The world of Search Enging Optimization (or SEO) has changed dramatically over the last few years. The genesis of SEO really begins with search engine technology. It may sound scary, but it doesn’t have to be.
SEO is probably a term most nonprofit leaders are familiar with but tend to depend on the resident technology expert, marketing pro, or even an intern to understand and manage. With the recent changes Google has made to its search engine technology, an SEO strategy that worked well just a few years ago may not be generating the same results today.
Your ability to be found online directly relates to your ability to engage your target audience and engage them through service, donations, and leadership. That means SEO is critical to achieving your mission and should be a top priority for nonprofit leaders.
Let’s quickly review those changes. (I promise not to lose you in geek-speak.)
Early on SEO was a programmer’s domain. Coders could gang the search engine algorithms (how it processes search requests and delivers results) by pasting keywords into the code. The user did not know they were there, but search engines would recogize them and rank organic (not paid) results accordingly.
This was a commonly accepted practice for years. Then Google decided to begin a series of corrective actions to eliminate the abuse that had become rampant and seemingly unmanagable.
The first wave of corrective action took place in 2011. It was called Panda. (Note: There is no real significance to the name other than Google prides itself on being clever.) The goal of Panda was to eliminate duplciate content. Having the same exact content in multiple places would be plagarism in a paper-based world. However, it worked well in the digital world because it played to the fault of the search engine cacluations.
Panda’s implementation caught the attention of those who had come to depend on search traffic to drive conversations and business. Companies who had built their search rankings using these unruly approaches were penalized greatly. And when you move from a top spot (above the fold) on the first page to the second page…or worse…well…you practically don’t exist anymore.
But Google wasn’t finished yet. The next corrective action came just a year later when Penguin was released in 2012. The goal was to cut down on unnecessary “link baiting” that was taking place. Companies would spam digital websites, leave phony reviews, and place links to their website just about everywhere. The more times your links appeared, the search engine treated you as more “credible.” While clearly not true, this was the logic used at the time.
The results of this move by Google were devastating to some. Let’s just say that Google really turned the SEO market upside down and upset just about everybody in the industry. But they weren’t finished.
The most current wave of corrective action took place in 2013 and was called Hummingbird. It was grounded in connecting original content with the original author. It was a chance to humanize the process and give a lift to legitmate people and organizations who were contributing valuable content to the marketplace.
The goal of Hummingbird was to personalize the search experience in a way where Google knew what you meant even if that wasn’t what you said. It is based around the discipline and theory called semantic search.
With Hummingbird came new initiatives like Authorship and Author Rank. Google Authorship is a way to verify and connect a human being and the original content they create. Author Rank is still a theory at this point but rests on the idea that influence can be quantified and should influence search rankings. There still is a lot of work to be done related to this before Author Rank is ready for its debut.
Given these changes, it makes sense to ask yourself: what should I do about it?
There are five immediate steps you should take to ensure your web presence is consistent with the corrective actions Google has taken in recent years:
You don’t have to be scared of the SEO conversation. It is a maturing one that is becoming more human—a natural progression if you will. Just like other types of marketing, never lose sight of the people you want to reach and the impact you want to make. Those two things will carry you through these changes and those that will follow.
Are you confident your SEO strategy is working for you and not against you?
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