Marketers have a love/hate relationship with search engine optimization. We know how necessary a high ranking is for the success of our clients, but in the past it's been difficult for honest companies to rank well against the businesses using cheap SEO tactics to move their pages to the top. But that 's all changing as Google works feverishly to ensure that users get the most relevant results, eliminating black hat SEO practices and rewarding innovative and engaging online marketing.
To borrow a few wise words from Leo Burnett, "regardless of the moral issue, dishonesty in advertising has proved very unprofitable." Since Google's 2011 Panda update, black hatters are suffering the repercussions of years of questionable practices, and ethical marketers are seeing their sites moving into the places they deserve.
There are still important technical SEO principles to keep in mind (such as title tags, xml sitemaps and page load time), but since Panda, transparency, authenticity and creativity are more important than they've ever been. Some old school SEO tactics still stand, but they have shifted to favor authentic marketing over cheap trickery.
In the past, SEOs were using content as a means to pack in keywords, links and anchor text, with no regard for the users who might end up reading it. Legitimately good writing had trouble ranking against these content-churning machines and skilled writers were being instructed to dumb down their writing in order to make it more searchable or linkable.
It's still important to have a content-rich site, but these days, natural writing is rewarded and anything too gimmicky or repetitive will be penalized. It's also becoming increasingly important to create video, infographics, white papers, webinars and tools. Things that good marketers have been doing for years, because they're engaging for users, are now positively impacting page ranks.
Over the course of several years, link building earned itself a bad rap due to cheap link exchange services and web directories. Companies were able to pay for links back to their sites and quantity was valued over the quality of the linking sites.
These days, inbound links are still important, but rather than amassing hundreds of low-quality links, it's more effective to engage in thoughtful outreach and build high-quality links, naturally, through good publicity on reputable sites. A buzzy term in SEO right now is building a "natural link profile," which, to me, sounds a lot like engaging in "good online public relations."
For a long time, social media didn't appear to have any effect on search engine rankings, but with the introduction of Google's real time results, that all changed and SEOs went social media crazy. Then Google cancelled real time results. So does social still have an impact on SEO?
There is evidence to suggest that social sharing (retweets, likes, shares, plus ones) does positively influence a website's page rank. The possibility that Google is considering social indicators in its algorithms, not to mention the introduction of its own +1 button, suggests that it's moving towards a more democratic ranking methodology.
It's important to remember that Google's mission has always been to deliver the most relevant results to its users. As it gets closer to achieving that goal, the nature of SEO is shifting away from shady tactics and beginning to rely on high-level online marketing techniques in order to be successful.