The old methods of search engine optimization (SEO) are practically dead. SEO was once a game of numbers and regular tasks that culminated in a predictable rise to the top, butthat strategy relied on manipulation and structure. Today, the complexity of search engine algorithms is such that manipulation and structure are secondary to quality and relevance—factors that are almost intangible.
What does that mean for modern search marketers? It means the old strategies of quantitative task execution are disappearing in favor of qualitative brand building. If you’re trying to rank in today’s search landscape, you need to spend more time designing and supporting your company’s brand.
There was never a single point where SEO ceased to be one thing and started to be another. Instead, over the course of dozens of algorithm changes, SEO has slowly evolved. In the early 2000s, Google began rolling out regular changes that prevented online marketers from abusing loopholes in its algorithms, penalizing domains that engaged in spamming tactics or other schemes.
The biggest changes for modern search marketers came in the form of Google Panda and Google Penguin, from 2011 and 2012, respectively. Google Panda penalized sites with minimal or low-quality content, while Google Penguin penalized sites with poor-quality backlinks. The combination of these effects put the last nail in the coffin of keyword stuffing, backlink spamming, and content spinning—the signature tools of old SEO.
It’s still entirely possible to climb the ranks in search engines, but you need more finesse in order to do it successfully. When producing results for a given query, there are several key indicators that are considered. Above all, Google wants to give users relevant results and a great overall online experience, so these criteria reflect that primary goal.
First and foremost, quality content matters. Google shows heavy favoritism toward sites with a regularly updated blog, and peruses that content when trying to find relevant sites for a given query. Specific keywords are no longer a factor; instead, search algorithms review content from a higher-level topical perspective, and weed out pieces of content that appear to be written by a non-native speaker or copies of content elsewhere on the web. Unique, high quality content is important because it gives a user valuable information. In order to keep your readers coming back for more, you need to sustain a consistent voice—but we’ll touch on that later.
Natural, Quality Backlinks
Backlinks are still important, but not in the way they used to be. Instead of looking at the number of external links you build, Google pays more attention to the quality of those links. For example, if your links appear to be built using a link scheme designed specifically to build your rank, you could be penalized as a result. Instead, your links should be posted on sites that have relevance for your industry and should point to pages that are relevant to the conversation. Brand mentions, even without a link, are also becoming important.
Visible Presence on Social Sites
It’s also important to have a strong social presence. While it’s not clear exactly how much weight this carries in the ranking algorithm, sites with an official presence on major social media platforms tend to rank higher than sites that do not. Additionally, local businesses with detailed profiles on social directory sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon also tend to rank higher than businesses that lack them. What’s important here is social context; a signal that many people recognize and engage with your brand in the real world. The stronger that signal is, the more “authority” you have.
So why is brand building so important to this process?
Your core brand is your business’s identity. Without a consistent set of standards for your image and voice, there’s nothing distinguishing you from your competitors. Building a brand means earning the interest and loyalty of your potential customers and giving them a repeatable, familiar, and positive experience.
Your branding is a central element of your business that makes all your other elements stronger. It makes your content more recognizable and enjoyable because it lends a consistent, familiar voice. It makes your social media engagements more personal and engaging because you can use your brand’s personality. Solid branding helps you give your users a better overall experience—and quality user experience is exactly what Google is trying to achieve. Let’s take a look at exactly how great branding can improve your modern search efforts:
Content marketing involves both written content and visual content like images and videos. Of course, many people use content marketing as a tool to improve search engine ranks, but more importantly, it’s a strategy that builds your authority and creates trust between you and your readers.
When you adopt a content marketing strategy with solid branding backing it, you’re far more likely to get returning visitors. But more importantly, it’s easier for your brand to be recognized by those visitors. You can post a new article written in your brand’s unique voice, or an infographic decorated with your branding, and people will instantly recognize it as one of yours. If your content is valuable or surprising, people will share it on their own sites with a link or a brand mention pointing back to you.
Without that brand recognition and perceived authority, you would be stuck building links on your own, putting your site in danger of getting penalized. Instead, with a strong brand, you can let your users do the work for you.
Similarly, social media plays a significant role in both brand awareness and search engine ranking. Social media is your opportunity to distribute your content and build an audience, thereby attracting new people to your brand and keeping your current fans engaged at the same time. Keeping your brand consistent across your website and multiple social media platforms allows people to seamlessly engage with you across multiple mediums, increasing your digital presence and rewarding you with more backlinks and brand mentions.
Finally, building a powerful brand can be great for customer service and your presence on third party social directories. For example, if you give a new customer a memorable brand experience, he/she will be more likely to write up a positive review about your business on an external review site. The more positive reviews and positive experiences are associated with your company, the more likely you are to achieve a high ranking in Google (and it independently attracts new customers to your brand). If your brand is consistent and rewarding, eventually you’ll establish an online presence that extends far beyond the boundaries of your own individual efforts.
Ultimately, modern SEO comes down to building a brand so powerful that all your users do the legwork for you. It is a natural, organic process that supports you with more links, more content, and more digital authority, thereby increasing both your ranks and your direct traffic.
If you haven’t yet established a brand with clear standards for your company or your search marketing strategy, it’s time to get started. Otherwise, perform a brand audit and note key areas for improvement. From there, it’s a matter of consistently executing the basics of reputation building:
It’s a long-term strategy, but if you remain committed to it, the results can be phenomenal.