*Note from John – This is a guest post by Matt Gratt, who recently struck out on his own to follow his dream of being an entrepreneur. Matt is someone I’ve respected for a while, so it’s a pleasure to have him guest post here! You can find him on his blog, Twitter, or Google+.
This was an eventful couple of months in SEO – BuildMyRank and other blog networks were de-indexed and shut down. Google began sending webmasters warnings of negative links. And expert SEOs have reported that major aspects of anchor text weight have changed.
So what does all of this mean? And more importantly, how can SEOs continue to deliver the traffic, sales, and ROI that clients expect and businesses need in this time of unprecedented change?
We need a sustainable strategy – not a series of escalating tactics. And the sustainable strategy is very simple…
Make Google look smart.
Make Bing look smart.
Make whatever panopticon of vertical search engines, semantic text crawlers, Siri-like smart agents, and social decision engines the future brings look smart.
What Does That Mean? You Sound Like Matt Cutts
Every search engine needs to think about the satisfaction of their users first and foremost – as companies under anti-trust investigation like to remind us, “Competition is Only a Click Away.” With user acquisition costs spiraling out of control, all of these companies’ first priority is returning happy users for future sessions.
They would also like some of those search users to click on ads. Not all of them all the time – people don’t like that – but, you know, occasionally.
That means search engines drop whole genres of sites out of their respective indices – like Bing removing thin Cyber Monday sites – that make them look foolish by delivering a poor experience. Don’t do this.
If you deliver searchers a poor experience – where they bounce back to the search page, or block your site from these results – you’ll get worse and worse SEO results over time. You can keep building (or more likely buying) links to these pages, but you’ll get diminishing returns. It’s like filling up a bucket with a hole in it.
Don’t bet against search engines getting smarter. And get real about whether you deserve to rank number 1.
The New Approach: What If a Search Engine was Any Other Traffic Source
Treat search engines like business development partners. Are there popular keywords where you deliver a great experience? Aim for these queries.
If search engines were any other website or business and you were approaching them for a partnership, you’d highlight areas of mutual value, and talk about how you could deliver a great user experience for their visitors. Do the same for searchers.
Right now you’re probably targeting the highest value CPC (if AdSense based) or highest volume terms, which are great and make sense. But add a new metric to your mix: on a scale of 1-10, how much value do you add on this term? Alternatively, if the search term is a question, how good is your answer?
If you’re an enterprise software company and you want to rank for high funnel terms around business intelligence, you need to deliver some great customer value on these terms. Can you create the best, most informative pages, written by experts with years of BI experience? Can you create videos explaining decision support systems with breezy clarity? Can you deliver something that the search
engine visitor – and your potential customer – will walk away from with actual benefit?
And if you run an ecommerce site and you’d like to rank for ecommerce-oriented terms like “Red Stapler”, are you providing the best answer? Do you have better photos? More reviews? The best price? Think deeply about your product pages, and how you can differeniate them in a way that’s in line with your brand and your USP.
Deliver differentiated value on the topic of the query. You’ll find once you start doing SEO based on your differentiated value, suddenly link building becomes much easier. You might even find conversion rates go up.
But Matt, I’m an Affiliate – Google Hates Me!
First of all, Google does not hate all marketers with affiliate models. Google hates marketers that call themselves affiliates.
Google Ventures has invested in WhaleShark Media. While in that article Arrington describes them as a competitor to Groupon, they own RetailMeNot, CouponSeven.com, Deals2Buy, Deals.com, and a number of other coupon sites, many of which operate as coupon affiliates. This investment suggests that Google doesn’t hate all affiliates – but large, well-branded affiliate sites that deliver consumer value might be invited into that most rare circle – Google’s good graces.
Indeed, many of Google’s guidelines do refer to “thin affiliates” as spam, and they view thin affiliates as such. Aaron Wall and others have suggested that Google does indeed hate affiliates. They have a great deal of compelling evidence, and Google continues to act capriciously towards its customers.
For you, brave affiliate marketers, I have similar advice: Carefully evolve differentiated value that other affiliates cannot deliver.
Brand yourself as something other than an affiliate, and attempt to brand your site in some meaningful way.
Become Google’s partner to the maximum degree possible, while developing other profitable traffic sources.
Become an AdWords customer, preferably a large one.
Put videos on YouTube.
Advanced Tactic: raise money from Google Ventures.
Conclusion: Treat Search Engines Like Your Partner
In an age of SEO where even white-hat SEOs wake up wondering what might befall their rankings, a more sustainable, future-proof SEO strategy is needed. Treat search engines as your partners and market your site based on its differentiated value – not the need to please any algorithm.