SEO is just referral marketing, where a computer is your referral partner. Yes, a few different tactics are required, but the underlying principles remain the same.
For referral marketing to work, you need to educate your referral network about what you do, and establish credibility through testimonials, recognition, and other proof points. Once your referral network has a clear understanding of what you do, and are confident you do it well, they will be eager to refer you to their friends, family, and colleagues.
Think of Google as a potential referral partner. First, you have to educate Google about what you do. Second, you have to establish credibility. If Google knows what you do and believes you do it well, Google will recommend you to those who ask about your services – you will move up the search rankings.
Educating Google is pretty easy
Years ago, using lots of keywords was the key to educating Google. SEO experts found all sorts of creative ways to load more keywords into webpages. They added them behind the scenes, where humans wouldn’t see them, but computers could. Of course, not every SEO expert or web designer was totally honest, and people would optimize sites for more keywords than were relevant. Focusing solely on keywords also meant that webpages didn’t always read smoothly – the language sounded stilted. Because sites were written for machines, not for people.
So Google got smart. Now, Google is incredibly skilled at “natural language processing” – basically, Google can read and intepret the written word and no longer has to rely on keywords. Keywords (and keyphrases) still have their place, but you need a much lower keyword density to successfully educate Google about what you do.
The rise of social media also means you have many more chances to educate Google about what you do. As long as your social media channels are clearly connected to your website, Google can connect the dots between what you talk about on Facebook and your website. And there are many other avenues (e.g., local directory sites) for you to clearly identify your business.
Content educates Google
You no longer need to overload keywords, but you still need to educate Google. Regularly adding new content to your website and social media feeds continues the process of educating Google about what you do. It gives you the opportunity to steadily educate search engines about the range of services you offer. And regularly posting content has the added benefit of showing Google you actively maintain your website – a sign of a conscientious business.
Credibility is content, too
Establishing credibility with Google is slightly harder than educating Google. But it’s still relatively straightforward. The difference is that, when it comes to credibility, Google isn’t going to take your word for it. So you need other people to say positive things about you. There are two primary ways to do this:
Collect positive online reviews. Online reviews are a direct way to establish the credibility of your business. You’re showing the search engines that you have satisfied clients, who are happy to speak publicly about the good work you’ve done. Guess what? This is content. A different style of content, but content nonetheless.
Get reputable sites (e.g., local newspapers, industry blogs) to talk about your business. Getting coverage from other sites increases your credibility because it shows you are active in your community or industry. It builds stronger ties between your business and other credible businesses, which raises your credibility by association.
The secret: Two types of content
The difference between education and credibility content is that you can write education content yourself, whereas credibility content is most effective when published by others. This doesn’t mean you can’t write your credibility content – press releases submitted to local newspapers often end up published almost as written. But you want someone else to publish the content. Whether it’s an article in a local paper, a post contributed to an industry blog site, or a Yelp! review from a sastified client, it all counts. As your content grows, your search ranking will rise.