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We've seen a lot of changes in the SEO world over the last six months, with content marketing in particular becoming a hotter topic almost by the day. 

But if you really think about what a good SEO campaign should look like, it's pretty obvious that link manipulation and over-optimisation is never what Google was looking for when reviewing quality in sites.

In fact, in the words of Google themselves; creating quality content is the single biggest thing you can do!

Don't chase the algorithm!

In many ways, for those who were doing SEO the right way, nothing has changed at all. They probably enjoyed Google's algorithm changes over the last six months the most. It's those who were chasing the algorithm and looking for quick win SEO tactics that lost out. 

At a conference back in April, just after Google had rolled out the penguin update, I got asked by the CEO of a property company why his website had dropped for key terms such as "Florida real estate".

He told me how he went to all the leading search conferences and events, followed all of the advice and benefited from great rankings for years. So why has Google now decided to penalise him?

Having thought about what he said, my reply was that the answer was in the question! He's been taking advantage of all of the SEO tactics for a long time, benefiting from this knowledge of the Google algorithm in order to boost his own results into positions where they really shouldn't have been ranking. 

I'm not saying there's anything wrong in that, and this time last year that would have looked like great SEO! He was getting some great results - all while his competitors were completely unaware of SEO and were missing out on great opportunities of generating organic traffic. 

But now things have changed! Those clueless competitor brands who just went about their business unaware of SEO are now benefiting. All because they were doing things in a natural way. And now it means they don't have to do link cleanups, they haven't over-optimised their content - but they have focused on building their business and brand.

And if you look at the sites that are winning right now, they have one thing in common - they've been building brands and focusing on good PR and marketing, not short-term SEO wins.

So to be a good SEO, in many ways you need to look like you don't exist.

And by this, I don't mean you shouldn't do anything. As much as Google will want to be able to find the best content on the web, they have always needed SEOs to help make this content more accessible and easier to find and value. 

Those that won out of the panda and penguin updates were often the sites who weren't concerned about SEO tactics, or even SEO at all. It's so important these days that you don't over-do it. That's just likely to cause more problems further down the line.

So I've listed a few tips on the type of things you should be focusing on instead.

1) Get your SEO basics and fundamentals in place 

Ensure your title tags and headings are optimised around key phrases, meta descriptions are written for users and clickthrough rates in mind, internal linking is kept sensible etc... 

This way you're still keeping SEO in mind but it's using natural language around those important keywords that are relevant to a specific page. It's not just trying to optimise for keywords in places where it might not fit.

Asos.com is a good example of this, you can tell SEO has been considered within the site content, but it's not at the expense of the user experience and journey.

2) Get your website architecture and URL right 

Here you should focus on users and how they interact with your site and its navigation, there's no need to worry too much about keywords. Just make sure you are using sensible and natural language to describe your content.

So clean-up your URL structure and pay attention to Google Webmaster Tools, fixing any crawl errors you find, submit XML sitemaps etc. Basically everything that you would normally do in a technical SEO review, the goal is to make sure that you're making Google's job as easy as possible in order to find your best content. They're likely to reward you for that!

 

3) Focus on content, not links 

By building great content and telling interesting stories about your brand online, the links will come. But this way it's far more natural and defensibile, because these links will have been added by choice and as a by-product of having great content with people talking about this online. 

The best links you can get for your site are naturally acquired, so think more about the audience you are targeting and the people you want to link to you, as opposed to the sites that you want to get links from.

So analyse your content and focus on creating great content for your audience that can naturally generate social attention and links:

 

4) Consider user generated content 

We all know Google loves unique content and UGC is generally ranking very well post-panda/penguin. This makes sense, it's naturally relevant content that is written around a specific topic - but it's not over-optimised and is unique. So think of ways you can incorporate that into your brands online strategy.

Sometimes it even makes for great content in it's own right!

Summary

The end goal is to make sure you rank as highly as possible, and for long-term success the only real way to compete with the top brands is to become one yourself.

So while there will always be short-term fixes that may, or may not, get you there, nothing really beats the hard-work of building something of value that people love, share and interact with.

That's going to be far more rewarding and valuable to Google - and it makes sense to focus on building your overall brand online from all angles, not just relying too heavily on Google.

So what are your tips on SEO and content marketing success?

Kevin Gibbons

Published 5 November, 2012 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

Comments (28)

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Nick Stamoulis

I always tell my clients to treat their SEO like Google doesn't exist. That helps ensure they are putting their visitors first and aren't trying to play some algorithm game. The key to SEO is to stay as natural as possible!

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

Thanks for the comments guys!

@Nick, exactly - and I think you should look at link building in the same way as you would pre-PageRank. It's for audience targeting and relevant traffic generation. If you get that right than the SEO will take care of itself!

almost 4 years ago

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Martin Pierags

Thanks for your unique words. There are not a lot of SEOs thinking the way you do, but you are right. Think natural, make good content. Thats it!

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Martin - yep, there's no need to overcomplicate things! This is probably for another post, but I got a bit bored of the amount of long audits where the main conclusion was a) you need more links, or b) you need more content.

I could have told you that way before you spent 5 days+ doing an audit - so why not just focus on creating great content and generating natural links instead? :)

almost 4 years ago

Stuart Waterman

Stuart Waterman, Online Community Manager at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians)

I'd be interested to know how this approach impacts on people going for SEO jobs.

On the one hand I imagine it would be beneficial for the interviewer to know that you *did* know how to do the more black hat stuff, and that you have that technical skill in your arsenal; but on the other you'd also want to emphasise that you know you can't use much of it nowadays, and express how you'd get results in a more ethical way.

Anyway, anything that leads to people creating stuff that doesn't suck is good news in my book.

almost 4 years ago

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Timothy Carter

Getting back to basics and being "natural" in your link building is what I've been working through with the company I took over managing 6 months ago.

They hired SEO company after SEO company that kept on using the tactics that worked a couple years ago, gaming the algo, without thinking about the long term consequences.

Forget about Google. Focus on the basics, your customer and niche...

I like the idea of UCG because it can equate to that "natural" sharing/exposure.

Slow, steady, natural...wins the long term race.

almost 4 years ago

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Elroy van Ouwerkerk

I am glad to see that there are more people thinking the same way as I do. I rather see myself as someone who helps others to make there website better by creating great content and a good user interface than by tricks that won't last long. Great post!

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Timothy/Elroy absolutely - slow, steady, natural growth is definitely far better than fast jumps in organic traffic. Even if it's not the crazy-number percentages your client/boss wants to see!

The best results we've seen are from clients who month-on-month are creating quality content - and it slowly adds up each time.

almost 4 years ago

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Avinash

How should a SEO brand himself or market himself then?

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Avinash - blogging, public speaking, social media, networking - it's reputation building.

And with that the SEO success should come naturally anyway, but as a by-product - not the main target.

almost 4 years ago

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Mathew

"great quality content" yeah Google love to say this but if I had stephen King or edgar allen poe writing for my site it would NOT have me ranking better than a high PR site. Thats all Im seeing about SEO these days

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Matthew - I agree, at the moment it's more of a knock-on effect. Although AuthorRank could very well change that (valuing the author, as opposed to the publisher).

If Stephen King wrote content for your blog, there's a good chance it's going to generate a large amount of links and social attention - which will benefit your rankings. But just the fact alone that Stephen King is writing for your site, doesn't mean you're going to rank any better than anyone else.

almost 4 years ago

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Tim

Great article for students, like myself, trying to earn a degree in digital marketing. You mention to focus on content and not links. This makes sense because it is more natural. However, how important is it for a smaller website, such as a personal blog, to link build by bookmarking and leaving comments on other blogs?

almost 4 years ago

Adrian Bold

Adrian Bold, Director at Bold Internet Ltd

Excellent post. It'll be interesting to see how short SEO conferences become if speakers line up to tell people to focus on the basics, i.e. quality content and good site architecture. Could that be one gravy train about to de-rail? ;-)

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Adrian - I think we are finding this a lot already. Most of the events I've been to this year have been talking about a more content-focused, PR/social media centric strategy towards search - and rightly so.

However, for every strategy you always need to connect the tactical execution - so I think we'll always have something to talk about! It just keeps on evolving.

@Tim - I would say there's a fine line with blog commenting. If you're doing it for building connections, e.g. leaving a comment of value on an industry leading blog, means that they might notice you and link to you in the future - then great!

But if you're just leaving comments on blogs/forums for the sole reason of generating a link from that post - then it's most likely to be classed as comment spam. So you'd be much better off spending your time 1) building great content 2) building connections/relationships within your niche/industry and 3) promoting your content and building a brand online.

almost 4 years ago

Ben Potter

Ben Potter, Director at Ben Potter - new business mentor

Great article Kevin, I'm in total agreement on all fronts. Fundamentally, SEO hasn't changed in the 10 years I've been in the industry. As I stated in my last article 'search experience optimisation', I’ve always been of the opinion that by focusing, first and foremost, on optimising the customer experience, success in search will generally follow in the medium to longer term.

'By-product' is a term I've been using an awful lot recently too. It perfectly describes how links, for example, should be the added benefit of a wider content and online PR program. Links should not be the main objective.

It is a subtle but very important change of mindset.

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Burhan - it has been a bit crazy keeping up with Google this year to say the least! Obviously they've still got a lot of work to do - and would probably admit themselves that it hasn't gone as smoothly as they'd have liked. Although overall I think it's a step in the right direction and one which they had to make.

@Ranking Quest - that's not what I'm saying at all - great content still needs quality links to rank. But great content is always more likely to attract natural and high quality links, which you'll struggle to do via SEO/link building alone - certainly if you're looking for long-term defensible links and sustainable results. What would be your approach out of interest?

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

@Ben - absolutely, couldn't agree more! And even though we've known this as SEOs all along, the shift towards content and online PR is becoming much clearer now.

almost 4 years ago

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Dr RWP

Some good points here. SEO has always been (and always should be) about creating great content - but presented in a "search engine friendly" way..

almost 4 years ago

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Caroline Constable

"...this way it's far more natural and defensibile, because these links will have been added by choice and as a by-product of having great content with people talking about this online"

Nice post Kevin and couldn't agree more with the above. Content has always been important but it's got a little easier to sell that in now with recent algo updates.

almost 4 years ago

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Ian

@Kevin The points you make about creating content have always been valid not just now. Its the same with conversion rate optimisation etc The expert online marketers have been doing this since the early days of the web. Same with Social Media this is little different to the connections and awareness building that was undertaken on the old communities of AOL, Compuserve etc. For the older more experienced digital marketers amongst us the wall gardens of AOL back in the 90's are very similar to what Facebook has become today

I wouldn't say that a role of an SEO has vanished but the ones that will be in demand are the ones who have a full understanding of online marketing and how different aspects can be used together to create successful campaigns. And how this integrates with offline marketing being carried out.

In effect this is what your new company is evolving to Kevin, it's a smart move but don't just focus on content strategy there is more that needs to be brought to the table

almost 4 years ago

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Ruckshani

Great post. I agree on all points! In our country SEO is still seen as something technical, and usually done by IT without any research at all. Of course there is a technical element, but that is where marketing people have to help IT with research, planning, and reporting of performance. Furthermore SEO is provided 'free' by most companies because generally IT will try all tactics possible to ensure listings on Google (without mention of other search engines). I'm glad things are changing and even clients are understanding that there is no short way out, and that unique content is the way to go.

almost 4 years ago

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Zoe Bosward, Experienced Online Marketing Manager, UK at Job hunting in Derby UK

Thanks so much for this post - it's reassuring and good confirmation about looking after content.

Amazingly, and frustratingly, the suppliers I am obliged to use still bang on about link building despite the fact that we already perform well compared to competitors, and despite the fact that I am up-front about being unconvinced about link-building as a successful stand-alone SEO tactic.

almost 4 years ago

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Alison Cort, PR Director at Browser Media

Really good read and interesting comments...I think it goes to show how good SEOs need such a broad mix of skills these days. They can do all the technical under the bonnet stuff as well as the analysis but they also need to be adept marketers and writers too. That's a pretty tough job spec! I agree that so much goes back to PR - having a really interesting story to tell will always get coverage, links, follows etc. quite naturally.

almost 4 years ago

Hans Cayley

Hans Cayley, Web Development Team Leader at Westfield Health

All well and good but there are still plenty of organisations with awful over optimised link profiles that are ranking well in Google.

almost 4 years ago

Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons, UK Managing Director at BlueGlass

Thanks @Caroline/Dr RWP - and agree it's not really any different to what we should have been doing all along! The problem is the quicker win/spammer tactics have still worked and we're in a business where, rightly or wrongly, we're paid to get results as quickly as we can.

@Ian - exactly. The SEO role is just evolving, to a point that it's no longer just SEO that's important. I see content as playing a central role to search, along with social, PR and branding - but agree, you definitely can't focus on just a single one of these. They need to be integrated together.

@Ruckshani - I think search has definitely grown-up a lot during 2012 especially. From my experience at least, the days of IT running SEO seem to have disappeared and this is definitely being taken more seriously as a key marketing channel.

@Zoe - links are certainly still important. But the problem is if all you're focusing on is link building and tactics such as competitor replication, you're just playing catch-up. Whereas if you can build yourself as a thought-leader by creating great content within your industry you can really make an impact and build a very strong, natural link reputation along the way!

@Alison - it's almost another post in itself, but I think we are starting to see a split between technical SEO/consultancy and PR/Social/Content-driven reputation building.

@Hans - agree, Google still has a way to go - and they haven't completed stopped the traditional SEO/link building tactics from getting results. But they have weakened its success - so although it's annoying to get outranked by sites who really shouldn't be there - if I was to look at outranking sites like this, I'd look to do it in the way that appears to be where Google are heading and is likely to achieve the best long-term results.

almost 4 years ago

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Andrew

Conten alone is not gonna get you a dramatic increase in inbound links. It will down the road I must admit, but what about those that need quality links fast... What about all those link marketplaces like LinkWorth, textlinkads or teliad?

almost 4 years ago

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Butler

Basically to be a good SEO, don't be an SEO.

almost 4 years ago

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