This post was originally created in 2014, so I’ve revisited it to see if these elements are indeed “evergreen.” While the original post was speculative, based, however, on nearly 8 years of experience in the industry (at the time), this updated post is backed by recent studies and statements by Google.
While foundational elements such as keyword research may always be relevant to SEO, with the continued growth of semantic search engines that attempt to establish a searcher’s intent across multiple variables, including synonyms, it may be becoming less important. Because SEO is in constant flux, many search marketers are forced to stay up-to-date with the latest algorithm changes in order to stay relevant. That being said, there are at least 3 elements of SEO that will never go out of style.
If search engine crawlers are spiders, citations are the threads on which they travel from place to place. Since the inception of Google, citations have been a crucial element in determining the value of a site, which was deemed PageRank by the company (named after Larry Page, the co-founder of Google). One of the initial Google patents states the following:
The rank assigned to a document is calculated from the ranks of documents citing it.
While citations are most commonly translated as links, the patent does not specifically call for that. Several years ago Yandex, a Russian search engine, experimented with dropping links as a ranking factor in their algorithm, choosing instead to rank sites based almost entirely on textual citations.
Sometimes it’s best to view websites as physical stores. In the non-digital world, citations, or mentions, are extremely important when we assess the “rank” of a business. We assume a business is an industry leader when we see their ads on TV, read about them in the paper, see a nice sign outside of their store, get a recommendation from a friend, see that their CEO also teaches at a university, or hear about them on the news. All these things can be translated to the digital world by simply turning them into digital citations: a friend’s recommendation becomes a like or a tweet; a nice sign or business translates to a nice website; and all the others translate as links or mentions from those sources (e.g. newspapers and universities).
As with mentions of any physical business, digital mentions will never go out of style, as they are intrinsically how we determine the value and importance of something. Citations, however, do not necessarily mean links, and any online mention from a reputable source will always have value.
This is still true in 2018. The trend, however, is that search engines are shifting toward linkless backlinks as a ranking factor. According to Search Engine Land, Bing and likely Google are already using unlinked mentions to rank sites.
Again, let’s translate the digital world into the non-digital world.
If you’re reading any content, be it a newspaper, book cover, or magazine, the first way you determine what that content is about and whether you want to read it is by its title. It seems obvious, but Title tags act in the same way for search engines, and it’s not just because the Titles include keyword phrases; it’s also because Titles including search query keywords get higher click-through rates, and high click-through rates translate into a good user experience, which is ultimately the goal of a search engine.
If your SEO strategies always focus on creating quality, non-spammy title tags, you’ll always be following best practices.
This is still true in 2018.
Nearly since the start of SEO as a legitimate practice the phrase “content is king” has been thrown around as one of the golden rules. As far as I can tell, the actual phrase was coined by Bill Gates in 1996, in an article in which he stated, “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.” The phrase was adopted by the SEO community soon thereafter and has been used with ever-increasing frequency since (although, thankfully, less often in recent years).
Explicitly stated in Google’s webmaster guidelines is the following:
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. (Still in the guidelines in 2018)
There you have it. Google itself says “Creating good content pays off.” Content is what drives search engines, what they need to deliver quality search results to users.
If your SEO is focused on creating quality content, your strategies will never get stale. While the meaning of content is always expanding, with videos, images, and infographics now falling under the content umbrella, in addition to more traditional text content such as posts, pages, press releases, ebooks, and white pages. The question is not whether content will be important, but what kind of content will be important. Staying up with the latest strategies of delivering content will ensure that your SEO campaign stays relevant.
In 2018, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines also states: Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Content is now less about how often words appear on a page than the overall user experience. A lot of SEOs are talking about dwell time (how long a user stays on a page) as a ranking factor in 2018, so keeping users engaged with your content is crucial.
Although it is crucial to stay up-to-date with the ever-changing SEO industry, citations, title tags, and content will always remain relevant, and crafting an SEO campaign around them will continue to remain effective for the foreseeable future.
So far, so good!