How SEO Died (But You Can Live On)

You can do better than that.

In the 20 years that search engines have served humanity by allowing us to search huge volumes full of information to find exactly what we’re looking for in record time, they haven’t simply indexed a ton of information.

There are tons of strategies at work in the algorithms that build the ‘inter’ net. This set of algorithms is being controlled and tweaked on an ongoing basis — by search engines, but also by marketers and publishers.

The approach is very different though. On the one hand, search engines try their level best to serve users with the highest quality and most relevant content possible. On the other, marketers and publishers try their level best to market the content they produce.

The problem arrived when some people in the latter category began what is known as ‘optimization’ of content in a manner such that low-quality content could get passed off as high-quality content, thanks to optimization. What we saw were content farms like eHow and Associated Content flooding the internet, but this was bad because there was a lot of great stuff out there going unnoticed.

So in 2011 or so, Google implemented the Panda update, which downgraded all the sites that used shady link schemes and refined their algorithm so that it could continue driving higher quality content.

In many ways, this was a cry for help as Google called on the publishing world to reconsider their priorities. They were all reminded that this was all about improving the user experience of their website visitors — something that could only be achieved by serving them with great content — regardless of whether it served products, services or any other kind of good. Too many people were directing their efforts at studying search engine algorithms to find out shortcuts to short-term gains in traffic and user engagement. And only a few working on the creation of meaningful content.

I still cringe when I hear someone even utter those painful words: “SEO writer”. I never believed in such people — they’re not writers. They are more like little bots given small doses of human intelligence. (You would know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever tried to converse with a bot — like on MSN Messenger or something, back in the day.)

I’ve seen graphic designers work along the same guidelines. ‘50 images for $5’. Or for writers, ‘4 cents per word’. The internet had become a painful world to live in. But I’m glad that Facebook has also made tweaks along similar guidelines to try to improve the quality of content produced by brands and even individuals. The onus is now on real artists and real writers and the brands that employ them.

To create great content today, your efforts may be directed towards paying more attention to concepts as opposed to mere keywords. Nowadays, if you put in a search query as ‘a movie about space and wormholes’, there’s a great likelihood that Google shows you pages related to Interstellar, rather than links to some web pages optimized for those specific keywords. (‘5 Tell-Tale Signs You Have Worms In Your Stomach’, you dig?)

Digital reputation management for brands should also focus some of their efforts on offsite references, reviews and other social links to get better mileage. Since brand management is such an ROI-focused activity, it might appear to be a better decision to stick to the ‘best’ medium — be it search, or social. However, you need to show your brand’s authority on both types of media.

Instead of talking about terms like ‘SEO’, which is dead — we need to focus more on originality, being conversational and audience-specific, and concise. So focus on great headlines rather than poor clickbaits.Create better content. Pay your artists and writers more. No more shenanigans about your product — you need to be more honest and upfront. Tell them your phone’s battery doesn’t last that long, but it will be so great you will want to charge it immediately. Engage in guest blogging — that is still legal if done right.

The idea is fairly simple — tell good stories that keep people interested. Don’t go berserk trying to catch people’s attention — nobody likes an attention seeker. Instead, be cool. Be yourself. Be likeable, and you will be liked.

And please, forget ‘SEO’!

A marketing and communications leader who loves storytelling. He’s also a doting dad, social thinker, humanist and a persistent Londoner w/ Pakistani roots.

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