Whenever Google releases a new algorithm or an update to an algorithm, as it did last month, people everywhere begin to worry and speculate that current SEO practices may become obsolete. Fortunately for Internet marketers, this isn't the case.
Many SEO methods continue to apply. However, they must be employed with a different intent. For example, instead of striving for higher search engine rankings, webmasters, business owners and marketers have shifted their focus to increasing website traffic from organic search.
The State of the SEO Industry
How many times have you heard that “SEO is dead"? If Internet marketers had a nickel for every time they heard this declaration over the past two years, they could fund the world’s greatest marketing campaign.
The prediction that SEO is dying has been a favorite topic of the SEO industry for years now. Supposedly, SEO died in the summer of 2013. It also died in April 2012. It's died at least a dozen other deaths, too, according to nervous marketers uncomfortable with change.
In the spring of this year, Internet bloggers posed the perennial question: Is Google Hummingbird going to kill SEO? Predictions claimed that everything SEO specialists had spent years working for—link building, keyword rankings and the like—would become irrelevant. Months later, and on the heels of October's Google Penguin 3.0 release and Google’s recent announcement that Google PageRank will cease to be updated, the industry is more alive than ever.
Yet once again, bloggers are calling for a funeral march. How founded in reality are these claims?
The Death of PageRank
As Google’s John Mueller put it in a recent Google Webmaster Hangout video, “We are probably not going to be updating [PageRank] going forward, at least in the Toolbar PageRank.” While the popular viewpoint following the release of this statement consisted of a mixture of confusion, curiosity and fear of the unknown, it wasn’t a total surprise—PageRank hasn't been updated since December 2013, and Matt Cutts, the head of Google's Webspam team, had already announced it was on its way out months before.
After the idea that PageRank would officially shut down sank in, most realistic SEO professionals and Internet marketers realized that in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter. That's because the reality is, SEO isn't dying at all; it’s simply transitioning and evolving.
The death of PageRank is only worrisome to those with an improper understanding of how SEO really works. While PageRank certainly plays a part in ranking success, it’s not everything, and it’s misguided to place all your focus on rankings instead of traffic. Honestly, rankings are only numbers, while traffic represents actual value. You can have the greatest PageRank, but unless you’re getting traffic, it really doesn’t matter.
Industry expert Jonathan Long offers a clear example in a recent article. He tells readers to compare two very different sites. One has a No. 1 keyword ranking and gets 50 visitors each month, while the second has a keyword ranking of No. 6 and attracts 900 visitors each month. Long then directs readers to the obvious conclusion: “Traffic numbers are much more valuable than rankings alone.”
“Your SEO efforts should be focused on driving quality traffic to your website, " says Tim Kelsey, director of client marketing services at Pronto, a digital marketing agency for small businesses. "After all, it’s traffic that drives new leads and sales.”
So is SEO changing? Certainly. Is it dying? Absolutely not. A better terms for it would be "transitioning" or "changing." The “new SEO” places the emphasis where it deserves to be—on high-quality content.
As PageRank disappears, a natural cleansing process will take place in Google’s search engine. Black-hat SEO professionals who thrive on link farming, keyword stuffing and other manipulative, frowned-upon practices will see their pages disappear from search results, along with their PageRanks.
Meanwhile, those who follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and have worked hard to develop high-quality content that answers questions and sparks valuable conversation will see their pages rise in the rankings. That’s why some SEO professionals are excited about all the recent changes within the industry.
So instead of frowning over the loss of PageRank, start learning how to analyze better metrics, such as:
- Organic search traffic. Google isn’t keeping secret the fact that search engines are moving toward a local focus. Take a look at your organic search numbers in your Google analytics account, and identify where the traffic is coming from.
- Average time on site. You’ll also find the average-time-on-site metric valuable. Once visitors arrive, you need to determine how long they're staying and why they're leaving.
- Goal conversions. If you have a high average time on site, odds are pretty good you’re getting some goal conversions. Since traffic is designed to drive new leads and sales, you need to make sure conversions are following.
In a world where SEO practices and Internet marketing techniques are constantly changing, are you prepared to shift your focus to new challenges? If so, it's time to start looking at traffic, not rankings.
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