SEO Smackdown Round 2: Old Vs. New Search Engine Optimization

I recently re-read this great quote from a book entitled “Algorithms in a Nutshell.” To summarize, the authors wrote:

“… A good way to solve problems is to start with the big picture… [because if you don’t understand the big picture] you may solve the wrong problem, or might not explore other—possibly better—answers.

I thought that idea neatly summarized the perceived battle between “new” SEO and “old” SEO. Search optimization professionals should know and understand the big picture before they define and tout the “new” SEO.

Instead of focusing on flavor-of-the-month/day/year optimization tactics, what are the big-picture items SEO professionals should always keep in mind? Does each flavor-of-the-month tactic support the big picture… or is it merely a flavor-of-the-month tactic that can largely be ignored or discounted?

Here is my take on the perceived smackdown.

Keywords have always been an important part of an SEO strategy because labels and descriptions of Web documents often contain keywords that communicate both aboutness and information scent.

Keywords, Aboutness And Labeling

Keywords, keywords, keywords — I swear it’s a search optimizer’s mantra. I’ve heard myself chant this mantra many times over the years. I’m equally guilty of this chanting.

Honestly, though, what are we optimizers really chanting about? Keywords? Maybe not.

Maybe the bigger picture we’re not seeing is that we are chanting about different types of labels, including but not limited to:

  • Content labels
  • Navigation labels
  • Document labels

Of course, when I just re-read what I wrote in the previous paragraph, one word jumped out: about.

Maybe the true big picture is aboutness. Keywords are important for communicating aboutness for both human and non-human users.

So maybe the “old” picture is keywords. The “big” picture (which has always been present) is aboutness.

Site Architecture & Design

Site architecture, page layout, and design are still important for communicating:

Remember, site architecture includes both information architecture (IA) and technical architecture. A website’s infrastructure should get stronger over time and allow for the natural evolution of content.

So, I ask: how are any of these concepts “new” SEO? SEO pioneers, such as Eric Ward and I, have  known these big-picture items for many years. And, we’ve refined our methodology to accommodate technology evolution.

And, that brings me to another hotly debated topic…

Link Development + Social Media = Validation

I remember reading this from Selena Narayanasamy’s article, Lessons From The Auto Industry: Leveraging Social For Organic Traction:

“Links are not often thought of as a by-product of a great social campaign. Often the goals of those working on social profiles for a brand revolve around a simple goal: Getting more followers and building an audience… There’s more to social than simply having a sounding board. If you leverage your fans and followers correctly, they’ll be your key to naturally generating links and mentions around your brand.”

I loved reading that observation because I tend to share the latter perspective. I have always viewed social media as forms of validation and credibility.

Here’s my point: Eric Ward has been a link-building practitioner since 1994 (and he has a library/information sciences background like me). SEO companies in the 1990s specialized in link development (such as John Audette’s Multimedia Marketing group) years before Google became known and popular.

Social media has existed for a long time. Instead of newsgroups and forums, we now have Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others. Who knows whether or not these social media icons will stand the test of time?

I know that validity and credibility will stand the test of time because they are a critical part of the searcher experience.

Credibility is a key facet in a positive searcher experience.Reprinted with permission from Peter Morville.

(To download the full image and explanation of Morville’s “User Experience Honeycomb: Searcher’s Edition,” please go to Flickr.)

Web Searcher Behaviors

Searching/finding behaviors are still important, with informational goals coming more and more to the forefront due to the knowledge graph and ever-evolving semantic search.

In spite of the one-size-fits-all mantra of responsive design supporters, they still do not realize that people locate and discover desired content differently on mobile devices than they do on devices with larger screens.

For example, currently, quick-fact searches (an informational type of search) are more common on mobile devices than on devices with larger screens.

Navigational and transactional queries are still important, as they are with desktop/notebook computers. But user experience professionals need to look at the big picture as well — findability is a critical part of the searcher experience.

Look at the User Experience Honeycomb above. See “Findability” in there? Yup, it’s there. As information architecture guru Peter Morville said in his book “Ambient Findability,” “You can’t use what you can’t find.”

So, is “new” SEO that different from “old” SEO? Maybe the details… but not the big picture. Search Engine Land readers, I think that first quote is critical for truly understanding SEO. You have to understand the big picture or else you will probably solve the wrong problem.


About The Author

Shari Thurow
Shari Thurow is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).