Traditionally, SEO was a relatively simple practice. Develop a large amount of keyword-stuffed content and implement an aggressive backlinking campaign on article marketing sites. Google would begin to index your site toward the top end of the search engine results pages because of its relevance, crudely detected by a keyword search, and importance on the Web, or the number of links from sites with a high PageRank. For many years, these were the primary drivers of search engine optimization results.
Changes in both search engine algorithms, including Google’s Panda update, and in how search engines generate indexes, including Bing Action Items and Caffeine, Google’s new index interface, have made straightforward keyword optimization obsolete. Instead, the focus is on content that receives traffic and is widely read. Google Analytics, which a majority of Webmasters use to track hits, time spent on a page, and the most common entry and exit pages, feeds all kinds of user behavioral information back into Google’s algorithm, allowing them to prioritize pages that people actually spend time on.
SEOmoz Reports 2011 Search Algorithm Criteria
According to recent SEOmoz research, the fastest-increasing optimization value comes from an analysis of a site’s perceived value to users, the signals from social networks, and behavioral usage data.
What does this mean for traditional optimization? It is getting harder to artificially inflate search engine results placement with one-dimensional SEO. The new algorithms are taking their rankings from a variety of difficult-to-influence criteria, like how many different people share you articles on social networks and how many pages on your site a user visits before leaving.
The fastest-decreasing values come from easy-to-influence criteria, including exact keyword matches, anchor text in external links, and paid links. This is a significant change from the algorithm in 2009, which valued anchor text from external links to the page about three times as much as it does now. In fact, if a high percent of your links use keyword-rich anchor text to point to the site, this may actually have a negative effect on SEO.
Why Change Search Engine Optimization?
As Google receives more and more of this holistic user interaction information, they have continually reduced the value of traditional backlinking. This makes sense from a search engine’s perspective. By providing interesting content, they make searchers happy. They aren’t really that concerned that changing the system has made it more difficult to game the SEO algorithm.
Bigger Penalties for Poor SEO
Google’s new algorithm also penalizes over-optimization and poor SEO practices far more strictly than it previously did. Google’s new penalty box, a human-influenced demotion of your SERP by a minimum of 6 places, can easily place a site using traditional SEO practices on the third or fourth page of Google’s index for previously minor violations, like thin content. This is a risk you should not be willing to take, as the process to remove the penalty takes a lot of time and energy, including convincing a Google engineer that you are no longer using your old marketing techniques via a reconsideration request.
In today’s search environment, which focuses heavily on user relevance, content is king. The more eyeballs you get, and the longer you can keep them on your page, the better your pages will rank in the search engines. Of course, SEO can help the search engine direct some organic traffic to your page, especially in the absence of quality results for other sites in your niche, but if you want to compete with your biggest competitors, you will have to provide high-quality content aimed at drawing humans, not search engines.
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