How SEO has evolved to favour quality content

Kath Dawson discusses the development of SEO and what businesses need to do to increase traffic on their website.

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, started to become big business in the late 90s as website owners began to realise the considerable significance of good visibility within search results. The early 90s .com boom had resulted in an explosion of commercial websites, and it was clear that an online presence was more than simply a ‘nice to have’ but a competitive marketing and operational asset for profitable organisations.

Understanding that attracting visitors (and potential customers) to a website entailed far more than effective design and functionality but instead understanding the journey they would take to get there, SEO became a vital component of the online world. Capitalising on this, a multitude of firms offering SEO services and all manner of promises along with those services sprang up.

SEO professionals studied the inherent processes of search engines and through their understanding of how these processes indexed the content of web pages were able to advise businesses how best to optimise their site for search. In the early days of SEO this was relatively simple and undertaking white hat and black hat indexing (both ‘above board’ and less ethical methods) to strategically place links and keywords for improved ranking would help ensure websites increased their traffic through search.

The times are changing

As the SEO industry thrived, the focus slowly but surely shifted onto the methods it was using to achieve success. The proliferation of ethically dubious techniques, both on page and off page, included: hidden keyword text on the site, meta keyword stuffing in the site’s meta description, meta keyword misuse, gateway pages highly optimised with keywords which instantly redirect users to the main site and link farming on pages created solely to host links.

The lack of integrity and fairness surrounding these techniques resulted in algorithm updates from major search engines to prevent their use and to drive up the quality of online content, most recent examples being Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.

There is no doubt that algorithms such as these brought about a sea change in the SEO industry, and certainly a change for the better. This change has resulted in a reduction in the number of companies working in the sector, wheedling out some of the most fly-by-night operators and transforming the techniques used to achieve significant levels of traffic for clients.

The long and short of the regular algorithm updates from Google is that they sweep the net for spammy links, poor quality content and relevancy of site to user – Google’s Hummingbird algorithm notably has paved the way for further improving search results, taking into account the evolution of conversational search terms and voice search. Sites that thrive in the race to the top of the rankings have quality, original, well regarded and formatted content which matches the interests of varying audience personas well.

Quality not quantity

In the spirit of marketing and PR activity the industry shift towards digital content marketing rather than formulaic SEO techniques presents a real opportunity for businesses. While the initial impact on many business’s websites may have meant a loss of traffic from search returns, the chance to engage more effectively with customers and clients has the potential for a significant improvement in all aspects of their operation.

Today’s search engines value quality content which answers all the questions a user could possibly think to ask about a product or service without them having to ask. A website must provide valuable and useful information, for example: downloadable product information, topical information about the industry or sector the business operates in, and frequent opinion-based blog posts which discuss relevant issues and provide answers to common customer queries whilst remaining interesting. Content like infographics, online tools, digital apps, guides and whitepapers all contribute to what is termed ‘quality’ content, which Google likes, and will help improve search rankings for the site. Understanding and communicating with audiences effectively entails splitting them into target customer profiles or personas, whose interests and preferences have been established and are considered in the content produced.

Furthermore, this quality content provides another dimension as if it is highly sharable via social media – including Google+ which this year looks set to become a key influencing factor in search rankings. Optimising content by sharing it not only provides an opportunity to increase the number of people who see it, but also for a dialogue with those people as they interact with the content through comments and feedback.

Over the years, traditional SEO has slowly but surely transformed from link-building and keyword placement to a discipline which has converged with public relations and marketing, as digital content marketing – a discipline which focusses on target audience, communication and messaging. In this increasingly interconnected, multiplatform world, business skills are also becoming interconnected to help ensure they keep up with the way people consume and find information. 

In this new era, there are plentiful opportunities for those who approach their online presence with the same thoroughness they apply to other aspects of their business.

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