During the past year and a half, Google has undergone a significant transformation to its search algorithm through its Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird updates. The primary focus has been to reduce or completely eliminate the influence of low-quality websites and “SEO’d” content. Most recently, guest blogging has been called out by Matt Cutts, who leads the Webspam team at Google.
Not surprisingly, many websites saw their organic rankings drop, leaving site owners wondering what to do next. Adding further insult to injury, Google’s switch to protect the privacy of search activity has stripped site owners of the ability to see which keywords drive traffic to their sites through standard analytics tools like Google Analytics. This has further complicated the standard SEO optimization process.
For websites to succeed in 2014, there are three fundamentals to consider:
1. Provide useful, unique and relevant content built for a human audience and structured to enable indexing by the search engines. This is the very type of content that PR pros have been producing for their clients for decades, but tailored to the way audiences consume information on the Web.
2. Demonstrate authority. Content by itself isn’t enough. To prove worthy of a top 10 ranking, the company, individual or brand must prove itself to be at the top of their industry or field. Search engines have become sophisticated enough to look beyond the keyword to assess, compare and rank the relative brand value of a property as compared to other similar properties as they relate in search.
3. Cultivate reputation. Likes, retweets, positive sentiment in the form of favorable comments and customer reviews will become more important. Customer service will become more important to establishing top rankings.
But in our zeal to create outstanding content, we can’t forget to promote it.
Here are a few areas to pay attention to:
1. Blogging. The ability to publish content relatively quickly and cost-effectively remains a challenge. Blogs remain a primary method for delivering content on a frequent schedule.
2. Social signals. Search engines are exploring how social signals indicate a brand’s relative reputation. Customer satisfaction’s influence on sales acquisition will grow even more as a brand’s ability to rank organically is directly tied to positive sentiment.
3. Google+. Google+ is directly integrated into the search algorithm and Google continues to find ways to further connect the two. As many companies have dismissed Google+, a relatively untapped opportunity is waiting in the form of Google+ activity, engagement, Circle following and ratings.
So, how do I measure the impact?
Keyword activity no longer appears in standard Web analytics and trying to evaluate social media’s influence on organic ranking is complex.
Driving quality traffic to the client’s website is the reason for building search ranking and there is where the focus should be. Here are some specific suggestions:
1. Install Google Webmaster Tools on the client’s site. The tool provides the keyword data that is no longer provided in analytics tools. Additionally, you will see when Google crawls the site.
2. Review Analytics. Tools like Google Analytics still report the amount of total organic search traffic visiting your site or blog. Segment the traffic to compare the engagement level of your search traffic. How much time are they spending on the site? Are they visiting other pages?
3. Don’t forget traditional measurement. Because building thought leadership matters, are your clients or senior leaders being asked to speak at conferences? To contribute articles? For republishing rights?
As search engines continue to grow more sophisticated, they will rely less on the tricks and technical manipulation performed by yesterday’s SEO specialists.
Organic ranking will reflect the same valuation that humans use to compare and rate brand quality and reputation.
Mike Samec is director of digital strategy at Gibbs & Soell Business Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the March 31, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.