SEO in 2013 – what’s changed?

  • I keep seeing articles, blogs and social media comments talking about the death of optimisation and asking whether or not there’s still a place for SEO in 2013. Is it really defunct? Have the days of optimising websites to increase rankings really passed us by? Here’s my take on it…

    By its very nature, SEO is constantly changing – algorithms are updated with almost scary regularity and unless you have a big budget and a team of experts on hand to help, it seems like a constant battle to keep yourself visible (that said, it’s also worth noting that while changes occur frequently, not many of them have a far-reaching impact). The thing is that it’s always been like this to some degree; big brands and companies that have the time or money to invest in digital marketing activities have historically done better when it comes to performance in the SERPs.

    Of course, where past tactics were somewhat nefarious, even some of the big names got hit by Google’s Panda and Penguin – but many of these penalties were just a by-product of natural evolution in the SEO landscape, not necessarily through truly black hat techniques. Once upon a time, not so long ago, SEO experts were advising companies to give freebies (or money) to bloggers in exchange for links and this was deemed the smart move, then algorithms changed and Google decided it didn’t like this approach and rankings suffered as a result. A good case in point is the Interflora SEO penalty. The message is clear: when it comes to the constantly adapting creature that is SEO, keep up or drop out.

    Website best practice

    SEO is different in 2013, just the same as it was different in 2012, 2011 and every year before since its inception. It does still exist and it is still needed, but you have to play a much more careful game if you want to score good results. Smarter search bots mean that manipulating the system isn’t really an option anymore – you have to play by the rules.

    To me, the essential foundation of SEO is still the same as it’s always been – onsite best practice. Good design, clean code and authority indicators in all the right places give both human and automated visitors the opportunity to quickly learn what your website is offering.  Well written and optimised meta data, H tags and content will, in my opinion, never become redundant. The search engines have to start somewhere when deciding who to rank and where, so you need to feed them ranking factors in a logical, clear way.

    Gone are the days where a few bits of text are enough too. Following on from the last couple of years, SEO in 2013 and beyond is going to require more investment in good content. Unless you’re in a really niche industry, you’re fighting for dominance against thousands or even millions of web pages – you have to show that you know your stuff. Your web content needs to demonstrate a willingness to advise, inform and help your visitors. Write to show you care about your readers, and rankings will more easily follow.

    The relationship between SEO and PR

    To my mind, the biggest change in SEO that needs to be taken into account is its ever emerging similarity to PR. Once you’ve got your website finely tuned, you need to build valuable, relevant backlinks – but that’s not as easy as it used to be.

    The first thing you need to make sure you DON’T do in 2013 or ever is to buy links or waste time on low quality article marketing. The famous animal updates hit submission sites hard and while there’s some debate as to whether they still offer a little value or none at all, your time is definitely better spent on creating content for better sources – which is where the PR side of things comes into play.

    Creating strong backlinks has to be about building good contacts and nurturing relationships with relevant websites, blogs and businesses. You need to offer them something that will appeal to their audience in exchange for a link back to your site – and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll lay off the exact-match anchor text too.

    This means spending time on outreach and plugging in to the latest news and issues that relate to your industry. Become a leading voice, offer a new take on a popular story and be seen as the ‘go to’ person for opinion and input. Validate yourself as a source of information and authority, doing so in such a way that is not blatantly self-promotional, but is relevant to the current affairs surrounding your sector.

    Good public relations through the use of social media is also vital to SEO in 2013 – it’s the human face to your business and the opportunity to interact with your customers in ‘real time’. Take everything you know or can learn about traditional PR and simply convert it to the digital landscape – building relationships has never been more important to SEO than it is now.

    Revisit your own website

    Finally, remember that you still need to give your own website some TLC. Best practice is all well and good, but you need to make an ongoing investment too. Spend time developing a great blog; create valuable resources that will help your visitors and encourage shares, retweets, +1s and likes on your social media platforms. Optimise the content you add and research other keywords and long tail phrases that you can target to increase market reach. You want to show the search crawlers that your site continues to be a valuable source of information.

    All of these things are fairly straightforward to implement, but time or a lack of confidence can be an issue. If you can’t manage this in-house, it’s worth approaching a PR specialist or digital copywriter (hello!) to help you. Perhaps you can work on building relationships yourself, then passing the content creation on to someone like me? Whatever you do, make time and find a budget for SEO – and remember that SEO in 2014 will be different again to 2013, so you need to be responsive, flexible and aware of the latest changes that could impact your rankings.


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