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Sunday, March 3, 2019

What really matters for SEO success just for you

What really matters
for SEO success
Changes to the core
concepts of quality
and authority over
the past year have
altered the course
of SEO forever, with
Google both
algorithms and
increasingly relying
on human "quality
Old methods of dynamically
generating content and other
quick hacks no longer result in
long-term, sustainable SEO
Gone are the days of low-
quality ghostwriting as a
means of rapidly producing
new blog articles for the sake
of “content freshness.”
Additionally, SEOs can no
longer rely upon re-purposing
information otherwise found
online (especially without
citing one’s sources) as an
effective and sustainable
content strategy.
To succeed in this new
landscape, SEOs must learn
how Google has changed the
rules regarding content quality
and authority and what steps
website owners must take to
ensure they’re seen as
Lily Ray, Director of SEO, Path
As Director of SEO for Path
Interactive, Lily Ray has spent
months studying the changes
and understanding the
impacts the updates around
authority have had on client
sites. She’ll be sharing her
insights, as well as offering
tips for surviving and thriving
in this new era of search
quality at SMX West in San Jose
on January 30th.
I asked Lily to describe what
you should focus on and what
really matters for SEO success
in today’s algorithmically-
driven yet human-mediated
ranking environment.
What are the biggest
changes in how sites are
evaluated and ranked that
you’ve seen over the past
2018 was the year when
Google turned up the dial on
analyzing the quality and
trustworthiness of web pages
and domains. In previous
years, making small tweaks to
well-known ranking factors
(such as adjusting title tags or
adding new internal links)
could have been enough to
see an improvement in SEO
performance, even if the
website wasn’t known as an
authority on the subject being
written about.
Those types of quick on-page
optimization tactics are no
longer sufficient to obtain top
positions in the search results,
especially if the website
contains other issues related
to quality and trust. Google is
now honing in on the
reputation and credibility of
both the website itself, as well
as the creators who
contribute to its content. It has
also placed great importance
on user experience, such as by
rolling out several updates
related to page speed and
switching to mobile-first
What steps do you take
when one of your clients has
had a huge traffic drop due
to an algorithm change?
We start by looking at both
on- and off-site issues related
to quality and trust when a
client has been hit. We analyze
which pages were hit or
whether the effect was site-
wide, to see if a certain
section of the site contains E-
A-T (expertise,
trustworthiness) issues or if
the entire domain’s authority
was called into question. We
take a close look at the
content on affected pages
compared to that of our
competitors. Does it
adequately answer the search
query with the appropriate
vocabulary, citations and page
Doing a “site:” search is
another step we take when
gauging the current organic
footprint of a site; it’s common
to find many thin, duplicate, or
low-quality pages in the index
that could benefit from being
merged or removed. Another
good tactic (which is actually
suggested by Google) is to
look up reviews of the content
creator or the website itself,
while excluding results pulled
from the website in question.
There may be external issues
related to the client’s
trustworthiness that need to
be resolved.
How closely should people be
following the Google Search
Quality Evaluator Guidelines?
Our SEO team has a printed-
out copy of the 2018 Search
Quality Rater Guidelines on our
bookshelf, which we often
dive into when analyzing an
affected site or whenever else
we have questions about how
Google defines “high quality”
content. While we are fully
aware that Google has stated
that many of the
recommendations in the
guidelines are not current
ranking factors, we know
these are good long-term
marketing strategies that
Google teams will work to
build into future evolutions of
the search algorithm.
Furthermore, we have already
seen ample evidence in recent
months that the algorithm has
made great improvements in
learning how to behave like a
human being when analyzing
website quality. And although
it may be obvious to most
SEOs by now, the updated
guidelines clearly state that
old-fashioned SEO techniques
like keyword stuffing, auto-
generating content or writing
low-quality blog articles for
the sake of churning out new
content are not sustainable
strategies to produce good
results in the future.
How much impact are
artificial intelligence and
machine learning having on
ranking algorithms?
I think a lot of what we have
seen in recent months with
algorithm updates stems from
Google’s rapid advancements
in machine learning. When
Ben Gomes of Google said the
rater guidelines are “where
we want the search algorithm
to go,” he confirmed that
humans continue to be the
best judge of what is high-
quality and what is not (for
now at least), but there is still
work to do for the algorithms
to catch up with human
Machine learning makes that
process much quicker and
more scalable than it has ever
been before. But when we see
major fluctuations in search,
as we have in the past six
months with sites drastically
rising and falling after each
algorithm update, it’s a good
indication that sometimes the
algorithms can miss the mark
and still have a lot of work to
What kind of changes are you
anticipating for the coming
By focusing so much on the
reputation of the website and
the creators of the content —
especially for YMYL (Your
Money Or Your Life) sites —
Google has made it hard to
rank well with mediocre
content or lack of expertise.
Ranking in 2019 will require
more time and effort than ever
before, because short-term
hacks won’t lead to sustained
SEO success.
I believe that companies and
individuals who are focused
on their search presence
should keep a close eye on
their online reputations and
take steps to address anything
that may bring their credibility
or trustworthiness into
question. This includes actually
listening to their customers
and addressing their concerns
across different platforms. It
includes not overwhelming
customers with calls to action
or advertisements. It also
includes providing easy ways
for customers to get in touch
with them when customers
have a problem and
incorporating that feedback
into how they operate their
These are not easy things to
achieve; digital brands must
be all-hands-on-deck to build
and maintain long-term
organic visibility. But these are
also the things human
searchers evaluate as they
make informed consumer
decisions, and search engines
are quickly catching up to
humans in their ability to
emulate those evaluation

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