Searchmetrics has released their annual, in-depth study of the Google algorithm ranking factors. It’s an important read, and an important study, but like all “research” one has to really analyze it, and ask whether its conclusions fit your own individual situation. There are several conceptual problems in this type of study –
- Correlation is NOT causality. The study mentions this explicitly, and it is very important. Many top sites have lots of Google +1s and Facebook likes, but that may just mean that popular pages have lots of popularity both on Google and in social media. The popular rich kids in High School all drive Mercedes, but driving a Mercedes will not necesarily make you popular!
- The big brands are overrepresented. This is the plague of the entire blogosphere, of AdWords, of the Media, and of the Universe. Everyone focuses on the stories of big brands like Home Depot, Target, or Amazon, but most of us live in the ecosystem of small brands. What is true for Target and Home Depot may NOT be true for you.
- Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose. Reading behind the thicket of information, much of the basic principles stay the same: good, quality but keyword dense content, well-structured internal links, inbound links, etc. None of this has really changed since day one; what seems to be changing is that it is harder and harder to game the system through technical SEO.
Implications for Small Businesses
Small businesses do not live in the environment of the big brands. They don’t have the money to build 6000 links, and their search terms are generally of the “high value” but “low volume” variety. This is NOT the focus of the study! In these markets, just a few links will usually get you to win, and just some basic principles of SEO such as strong keyword-heavy content and the proper use of tags will win.
What’s most interesting is the trend towards good content and the trend away from technical SEO. As our own classes teach, SEO is a game based on marketing principles first and technical principles second. So having a strong blog, writing good content, using press releases… all of these factor into content strategy. Content is not king: well-structured content with a few good backlinks is king. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
To succeed at SEO –
- Identify winnable, high value keywords (usually transactional keywords over educational keywords).
- Write strong keyword-heavy content (landing pages, blog posts, product pages).
- Use tag structure properly: keyword-heavy Title tags, Meta Descriptions, Headers, Img ALT’s, and the very important A HREF.
- Link sculpt from the home page down to landing pages, and in site navigation. Use internal links judiciously!
- Get links: especially high quality links from “real” websites over low quality directory links, and God Forbid: low quality blog networks, based outside of the USA.
- Get reviews on Google+ (if you’re local).
- Blog: blogging helps freshness, and natural content.
- Press release / publicity SEO – get NEW links, NEW content. Gasp! No Follow links seem to help.