Future Proofing SEO

With all the recent announcements from Google I/O, Microsoft’s Bing replacement of Live Search, and Yahoo’s shuttering of GeoCities and Yahoo 360, it feels like search is changing in front of our eyes and that somehow SEO (define) must be changing, too. Yet SEO has always been a moving target.

Even if Google has broadened its abilities to crawl JavaScript and Flash, AJAX (define) remains problematic with its unchanging URL structure. Even if Microsoft’s Bing makes inroads on local, shopping, travel, and health vertical search patterns, the market share it could gain won’t likely come from Google. Even if Wolfram Alpha has accelerated the closure of Yahoo 360 and blogging has eroded GeoCities, search remains a primary compass for navigation on the Web.

In its fundamental nature, search itself hasn’t changed. There have been no sweeping algorithmic updates with this storm of developments, even though algorithms are always bubbling and percolating behind the scenes. Nearly half the online population in the United States still uses search engines every day — many of whom are simply seeking out information relevant to their queries.

Relevancy remains the primary objective of any search engine if it is to serve users well. Toward this end, the fundamental elements of SEO haven’t changed.

SEO hasn’t really changed. It’s still based on building a search engine friendly site structure around great content that naturally inspires inbound links, trust, and user interaction.

But it needs to be more predictive in its ability to influence the listings itemized in the first 10 results on any given search results page. It’s just the tactics that have changed when formulating a strategy for SEO success.

Now we must embrace opportunities for producing relevant rich media results in line with site links, local listings, images, news items, and profiles. To do that, newish venues like blogging and social media must be part of the picture.

As with any SEO initiative, the first question is: Where to get started? Second: How to get started? Third: When? The time is now.

First, ask yourself five questions about starting a blog. Blogging provides a great platform for embracing the social sphere. It’s relatively easy to get started blogging and monetary investments are nominal.

If you spend time and energy optimizing a blog out of the gate, you can be well on your way to adding new, well-ranked search results for new audiences. It’s a lot easier to venture into different social venues when you have a blog as part of your online media mix.

If you’re in a rush to establish a social presence, you can actually leap before you lurk (i.e., you can go to an online destination like KnowEm and quickly create your branded profile before someone else does). No, you don’t need to establish an interactive presence in 100 difference social venues, but you must take a bit of a leap into the space if you intend to credibly represent your brands online. After you leap, it’s definitely time to lurk.

When determining which social media venues should be targeted to help optimize your online presence, consider the type of audience you’re trying to reach. Doing so will help determine the “where” to get started and which social profiles you should take active. Without defining the target audience, there’s no way to offer them a compelling conversation or a gripping piece of content.

We also need to consider what actions will produce an optimal reaction from our targeted audience in order to determine “how” to initiate the interactions. Ultimately, there may be multiple targets and niche audiences.

Your approach to community will vary based on both the venue and the specific audience. All the same, there are some general guidelines that you should know before venturing into the social sphere.

Social media venues are very different with real people thriving in real, albeit virtual, communities. These social gatherings tend to take their conversations pretty seriously, so they’re naturally protective of their community. Joining a social media community isn’t a right; you have to earn your voice to be heard.

Even though the ultimate objective of participating in social media is link building and reputation management, don’t go into a social media venue thinking the community is your personal advertising space. Social media culture is about sharing, not selling. To be a part of the conversation, you must listen first and respond when you have something valuable to contribute to the conversation.

Trepidation is the greatest barrier to future proofing your SEO initiatives. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt never play a role in building successful search engine strategies.

Social media is all about the community. If you’re authentic, transparent, and helpful to the community, your ultimate success is only determined by a measure of patience.

Next time, we’ll talk more about how to thrive in social communities as part of your overall SEO strategy. Until then, get a handle on representing your brand’s social profile and start thinking about potential audiences that benefit from your being a part of the conversation.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Toronto, June 8-10, 2009, at the Sheraton Centre Toronto.

Related reading

Brand Top Level Domains