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SEO is Dead! Now Let’s Optimize!

The heydey of SEO is over!

As a discipline it found a prominent place in the psyche of Web publishers because of the critical role the search engines played in driving traffic to Web sites, which in turn played a critical role in monetizing those sites.

But SEO was a victim of its own success.  That success led to excess and with that excess came a threat to the efficacy of the very search engines it was intended to attract.  Perhaps more importantly it caused publishers, marketers and various other content producers to lose the plot.  They stopped writing for their audience and focused instead on producing stuff that only resonated with algorithms, not with people.

Let’s take keyword search as an example, because that is SEO at its most basic level.  It was a pretty rational idea to try to identify what keywords were most commonly being searched for and then include those keywords in your story.  And add them to the headline.  And then add more and more of them.

Then the spammers joined the SEO party and put those keywords into content that had absolutely nothing to do with what the unsuspecting Web user was actually searching for.  In fact whole businesses grew up based on generating traffic by matching keyword queries and directing traffic to shallow, low-cost, low-value content.

So, 200 or so algorithm tweaks later, Google shuts this down.  The use of links is following a similar escalation to oblivion pattern.

The goal of Google and every other search engine is to have quality rise to the top (unless of course you’re willing to pay to be on top).  So naturally their advice to Web authors is “write great content.”

But the search engines can’t really identify quality.  What they do instead is first of all associate the quality of the content with the place it appears (e.g. you’re more likely to come up with quality on the New York Times than on eHow,) and secondly, try to predict quality based upon robotically identifiable characteristics of the content.  For example, it may be true that 400-word stories are more likely to be of higher quality that 200 word items.  But they can’t deal with the fact that you could say something brilliant in one graph.

Post-SEO Optimization

If you’re a marketer or a PR professional, if you’re the digital guru of your organization or one of the new breed of content marketers, you can’t afford to just write something good and say “Here you go, Google.”  What you need to do is to optimize in a post-SEO world and here’s some advice on how to do that.

  1. First of all your content needs a good home.  Just putting it on your Web site isn’t enough, you should have an online newsroom as part of your site.  That becomes the landing page where you drive traffic to your content and the place were you use some best practice SEO for Web sites in order to capture searchers.  Make it interesting.  One of the biggest challenges with search engine traffic is getting them to click on more than one document.  Use photos, use video and if you don’t produce enough content yourself bring some in.  Add a Twitter feed, YouTube videos or Flikr photos.
  2. You should also have a blog, whether as an individual or as an organization.  A blog is one way to personalize your content.  Take advantage of the unique writing styles and perspectives of individuals within your organization.  De-institutionalize your content and provide another path to your online newsroom.
  3. You are not going to maximize your audience with search alone.  Use social networks.  Every new piece of content should give rise to several tweets with interesting excerpts from the document and links back to your online newsroom.  One tactic that can be effective in building an audience is to not only use an organization account but also have individual accounts of thought leaders in your organization.   This personalizes the messaging and makes it more social.  (If you haven’t built a strong following on Twitter you can use PR Newswire’s Social Post to reach followers on our curated vertical Twitter accounts.)   For B-to-B companies in particular, LinkedIn is becoming an increasingly important place to share information.
  4. It’s important to hit every social network you can think of that’s relevant to your business or your brand.  However, quality beats quantity – it’s better to focus on a couple where you can really concentrate on building a following.  By learning what types of messaging draw the most likes, or follows, or shares, you can refine how you use each network.
  5. Placement is another way to get lots of readers.  I’m not thinking about the classic and expensive ad network type of placement.  There are many innovative alternatives in the market today including recommendation engines, keyword buy options and sponsored and preferred placement on mobile and social networks. A cost effective approach for placement is to use a commercial newswire service like PR Newswire that has a robust syndication network.  This can enable you to reach many targeted sites that may have a very selective audience specifically interested in your content.

So optimization is as important as ever, but not for the practice of SEO that’s all about keywords and links and gaming the search engines.  Optimization has a broader meaning that starts with good content and good places to put it and then drives readers to that content through search, social and syndication.

Originally posted  on January 21, 2013 on  PRNewswire’s Beyond PR Blog by Author Ken Dowell, PR Newswire’s executive vice president of audience development & social media.

Image courtesy of Flickr user TopRankOnlineMarketing.
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