As search engine optimization changes, so do the practitioners of the trade. A few years ago, your average search expert (let’s call them SEOs) could be found creating hundreds of devil-may-care backlinks, stuffing a page with keywords or spinning content for dozens of pages.
SEOs today are more sophisticated. They are curating link profiles, kneading keywords into title tags, and creating a sitemap that is perfect for crawlers.
Meanwhile, there is a breed of SEO that is doing all this and more. These are the SEOs who are pioneering the sites that will dominate the search engine results pages (SERPs) of today and tomorrow.
With one eye on the future, here’s what today’s most innovative SEOs are doing:
1. Implementing ‘schema’ markup everywhere.
Innovative SEOs know that schema markup is the next wave of search innovation -- in which it makes your search listings more visual, so it stands out, which increases your click through rate. Google is constantly trying to refine search results for the good of the end user. Schema, with its powerful Knowledge Graph application, is a sweet spot for SEO application.
It’s no secret that Google favors schema markup. A Searchmetrics study in the spring of 2014 revealed that 0.3 percent of domains use schema markup.
A full 36 percent of Google’s search results include “at least one snippet with information derived from Schema.org.” Even other search engines are wild supporters of schema markup, like Microsoft’s Bing.
There is a shocking disparity between what Google favors and what websites are actually doing. If Google does indeed favor schema markup -- and that 36 percent all but proves it -- then why aren’t more websites implementing schema?
There are several reasons for this:
- They don’t know what schema elements they should add.
- They don’t know how to implement schema.
- They don’t know that it’s a big deal for SEO.
There is a learning curve. The full list of schema is daunting. Where do you even start? Besides, many SEOs don’t have deep training or experience with coding or development.
2. Optimizing for hyperlocal search.
Brick-and-mortars that rely on local search optimization have been scratching their heads as to the best way to get on the Google radar. If the algorithm isn’t giving you the search results respect you want, it’s time to ramp up your local game to evolve with Google’s changing local algorithm. The point is this: Innovative SEOs understand that they must optimize a business for local search by emphasizing that business’s neighborhood.
This involves adding descriptors in your business title for Google places, implementing neighborhood name descriptions, optimizing your business website with the neighborhood name, helping Google Maps define your neighborhood, and adding that neighborhood listing to all local citation occurrences.
3. Talking to the company’s content marketers, the developers and the marketers -- basically everybody.
No SEO in a right frame of mind is sitting in his or her cubicle all alone, interfacing with no one. The innovative SEOs have their hand in everything. The digital marketing existence of a business depends on the influence of the SEO.
Here’s where smart SEOs are making their influence felt:
- Advising the content-marketing team on keyword implementation. Content marketers are usually SEO smart, but they need to be interfacing with the other SEOs on the team in order to amplify their effectiveness.
- Helping the content-marketing team understand which guest posting opportunities are legitimate. While content marketers survey the blogging landscape for guest posting opportunities, the SEOs should be examining their choices to determine which ones will benefit the link profile.
- Coaching content writers on SEO best practices such as internal linking, keyword usage, etc. Not everyone understands the value of internal linking, longform copy, no keyword saturation, and other important facts about SEO.
- Informing the marketing team on organic metrics and ROI. The people who manage pay-per-click (PPC) need to take action based on the information from the SEOs. Why overbid on organic search results that are already highly successful? By dovetailing SEO and PPC, a company can save money and improve paid and organic visibility.
- Consulting with the developers on SEO best practices for site changes and site redesign. The quickest way for a company to fail is to launch a site redesign without SEO best practices.
- Sharing critical metrics with executive leadership. Every business leader needs to have “SEO” in the back of their mind as they make important decisions for the company.
SEOs need to have their hands in a lot of pots. They’re not trying to control the company, but their role is more important than ever before.
4. Staying up-to-date on trends and algorithm updates.
Every SEO needs to have an awareness of the big industry and algorithm changes. Duane Forrester of Bing wrote,
Those who seek the trends are better positioned to predict the future. SEOs typically have access to so much data, spotting interesting trends is like a hobby. So a company would do well to exploit that inquisitive nature inherent in SEOs and apply what they can uncover in new directions.
Anybody who knows anything about search will find out about the latest Penguin or Panda rollout. Innovative SEOs are better at predicting these changes, anticipating their effects, and defending against their negative impact.
At the very least, SEOs should keep current with the algorithm change history, such as Moz’s running log.
But algorithm changes are only one part of the vast tectonic shifts that are rumbling in the underground of web marketing. What about web integration into smart cars? How does this impact SEO? Where is wearable technology going, and how might this revolutionize a business’s marketing approach? What impact will cloud payment methods have on the web presence of a brick-and-mortar establishment?
There’s more to search than just search, because search touches on so many other areas. Since SEO is always changing, SEOs need to know what those changes are. More importantly, they need to know how to adapt.
5. Branding emphasis and improvements.
PR and SEO have seen a merger recently. In a slow-but-steady advance of intuitive search, a company’s branded search results have extremely high value. In order for a business to expand its brand footprint, that business must pursue content marketing -- including guest posting -- with abandon.
This is apparent on a personal level. For example, I’ve invested a lot of time and effort into personal branding and web presence, because I see the huge impact this has upon my business. As one Search Engine Journal article reported,
You can’t expect to “do SEO” without thinking of PR. This is especially true for individuals — thought leaders, entrepreneurs, and niche experts. Their public stature has everything to do with the optimization of their web presence.
Exhibit A of this shift is the progress and impact of Google Authorship. But the less-talked about impact is how this affects company branding and public relations. A company’s branding and PR reside heavily in the online space. It’s called SEO.
As the SEJ article went on to explain, SEO and PR need to be thought of, not as two separate disciplines, but as two sides of the complex polygon known as “digital marketing.”
Smart SEOs dare to go where no SEOs have gone before — to sally forth in the complexities of PR, and discover the value.
6. Thinking high-level strategy and tech-level implementation.
Smart SEOs are able to lift their heads from a morass of links, data, and ranking and think “what impact does this have on the business as a whole?”
I envision an era where SEOs sit across the table from CEOs to explain what’s happening and how to fix it. SEOs are awash in a sea of metrics, data, information, and market intelligence. They possess the skill to distill this data into action points and forward progress.
SEOs, of all people, should have the skills and knowledge to point to a company’s future and instruct its decision making. I’ve seen smart consultative SEOs sketch out massive changes that prompt incredible change in an organization. This is as it should be.
SEO has risen from its spam-ridden, scam-threatened origins to become one of the most highly-valued skillsets in web marketing. SEOs shouldn’t be afraid to assert their knowledge and expertise to make high-level strategic suggestions.
We’re cruising into an age where SEOs are taking the lead as innovators and strategists. Are we going to let the change revamp the marketplace around us, or are we going to direct the change ourselves? I think we can do the latter.
That’s what I’m trying to do at least.
What skills and activities should SEOs cultivate?