Key factors in SEO strategy planning in the changing search landscape

The year gone by seems to be one of the most tumultuous years in the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) space, especially following the ‘Penguin 2.0’ update in May 2013. While algorithm updates are nothing new- Google claims to roll out over 500 updates in a year – and ‘Google Dance’ has been part of the SEO lexicon for years, I haven’t seen or heard as much head-scratching and introspection from the industry on what the future holds for traffic acquisition via organic search engine traffic.

Previously, much of the response to and conversation around major algorithm updates were often very tactical: changing importance of one meta tag over the other; ‘general anchor text’ to ‘keyword-rich anchor text’ back to diversified anchor text, and so on and so forth. I think that has been forced to change, and rightfully so (though I do have reservations on many things Google does with its search algorithm and doubt whether they are actually achieving their professed goal of delivering the best results possible that fulfils a user’s search intent). As a result, recent discussions on SEO are a lot more strategic in nature, with much deeper thought on the overall scope (and limitations) of SEO as a traffic acquisition method.

In this rapidly evolving landscape, I list the following key considerations that every SEO strategy planner must take into account when charting the course for traffic generation through Google search.

Unpredictability in search engine traffic: Predicting organic search engine traffic has always been quite difficult; it will become increasingly harder, if not impossible, to gauge/ estimate organic traffic that one will be able to generate. This makes the jobs of marketers who are tasked with planning and allocation of resources to different traffic channels very difficult; likewise, SEO agencies like ours face the daunting challenge of setting client expectations right.

More and frequent changes
: Google is carrying out numerous changes/experimentation with its search results and that too with increasing frequency. These can broadly be considered to be of two types: changes to its search algorithm to determine ranking of websites/webpages in its search results and secondly, changes to the display of what is shown on its SERPs. Therefore, a long-term view with a sufficient cushion in the traffic acquisition plan to absorb the immediate effects of such experimentation is imperative.

Organic results getting reduced prominence: Review of search results for a large number of queries across diverse industries that we at On Target have tracked shows the following trends:

** Lesser amount of space used for organic search results on a page. Different studies claim that a typical Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page) now shows only 13% to 50% of organic results. The exact figure may be debatable, but the reduced ‘inventory’ for typical natural results seems to be the norm rather than the exception now.

** New/ additional elements, besides the usual list of links of websites, being included in search results, with no consistent placement of these elements

**Specific types of sites getting greater prominence in different types of search queries.

Beyond search engine, a content destination: For several searches, Google is often transforming into “content destination” trying to provide detailed answers in what is apparently an attempt to retain users on the search page instead of leading them to other pages.

All in all, these are quite ‘interesting’ times to say the least as far as search marketers are concerned. The name of the game is change, in which success will be determined by the ability to adapt and then adopt a well-rounded content-driven marketing strategy.

By Manoj Aravindakshan

Manoj Aravindakshan is Managing Director of On Target Marketing Solutions, a Mumbai-based digital marketing agency specialising in search and social media marketing.