There is an inherent problem with the word “strategy” that is also often associated with the word “SEO” and it is that implied, somehow, with it are the words “secret” and “tip”. Yet, the definition of “strategy” is a plan or action designed to achieve a very specific goal and the definition of “SEO” is a plan or action designed to help a website be understood sufficiently well so that it can be found in search by those who are most likely to benefit from its content.
One of the clearest signals that came from my talk with many professionals at SMX East in NYC was that the “100% keywords not provided” in Google Analytics change is giving traditional marketers and SEO companies more than a few sleepless nights. Yet, semantic search, for all its complexity, is not rocket science. At least not at the end-user interface which is where you want your website to be.
It requires a fresh mindset and the kind of approach that takes us away from checkbox optimization techniques but the benefits are greater authority, better web visibility, more targeted traffic, increased likelihood of conversion and the prospect of better relationships with your prospects. If all that sounds like something you really could benefit from then the steps required to get you there are simple enough:
1. Forget about Content as a daily grind. Writing is unforgiving. Because it is such an intimate activity (words flow from your mind to the screen/page) your feelings tend to come through. In the past, when content was created around keywords this really did not matter. That kind of content was created for search engines first and the end-user second. You could write like you were a corporate robot using Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) parameters to keyword-stuff what you wrote without it having appear so. It felt unnatural (even when it was cleverly done) and stilted and devoid of emotion as all the effort went into the creation of what was essentially a keyword matrix that acted as search engine bait.
If that feels wrong, today, it’s because it is. In a web where your primary audience is human an opening sentence that starts with “Incremental optimization in search provides search engine optimization gains that drive SEO forward” (I have seen hundreds of opening sentences that are just like that) has the emotional content of a sliced cucumber. So focus on what your work is about: What drives you? What do you do? What would you most like your prospects to know about you? And go from there.
2. Concentrate on quality. It used to be that creating content, daily, was something that had to happen because the regularity at which a website’s content grew by and the length of the article, was a signal to search engines. But semantic search looks for quality and within that quality it looks for real answers. So concentrate on that. Create one, maybe two really good posts a week written in a way that only you could have written them, containing answers and information that only you could have given, answering questions that your prospects are most likely to have.
3. When you write show who you are. We have spent the last fifteen years thinking that content is “link bait”, “search engine bait”, PR-fodder and a convenient vehicle for keyword stuffing. It will take a radical mindshift to make us realize that it’s a calling card that really speaks for us. Zuckerberg may be one of the richest and, arguably, most influential men on the planet but he is still finding it hard to distance himself from an unguarded and youthfully indiscreet moment when he called early Facebook adopters “dumb f*cks”. The reason for that is that, that content was full of character. We feel that in those words we get to know more about him and his personality than the hundreds of PR-driven pages of content written by his publicist, since. And we remember him. If you can write content that speaks to the reader, like that and allows your character and values to shine through, you’re onto a winner.
4. Focus on your prospects. I know all businesses think they do just that. But focusing on your prospects with the intent to “sell, sell, sell now” and focusing on them in terms of ensuring that every contact they have with you is the perfect UI experience are two different things. Whether they come across you on desktop search or mobile (and 67% do so on mobile, these days) if the experience is a struggle it is definitely not a good beginning. The reason most companies do not focus on this very obvious issue is that a perfect UI experience at every point of your website is not a cash engine. It costs time to ensure and perfect and it costs money. Yet this is exactly how you show that you care for your customers. This is exactly how you show you’re the attitude and values your business has.
5. Spend time on engagement. With the pressure off the daily writing grind you should now have time to spend on engagement. If you cannot show who you are by engaging in the “conversation” taking place across the social web, no amount of schema.org or microformat semantic mark up implementation is going to give you an edge.
The real mindshift that semantic search forces upon us is that we need to behave as people first and brands second. For a business this is understandably difficult. You need to find a way to clearly identify who you are and then devise the means to accurately (and engagingly) project this across the web. Consider however that you no longer have a choice. Those businesses and brands that do not do this will be marginalized.