit of the law.
SEOs and businesses who’ve focused on quality and audience engagement from the start tend to breeze through updates like they’re the NBD they are. Instead of freaking out over the death of PageRank sculpting, they write posts like “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Nofollow“. So how do industry pros like Ian Lurie manage to remain so calm through Google’s SEO-killing updates?
Because they’re focused on something higher than PageRank. They’re focused on branding.
Create websites and content for people, not search engines
If you’re relying on a practice which offers no practical value to real people, there’s an extremely good chance that sooner or later, that practice will be banned by Google. For example, if you’re stuffing your website’s footer with a ton of locations for which you don’t have a brick and mortar presence, this offers literally no value to your readers – in fact, it’s misleading. Google’s smart enough to know this, and even if it helps you achieve local rankings for a time, eventually the jig will be up. Better to create a location page accurately listing your service area and office locations.
As an example close to home for content marketers, consider press release marketing. If you’re syndicating press releases that contain no real news but plenty of optimized dofollow internal links, this offers no value to any real person who might read them. Google’s caught on to this and put the kibosh on PR spamming. If you’ve been sending out fluffy, dofollow link-laden releases through automated services, beware. BUT, if you’ve been sending out the occasional well-written, naturally linking release only to announce real news, you’re golden.
Worry less about link metrics, more about customer service and branding
Dofollow vs nofollow; PageRank; topical trust flow; there are countless metrics SEOs use to determine which links to hunt down and score. And yes, these metrics are important at a certain level; targeting your link building practices to be most effective is, of course, a good and necessary thing. But getting caught up in these metrics is not. Why? Because it can distract you from your real audience: the customer. If you spend your time only going after dofollow links within a specific vertical, you may miss out on the opportunity to engage relevant audiences – audiences who could go on to create a slew of natural links on authoritative sites. For example, for one particular client, I’ve gotten heavy traffic links from relevant subReddits and Lonely Planet threads. The links weren’t a result of thread spamming or my asking for a link. They were a result of meticulous customer service practices, an active social media presence and just plain good branding.
Build relationships, not links
Matt Cutts will never convince me that guest blogging isn’t an outstanding practice. Why? Because guest blogging – the way I’ve always understood it, anyway – builds relationships which are far more valuable than any link could be. It’s also work. Landing a guest post on a site that’s worth your time requires more than a boilerplate email; it requires getting to know the site editor or moderator, showcasing your own industry expertise to them on your own channels, and, quite simply, building their trust. You wouldn’t publish some stranger’s drivel on your blog, would you? Of course not. But you would likely welcome the opportunity to publish a pithy post by an industry expert you know and trust – and you’d be happy to link back to them. Linking out to relevant and authoritative sites is good SEO karma, after all.
The same goes for link building in general. Building trusting relationships within your industry has a tendency to generate much more than links. It creates industry connections, potential new business, brand authority, inbound traffic and even conversions. It’s a reciprocal strategy, too. Just like IRL, the love you give has a tendency to come back around.