Defining Search Engine Optimization in 2010

My last post, "What's Next for Search, SEO?," managed to produce some interesting takes on the future, past, and present of devices and how we use them/optimize for them. Thanks for your responses. They got me thinking -- what year am I stuck in?

The simple answer is that I never quite came to terms with the '90s. Having been born in 1980, I just couldn't accept that a new decade had anything to do with me. Plus, my football team was unbeatable in the '80s and is now average at best. So if I were really pressed for an answer, I'd say I was stuck in 1988. Early May, to be precise.

But I've also noticed some definite differences in search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns and approaches to SEO from agencies and in-house teams that can give clues about when they last carried out a root and branch review of how they do SEO.

Since 2000, SEO has been developing as an art and as a defined function of marketing. Each year has tended to see specific approaches and developments that have helped to define how you should approach SEO. If 2005 was about internal linking, then 2009 was about optimized PR and advertorials.

What I'm particularly interested in is defining SEO in 2010. This isn't necessarily about finding something new, more about what seems to really be producing results after the Caffeine update and the May Day changes.

The trend we're seeing is that highly relevant links from sites with quality link profiles of their own are adding the most value to an SEO campaign, rather than those with outright PageRank (we have also seen a large number of sites suffer ranking drops due to an inordinate number of sitewide inbound links, but that's another story).

This may not be anything new in itself -- highly relevant links have always been important and difficult to come by for a number of reasons. But the reduction in apparent value of PageRank, and increase in the value of a purely relevant site and content, is interesting.

What is doubly interesting (and helpful) is that Google has a tool that can specifically identify what those highly relevant sites might be. (It won't actually get links from them, you'll still have to be creative there).

The tool? Google Ad Planner -- allowing you to see what sites match the same user profile as your client's site, and also filter by industry sector/classification of the site, giving a neat picture of what Google feels is a relevant link profile for your client. You can then export a list of the best sites to target for links -- it can even tell you which ones are using Google text ads on their site, thereby giving you a foot in the door to discuss advertising rates, content hosting, reciprocal links, or whatever you feel is the right approach for each site.

So, if there's a theme for 2010, it has to be that taking the time to identify your market and focusing on how to build relationships with those relevant sites will put you above SEOs that are still focusing on optimized PR and advertorials. They're stuck in 2009...

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About the author

Gareth Owen, Head of Natural Search, Steak, began his career in SEO at ChoiceQuote Insurance based in Liverpool in 2004. Responsible for the full marketing function for insurance products in motorcycle, taxi, van and haulage, he oversaw sizeable increases in ROI from online marketing spend.

He then moved to The Search Works where, as European Account Director, he worked on a range of large client brands, pioneered studies into the measurable effects of TV advertising on search volumes, and generated over £1 million in revenue through integrated search offerings in 2009. While in this role he also successfully created an integrated PPC/SEO/Affiliate offering for the parent company.

As well as being responsible for the SEO offering at Steak, Gareth also sits on IAB and IPA Search Councils and has spoken at IAB, IMRG and Econsultancy conferences.