By Rafael Cantó
Since the 1990s when Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) was born, many webmasters have tried to abuse optimisation techniques to get high rankings – at any cost. SEO became not about optimising a site to make it more search engine friendly, but instead, the goal was to find sneaky ways to get higher rankings. This resulted in lower quality search results and led to SEO developing a damaged reputation that still persists today.
Obviously, something went wrong. A discipline that was born to help improve search engines was now being used to take advantage of their algorithm flaws, producing search results that Google’s robot considered to be optimal. Google needed to bang its fist on the table and make it clear that their algorithm wasn’t there to be tricked with shortcuts and workarounds, but to be understood and followed with one goal in mind – to improve the visitor’s search experience.
Algorithm game changers
In 2010, the SEO industry started to feel the impact of Google’s response. A series of algorithm updates turned things inside out and left those who had been gaming the rules in clear offside. Here’s a quick (and simplified) chronology of the main events I believe shaped today’s SEO:
May 2010: Mayday
This change in Google’s algorithm had a noticeable impact in the long-tail. Sites with large-scale thin content seemed to be hit especially hard, forewarning the Panda update.
February 2011: Panda
A major algorithm update hits sites harder than ever, affecting up to 12% of search. Google’s main focus was to reward sites with quality content over those who are just well optimised for SEO, and penalising sites with thin or duplicate content.
April 2012: Penguin
Update aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using shady SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing or link buying.
September 2012: Exact-Match Domain (EMD) Update
Owning an exact match domain used to be a powerful loophole to advance search engine rankings for the keywords contained in the domain name, producing search results topped by sites as horrible as http://www.2-bedroom-apartments-in-london.co.uk. This update was Google’s attempt to close that loophole.
There have been many more algorithm updates, but these are arguably the ones that have drastically changed the SEO scene. This has left those incapable of assimilating such a big shift in such a short time absolutely out of place. They worry about meta keyword tags and exact match URLs, instead of taking care of the quality of their content and the search experience of their visitors. Here is a friendly tip for all those anchored to 2008’s SEO techniques: stop thinking about search engine optimisation. It’s time for search experience optimisation.
What is search experience optimisation?
I know what you are thinking: “Here we go again… Another attempt to come up with a fancy new name because they got bored of the old one”. However, search experience optimisation is not new and I am not endorsing it as part of a branding ploy. I just really think that the original meaning of SEO doesn’t make sense anymore. This is because it suggests that we optimise solely for search engines. As Ben Potter from Econsultancy says, “search engines don’t buy products, people do.”
The debate around the need to rebrand SEO has been going on for quite some time already. And there are good reasons for it. Namely the bad reputation it has outside of the industry by those who associate it with spammy link-building techniques. It also has an inability to communicate all areas touched by the discipline and it possesses a lack of focus on people.
Search experience optimisation however, tries to improve the customer experience of users that are searching for something that you provide, in a way that attracts them to your brand or simply to your website. Search experience optimisation is all about:
– Creating good content that your visitors like
– Being relevant and easy to find
– Looking into your analytics to find that people don’t respond well when they land on your page, and doing something about it
– Having rich snippets that make it easier to choose which page they click on
And so on. You get the message.
What search experience optimisation is not, are all those things that might circumstantially improve your rankings, but not the visitor’s search experience. These include buying links, building them in irrelevant sites or creating keyword stuffed unreadable pages with no content value. In essence, search experience optimisation is anything that helps make people happy when they are searching. The underlying principle of this discipline should be that searching should be a pleasant, enjoyable experience.
By changing the meaning of SEO and sticking to the underlying principle of this new meaning, you can align your to those of users and, ultimately, the interests of search engines. All signs indicate that Google and other search engines are trying to reward this behaviour and will continue to do so in the future. In the future, these search engines will be even more sophisticated than today in recognising and rewarding those who make search a better place.
About the author
Rafael Cantó is SEO Specialist at SDL.