With content marketing gaining momentum in 2013, there are many cries that the "new" SEO is really no different from old SEO, it's just better quality and en vogue. This may be true, but there's no denying that Google has made several significant changes to their algorithm in 2013 and, most recently, updated their Webmaster Guidelines.
SEO professionals react to Google's statements as the financial markets react to Ben Bernanke. Why? Because the subtleties and innuendoes in what Google communicates (or doesn't communicate) are interpreted by many as signals of future policy direction. How and why Google has Federal Reserve-like influence over online marketing is another discussion altogether.
How Should Small Business React to Recent Events?
That depends. If a small business is using low-quality SEO tactics from several years ago, there is cause for concern. Many approaches that once borderline are clearly over the line now.
Even small businesses that have been keeping up on SEO changes should pay close attention to the recent changes.
- Link Buying and Automated Content Creation is Still Bad: There is no real news here. Businesses still doing these things know the risks at this point. Google has recently added that advertorials will be viewed as paid links, and will be devalued.
- Avoid Money Term Anchor Text in Press Releases: While the official guidelines now say to avoid "Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites," this has led to confusion and debate. Google suggests nofollowing all links to be 100 percent safe. For more on this, see 12 Ways to Optimize Press Releases & Avoid Google Penalties.
- Linking Schemes Are Bad: The expansion of Google's definition of link schemes is most noteworthy. Whereas Google has previously left this discussion fairly vague, they have now given specific examples such as excessive link exchanges, large scale article marketing, and low-quality bookmark sites. This justifies previous manual actions such as those against BuildMyRank and serves as a warning to companies still selling low-quality link placements.
What is also interesting here is the couching of each of these terms. Notice the descriptors:
Google knows that not all article marketing is bad. With more than 166 million active domains on the Internet, good content often goes unnoticed if it isn't well marketed.
Google also knows that it's natural for business partners to link to each other. Many social bookmarking sites have legitimate audience views and share valuable information. Yet, all three of these categories have also seen widespread abuse, with content manufactured specifically for the purpose of ranking.
Small Businesses Seek More Security
Even with the new guidelines, many wish that Google could be even more specific. Imagine them saying 10 articles in a month is OK, but 40 is too many. Or perhaps a Matt Cutts video explaining that five guest blog posts a month is OK, but 20 is too many.
But Google needs to protect their secret sauce like Coca-Cola protects their recipe, so this won't happen. In fact, I imagine that Google feels quite satisfied with the explicit direction they are now giving.
Is Link Building a Dirty Word?
Some may feel that the term link building is now a negative term, but this can't be. Google still ranks their output largely on links.
Popular SEO columns discuss how to hire and train link builders. What is clear is that the acceptable methods of link building are definitely changing.
SEO Flight to Quality
To continue the financial market metaphor, SEO is currently in a flight to quality. This is what most columnists and bloggers mean by the "new" SEO.
Sure, the new SEO is similar to the old SEO, but there is now a greater emphasis on quality. Google is highlighting concepts such as links intended to manipulate PageRank and links that aren't editorial votes given by choice. While it is hard to imagine reliable signals for such mushy constructs, it is smart to assume Google has them, or will shortly.
Small businesses who want to stay in good graces with Google need to heed the warnings and start their SEO flight to quality. This doesn't mean SEO has fundamentally changed.
Businesses should still produce relevant articles and newsworthy press releases, and can use bookmarks as a method for sharing. Infographics and video content are excellent for viral spread. But businesses now have been warned to stay away from excessive, large-scale and low-quality – and this will be a change for many who are still hanging on to old SEO tactics.