A guest post for Handshake 2.0 by Chris Tallman
Search engine optimization: What does it mean? Those not extremely close to the subject of SEO can get quickly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there, not to mention the ever-evolving tips, tricks, and tactics put forth by industry pioneers. Many insights can be gleaned from Google’s constant communication and innovation, but, without a doubt, one central concept will never change: content is at the center of all optimization. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “content as SEO." I’ll attempt to elaborate and enlighten on this concept, and hopefully arm you with some tactics that actually mean something.
Let’s take a minute to reflect on some happenings in Google’s world.
Last summer, in 2011, Google, Bing, and Yahoo collaboratively introduced a vocabulary for marking up data on web pages. With schema.org markup, webmasters and developers now have the ability to describe to the search engine (and in turn, to the user) just about ANY property of any item. As a high level example, a video item could be marked up such that everything from the file size to the actors are attributed as properties of that video. Pretty cool, huh? It gets much cooler.
Shortly after schema.org was introduced, Google announced support for HTML5 authorship markup in their algorithm. Essentially, this adds a new ranking and curating factor: you! In supporting the rel=author tag, Google is able to map content to its original author(s), which accomplishes two things:
- it adds a level of relevance for searchers to see content created by familiar or authoritative people, and
- it helps great, original content sources to keep the integrity of their rankings, preventing scraped or shared content from cannibalizing (outranking) the original post. A firm “to those who create content, we salute you.”
Fast forward to 2012, and the news continue to flow:
In January 2012, Google announced an update to their ranking algorithm that looks at ad content on pages, and penalizes sites deemed too “top-heavy” with ads. In other words, if too much of the top portion of a page is filled with ads, the user has to work too hard to get to the actual content of the page. The ability of the user to get quality content, and in a timely manner, is something that Google takes very seriously.
As Justin Briggs eloquently puts it, entities are “nothing new in SEO, but over the last year…moving into entities should fundamentally be changing the way most of us are thinking about SEO.”
Entity-based search refers to search based on people, places, things, and ideas. When relevant attributes or properties of a specific item are searched for (like a specific actor in a movie, for example), Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) will display relevant, related content based on what they believe the user is looking for. I won’t go too into detail, as this wasn’t necessarily a particular bit of news or an algorithm update of any sort, but it’s important to understand.
Announced at SXSW 2012, Matt Cutts discussed an algorithm update that would penalize sites that over-aggressively optimized content. The idea behind this update was to make the Google bot smarter overall, and to be able to uncover truly great content that may or may not have been touched or overly manipulated by an SEO specialist.
It’s really my firm belief that the announcement of semantic search is less of an actual update or change by Google, and more of a recap, or reiteration of what’s happened in search over the last year. We’ve seen minor updates and pushes along the way, but now (and especially now with words like “turned on” being thrown around) we’re simply getting insight into the big picture from Google themselves.
Google’s Knowledge Graph refers to their ability to answer questions typed directly into a search bar. While the subject is a deeply involved one, Amit Singhal, Google Fellow and Senior Vice President, has explained that his vision for Google’s future is one in which questions can easily be answered by Google, based on a living repository of connected and inter-related data of many different types (entities, anyone?)
The underlying principle at work behind this new concept is pretty simple: to understand the world the way humans do, to better interpret the questions searchers are asking, and to deliver precisely the content they’re looking for.
We’ve been given the tools to optimize and identify our content. We’ve been told that content is central to search countless times, and now are reminded so with the threat of over-advertising and over-optimizing penalties. We’ve been told that entities are important to search, and the better the data attached to them, the better the likelihood of the searcher finding them. Now we’ve been told that some huge update centered around semantic search is about to be unleashed. What does this all mean?
It means we’re being reminded that Google’s sole aim (and of other engines, for that matter) in search is to provide the BEST and MOST RELEVANT experience to their users. It is this concept, afterall, that brought us to Google in the first place, at the dawn of their existence. Their ability to provide the best content was clearly a step above the rest. Why would anything be different now? I don’t know about you, but if Google ceases to meet my search expectations, it’s not very difficult for me, as a user, to type a different URL into my browser.
I’ve explained how the search landscape has been evolving recently, and how content is (and always will be) the center of SEO. While this will never change, our tactics and strategies must adapt.
I’m currently in the process of putting together a more detailed how-to for some of this stuff for Modea. To document the process, I’ve started a three part post about SEO Today that discusses the same tactics in more detail. As a high level overview, here’s what you can (and should) do:
Use the author and publisher markup provided by Google to your advantage. Your original content will be attributed to you and will maintain its deserved authority. A few quick resources:
Identify and Describe
Think about the different types of content you have on your site, and how each piece would be consumed by a user differently. Use the vocabulary that Google has worked with other engines to support! This can truly help to set your content apart from content that may be un-attached or "orphaned." Visit schema.org for information and a few examples. The examples there are very high level and basic, so feel free to ask me if you have any questions!
If the news is not already proof enough that we should be implementing this stuff, Google has even provided a way to check your work in Webmaster Tools. The Rich Snippets Testing Tool can also show you what your SERP result would look like if implemented.
There’s enough to talk about here to fill several more blog posts, and it’s fascinating stuff. Rich snippets refer to your content’s listing appearance in a SERP. If you’ve conducted a search on Google, you’ve interacted with a rich snippet before, whether you knew it or not. A few examples (notice how they’re each displayed with different information and with a different layout – it helps a searcher to easily identify what type of content it is).
As I’ve explained, there are many means available to identify and describe different types of content, and each of these types of content is also displayed and presented differently to searchers. Depending on the nature of the search, users can easily recognize the type of content and whether it’s relevant to their search, and if your content is appropriately presented, it’s likely to get far more clicks!
There are countless case studies and tests run on rich snippets and their effect on click-through rates. I address this in a forthcoming part 2 of my SEO Today post in more detail.
It’s easy to get swept away by the sheer amount of information out there about the state of search, new SEO developments, new tactics, etc. The key to success in SEO is and always will be to focus on great content, and optimizing that content based on your goals and what your users want.
Thanks so much for reading. As this is a constantly evolving subject, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. Find me on Twitter ( @tollhous3), or visit my website (for which I apologize for now – it’s an SEO testing ground currently and I have not replaced the content!). I’m in the midst of implementing everything I’ve written above, whether professionally or on my own site, so I hope I’ve provided you with some new, useful information.
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