07/31/2013 08:31 EDT | Updated 09/30/2013 05:12 EDT

You Think You Know Google's Algorithm, But You Have No Idea

There are few things in life we can count on: death, taxes and changes to Google's algorithm. What does that mean? It means the same tricks that helped a company rank high last year may no longer help. In fact, they may hurt.

There are few things in life we can count on: death, taxes and changes to Google's algorithm.

These changes may be a thorn in the side for many who have fallen into a comfortable pattern of obtaining search ranking results for their websites through traditional SEO practices (we'll get into those later).

Those same changes however, are also ensuring that as the Internet expands and becomes more populated that those of us searching for answers to our questions don't have to wade through each and every one of those layers to find those answers.

Google is pushing companies to produce quality content, in part because that's what consumers want, and in part to help weed out the spam.

What does that mean? It means the same tricks that helped a company rank high last year may no longer help. In fact, they may hurt.

Let's say you're relying on the same SEO tactics you employed 18 months ago. Provided you have diversified your efforts into multiple marketing strategies you may not be seeing the impact quite yet. If however, you have put all your eggs in one old school SEO basket then you're likely feeling the sting of Google's changes over the past year.

So how do you distinguish between what was and what is -- knowing, of course, that all this will change again?

Here's some clarification on what will now help you weather the changes and impact positively your website's ability to rank in search results:

Write for your human audience. Not so long ago SEO meant (in part) providing content that was written for the search engine. This resulted in pages filled with industry buzzwords and keyword-dense paragraphs. Well Google is smarter than that now. It understands acronyms and even uses a synonym table. This means you don't have to write awkwardly to rank high and if you do insist on continuing to do so the fallout will be that your real audience -- people -- will move on and so too will Google.

People want answers. People aren't looking for generic information; they're looking for answers to questions. Where should I eat? Which professional service provider should I use? Whose widget should I buy? They want to scan quickly and find the answer to their question. It used to be that rankings for simple words were the goal -- companies wanted to own the big umbrella term, like "lawyer" -- and now it's better to own a specific search than it is to own a general search. Because people don't look for "lawyers" they look for "divorce lawyers at Bay and Bloor" -- and ranking for specific terms also brings in qualified traffic. The people coming to your site are looking for exactly what you are offering when your content speaks to the specifics for which they have questions.

Social media matters. While having a presence on social media in and of itself will not suffice to impact your ranking, the sharing of your content -- by you, with others, by others -- across social media platforms will. If you tweet on Twitter or post to Facebook with links to relevant content and others re-tweet and engage with your content and talk about it on their social media platforms and websites, that will positively impact search rankings. With so many voices out there now, social media is a crucial tool to helping raise awareness of what is on that website that you're trying to get everyone to visit.

There's content; then there's great content. Content may be king, but now it's about "great" content. We keep hearing that Google is pushing the bar in the direction of "high quality" content. What is great content that people want to share? It's content that people want to read and share because it is unique and relevant. It provides food for thought, gives depth to subject matters that people are vested in. The perspective is different, the source materials are verifiable, the information can't be found elsewhere. Everyone who "gets" it is increasing their content, but great, high quality content is where you want to differentiate yourself from the crowd. So if you're still using templated content in the name of SEO, that ship has sailed and your website isn't on it.

Knowing that Google is always changing its algorithm and every change could impact your bottom line, it's imperative to stay on top of what each of those changes means to how you're doing things today. No doubt, in time, the above tips may also change. As long as you diversify your marketing efforts and don't rely too heavily on something that always changes not changing, you can ensure that your combined efforts will pay off.

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