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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!
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?