Last month, I attended the Long-Term SEO: How To Win For Years, Not Days session at SMX West. I have worked in the search industry since 1995. I have seen search engine optimization (SEO) trends and tactics come and go… and I’ve also seen fundamental, universal concepts get stronger and stronger over time.
So what I wanted to learn was: what are flavor-of-the-month strategies, and what strategies are going to stand the test of time? Would I hear anything about information scent and the aboutness of digital documents? Should you invest in link development, a sustainable SEO strategy, or has it been relegated to SEO history?
And, as search engine guru Danny Sullivan so aptly put it, “Am I constantly trying to make the algorithm happy?”
What follows are the panelists’ perspective on sustainable SEO.
Rhea Drysdale, CEO of Outspoken Media, opened with, “It is up to you to manage the site from beginning to end. The strategies that you choose and tactics… all of that ultimately falls onto you.”
Drysdale said that website owners should focus on the big picture rather than short-term “vanity goals” (I like that phrase) or choosing shortcuts without weighing the risks. “Do no harm to the brand and let people know the risks,” she said.
She also pointed out that “human behavior forces algorithm updates.” The example she gave to support her statement was The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO in Matt Cutts’ blog.
I could not help but be reminded of my warning about PageRank sculpting years ago. Many overzealous SEO professionals and website owners will go to great lengths to achieve search engine visibility. In the long run? These short-term tactics can actually do more harm than good.
Mark Munroe, Director of SEO at Trulia, takes a more holistic approach to long-term SEO: focus embedded SEO intelligence throughout your organization and build your brand’s reputation. “Links might go away,” he said, “but your reputation never will.”
Some ways of building reputation to your brand (past and present) include:
Even though some of these tactics seem outdated, when implemented properly, they are a legitimate and trustworthy way of getting search engine traffic and credibility. For example, link exchanges might seem to be an ancient SEO tactic — one that can get your site penalized or banned for search engine spam. But what if the domestic violence shelters from each state in the United States linked to each other? If that happened, maybe victims of domestic violence could more easily find the closest shelter online.
Additionally, both Drysdale and Munroe do not believe that press releases are a dead form of PR (public relations). Press releases are a means of distribution that can support your optimization’s goals. The point is to keep all of these alleged SEO shortcuts in the right perspective.
“The best links are not asked for,” Munroe said. “Create a reason to be linked to.” That does not mean that SEO professionals should not ask for links. If you have great content that you believe is link worthy, reach out to the right people and ask for the link. “Maintain your outreach initiatives,” he said, ” and leave the anchor text up to the person/site linking to your site.”
Next up to speak was Eric Enge, CEO of Stone Temple Consulting. “Of course, building your reputation with your target audience means understanding that audience, their needs, how they think, and how they might engage with your site,” he said.
“As Amit Singhal noted during his keynote here at SMX West, Google is very focused on the user, and publishers need to be, too. It is hard to predict how the changes will unfold during the next few years, but we know they are coming. For that reason, publishers must also focus on the users because ‘those are the signals that we (Google) want to find and value the most anyway.’ Now that’s a rock solid approach to SEO.”
Here is a list of Eric’s one-liner takeaways about long-term SEO:
Eric had a great diagram that illustrated how all of these long-term strategies should work together (see slide #30 in the SlideShare presentation below).
“SEO has changed dramatically in the past several years, and with increasing emphasis by Google in search quality, the Knowledge Graph and improving search quality, these changes are only likely to accelerate,” said Enge. “What it means for publishers is that they need to focus their SEO strategies on where Google is going, not on ‘what works now.’ The best way to do that is to build your reputation online with your target audience.”
Along those lines, Eric has a great interview with Matt Cutts on What Makes a Quality Site. In the interview, Matt said:
By doing things that help build your own reputation, you are focusing on the right types of activity. Those are the signals we want to find and value the most anyway.
Mark Munroe, I think, summarized it best when he said, “The objective is to embed SEO intelligence… become an SEO team. Get teams to communicate with each other. Get executive buy in. Look for synergies among groups: user experience (UX), information architecture (IA), content optimization, technical, and so forth.”
“We need a world where everything is working together – SEO is coordinating and benefitting from all of this,” Enge concluded.
So, if you want long-term SEO traffic? We all must work together to attain the same goals so that everyone benefits: your company, your brand, your users… and the search engines.