But there is a silver lining to all of this. With last year's Panda release, and the more recent Penguin release, Google is going to flip SEO on its head. If Old SEO enabled some to fool a crawler into indexing borderline junk content to get high rankings, New SEO looks likely to take any notion of fooling anyone out of the equation.
New SEO will put all publishers on more equal footing, favoring those that produce quality content that is highly engaging to a certain audience. If SEO was previously a linear method of feeding a crawler with words and links, Google's results are now the result of a feedback loop: show them that you can produce quality content that people are attracted to, and free search traffic will follow.
There are two ways for a user to arrive at content -- the first is actively searching for it on a search engine like Google or Bing. The second is to discover or stumble onto it via a link on another website, an e-mail from a friend, a link shared on Twitter or Facebook, etc. "Discovery" encompasses all those times we reach a page without first typing a keyword into a search box.
To feed the search rankings with New SEO, publishers must be thinking about the discovery side. How can they get more engaged people discovering their content and engaging with it outside of Google? Ironically, a New SEO expert will probably need to focus more on Facebook than on Google to improve search rankings. The same goes for brands that are investing in content creation and content marketing. To be successful, everyone needs to play by the New SEO rules.
With New SEO, the pendulum is finally swinging back to favoring humans over crawlers. The New SEO rules point directly back to what was valued in the traditional print-dominated days -- content will not be a mechanism to convert clicks but a tool to boost awareness, increase overall engagement and offer opportunities to connect with a quality audience. And the "customer" that content is tailored for will no longer be SEO bots (the software apps that work the web automatically), as the New SEO favors the true end-user: the reader.
These are great days for publishing, and I'm very optimistic about future, weighted by quality content. Like many others, I hated much of what SEO had done to the industry, but the world of New SEO is one I'm looking forward to.