[Interview] Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – “Content is a king, not a Cinderella”
Many people still think they can manipulate search engines in order to get top rankings, for instance, teams of Romanian newspapers and magazines websites. Thus, their major concern is how to get traffic instead of how to create traffic by valuable content. When I noticed this issue, I became interested in SEO. The first example of manipulation through SEO which comes to my mind is best underlined by this title of a daily newspaper website: “Elena Udrea died”. Elena Udrea is a Romanian politician who coordinated the campaign for the local elections in 2012 and whose strategy proved to be a failure. She didn’t die, she just lost elections, but in a metaphorical way, one may say “she died from a political point of view”. Therefore, they had a sensational title, designed for thousands of clicks, but with a superficial content which confused the readers. A more well-known example is the campaign against George Bush, when a lot of websites and blogs linked George’s Bush page with the key words “miserable failure”. Thus, when someone typed the words “miserable failure” in Google, the first result was George’s Bush personal page from the White House website. In my future research, I would like to analyze the relevance of content in making a good SEO job and to deal closer with manipulation issues. For a good insight in this topic, I talked to Cristina Andrei, global SEO manager at Bitdefender, an international antivirus software company.
Cristina is interested in online marketing and started her career with content writing for an interactive web agency, then discovered SEO, which quickly became her career focus. In 2009 she launched a professional blog WebCopywriter.ro, where she writes about SEO copywriting techniques. As a SEO manager for Bitdefender, she is in charge of the search engine optimization strategy for all the company websites. Her specialties consist in a mix of SEO, web copywriting and social media.
Q: Which is the first thing that you are looking for when you access a website?
C.A.: It always depends on my goal as a visitor. For example, if I read an article, I want a clean, simple design that focuses on texts; it should also be a trustworthy source of information, with a clearly identifiable author, whose credentials I can easily check (on Twitter, LinkedIn, forums etc.). If I want to buy from an online store, I need to be convinced that it is safe to pay with my credit card; I also need to see the products offered in great detail, with high-quality images and lots of specifications.
Q: In a recent interview, you stated that Google appreciates qualitative websites. What do you think is a qualitative website in Google’s view? What about your view?
C.A.: I think that Google tries very hard to mimic the human behavior, so basically what is high-quality for Google is also high-quality for Internet users. The search engine looks for authoritative and engaging content, written by persons that are –if not always experts in their field- at least enthusiastic about the topics they cover.
Q: What role does the content play in engaging visitors on a website? Do you think that content is still ‘the Cinderella’ of websites? Do you foresee any changes of this aspect?
C.A: Actually, in SEO we have this saying: “content is king”. Maybe it used to be a Cinderella back in the old days, but now you cannot have an optimized site without good content – and this is how it is supposed to be.
Q: How do you comment on this quote: “Build for users, not for search engines”?
C.A: It is the basis of modern SEO. You need to have the content that is good enough to be trusted by users, shared on social networks and linked to from other sites. Search engines just pick those signals and come to the conclusion that this is an authoritative site, which deserves to rank well in SERPs (search engine results pages).
Q: It’s not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors. What’s your method for achieving this?
C.A.: It is all about targeting the right keywords in SEO. If you focus on keywords that are too broad (high volume), it will be difficult to rank for them, as they are extremely competitive. If you actually manage to rank for them, you get many visitors that may not convert. So the best thing is to target keywords that describe what your site is actually about, have a good traffic potential and can convert your visitors into customers.
Q: Why do you think Google has changed the algorithm lately?
C.A: Google changes its algorithm twice in one day. Be it minor tweaks or game-changers such as the Panda or Penguin updates (to name the most recent ones), its goal is to fight content & link spam and provide relevant results for people’s queries.
Q: Why do you think users are less important than Page Rank for some specialists in SEO?
C.A. They are not SEO specialists, but spammers.
Q: Do you think that the competition for users is still strong nowadays? What should a web copywriter do in order to get more users for his client?
C.A.: The competition is tougher than ever, now that everyone (and their dog) has a website. This is why a web copywriter should address specific needs, promise certain benefits and make sure the product advertised really delivers them. It’s all about trust – if you or your products are misleading, you will not get away with it. Not in the era of Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
Q: Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trusted sites. How do we know if a site is trustworthy?
C.A.: You start by recognizing “spammy” sites, for instance sites with shallow content, tons of irrelevant ads – basically sites which do not satisfy your search needs. After you dismiss such sites, you need to look for content that answers your search query. Then you look up the person that writes such content, to see if they are experts in their field or just somebody that steals content from elsewhere and pretends it is theirs. You check if this site has a social media following (a public Facebook page, an official Twitter account). Then you may want to see what others say about this site (or the persons behind it) on Google. The beauty of the Internet is that you can check everything from more than 3 sources.
Q: Despite amazing technological advances, search engines cannot yet understand text, view images or watch video the same way a human can. What are the main differences?
C.A: Actually, search engines can understand text, and this is called “semantic search”. And if you have the ALT text attribute set for an image, search engines can read that too. Videos can have transcripts as well, so it is not that difficult for a search engine to mimic the human behaviour in order to deliver the most relevant results.
Key takeaways from the interview:
- A good and reliable site means more than a nice design
- Content is king, not a Cinderella
- It’s all about building trust to convert a visitor into a customer
- Avoid misleading products and content
- Social media and SEO make a good job together
- Be interactive and advertise yourself
- Build communities