We are about to experience a revolution in online search.  The writing has been on the wall for several years that the old methods of SEO will no longer work in the future.  This is not simply an improvement to algorithms currently being used. It will be a shift towards machine learning and eventually, artificial intelligence.  As the cost of the massive computing power needed to employ these methods on a global scale becomes insignificant, improvements to search engine mechanics will allow these machines to understand and rate the quality, authority and usability of web pages directly.  Effectively making attempts to SEO content beyond simply writing good useful content useless.  In fact over optimization, if not already seen as negative, will likely be seen as a negative user experience.

This requires a change in how we think about SEO. Essentially throwing out the last 20 years of advice and embracing quality over quantity, user experience over keywords, and an honest attempt to provide the user with the most specific information regarding his query possible.

Despite the writing on the wall I see websites being created daily which are still attempting to increase their traffic by optimizing content that simply fails to provide any value to the user.  Shuffling the categories around, adding more bad content to already awful content and creating hundreds of blog posts a month in a desperate attempt to follow advice is still common place.

It’s Not Just The Little Guy

It’s not just the amateur’s and mom and pop shops doing this either.  Major marketing companies are still advising 500 word articles, title and description meta tag optimization and including the keywords you want to rank for on pages.  They are still suggesting that the Url should contain the keywords, that keywords weights need to be considered.  They are selling 500 word articles for hundreds of dollars and claiming that this will help people rank in competitive markets.  Let’s be clear, you certainly should learn how to write titles and descriptions that will provide the user an easy way to find your content and to have some idea what your content is about before they visit your site.

It is no longer effective to SEO pages in order to rank for keywords.  If this sounds like SEO might be dead, then you have been listening.  We are entering an era where in order to rank, your content must actually be good.  It must provide unique value to the user who is searching for your product or service.  It must be attractive, entertaining, well-written.  Ultimately it has to be engaging, it has to make the user want to hang around your site.  Creating content like this isn’t easy.  In some fields you must be a bona-fide expert to even have a chance.  Your website needs to be organized, load quickly and ultimately must show that it is an authority for what you are trying to rank for.

OK Fine, I Got That… So What Do I Do Now?

So a few specific things I’ve seen recently which is a perfect example of what not to do it:

  • Creating categories in WordPress in an attempt to rank for phrases unrelated to the content. It’s unlikely that content written about a general topic will end up ranking in a specific location just becuase you add it to a category.  In fact, for a local business it’s unlikely that adding locations to your site will help you at all.  You will rank for searches in your location, the distance you will rank will be determined by the quality of your site and content more than anything else.  If there is some way you can create content which includes location names that benefits the searcher and is not just an attempt to increase your rankings then there might be some value in creating a separate piece of content, but tacking on locations to a page is not going to help you rank.
  • Each article should fit into a single category and the number of categories should be limited to as many as need to categorize the information for the User’s benefit. Again artificially creating articles and adding them to categories to make them seem like they are relevant to a search when there is nothing specific about the search is likely not going to help.  In fact a ton of categories is going to make it hard for the user to find the content on your site, and it’s going to appear as if you don’t know what your talking about.
  • Anything that does not improve the user experience, such as bolding search terms or over optimizing image tags or heading will do more harm than good. These “tricks” simply no longer work because they do more to confuse the searcher than to help them.  The purpose of bold text is to alert the user to the fact that you believe something is important, it should never be used to bold keywords.

A few guidelines about content that appear to have some value:

  • Long format, in depth content with good organization which provides answers to commonly searched questions. Long format content is content that is 1500 words or more.  It is thoughtfully laid out for ease of reading and could be used as reference material in schools and colleges.  This means it must be well researched and contain references to credible sources.  It should never use Wikipedia as a source.  Read up on how to cite for a college page or how to write a research paper.
  • Content written by subject experts which provide highly authoritative information, especially in the healthcare fields.  If your site is in a medical field or requires special knowledge then you will like have to be a subject matter expert with some external credential in order to rank.  Medical Doctor’s, Dentist’s, Licensed Counselor’s all have credentials which can easily be verified.  Articles should be written by them.
  • Consistent phone numbers, addresses, and websites on every page and on every external directory site linking to the page.  Make sure that in local directories your content is always consistent.  Ensure that the profiles point to your mains website.  NEVER NEVER use a landing page or a page you do not own, Such as Facebook or any number of local search marketing companies advising you need a landing page.  Make sure you use a domain you own, this is critical to your long term ability to rank.
  • Promotion of newly created long format content on social media. This means posting links to the articles on Facebook, not creating cute images on Facebook with 100’s of hash tags.  The post should contain an eye catching meaningful image and a link directly to the article.  Facebook offers a huge opportunity to supercharge your organic search results by proving high quality traffic interested in reading your content.  If ads or other types of advertising haven’t worked for you on Facebook, try boosting posts which link to your long format content.

These are just some of the things I’ve noticed recently.  The most important concept is to stop creating content in order to rank.   Create content that you want people to read, that you want people to engage with.  If you were going to write a book, what would you find interesting?  When you create content , create great content.