We've seen tremendous changes over the past six months in search engine optimization (SEO). We've seen Google roll out the May Day algorithm change to target thin content sites; we've seen Google deploy their new crawling and indexation infrastructure, Caffeine. These changes were likely set up for the biggest announcement of all, their implementation of Google Instant. And the SEO world went wild.
Actually leave it to a non-SEOs who famously enjoy riling up the search world with all kinds of dire pronouncements like "SEO is dead" and "SEO is irrelevant"; luckily we have set the record straight on that.
Google Changing Things Up
What impact Google Instant finally haves on SEO remains to be seen. Search behavior will likely change. Long tail traffic from our analysis of more than 25 clients has shown above average traffic numbers after Instant rolled out, so for us it's about doing the same things we've always done: focus on advanced SEO that takes the user into account, as well as the search engines.
Conductor recently released a study that analyzed 10 domains with similar findings.
Google Instant is already pushing sites to focus more carefully on keyword research and a well-implemented keyword and content strategy, with smart emphasis on on-page SEO elements supporting relevance.
Caffeine and Site Performance
What's even more interesting to us at the enterprise level is the impact of Caffeine on SEO. Closely joined with this new crawl and indexation engine, which allows Google to crawl and index content nearly in real-time (rather than queue crawled documents into the indexation engine, where they would have to wait to be indexed). With large, complex sites, site performance has never been more important, both due to the performance needs of Caffeine and the rather blatant attempts by Google search quality teams to push for sites to speed up.
Duplicate content is still huge for SEO. Faceted navigation and pagination are especially difficult problems, but so is publishing and syndication. Caffeine and site performance, not to mention May Day and, yes even Google Instant, all make duplicate content issues even more pronounced. Here are a few reasons why:
- Site performance and Caffeine from the perspective of the crawl (speeding up your site means getting rid of duplicate versions of pages that should never be crawled).
- May Day also hits this area, and sites we've seen that have completely unique content and authority -- that aren't even necessarily SEO plays -- have felt the sting of May Day on their sites from nothing else than duplicate content. Whether this is May Day, Caffeine, or something else can never really be known, but the big swath of changes Google recently rolled out are likely heavily influencing factors.
- Google Instant will surely impact the importance of duplicate content. Pagination and facted navigation can be a real culprit here. Consider having a really nice piece of content buried in a number of refinements, the result of what really is a complicated boolean search done via interface. That piece of content will never be uncovered by a search engine without SEO.
- Pagination is a huge problem for search engines. The oft-recommended solution, which we advocate in some instances, is to provide a default view with all of the products/articles/items on a page, with the paginated versions using the rel=canonical tag to "roll up" to that version. Which is fine, but does not take into account more advanced and/or complex scenarios, such as having many hundreds or even thousands of products/articles/items to page through. In these cases, making the paginated versions unique is probably the better solution, but can be cumbersome.
Advanced issues such as faceted navigation and search results pages are difficult, and best approached on a case by case basis. But this is really where the men are separated from the boys, as it were, in SEO on large sites at scale. The way these scenarios are addressed can make a big difference.
I'm still surprised at the lack of vision and big ideas out there coming from SEO. How keyword relationships are understood, the performance of a site, the link relationships and contextual relevance of documents, building exceptional content and resources -- these are special areas to focus on.
There is still so much low-hanging fruit out there, especially at the enterprise level, that "the next level" of SEO gets small attention. The masses focus on anchor text and manipulating rankings through links, rather than on the bigger picture: creating influence and contributions that create momentum, traffic, attention, and, well, links.
That's more about good marketing than it is SEO. But here's where the two are married so closely: without good technical SEO, a site can get attention, traffic, and links, and have many problems with canonicalization, with the crawling experience, and with indexation.
Without strong on-page factors, all the work won't pay off in rankings in the SERPs (or in "the Instant," as the case may be with Google). Without SEO, online marketing is crippled, because SEO truly flows through everything.
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