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InterestOver the past week, I’ve had a chance to listen to various business owners’ impressions of what constitutes digital marketing these days. The conversations have been interesting and revelatory, so over the next few posts, I want to review the very basics of these channels for folks who aren’t marketers. If you are a digital marketer by trade, I’ll tell you up front that you can probably skip this series and go read another blog; I won’t be telling you anything you shouldn’t already know. If you have bosses, clients, or friends who are not marketers, however, this series might be helpful. Today, we’re going to tackle the state of SEO in 2013.

Most folks who are not digital marketers want their businesses to succeed and understand that SEO is part and parcel of your digital marketing mix. What isn’t understood is just how much SEO has changed in the past few years.

Let’s start with the 3F’s: almost anything you do on your own website doesn’t matter except for three things:

  1. Functioning: If your website isn’t functioning correctly, this has a known negative impact on your findability in search. Google penalizes sites that are unreachable or malfunctioning.
  2. Fast: Google has made absolutely no secret of the fact that page speed is important to them.
  3. Filled: Google is a content monster. It wants content that is relevant, fresh, and authoritative, titled appropriately and shared widely.

That short list summarizes the things that you can do on your own website to boost your SEO. Everything you’ve heard in the past – keywords in bold text, peppering pages with awkward language, linking to every other page on your site – has been largely devalued by Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms so that they are much less influential. Even the domain name you buy is less valuable than it was; late last year, Google devalued the power of exact-match domains in search results.

What does that leave you with? Unsurprisingly, everything that’s out of your direct control. Who is talking about you? Who is recommending you via sharing and linking to you? Who believes you are an authority via AuthorRank signals? Who is impressed by you via reviews, comments, and other participatory signals? Ranking signals that are out of your direct control are at the heart of Google’s present-day algorithms because they’re much harder to game, much more expensive to game, and for most businesses, it’s easier to play the game the way Google wants you to than cough up lots of money to try rigging them.

What does that mean for you? To do well in search, you need to build three things:

  1. Registration: When Google says jump, unsurprisingly, you jump if you want to do well. That means getting yourself listed in Google+, Google+ Local, etc., configuring authorship, registering in Webmaster Tools, and participating in the Google ecosystem. Do the same for other search engines that are important to you.
  2. Content: You have to have content that’s original and great. Google is penalizing with ever-greater aggression and precision any content that isn’t original. Great content comes from providing something that’s actually helpful, useful, or valuable to the world.
  3. Platform: You need a digital platform, an audience, that you can leverage to help you move the needle. When you’ve got a new product release or a new service, when you’ve got a branding problem, when you’ve got a search problem, you need a platform you can call on to help you, an army of evangelists who will defend the brand as well as promote you.

To be effective in your modern-day SEO efforts, start with those three items. There is, of course, a great deal more to the world of SEO, but everything after the basics are incremental gains; getting the basics down and doing them well will deliver the absolute biggest bang for the buck.

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