If there’s one thing this year’s Google updates have taught us, it’s that we can no longer rely on raw numbers to tell us how well we’re doing when it comes to social media and SEO marketing. The Google Panda update back in February was a pretty big wake-up call that simply having a lot of content and attracting a lot of links wasn’t enough to stay high up on the first page of search results. Counting fans, followers, and incoming links used to give us a good idea about how our campaigns were going, but as Google and other search engines move toward more engagement-based algorithms, it’s up to us as marketers to respond appropriately.
The key, of course, is not to think of SEO as a set of techniques to trick Google into ranking your site higher. The whole point of the Panda update is that Google now thinks more like a human site visitor, and that’s how you have to think, too. This means that you have to put yourself in your target customer’s shoes – if you were visiting your business’ web site or social media profile for the first time, what sort of features or content would immediately make you want to come back again and again?
This emphasis on engagement is something we can expect to grow over the next year, as search engines give more attention to the social aspects of how internet users determine quality. Engaging with customers and potential customers, having someone on hand to answer questions, and providing relevant and up-to-the-minute content are all going to be increasingly important for the SEO and social media strategies of 2012, and it’s not likely ever to head back the other direction, where spamming your own site with keywords could give you a high ranking that wasn’t necessarily indicative of how good the site was.
That doesn’t mean that you should ignore keywords entirely, of course – saying the right things in the right places will always help attract an audience. The difference lies in how you approach that audience once you have their attention. Quality engagement matters now, much more than ever. Getting in the habit of communicating effectively with your target market, which has always been a good practice in the world of traditional business marketing, is now equally important in the world of search engine algorithms.