If there is one marketing practice that gets a bad rap it’s SEO, and over the last two years it seems as though more and more people have been writing off SEO as a moribund industry. Well-known SEO Jill Wheelan bowed out of the game and SEOMoz rebranded, dropping those potentially toxic three letters from their name.
So, is SEO still relevant in 2014?
If you are trying to grow on a budget then SEO should definitely still be a part of your marketing stack. To disregard search is a mistake.
However, SEO should be seen as just one component of your overall inbound strategy and not something that is done in a silo. Going back to Moz for a moment, I personally believe the reason they rebranded was not to distance themselves from the term SEO per se but to highlight that they do more than just SEO.
A large part of negative SEO sentiment no doubt stems from the more dubious tactics some people have employed over the years. So if your definition of SEO (and the way you employ it) is to manipulate search engines into ranking content that doesn’t deserve it then yes, you are no doubt going to get penalised (and you’re contributing to giving SEO a bad name).
In essence, there is very little to manipulate. You either provide good content for your users or you don’t. Personally I believe SEO is more important than ever, because the days of throwing up crap and generating hits are well and truly over (thank God) and the penalties for doing so are much higher.
For further proof of how serious Google is about this just look at what happened to Rap Genius recently when they got caught employing shady practices. Whether you agree with Google’s response or not is another matter.
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What should you be doing in 2014 to ensure you are employing good SEO practices?
The most efficient SEO strategies are built around three elements: well crafted content, backlinks from authoritative websites, and people sharing your content via social media.
The ultimate aim is to build a brand people can trust. Whilst social sharing amplifies your voice and backlinks from well regarded sites help to emphasise your authority, if the content you are writing doesn’t resonant with people then it won’t gain any traction.
Google is placing increasing importance on authors and this will become more and more important in 2014. Connecting content to authors allows you to establish credibility and helps search engines to find and suggest further content the user may find useful. So if your Google+ account is slowly gathering cobwebs whilst you focus on Facebook and Twitter 2014 might be time to reassess this.
Should you still be guest blogging in 2014?
In my opinion, guest blogging is still one of the best ways to reach a relevant audience on a budget. Matt Cutts, who leads Google’s Webspam team, recently wrote about guest blogging, suggesting that it is becoming increasingly spammy and is a practice you should steer clear of (we are getting a little meta here).
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Whilst this obviously sounds worrying and caused a lot of concern amongst SEO’s my own interpretation is this: he wasn’t saying you shouldn’t guest blog, he was saying you shouldn’t guest blog on irrelevant sites with rubbish content i.e. don’t just do the bare minimum to get the link. So how will Google police something like this? I am speculating here, but I think this is where social sharing and the strength of your author rank will come into play.
Another increasingly important element of your SEO strategy will be optimising your website and your content for mobile. At CDNify, we see an increasingly high percentage of users first encountering our website via a mobile or tablet.
By using responsive web design on your website you are serving both versions from the same url which make it easier for search engines to crawl. In the long run you will also be saving yourself time by only maintaining one site, which contains all of your SEO. In addition to this your backlinks stay the same as well.
So if you are looking to build an effective SEO strategy in 2014 the key points to remember are: craft great content that people want to share and link to; make your site responsive; only guest blog on good sites that are relevant to your business; and always place your audience at centre stage of your SEO program – because ultimately it’s your users who are searching Google, so make their job easier for them.
Mike Cunsolo is Marketing Manager at CDNify, a content delivery network for Startups, Developers and Agencies.