Reflected glory: the changing face of SEO

By: John Straw

Date: 26 October 2011

Reflected glory: the changing face of SEOIn the past five years SEO has changed dramatically - driven by the fast-developing way that Google works.

Five years ago, SEO was all about on-site optimisation. What was important was whether the Google spiders could find their way around your website. At that time, even some of the biggest companies had websites that were impervious to Google, with only a fraction of their pages getting found and listed. So that was where the focus was for search engine optimisation.

All that has changed. The Google algorithm is much more sophisticated today. And understanding Google has never been more important - Google-related searches account for about 20 per cent of all internet activity.

Now the focus has shifted from on-site optimisation to off-site activity. What that means is that Google now judges your website by what other people think of it and whether they link to you from elsewhere.

The wisdom of crowds

There's a story in the brilliant book, The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki that illustrates this concept. It tells of a mathematician who went to a country fair in 1905 where people had to guess the weight of an ox. The mathematician took all the guesses and calculated the average weight from them. That average turned out to be almost spot on - just one pound out.

Today, Google is doing a similar thing. It gauges the relevance and quality of a website by the crowds that link to it - via other websites and through social networks such as Twitter. Google is brilliant at working out what a crowd thinks about your website.

So what do you have to do if you want a crowd to think more positively about your website? The good news is that most modern CMS (content management systems) are built with Google in mind whereas five years ago they weren't. But instead of focusing on complicated technological trickery, what you really need to do is be better at what you do than the rest of the market. Build a better product. Deliver a better service. If you build it, they will come.

It's about reflected glory. Google is now checking you out by analysing what others think of you. And in the next few years, Google is going to get better and better at working out what people think of you.

John Straw is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and the founder and VP of Business Development of Linkdex.