“Help, customers can’t find our business online anymore!” Can you relate to this cry for help from many organizations today? Over the last couple of months, an increasing number of businesses worldwide are starting to wake up to the news that their websites have almost disappeared online, buried in search engine result pages (SERPs) that nobody sees. Despite having beautiful web designs, important web ad investments supporting inbound traffic generation that almost nobody clicks on, and “lots of keywords” seeded into the coding, the reality is customers are not finding them and that is costing millions of dollars to businesses today. Now, I’m sure we can agree that being invisible online in the digital age is a luxury no business can afford, but… what is causing this debacle? To properly understand the origins of what is happening, we must go back to 2011 and take a closer look at some important changes in the SEO landscape you may have missed. 

2011: The Year The SEO Game Rules Started Changing for Good

Before 2011, search engine optimization (SEO) – the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search’s unpaid results through a mix of strategies, techniques and tactics – was a world ruled by keyword-matching and link-counting machines. As a consequence, content spamming, bought links and keywords content stuffing, believe it or not, were accepted practices to get a top visibility pass. But as you can imagine, that tricking of Google’s algorithm did not last long and in early 2011 Google started a much awaited evolution under a new approach that focused on distancing itself from manually manipulated variables. The main goal? Go from keyword-based search to conversational search promoting a better, more useful search experience for users, while eliminating worthless, spammy content from the Internet.

With Google’s first update, Panda, the goal was to end low-quality content, demanding now the creation of original, relevant, valuable content for SEO. It was followed by the Penguin Update, released to address websites using “black hat” SEO tactics – aggressive SEO strategies, techniques and tactics that focus only on search engines and not a human audience, and usually do not obey search engines guidelines -. The Hummingbird Update Google later introduced an entirely new, smart search engine that changed the future of search completely by answering, conversing and anticipating needs, opening a world of opportunities for brands and search users.

The Last Updates and its Importance to Businesses

Now 2015, besides a few minor, nameless updates, brought two important updates that are laying the ground for what is coming next. On April 21st Google introduced the Mobile Friendly Update that became known as Mobilegeddon. It gives priority to websites that display correctly on smartphones and mobile devices, making a point to businesses worldwide on the growing importance of mobile for today’s consumers. On October 26th Google gave us another surprise revealing Rankbrain, an update that let the world know Google is now using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to interpret queries and rank results, currently its 3rd most important ranking signal. Yes, SEO is getting more complex, but for a good cause: making the search experience useful, powerful and cross-device friendly for the connected generation. But instead of chasing Google updates, the most important question you should be asking yourself, is if your website and business overall is ready to serve the omni-channel consumer and play under the new rules of the marketing game. There is a huge gap between the way your customers consume information and the way you provide it to them. While you are fixated with outdated, old-school marketing tactics, your customers are looking for you on their smartphones. Not sure what to make of it? Here is a checklist to get you started and just remember these five (5) recent statistics when you are in doubt:

  • Over 64% of U.S. consumers today own a smartphone according to Pew Research and 80% of smartphone owners now use mobile to shop online.
  • 98% of Americans switch several times between devices in the same day. Omnichannel is the new normal.
  • Mobile digital media consumption (51%) is now significantly higher than desktop (42%).
  • 90% of consumers go to a company’s website first, before calling or emailing, while over 70% of search clicks are organic.
  • Over 80% of web users openly admit they decide whether to transact or not with a company based on how its online presence looks, and 52% are less likely to engage with companies that have no mobile presence at all, according to Google. 

The 5 Elements to Succeed in SEO Today

To succeed in today’s new SEO game, like SEO expert Matthew Capala says, you have to focus on five (5) key elements that must work together under a holistic approach to get the best results. Let’s go briefly over each one of them and see their unique importance to the SEO success equation:

  1. Content: Creating unique, quality content your visitors can use and benefit from when they need it, is more critical than ever today. Humanize your brand by becoming an effective storyteller, an authority on your subject matter to educate your audience around your products/services and provide solutions to common problems through actionable advice. Leverage new content distribution channels and become a valuable resource that customers (and Google) crave being associated with. Show the world why you are the go-to brand in your industry or niche!
  1. Code: Technical optimization is not dead, it just changed. To optimize your website you need to focus on all the new technical things that matter now. Think strategic tags, meta content, information architecture, site responsiveness, fast load times, among others, but most of all, remember Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Mobilegeddon and Rankbrain to guide your technical optimization efforts.
  1. Connections: Leverage the power of social networks to engage with your customers, amplify the reach of your content for SEO and add additional touch points that can drive qualified traffic, while building your brand. Keep in mind that Google treats social media posts like any other web page for search, and it loves websites that have a strong community of users who actively contribute user-generated content. Another interesting fact? 80% of consumers say they are more likely to consider products and services from brands they follow on social media and Google.
  1. Credibility: Build your reputation online and offline to position your brand as a trustworthy, credible source in your industry or niche. Remember, credibility is something you earn, not something you can buy. The better your content is, the more Google and your customers will love you for it and acknowledge your expert status, which equals to more high-quality links to your site, more inbound traffic and ultimately, more business.
  1. Cash: Your website should be definitely built with “monetization” in mind. There are five (5) non-exclusive monetization models you can use: a) the brochure model, b) the subscription model, c) the advertising model, d) the e-commerce model and e) the affiliate model. Each one provides a way to support your goal of making money. Use one or all of them combined, learn and take advantage of the new ways to distribute and market content, but most of all dare to experiment with these new platforms.