The changes to the Google algorithm belie their cuddly names – Pandas and Penguins might sound like friendly creatures, but these guys have a real bite.
I was at a recent event called Travel Babble organised by a Brighton-based SEO agency called Fresh Egg aimed at getting travel bloggers and SEO people in the same room. There was a panel Q&A session with a bunch of SEO people both client and agency side. The general commentary was that websites need to be more ‘normal’ these days – clever link tactics and technical tweaks are increasingly being discovered by the search engines (in particular Google) and sites doing this stuff too aggressively are getting penalised. The recommended SEO approach was to analyse the backlinks to a website you’re working on and review them. Has historic work to accumulate lots of links to boost the position of a website in search results left it looking a bit too good to be true? Are there thousands of links all using the same anchor text pointing to the same single page for example? Real people just don’t link to things like this and search engines increasingly spot these sites that are – to use the current term – ‘overoptimised’. (The word ‘overoptimised’ is itself a contradiction in terms… but anyway…)
The key way to fix this problem? Consensus from the panel was to create better quality content that’s more genuinely focussed on users rather than on search engines.
Hurray! That ought to be where a content creator like me comes in. But guess what? People are a tad more demanding than search engine robots. If you want to create good stuff that people really want to read, look at, engage with – you have to cough up some proper cash. It takes time, research, craft. And there are no short cuts. Again and again the SEO guys on the Travel Babble panel dithered around this point. There’s an acceptance that ‘proper’ content is needed – but no desire to actually make the financial investment necessary to achieve this. There was a lot of waffle about 'getting hold of content' as it if was something you could go somewhere and harvest on the sly. (How about user reviews? That might work!) One panel member said ‘We have 5000-plus pages of content about places on our website. If anyone can tell me how to get hold of decent content for this quantity of pages feel free to tell me.”
Well – here’s the answer. Pay for it.
And accept that it’s a big investment. And see it as part of the whole marketing story for your business – not just something you can label SEO and stick in a separate box. Take cash from your loyalty marketing and brand budgets to pay for it.
The end goal for search engines is to be able to recognise the really useful, good stuff that people actually want and to promote it to the front of the queue. And I personally think they will get there. It’s just a matter of how long. Viewing things through the narrow prism of SEO and rankings is an increasingly out-moded way of working.
That’s a challenge for SEO agencies – but it’s also a challenge for the companies they work with. If you’re a travel co or tour operator and you have individuals in your marketing team called SEO managers – who are measured against key performance indicators that revolve around rankings and links and little else you are on a highway to confusion and you’re probably creating conflict within your business where it need not exist. Chasing search engine rankings without thinking about the bigger picture will become increasingly dangerous - more and more likely to get you penalised by the search engines. SEO is just one of a number of tools in your marketing tool box and you need to use the whole lot of them.
In the very near future good digital marketers will get SEO and understand how it works, but that will just be a part of their skillset and their responsibilities.
The days of the SEO specialist marketer are numbered.