Here’s the question: How much does Google control your career?
If you work in the digital marketing/SEO space, you already know that your success is inextricably tied to your site’s search engine ranking. It’s crucial to optimize your site so that it ranks on the first page of the search engine results for your desired keywords. Otherwise, if potential customers can’t see your content because it’s buried on page eight of the results, you’ll lose the SEO game.
Digital marketing was a lot easier in the early 2000s, when keyword stuffing and invisible text equalled page one status.
But Google’s algorithm updates, starting in April 2012, immediately halted so-called black hat SEO tactics. These updates, known affectionately as Penguin, signified an evolution in search engine intelligence. Google was able to identify and demote websites that employed unethical SEO strategies. And with each update, Google becomes more human, or at the very least, more intuitive on how its users think and what they want to see.
And that leads back to you, dear digital marketer, how do you succeed at your job when Google’s your boss?
We reached out to four top executives who work in the digital space in the Australian tech ecosystem, to share their insights on SEO and how to navigate Google algorithm updates without feeling insecure. Here’s what we learned:
Create an Integrated SEO Strategy
SEO shouldn’t just be on a checklist that you go over before publishing your content.
Rosemary Merz, Vice President and Managing Consultant for Text100 shares her insight, “There are no shortcuts. A successful SEO strategy all boils down to following best practices, such as day-to-day monitoring, and constant optimisation. It should be integrated into your digital marketing strategy from the onset and not as an afterthought.”
For Merz, such a strategy begins with understanding the customer’s journey. She recommends that you focus on the psychology behind search engine queries. Merz suggests that you ask the following questions about your customers: “What is their content ecosystem and how does it impact the way they search for things online?”
From an SEO standpoint, why is it important to ask these two questions in particular? It’s simple: the more you know about your audience, the better equipped you are to create relevant, valuable content that interests them.
Merz continues, “With such an over saturated environment, the pieces that stand out use audience insights to increase visibility. This content boosts the impact of your keywords and attracts links from relevant websites, reducing the time, costs and energy that go into link building strategies. Which, at the end of the day, is a critical component of SEO.”
It’s also important that you think of Google’s number one goal. Steven Noronha, SEO Manager at CarSales.com.au, explains, “Since day 1, Google has always been looking to iterate on its core business which is providing the most relevant results to a user’s query.”
What does this mean for you as a digital marketer? Remember that Google isn’t in business with you. Google’s customer is your customer– the search engine user who will hopefully land on your website and develop a relationship with your brand. If that user finds you through search and is happy with the results, Google builds trust with that user, and by extension, you build trust with Google. It’s a partnership.
And, by the way, don’t try to trick Google with outdated black hat SEO. “I am an advocate for white hat SEO, anything that could be deemed as “gaming the system” should be avoided at all costs,” recommends Karen Lewis, Head of Digital at Employsure.
How to Keep Up With New Updates
Up until September 2016, Google would announce its latest algorithm update. Each update was met with a mix of breathless anticipation and overwhelming dread. But those days are gone. Now, Google updates in real-time and Penguin is part of Google’s core algorithm. That means that rankings are subject to change in real-time as each website is evaluated.
The good news is you won’t have to wait for the next update to know if Google has penalized your website. You can check for penalties right away and then make the necessary corrections quickly.
Also, make it a point to stay educated about Google’s updates. Rosemary Merz from Text100 shares her favorite resources, “Websites such as www.searchengineland.com, www.searchenginejournal.com, and www.moz.com/blog are terrific references for staying on the pulse of what’s happening in the search engine universe, and should keep you well-informed of any major changes to anticipate.”
Christina Staub, Search Marketing Manager at OFX, takes a different approach, “For quick and easy access to changes in the industry, I have set up the most relevant blogs as newsletters or in RSS feeds, however, I personally think the key is to build a strong network as you progress your career as only the network will allow you immediate evaluation of upcoming changes without having to dive too deep into the topic yourself.”
For Steven Noronha of CarSales.com.au, it’s essential to stay plugged into as many resources as possible. “There are many sources which I use to keep me updated with the latest changes across search. I feel that with all the progressions with Search, if you aren’t keeping an ear to the ground on the latest updates then you will be left behind.” He shares some of his favorite methods for staying updated:
- Blogs and well known industry credible websites: Moz, Search engine land/Marketing land, SEO round table
- Changes to the Algorithm (or suspected changes): Accuranker, MOZcast, SERP metrics
- Specific SEO issues/updates: “In the past I’ve reached our directly to people like John Mueller who, on many occasions, has clarified changes or provided a response to questions I’ve asked.”
- Professional Groups: “Having been in the industry for a while now, I have closed forums with past colleagues and friends within the industry with whom we often discuss new events or changes which could impact our day-to-day.”
Knowing What to Implement
Knowing that Google updates (and penalizes) in real-time, what changes might you need to implement right away? And furthermore, is it necessary to track changes? Is there a possibility of doing too much and sabotaging your SEO efforts?
Merz recommends that you keep calm and carry on. “After the Penguin rollout, Google started implementing unnamed (and unannounced) major updates, much to the chagrin of some SEO professionals.
“Marketers with a roll-up-your-sleeves attitude to SEO, have no fear. These updates won’t hurt your page ranking.”
But what should you focus on? Lewis shares what works for Employsure, “Our campaigns around link partnerships and link building always look at three main metrics: (a) the domain authority of the site we are thinking of requesting a link from, (b) the subject matter of the website in general and (c) assuring it aligns to our industry category or brand value, and the website’s own back link profile, ensuring they are not at risk of being banned themselves.
“We want to grow our back link profile authentically and would rather have this happen over a longer period of time, than looking for ‘quick wins’ that could hurt us in the future.”
Although Google controls the ranking, you control the content. Learning from the insights shared by digital marketing experts, remember that both you and Google are on the same team. You both want to provide the best content possible. By focusing on quality, relevant content and not trying to game the system with outdated black hat SEO tactics, you can secure a higher ranking. Remember that slow and steady wins the race.