Yes, the Internet called. And it got smarter.
It wasn't really the internet, as a whole. It was web browsers -- namely Google, Bing, and Yahoo -- that were looking for real content on your website. As you know, these powerful search engines "crawl" your website on a regular basis. They are constantly indexing its content and structure. Since the end of 2013 search engines have learned something new, they want content that looks a lot more like a real conversation (its called "semantic search").
These trends have made the old "magical SEO" tricks of stuffing keywords into your website null and void. Now, smarter algorithms are looking to see if there is something that looks more like part of a broader conversation. For instance, an answer to a question that someone searches. Not only are they looking for a main search word but also the context around that word. A real conversation involves lots of words that go along with a key word. If you are talking about ice cream for instance, the smart internet will look to see if you are also discussing whipped cream and cherries. If its cars, then mileage, horsepower--you get the picture.
The old approach of stacking links to make Google think you were influential has been foiled, too. That same smart algorithm is looking to see if you have ongoing connections with others who have influence. They even see brand mentions that aren't linked. Simply having someone of influence refer to your company name creates a bump in the search rankings for your website.
In short, what's under the hood of your website isn't all that matters anymore. The "technical content," or Search Engine Optimized (SEO) part of your site, has to be connected to real and valuable elements - content that your audience can see, share, and appreciate. If there is nothing fresh that people value and want to share with others, then no amount of back-end SEO is going to bring visitors to your virtual door.
What is the return on investment with SEO, anyway?
If you are paying for SEO that isn't matched by significant and regular content publishing, then you are probably wasting your investment. Here is your priority list:
1. Publish regular, fresh content that is valuable to people that you want visiting your site.
2. Publish content that is important enough to people in your community or field of service that they want to share it.
3. Incorporate technical content in the back end that places your public content into a framework that assists the search engines in finding and ranking it highly.
If the investments you are making doesn't place content at the top of your list, then there is really nothing around which to build SEO. It's an empty exercise, akin to painting an empty store: It looks pretty but there is nothing to purchase. However, when you put these together-- content first followed by technical SEO underneath, you can document real ROI and the responses from your target audience.
Guess who else was trying to converse with your website.
Customers are looking at your website, too. They aren't using a semantic algorithm like Google, but something much simpler. They are looking for a conversation to join. While they may not want to join the conversation right now, they do want to see evidence of others conversing. They trust reviews and comments by others more than they trust your official information. They want to see that your company is human; they are looking for signs of life and the digital fingerprints of other humans.
Consumers don't want to be alone -- they want to be a part of something. But, only where others demonstrate trust.
What drives this kind of conversation? Of course, social networks are prominent channels for conversation. And, your part of that conversation has to include valuable, sharable content.
View your digital presence as a conversation catalyst.
Instead of seeing your website as a digital flyer, think of it as a place to catalyze and sustain conversations in a digital room. While that doesn't sound very business-like, it is what very smart search algorithms and savvy consumers are looking to promote. Since digital conversations require fresh and authentic content, It will be your your investment in that kind of content that will pay dividends in customer growth and retention.