Search Engine Optimization is Changing

A friend of mine, who is an ecommerce entrepreneur in a very competitive space and in the middle of a shopping cart migration, recently asked me for some SEO advice. After answering his specific questions, I suggested we do a few searches for high volume keywords to see what his competitors are doing. Some of the results were rather surprising. Here were the two biggest eye openers.

1. Numerous first page Google search results included pages that didn't even contain the search terms we used.

2. For many keyword searches, half of the results were video and other social media sites rather than his direct competitors.

These results were not a fluke. I have been able to repeat this outcome with several searches for my own site. The first results for “4walls sterling apartments,” which would have previously delivered the listing page, now serve up my index page— which does not have the word sterling on it—as the first result. 100% of our social media clients are seeing their Twitter, Facebook, or both of these pages on the first page of search results for their community within 30 days (we now take before and after screen shots to demonstrate this finding).

Getting great search results used to be straightforward. If you started with good content, didn't screw up the title and description meta tag or on-page text, set up appropriate internal linking and got a few sites to link to yours, you'd be golden. Everyone would think you were a search engine genius.

Today, this just isn't enough. First, you've got to be so much better because there is a lot more competition from new rating and review sites, apartment mapping sites, real estate sections of large portals (e.g. Yahoo), and an ever-increasing number of traditional Internet Listing Services. Second, it takes a lot more work to maintain search rankings. You need to have a site that's constantly changing, take into consideration the impact of word stemming and themes, and you have to have a ton of authoritative sites linking to yours. And it seems to me that a little bit of luck plays a part, too.

Search Engine Optimization is still the best potential investment you can make in your site, but if you decide to make an investment, make sure you understand that a one-time tune-up isn't going to work as well as it used to. What works in 2010 requires an expanded set of tricks.