In the past six months or so, since the official announcement of Google’s Hummingbird release, inbound marketers on every continent have been scratching their heads wondering what to do next. Should we scrap our websites and blogs and start over, or are we on the right track to improving our organic search visibility? Many of us have no idea.
I thought I might shed some light on that question with some perspectives of my own, being an inbound marketer and an avid student of the New SEO strategies.
What is the New SEO?
I guess I should define this buzzword, since it’s an open question, even among the real SEO experts. The New SEO (circa 2014) is a different approach to search engine visibility based on your customers, not keywords and volumes of searches. With Hummingbird and recent redesigns of the Google search engine results pages, Google is trying hard to make the search experience more productive and interesting than it has ever been.
In a nutshell, Google wants to help your customers find the most helpful, interesting content that is not only relevant to their searches, but matches their intent during the search. I like to follow the ideas of Rand Fishkin and his think tank at Moz for guidance on this subject. I can’t say it any better than Rand, so here’s a great Whiteboard Friday:
My takeaways for inbound marketers from Rand’s excellent discussion include:
#1 – The Role of Keywords Has Changed
Now we should be thinking about topics (Rand Fishkin calls them “themes”) that are likely to interest our customers and prospects and lead them to visit, subscribe, convert and share our content. Topics for Kuno Creative might be “Content Marketing Services” or “Demand Generation Services,” since we sell those services and publish content about them frequently, but they could also include more action-oriented terms like “Get More Leads” or “Get More Sales.” Our customers often find us by searching on those terms and include them in their questions and comments. Within those general topics are natural phrases searchers are likely to use when they seek answers, like “how to generate more qualified sales leads” or “how to create content that converts.”
We might create a page that generally addresses “Get More Leads,” then spin off sub-pages, blog posts (with internal links) and inbound marketing campaigns (blogs, social updates, email, ads etc.) that address related sub-topics. There are many ways to find those related sub-topics, and this post by Cyrus Shepard is a great resource.
The point is each page or post needs to be a valuable resource on its own (i.e., not a brochure), but they work together to establish our site as a good place to go for answers on the general topic. We might have several of these larger topics, but it’s probably best to limit them to a handful, so Google understands our site is about the master topic that relates to all of them, in our case “Inbound Marketing.”
Notice how different this is from the Old SEO, where we would work backward from popular, high-traffic keywords and optimize all of our pages to try to rank on a few select ones, regardless of the actual content on the page. Now we are trying to anticipate what our customers want and create SEO-friendly content on topics that interest them. Hummingbird takes care of the fact that long-tail and natural phrases are related to each other, and doesn’t penalize us for using a diversity of expressions in each piece of content.
#2 – How to Redesign/Rebuild a Website, the New Way
We still want to do our keyword research, not only using the great SEO tools out there but also by investigating our own data. By analyzing visits, shares and conversions on our website pages and blogs, we can begin to see which topics and phrases resonate with buyers. We also should be interviewing our customers and asking them how they found us. We should also be able to track down their website touches, specifically organic searches to understand what content appealed most to them.
By using the SEO tools, we can expand our thinking to include related phrases we might not have thought of and include those in our editorial calendar. This exercise might lead us to rethink the entire website content architecture and sitemap. By organizing all of our content in SEO-friendly topics, we can actually kill two birds with one stone: We can merge our website sitemap and editorial calendar into one entity that’s useful for content planning as well as search strategy.
Yes, reorganizing your content and on-page strategy may take some time and effort, but consider how well you are doing now, especially with Hummingbird looking over your shoulder! You may not be moving backward, by removing the penalty risks imposed by Panda and Penguin, but are you moving forward and taking advantage of the new SEO opportunities offered by Hummingbird?
Here are some positive steps you can take right now:
- Update and combine your website sitemap and editorial calendar to reflect the new topic-driven architecture
- Create website pages, subpages, blog posts and other content to support topics using natural search phrases
- Optimize pages and blogs using keywords and natural search phrases that are the focus of each page
- Make each page or blog post outstanding, as if it’s a one-page website
- Tie your pages and blog posts together in theme, links, tone and value, with attention to customer needs
#3 – Rethink Your Inbound Marketing Metrics
I don’t know about you, but organic search accounts for a significant proportion of our website traffic, lead conversions and customer conversions, so it’s definitely important! What’s important to us is the quality of that inbound traffic and how well it converts into leads and customers. How important is keyword rank? Well, if you think about the New SEO, keyword rank isn’t so important anymore. We’re optimizing on themes and ideas now. Here’s a great Moz summary on how to rethink SEO ranking. Yes, it’s still worth a look (in Google Webmaster tools and elsewhere) to see how qualified leads find us, but what really matters are the landing pages and blog posts that attract them. How well are they doing?
How important is traffic from SEO as a whole? Well, it’s not unimportant, because it helps us to understand, from month-to-month, how our content strategy is performing compared to other channels, such as social media and demand generation campaigns. But a more important metric would be lead conversions, and even better, customer conversions from organic search. We should be studying those pages, blogs, topics and natural search phrases and saying, “Hmmm, that one is driving in all kinds of qualified leads. Let’s do another post on that next week…”
Where Does the New SEO Leave You?
Yes, I know, this is disconcerting to most of us. What it means is that we’re still heading down Highway 101 and we missed the turn to I-5. The good news is, we’re only a couple of miles past the turn right now. The bad news is, we’re now in a traffic jam on 101.
I think the winners in 2014 are going to be the agile companies that make a quick move to the new SEO before it’s too late.
Video credit: Moz.com and Rand Fishkin, Image Credit: Google
John – great article. good to see cooler heads prevailing after the SEO panic of a couple months ago.
Thanks Ed. SEO has always gotten its share of myths and urban legends. Stay tuned as Google finds new ways to amaze and mystify!