Back in the day, SEO was more technical and less, well, semantic. Now I realize that for most a term like semantic query relevancy might as well be the name of computer programming language, but the fact is Google’s customers, the searcher and the advertiser, are no longer content with results based on related page keyword content. This Wall Street Journal article explains Google’s take

google search

To improve accuracy Google and Bing both are attempting to understand what is actually meant by a search and refine results based on things like recency, location, context and of course relevance.

For example if you search “best place to buy a MacBook Pro” there was a time when search engines would return results of blog posts about good places to buy a MacBook Pro or maybe even computer reviews. From that you might have been able to find what you were looking for, but with semantic knowledge graph built in Google is more likely to think – oh, you want to buy a MacBook Pro and I know where you are and I know the inventory levels of the nearest stores with sale prices, so here are your results.

What this means for website owners is they can no longer count on writing content about a subject, optimizing it and going to work on links to the page. Sure, that stuff will always play a role, but there are other significant factors at play today.

Google officially rolled out a new search algorithm recently that employs a great deal of their progress in semantic search. The update is called “Hummingbird” and while traces of it have been coming in previous updates, this one is significant and lasting.

Search has been heading this way for some time now. So, no SEO is not dead once again, unless you mean quick SEO – SEO that doesn’t contain relationship and authority building. Bottom-line though – quality, frequency, depth and authority matter more than ever.

Below are five realities that site owners and SEO professionals must address in order to remain relevant.

Social signals matter a lot

One of the biggest factors baked into search results are signals that search engines can receive about content quality based on social interactions. How many +1s a page has matters greatly as do shares, likes and retweets. My guess is that it’s nearly impossible to get most content to rank without it.

In depth is the new snack sized

One of the things blogs ushered in was the ability to create small little bits of content frequently. While readers seem to enjoy this, often the content lacked much depth and certainly did not engender many retweets and shares (unless you are Seth Godin and you’re followed by 113,000 people on Google+ even though you’ve never shared anything on Google+)

Many people still throw out thinly disquised lists as link bait, but nothing gets shared and strongly indexed today like long, in depth narrowly cast articles. Google has even created markup standards for in depth articles as long as 2000-5000 words.

Who writes it matters too

Authority based on authorship has grown to be a major ranking factor. Claiming your own Google+ Authorship for your content is vital. This includes telling Google other places where your content appears.

While there is no “kloutlike” scoring system as of yet, understanding whose content is thought of authoritative because that’s your relationship building hit list!

Link building is networking

Past Google updates with names like Panda and Penguin were different than Hummingbird as they we updates to fix stuff, mostly artificial link building. Like it or not the more sophisticated algorithms become the harder it is to fake link relationships. Link building in the old school SEO fashion is going the way of the compact disc so you better get good at writing high quality content, sharing high quality content and building authoritative relationships with people that Google thinks matter when it comes to content.

In case that sounds like good old fashion networking that’s because it is.

Keyword not provided is the new deal

Site owners long ago made a deal with Google – let us crawl your site and we’ll tell you who is visiting your site and why – just kidding – take a look at your Google Analyitcs these days and see if your “keyword not provide” or what terms someone searched on that brought them to your site is hovering in the 100% range like mine is.

There are some clever ways to hack together this data (future post on that) and word on the street is Google may find a way to sell it back to you through some sort of premium analytics, but look for some 3rd party tools to fill this gap and get used to a world without the ease of knowing why someone came to your site. (I suppose this is actually a step back into the more technical SEO need.)

Tomorrow I’m going to give you a look into my top 5 recommended action steps for addressing the new realities of SEO today.


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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.

    Social signals have definitely become a larger influence on ranking but although certain online businesses suit that (sharing products, blogs, etc) – what about those businesses that do not suit social media? (i.e. construction, mechanical engineering, etc) How do they conteract that?

    • Edward – not sure why you make the assumption that those professions are not suited to social media – everyone is online, everyone participates in social behavior – those professions did not embrace social media as early on as some but if they don’t today they will be non existent soon enough – if your business has customers, you must be enabling social engagement.

      • budakhan

        I once came upon a company that was trying to get social traction for 3 years. They wrote blogs, had a Facebook page and a Twitter account with miles of content on each. But their business was providing bar code scanning solutions for other businesses. They just couldn’t get any social interaction because the wider public doesn’t care about warehouse inventory. And businesses just want solutions, not spending time on a vendors social media page.

        Some products and services really don’t have much need for social media. I agree with Edward’s concern. How does such a business get high ranking without strong social (or any social)?

        • Talking Finger

          It is a matter of being where your audience is. Facebook won’t work as a main social drive for the example business you gave (B2B bar codes), so they wasted a lot of time there. What were they doing on Twitter? Was it simply a broadcast mechanism? Or did they engage, and seek out customers through targeted interactions and tools to find who is talking about bar codes? Often times, business does social wrong for years then say it didn’t work…when the truth more often is that they were doing it wrong. Painful to hear, but it’s the truth.
          We come across so many businesses who say they “have done “x” for a year or “Y” for a year and we have’t got anything out of it”. We look through their presence and use of the social networks, and it is terrible.
          This bar code company…did they have a presence on LinkedIn an USE it WELL? Did their salespeople have optimized LinkedIn profiles and engage in Groups? Or start a Group? Back to Facebook… they *could* reach potential audiences, perhaps minimally, but the audience IS THERE to a degree.
          What was their synergy between traditional and social ad/marketing? Did they use each initiative to cross market?
          Social works…when done well and in a targeted, strategic and integrated way. It is the *hugest* time suck when done poorly.

      • Talking Finger

        100% agree. The only people who really can’t use social are financial planners/investors due to the strict regulations, and a few other industries with similar hand tying. EVERY other business or organization can see results from social if they perform this in a targeted, strategic and integrated way. Great article. Tweeted out and shared

  • James Mulvey

    These changes are nothing new to a good SEO strategy. The purpose of SEO is think about the intent of the searcher and then answer that intent with content. So someone searching for “Mac Book Pro buy” isn’t looking for a blog post, they are looking for a store. So, you shouldn’t target that search unless you are a store.

    To the comments below about businesses that don’t fit with social, I would say two things. First make sure you are matching the intent of how your customers buy. Writing a blog post means nothing. And the reason why your example couldn’t get traction after 3 years could be because they were creating content their audience didn’t care about—people might not be interested in warehouse inventory but there could be related topics to tackle. Target audience interests broadly instead of just staying close to your product. SEO is about buying attention and visibility to your audience and if you are just trying to “be found” you are doing 2005 SEO.

    Second, you could partly be right. For example, a Pinterest board isn’t the best tactic for a mechanical engineering company. That said, SEO is about what your audience wants. If your prospect, at any time during research into products, ever has a question, chances are there is some type of content you could create to help them find you.

    It’s all about how people buy–not which channels you prefer to sell in (social is cheap! Let’s sell there rather than paying 10k to advertise in the trade journal every singe one of our prospects read).

  • Carbonman1950

    Of the 35 possible meanings of “SEO” which do you mean?
    Come on folks SAY what you mean at least once during a post.
    Or is it your intention to exclude people from understanding what you mean?

    • Hmm – I can’t think of another meaning, but fair enough – in the context of talking about search engines and optimization this article is clearly all about Science and Education Outreach.

      • Carbonman1950

        Thanks for the answer. I was thinking it might mean Search Engine Optimization, but Seasoned Equity Offering and Sponsors for Educational Opportunity are also possibilities.

  • From a local business POV, I want to say that building content based on locality is helping our clients but its the small little things that help – Claim all the Social Nodes, Setup a Blogger Account, build Citations and use SBM for a unique distribution….

  • I love your line “in depth is the new snack sized.” It’s true that longer blogs and articles are being encouraged. Unfortunately, small businesses won’t see the benefit of this. Google’s new In-Depth Articles search result section is currently only showing articles by large publishers

    • yep I’m aware of the in depth limitations, but the real point is it shows what Google values and there’s proof that the longer, deeper format performs better in terms of links and shares.

  • I like how you talk about link building being networking. Gray hats used to use a lot of Personal Blog Networks. Some still do. The thing I always tell people is that it takes less time to make organic connections and get real, high quality links today as it does to try and game the system through PBN’s.