You may think you have a handle on the dark arts of search engine optimization, but the game has shifted quite a bit in recent years. Here’s what your association should consider as it analyzes its SEO strategy.
Ahead of this year’s Super Bowl, there was a surprising amount of nostalgia for an article clearly written to game search engines.
Back in 2011, The Huffington Post created a meta-commentary of sorts on how people search for content online. The article—titled “What Time Is the Super Bowl?”—even misspelled “superbowl” in multiple ways, all in an effort to get readers to the site. It was a massive hit that created unlikely buzz around keyword-jacking, and as The Atlantic noted in 2014, it was “the most legendary act of SEO trolling ever.”
But the game of search engine optimization, or SEO, is not static. Over the weekend, if you searched “what time is the super bowl,” Google just gave you the answer in a prominent box—neutralizing the effect of the search term for everyone else. Nowadays you might get some clicks on that kind of a headline, but the low-hanging fruit of the past is getting pushed out of the way. You need to try harder to make the search engine game winnable.
This may be just one of the reasons the rechristened HuffPost recently shut down its famed contributor network, an approach that boosted the site’s search ranking by encouraging the creation of massive swaths of content. It helped the site become one of the largest on the internet but came with a lot of downsides. The strategy was built for maximizing search engine presence, but today social media is the route that gets many users to a website. Now, quality—supported by the application of editorial discretion in selecting contributed content—tops quantity.
Most associations, however, have a narrower content focus than, say, the Super Bowl. While social media is an increasingly important tool for many industries, search engine optimization still holds immense value for associations, because they are the ones connecting dots in disparate spaces, not Facebook or Twitter.
Still, SEO has seen some major shifts that are worth considering to make sure you’re using it to best advantage. Among them:
Google is more likely to compete with its own search results. Last year, The Outline reported about the saga of Celebrity Net Worth, a website that researches the wealth of the world’s most famous people. This idea was hugely successful and hit all of Google’s buttons, but the search giant’s own Feature Snippet tool often put the answer directly in front of the user without requiring them to click—which makes Google easier to use but effectively cuts sites like Celebrity Net Worth out of the equation, and as a result, the site has seen a major decline in traffic in recent years. The situation highlights the risks inherent in creating a search-focused website based on knowledge sharing and should be kept in mind in your SEO strategizing.
When Google calls for a change, pay attention. Last year, Google publicly discouraged site owners from running their domains on the HTTP protocol, instead preferring the secure HTTPS protocol. A recent study from SEMrush, which analyzed different “ranking factors” for websites, found that nearly two-thirds of top domains on high-volume keywords use HTTPS. This finding was corroborated by the competing firm Moz, which last year found that half of all top-ranking search results used HTTPS. Search Engine Journal notes that a similar effect was seen with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), a technology pushed by Google.
Before you go organic, go paid. While search engines like Google are often sold as ways to help boost your visibility through the sharing of good, smart content, they often can be difficult to build up on their own. A recent report from Clutch and Ignite Visibility found that just 19 percent of SEO-focused businesses put resources into paid search. “While you will get a better ROI on organic search long term, brand-new websites should always start with paid,” Ignite Visibility CEO John Lincoln said in the report. “Even mature websites that get millions of visitors a month from organic should invest in paid. The two complement each other. Paid is a bit more precise and controllable.” And it can create an opportunity to understand what might work best from an organic standpoint.
SEO isn’t limited to traditional search engines anymore. While we’ve long considered search engine optimization in terms of Google and, to a lesser extent, Bing and DuckDuckGo, the fact is we’re starting to see other important categories emerge for search, most notably when it comes to video, voice assistants, and visual search. Pinterest has shifted its focus in the past year or so toward being something more like a search engine for imagery, and this has made SEO more important to the service. Expect the trend of SEO moving beyond Google to only grow in the coming years.
All this speaks to a basic point: If you’re thinking about search engine optimization from a 2011 standpoint, you’re going to be missing a lot of opportunity in 2018. It’s not just about writing articles and picking the right keywords. It’s also about keeping your technology up to date while reframing exactly what you’re optimizing.
If you pull off the right tweaks, you might be surprised at the new business you find.