Some time ago, there was a service called SEO. It required some intimate knowledge of how website were put together, a little bit of magic, and sometimes questionable ethics if you wanted to rank high on the search results page. In the early days of Web 2.0, there were a plethora of search engines vying to be the best and none of them worked remotely the same way.
Now we have three major search engines, one controlling a majority of the search engine market share, with the rest fighting to stay relevant. The major search engines are keen to keep individuals from cheating their systems, making their algorithms and techniques for ranking more and more intricate, and changing or altering their methods on a continuing basis.
Google, which accounts for 67.3% of internet traffic the last time I checked (comScore press release), is getting rid of the whole “keyword data” thing. They are trying to make your search data more secure (as long as you’re logged into your google account), hopefully protecting you from something (let’s think about what’s been in the news lately…). There is at least one problem with this, though.
You know that entry in Google Analytics that says “(not provided)”? That’s probably going to get bigger. At least, that’s what it sounds like Google is going to do. Any search results that aren’t encrypted (i.e. all the ones from people who aren’t logged into their google accounts) will come through to your analytics tools like normal. For all of the other ones, you’re out of luck… at least for easily accessible keyword data. You can, of course, still get paid keyword data if you’re paying for Adwords.
You may be asking, “But, how will I know how to optimize my site for those keywords if I don’t know the keywords people use to find my site?!?!”
Hold your horses.
Luckily, there are some workarounds. Google Webmaster Tools has limited keyword impression data as well as linked pages, link anchor text, and URLs of where those links come from. There is also the landing page data on Analytics, which can be helpful in figuring out which content is most popular on your site. (This can also help you infer keywords that people are using to reach your site.)
But here’s the rub. Google doesn’t really care much anymore which keywords your site is optimized for, how well you’ve placed header keywords, or how often you use a word in your blog posts, as far as page ranks are concerned. (Like using “asparagus” 200 times in an article ever really meant that you’re an expert on asparagus anyway.) Those are all good habits to have, and best practices to use, whether you’re creating a page, writing a post, or building a brand new website, but they don’t really mean you’ll have a higher rank on Google’s search results page.
What Google does care about, though, is whether people find your content interesting / trustworthy / accurate and how often you create new, interesting / trustworthy / accurate content. If people link to your site / post / page about a certain topic a lot, you have a higher ranking as an author/site, or authorship. That means: when people search for something on the internet, if you’re ranked highly for that topic, your site will show up (and with a neat little headshot and by-line, if you’ve set that up with Google, which requires Google+…). Forbes, actually has a really good infographic about how authorship works.
The general consensus is, in order for you to appear highly ranked in search results, you need to be sufficiently interesting / trustworthy / accurate as an author, which means you need to write about the topic – knowledgably. (and get links to your work.) Then, in addition to everything else google does to check your pages / posts / sites, you will have “authority” on a subject and you will get ranked more highly.
The point of this somewhat dry, boring, and rambling post is that you need to write, and write about a specific topic (or small set of topics, you don’t want to be so varied that google doesn’t know what to do with you, right?), and be knowledgeable about it (or them). And promote. And link. And link some more. And bother people on Twitter. Maybe they’ll link you back.
Thats right. Just create good content and let people know you’re doing it. And don’t forget to take advantage of the free resources Google has to offer.