Human Engagement: The New SEO


The New SEO is Human Engagement

Just as everyone figured out the mechanics of SEO, everything changed. Here's what you need to know:

Google and other search engines have recently been updating their search algorithms. As the biggest name in the game, Google has pioneered the way with two major algorithm updates: Panda and Penguin.

What was once acceptable can now impair a company’s ability to be found online. Under these new algorithms, websites that are found to be catering to the search engines rather than producing fresh, relevant content will be relegated to the bottom of search results. Overall, Panda and Penguin target websites that churn out thin content, spam backlinks, practice keyword stuffing or hidden text, include plagiarized content, and enact a number of other outdated, frowned-upon SEO techniques. 

The Panda and Penguin updates give the illusion that Google is making big changes in the digital realm, but in reality these updates are just part of a larger trend. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and the increasing popularity of handheld devices have changed the way people find, share, and discuss information. To stay relevant, businesses need to publish interesting content regularly, and share it through social media. By doing so, the same businesses will also find that Google’s new rules for SEO will be met naturally, and that is entirely the goal.

“We want people doing white-hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing compelling web sites,” stated Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer on Google’s Webmaster Blog.  “Another step is to reward high-quality sites,” stated Mr. Cutts.

Does this mean everyone should stop all SEO practices? 

Not necessarily. SEO should be used as a way to promote quality, authoritative content. Keyword research and analytics will still improve the quality of a site if used naturally and efficiently. Backlinks must occur naturally, however. The thought process is this: if a website caters to its audience, relevant keywords and backlinks will manifest naturally, and webmasters don’t have to do a thing. People will share useful or interesting content with their friends and followers. With Google’s new updates, this organic interaction trumps even the best laid-out marketing plans. One of the best ways for a business to regularly release shareable content is through a blog. When done right, blogging is a great way to create content, and encourage engagement. Share each new article on relevant social media platforms for maximum impact.

To address social media’s obvious impact on the world, Google’s updates look for likes, shares, and engagement —especially on Google+ because, well, it belongs to Google. Regardless of the platform, branding should be consistent throughout a company’s online presence to give the target audience a reliable image with which to associate. As with traditional websites, social media pages should be geared at providing the target audience with a memorable experience. This goes beyond branding, and delves into the murky terrain of engagement. Social media has lowered the barriers between businesses and their target audience. Engagement is important to building brand trust. A successful brand embraces this shift by giving followers not just great content but the ability to communicate directly with the company.

Are the Panda and Penguin updates perfect? Unfortunately, no. There has been some collateral damage to legitimate sites, and negative SEO practices have in some ways become easier. 

Competitors can more easily employ shady backlinking schemes for your website, effectively decreasing its value. Your original content is also at risk of being copied, and having the time stamp changed, making your site look like the copy cat. The best way to minimize the impact is to be proactive. Set up a Google alert for your website, and develop your authority through Google Authorship. If you find foul play, there are legitimate ways to deal with it. Google encourages anyone affected by backlinking sabotage to use their disavow tool.  

Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

Above all else, human engagement is the new SEO. Businesses should ask themselves what interests their audience. Answering that question through blogging, engaging in social media, and creating an easy-to navigate website are key. Hire a writer, hire a designer, hire a social media coordinator, and make sure each knows your industry's ins and outs. Once upon a time, customer service and interaction were reserved for in-person, phone, and even email conversations. Today, these conversations can happen anywhere in the digital sphere. Google’s Panda and Penguin updates support these modern trends.

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