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Thom Craver

The Evolution of SEO - How to Keep up With the Googles

Thom Craver

In the beginning, developers built Web pages. They kind of just hung out there waiting to be shared by their owners or anyone who knew the address. Sure, there were keyword-based search engines like Infoseek and AltaVista but they weren't completely reliable. When Google came on the scene, the search game completely changed. Google's main premise was simple: the more links a site has pointing at it, the more popular it must be. For Search Engine Optimizers, that was a simple time. Most SEOs simply grabbed as many links to their site as they could, and stuffed keywords all up and down their content. Title tags and the image ALT attribute became the SEO's best friends. But SEO has evolved far beyond these tricks, while few SEOs have evolved with it. This post will focus on how SEO has changed and how you can change with it.

First and foremost, Google developed more sophisticated algorithms and the rest of the search world quickly adapted and followed suit. Relevancy became a big deal, making SEOs need to use appropriate keywords into their content. No longer could your site rank for off-topic keywords. Anchor text on inbound links also became relevant. We constantly hear “content is king.” It always was, still is and will likely continue to be for years to come. Content has merely evolved. It has been a slow evolution, but its evolution became the beginning of content marketing online.

While Content marketing is not new, per se, many technical SEOs may be new to it. Google has been on an ever-quest to seek out sites with fresh content. As far back as 2007, Google indicated how important finding fresh results was to their product. In 2010, they introduced the Caffeine indexing system, enabling their crawler to find new, fresh content in near real-time. Since then, Google continues to find fresh content, even going so far as to modify their SEO Starter Guide expressly stating webmasters should "create fresh, unique content."

Social media continues to be a large signal in search results. By and large, people tend to share new, fresh content on social media more than older posts they come across. This lends itself to more fresh content than anyone thought possible. Many people use social media to glean ideas for writing their own blog posts. After all, new blog posts are certainly fresh, unique content, right? Sometimes.

There are occasions when other bloggers – or automated scrapers – "borrow" too much content from other sites. This would sometimes cause the plagiarizer’s site to rank higher than the original author’s. So while good SEOs were creating unique and original content, others were getting the credit for it. This led to a need for search engines to try to determine the true author. Enter authorship markup.

You use authorship markup to indicate you are the true author of a page or blog post. Adding a simple code to your page not only helps Google determine the original author of a post, it provides new SEO signals that will improve ranking and bring additional benefits. You likely have seen pages using authorship markup appear in search results. They contain an image of the author and look similar to the following:

thom craver 1

This is made possible by using the rel attribute – newly redefined in HTML5 – to describe the relationship between the webpage and the author. You simply add rel=’author’ to your author page set up reciprocal links to and from your Google+ profile page.

Authorship markup is only one piece of a larger set of new HTML tags site owners can use to mark up webpages. These new HTML codes make it easier for search engines to better understand what the words on your page mean.

For example, if you were looking for the phone number of your local pizza joint, you might go to Google and search for pizza, expecting Google to know your location and provide the restaurant’s phone number. If you were travelling and looking for a great pizza place near your hotel, you would expect different results for your [pizza] query. You would also want more than a phone number. You would want to know the restaurant’s hours, if it delivered, and if it was rated well.

Semantic search is the process by which search engines determine exactly what you’re looking for. It takes into account your query, search history and location and matches that with information provided by the resultant website and other related social sites. It does this through the semantic HTML markup, sometimes called structured data. This structured data markup allows site owners to tag various attributes in their documents to help organize the data and make them better searchable.

Structured data is the technology that allows search engines to pull star ratings in for movies or restaurants, map coordinates for a local business, or find whether a particular product is available in a story near your location. These additional data elements come together from markup and from external social sites like Google+. Structured data comes in many formats. However back in 2011, Bing, Google and Yahoo combined efforts to agree on a common set of definitions. You can find them all at schema.org.

On-page content elements like title and heading tags are still important and still require proper keywords. But original, fresh content is still very important. Google’s continued Panda algorithm updates focus on original content. As search engines continue to evolve, they use multiple user signals to semantically understand search queries. Using authorship markup and other structured data will help your site be better understood. Search is getting more mobile and search results continue to become more personalized, especially with respect to location. Therefore, helping the search engines better understand your content is becoming increasingly important. Remember, your goal is not merely to be found; it is to be found relevant so your visitors convert.

Thom Craver is an international speaker, digital strategist, author and adjunct professor. He specializes in SEO and Web analytics. His last article for SEMrush was "Getting Started With Local SEO."

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