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Future of SEO

Taking into consideration all of the points covered in the Get Ahead Online series this year, Laurence Knopf looks at what the future may have in store for SEO and how you ensure your website stays ahead of the competition

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A clear competitive advantage

Over the past twelve months, we have outlined some of the basic steps you need to take to help you improve your search engine marketing—in particular, your search engines rankings through search engine optimisation (SEO). But in an ever-changing environment, with tough competition, is all of that going make a significant difference? Can you actually afford to do it on an on-going basis and will these tactics continue to be the ones that will highlight your site to the search engines?

Well, in many ways the future is unsure; the search engines—Google in particular—have made particular efforts over the last year to dampen the effect of ‘deliberate’ SEO. With algorithm updates like ‘Panda’, which is focused on content, and link-focused ‘Penguin’, lots of sites are starting to lose the battle.

One thing is for sure, the writing is on the wall for ‘deliberate’, ‘artificial’, and ‘separate’ SEO.  It is no longer going to work to ‘add’ SEO into your strategy and hope that it does the job. Even if you have the products and services, commitment to customer service, great prices, a well laid out site with high quality copy enhanced by relevant high definition graphics, and you have decent links pointing to your site; you are going to find it hard to compete if everyone else in the marketplace has the same and you are not doing anything really different.

Before you begin to think about SEO, take a step back and look at how you could make it your site ‘better’ for users

Google’s primary objective is to serve a list of webpages that fit closely to what a user wants from their search. Google’s approach is user-focused and that is where the SEO effort needs to go in the future. Before you begin to think about SEO, take a step back and look at how you could make it your site ‘better’ for users. In the post-Panda, post-Penguin era, innovative thinking at the website design, functionality and content level will make a bigger long-term difference to your rankings than any ‘bolt on’ SEO. It is more of a creative thinking task than an SEO one, but the aim is a search engine optimisation outcome coupled with amazing user experience.  A ‘double whammy’ virtuous circle: great user experience—creates user satisfaction—creates a buzz in the marketplace—creates outside interest—creates inbound links—creates user reviews—raises the profile of the business—improves rankings—delivers more visitors—creates more users having a great user experience. It is not new, it is just great marketing, which is exactly what SEO should be.

Gaining the edge

It is no longer enough to employ formulaic strategies such as ‘keyword placement’, ‘back link volume’ or any other such singular approaches. Search algorithms now process a wide range of information giving preferential placement to ‘high value’ sites. And this means looking at what your website is actually offering to your users. Finding the way to stand out requires creative thinking far beyond ‘regular’ on-site and off-site optimisation techniques. You do need to pay attention to the standard elements of web design, but beyond this the site must offer an additional layer as a genuinely user-centered, novel online environment.

Adding features such as product pictures and
video demonstrations can make your site more
appealing, therefore increasing the amount of
traffic it receives
Think beyond ‘standard static’ content; what can visitors do when they visit your site? If the answer is simply read about your products, your optimisation task could need more resources and time. After all, this is usually exactly what your competitors are also offering. Your goal instead is to offer users a far superior experience by simply using your site, let alone using your products or services.

For example, a few years ago holiday firm The Adventure Company was the first business to integrate Google Earth into its mapping solution to show users where they would be going on their holiday. This gained the company hundreds of links from different sources; it helped them compete with much bigger players in the holiday marketplace because it gave them an edge, and it put them on page 1—for a while—for the term ‘Google Earth’. The combination, and accompanying traffic, propelled them up the rankings at the time for keywords with a truly tremendous search volume.
A good starting point is to ask yourself what would be truly useful for you if you were visiting your site. Regardless of the impact on your SEO, what kind of user or customer ‘problems’ could your website solve? Could you offer an interactive feature that guided users through the process? How could someone test drive your products? What demonstrates the product better; a description and photo, or an edited video demo with real customers? Can you clearly show the difference between your products? Is there an existing online app that you could feature to logically enhance your content? When you visit sites in your sector, what would you like to be able to do there that you currently cannot? What would save you time, present you with better information, and give you more of a feel for what you are looking at?

Customers or clients actively search for products and services not only from their home or desk, but on the move, in real time, in almost any location. How does your site work with mobile devices? How could it adapt to cater for that more localised browsing experience?

Centre of a business

Companies can no longer simply add SEO
into a strategy and hope that is does the
job; you too have to ensure you are doing
something different
Whether you have come to the realisation yet or not, your business website is going to increasingly function as a primary channel for gaining new business. Your website can bring you more customers, more clients and more contacts—if it can be seen.

To make this happen in search engines in the future, you need to put this thinking at the centre of your business, then you will have a head start when trying to use the other optimisation techniques required to rank in the search engines.

If there is a toss-up between spending the budget on a website that is like all the competition and then some SEO, or a fantastic market leading website—make a fantastic website. If you get it right, you will have done a lot of the SEO work already.

Investing in exceptional website design, functionality, content and usability allows you to gain a clear competitive advantage both with the user and the search engines. It may be time to rethink your approach, focusing on the site as a crucial force to attract and retain visitors, rather than hoping your SEO campaigns will ‘drive traffic’ alone.

Ultimately, giving users a superb online experience ensures that you are always ahead of the game as each new algorithm change rolls out. 

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