Why SEO Hasn't Fundamentally Changed Since 1996
Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the visibility of your website in search engines. This is sometimes referred to as "SEO." One of the biggest myths about SEO is that this process has changed over time, and that it will continue to change.
On the surface, it sounds logical. Google, and other search engines, keep improving their algorithm. They create improved filters that weed out web-spam and they try to serve up useful websites that will provide users with useful information. These changes to the algorithm should change how you do SEO, right? Wrong.
Don't make this too complicated. Search engine optimization hasn't changed over time because marketing hasn't changed over time. What drives search engine results? Good content and backlinks. What constitutes good content and legitimate backlinks? Well, content should be informative and useful to your target audience. You can take a page out of journalism's play book on this one. The same types of things that make people pick up People magazine, National Enquirer, The Globe, or Cosmopolitan are the same types of things that will get eyeballs to look at your website content.
These principles just don't change over time. There's a semi-famous story about a marketer named E. Haldeman-Julius. If you haven't read about him, you should. Julius owned and operated a publishing company in the early 1900s. He sold booklets that he called "little blue books." What he did was go out and hire writers who could write intelligently on a variety of different topics. He published everything from short stories to jokes to books on sex, money, diet, fitness, and just about anything else you can imagine.
After he had sold 100 million of these little blue books he wrote another book called "The First 100 million." This book detailed how he ran his publishing company. He claimed to understand what people in America wanted to read, and he had the statistical data to back it up from all of the sales of his blue books.
The data revealed that sex was the most popular subject matter (not surprising). Other best-selling titles had to do with money and health. However, what is surprising is that the best selling titles always began with "The truth about" or "What you should know about" or "(insert number) things you should know about." If you haven't picked up a copy of any magazine lately, do it. What kinds of titles do you find? If it's a successful magazine, you'll find the exact same type of headlines running today. They run over and over again because this is what people respond to. Once you have a great headline, fill it in with content. Make sure that the content fulfills the promise of the title of your post or page.
For example, if your headline reads "Why Google Doesn't Matter Anymore," then you had better do a bang-up job of explaining why Google doesn't matter anymore. Provide proof that readers can understand. If you don't have anything useful to write, then don't write anything. That may come as a shock, but the world just doesn't need more web-spam, regardless of how much you need or want to rank #1 in Google for your keyword.
The Internet is not fundamentally different than offline media. The difference is the format that you deliver the information in. That's it. The Internet is just a piece of technology. Making interesting content that other people want to link doesn't change just because you're using a new piece of technology. You must follow marketing and journalism principles that work in the offline world and have worked for many, many years.
Getting people to link to you will come naturally as a result of you having great content. Now, this doesn't mean that you have to sit around and wait for people to link to you. A link is sort of like a referral to your website. Think of it like a business card that you'd hand out in the real world. If you leave your business card in the right places, a lot of people might pick it up (i.e. they might click through to your website). Google is like this huge aggregator of information. When they find your business card, and they see that you are a legitimate business, they want to tell the world about you. If you are a crappy business, you get shuffled to the dung-heap where you belong.
It works the same way in the real world. If you try to leave your business cards in a run-down building, how much foot-traffic do you think you'll get? Not much. How about if you try leaving them where you don't have permission to? Chances are your business cards will be thrown away. Now, what if you were somehow able to get a business card stand placed in a high-visibility area where no one else was allowed to advertise? Chances are that you would see an increase in business.
In the online world, building backlinks to your site from low-quality websites like link-farms is sort of like leaving your business cards is a shady neighborhood or a run-down building. Google, and other search engines, aren't going to want to spread the word about a business like that. Likewise, if you don't have anything useful to say, the big G won't want to promote your website in their search engine. On the other hand, getting a vetted, merit-based, link from a website that doesn't give out backlinks to just anybody would be very valuable and Google understands and values these types of links.
Keep it simple. Think of linkbuilding like marketing. Do your marketing online in the same way you would do it offline. If you have a successful offline campaign, and your company is a good company, you'll be able to attract high-quality links by approaching other website owners and asking for a link exchange or offering to provide their website visitors with information that is valuable. As long as you're not taking away business from them, the website owner will be incentivized to provide valuable content and information to his visitors.
When SEO gurus say that "the only constant in SEO is change," what they're really saying is that you can't game the system the say way forever. Eventually, you have to change how you scam the search engines so that you can maintain your ranking. In that sense they're right. You can't use the same scam forever. You'll eventually get caught (i.e. the algorithm will change), and you'll have to find a new exploit. It's not SEO that changes. It's the shady tactics of SEO gurus that change.