Three years ago, Mike Grehan wrote a great, short piece for Clickz entitled, “Does textbook SEO still work anymore?” where he ponders the validity of some of the traditional SEO tactics then employed. His observations at the time were that inbound links and quality content were still the important factor in a site ranking well, which is almost a cliche today.
Today, of course, web sites themselves have changed dramatically, owing to the way users access web sites. Blogs, for one, are now commonplace. I’ve noticed how much easier it is for a site to achieve rankings for a keyword if there is a blog present, with occasional posts that use that phrase. For example, for my previous employer I created a post targeting, “phoenix business blogs,” and built links to that post with that phrase as the anchor text. By the following afternoon, we were on the first page of results for the phrase. Three hours after that, we were in first place.
I had never had that kind of luck with simply a content page before then – which at the time we thought was the best way to “own” a keyword phrase. Today I see many of the posts I wrote targeting keywords still get my old blog high rankings, while the content pages I worked on are nowhere to be seen. This is because Google understands that blog content is “fresh.” Since they are in the business of providing their users with quality content, they know the quality is more likely to be found in something that’s updated often, not a static page that has been on the server for two or three years without any updates.
Also blog posts tend to get more inbound links than content pages. Again, this goes back to how people use the Internet. People – not link farms, but people – will share a post if it is of interest, and/or backs up what they are writing about themselves. A content page, on the other hand, is a naked attempt to get a search ranking, and usually doesn’t have anything to it but a sales pitch. These are the pages that have the bad reputation of repeating a phrase ad nauseum:
“When you’re looking for [search phrase], you want a [search phrase] that’s more [search phrase] than your competitor’s [search phrase]s. Don’t fall for [search phrase] promises about how [search phrase]s from them are better than our [search phrase]. Come see what makes our [search phrase]s the best!”
Lame, right? Google thinks so too. That’s why when they go looking for sites to rank well for a phrase, they go off of less off the repetition of the phrase and more off of inbound links. The presumption being that if someone really thinks your page is all about [search phrase], other people will think so and “vote” for it.
Even that feels a little dated these days, however. With the advent of social media, there are more and more people talking about companies and sharing pages, but they aren’t doing it as much by creating links on websites. Instead, they are on Twitter or Facebook, and sharing links without anchors – in fact, they are more likely to use link shorteners like BudURL or is.gd. What’s more, most social media sites are “nofollow” links, meaning Google (supposedly) isn’t using them to determine page rankings.
Personally, I don’t think Google would ignore this source of information when determining rankings, specifically because now there are so many more places people can cast that vote for a site. If Google is using this data to determine rankings, of course, they’re going to be tight-lipped about it. They aren’t known for showing their hand like that.
So search is still all about quality content, that is fresh, and inbound links to it from other websites with anchor text. Maybe. As Google rolls out “Caffeine” I expect they will take more of this new user activity into account. Looking at the differences in results, the pages that do come up have more results from pages with their own social media presences. If so, having a strong social media campaign will become a lot more important than including meta titles and tags, or repetition of a phrase in content. More important than it already is, certainly.