I got a call last week from a frustrated business owner.

“I can’t make sense of all the different things people are telling me about Search Engine Optimization and how blogging and content play into the formula,” he said, “How am I supposed to know what’s real and what’s not?”

He is 100% right. Business managers are surrounded every day by conflicting stories, half-truths and misinformation. How can any novice-level marketer be expected to sort fact from fiction in any meaningful way? It’s a complicated question but the answer is surprisingly simple.

What Is SEO, anyway?

If we’re going to understand the connection between content and SEO, we first need to understand what SEO really means. There are basically two philosophies on this:

1. The Google View. When you enter a search phrase into a Google bar, Google’s mission is simple: to find and return the best and most trustworthy content on the Internet that matches what you are looking for. Therefore, Google would view Search Engine Optimization as a process by which you improve the quality of your site and improve Google’s understanding of your content.

2. The Manipulator’s View. When you enter a search phrase into a Google bar, Google isn’t actually looking for trust and understanding when they return results — they are looking for signals that indicate trust and understanding. Create some backlinks, stuff a page to the brim with keywords and you have created perfect replicas of the traits that Google looks for. And so SEO is a process by which we manufacture signals designed to fool Google into thinking they can trust and understand us.

What has changed?

This past spring, Google released a sweeping set of changes to their search algorithm — which they nicknamed “Penguin” in case you want to do some research — designed to eliminate the value of the signals many SEO firms have been sending on their clients’ behalf.

To put it in another way, Google effectively destroyed a commonly-held definition of SEO, one that was at odds with their own ideology.

What does content have to do with any of this?

Now that manipulation techniques have been rendered impotent*, we are forced to accept Google’s meritocratic view of SEO. If we can’t fake trust and understanding, we have no alternative but to achieve it.

Of the factors that impact search results, few remain in our immediate control.

But content is.

We can control the quality of our content and how we craft content to meet our SEO goals. We can control when we publish new content and how frequently old content is updated. We can control how we leverage images, multimedia and links. We can control how our content is connected within the structure of our site.

But for all the leverage that content gives us in how search engines read our websites, content is not manipulative. In fact, it fits perfectly into Google’s view of SEO. Regular content creation — also known as blogging — builds the trust and understanding that Google wants in order to rank our businesses appropriately for the keywords that are most important to us.

But don’t just take my word for it: look around. In the wake of the Penguin updates, many SEO firms have adopted blogging as a key component of their service. Some SEO firms have even gone as far as to contractually obligate their clients to blog regularly, effectively forcing clients to pay an agency all while performing, in house, a disproportionate amount of the work required to execute a winning SEO strategy.

Blogging and SEO, more than ever, are two sides of the same coin — to engage in one in a meaningful way means to engage in the other by default.

*It’s important to note that although these techniques no longer work, many SEO firms still pitch manipulation-based services as if Penguin never happened. Either they don’t respect the intelligence of their clients or they are completely ignorant to what is happening in their field. Either way, it’s reprehensible that people would still be selling this approach.

 

February 4, 2013 | Content

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