Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird search algorithms affect around 90% of online searches, according to Search Engine Watch. These algorithms strip out “bad searches” â€“ sites stuffed with keywords, duplicated content and manipulated hyperlinks â€“ and rightly so; the onus for higher search rankings has consequently been placed on the quality, originality and relevance of online content.
So must our understanding of search engine optimisation (SEO) fundamentally change in light of this? “Yes, SEO is dead (technically) in the way we used to be able to build links,” says Matt Wilkinson, account director at Pinnacle Marketing Communications. “Now we are focused more heavily on content marketing.”
Wilkinson, whose business employs former journalists, is adamant that “businesses still need SEO professionals”. But he also admits that “SEO managers must change to be more creative and know how and where to share this content.” He adds: “The basics of optimisation may seem simple, but implementing it isn’t.”
Google now ranks websites based on the context of its content; if it’s written by a reputable journalist or blogger then it ranks higher. Google’s new algorithms also consider users’ engagement with the content, the time people spend on a website and its organic links, rather than paid-for content.
While a recent Econsultancy study found that 88% of the 2,500 firms surveyed now integrate SEO with content marketing, and 74% integrate SEO efforts with social media marketing, some marketers are sceptical about the evolved role of SEO firms.
Dane Cobain, social media specialist at Buckinghamshire-based FST the Group, says: “Social media requires a human touch, something that a lot of SEO professionals aren’t equipped to deal with. SEO has always been tied to the performance of metrics, but you can’t carry out a social media campaign if you look at people as numbers instead of individuals.”
As expected, SEO agencies that focused on link manipulation through “black hat” techniques and keyword-focused methods of SEO are going out of business. However, those with a focus on content marketing are thriving. But what does this mean for brands’ existing relationships with their PR, social media and digital marketing teams, whose remit digital content has historically been?
Tim Grice, head of search at Branded3, agrees that the “boundaries are blurring” between the roles of PR, social media, SEO and digital marketing. “There are some people in PR that feel like SEO managers are stepping on their toes,” he says. “To create brand value, you need good, creative content, from all sides, and you need to be technically sound in implementing it. It’s a collaborative game.”
An SEO team alone cannot offer everything needed for great content marketing and this is one significant driver for increased collaboration across business roles that previously operated in distinctive silos. Consequentially, some brands are taking this to the next level, creating their own digital newsrooms for real-time marketing strategies.
Adidas, for example, has created its own “brand newsroom”, operating from a global digital centre in Massachusetts and liaising with other newsrooms around the world. Herbert Hainer, chief executive of the Adidas Group, told Marketing Week he hoped the brand newsroom would “bring greater consistency, increase speed and drive higher levels of brand activation online”. Adidas follows consumer brands Puma and Nike in developing concentrated, centralised digital content marketing hubs.
Priyanka Dayal, content manager at Cision UK, a communications and marketing software company, says that brand newsrooms will remain the preserve of large multi-nationals that are able to maximise on the benefits. “The future for PR, SEO and marketers still involves traditional distribution platforms. Home-grown newsroom successes will be the exception.”
Andrew Smith, a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) strongly disagrees that the expansion of SEO is a threat to PR professional, though he says there may have been some fear of this five years ago: “With these changes, PRs are the ones who have the skills to get mentions in established media companies, which Google is now emphasising. It’s not putting PR people out of a job, more changing where you might find them; there’s a chance they may now be found as part of a team in an SEO agency. Their skills are more vital than ever before.”
With its algorithm changes, Google’s search is more human-friendly. People are now searching online using questions and complex phrases rather than just entering stand-alone keywords. To solve their query, it makes sense that content marketers meet this content demand, with SEO in mind.
Natasha Clark is a freelance media and technology journalist for Business Technology, The Independent and The Guardian â€“ follow her on Twitter @NatashaClark92