I’ve been blogging for about a decade now. For the first several years I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of SEO. I slowly became interested in the subject, however, and used my growing knowledge of it when building some small niche websites over the last three or four years.
Because these techniques were working and the search engine traffic to these sites was building slowly but steadily, I became obsessed with getting visitors this way. Ultimately I came to believe it was the only worthwhile approach to generating targeted traffic.
Obviously, optimizing a website for search engines requires much more than merely writing about subjects you know and enjoy. Among other things you have to do keyword selection and link building.
While developing one particular niche website in late 2011 and early 2012, I put a lot of work into these aspects. For several months this approach was certainly bearing fruit. My site was steadily crawling up the rankings for my chosen keywords and I was making some money from the various affiliate products I was promoting on it.
The Penguin strikes back
Then at the end of April my quality, hard-earned traffic to this website just disappeared overnight! I subsequently realized that I had been hit by the dreaded Penguin update. While only those who work for Google know exactly why it will punish a site, I concluded my sin was related to link building. I had overused article marketing in particular, using anchor text that was too similar too often. This created an unnatural link profile, which was one of the things that Google was really cracking down on.
Needless to say, I should have seen this coming. And I was actually quite upset at first. After all, I’d done all that work over months only to see it all come to nought. I wasn’t trying to deceive Google. I was merely being overzealous.
But I finally came around to understanding why I had been punished. This was a valuable lesson.
It confirmed something that many SEO experts had been saying often in recent years: Google was becoming increasingly human-like in its ability to judge the quality of a page. And while off-site promotion remained worth doing, the thing you should focus on more than anything else was adding unique and interesting content.
And there was another factor at play here. In the months leading up to these developments, I was learning about the value of Twitter. Like many webmasters who loved getting that search engine traffic to their sites, I was very skeptical about it at first. Why put all that time and effort into tweeting silly little messages, I thought.
I decided to give it a go, though, and started several accounts. I found it a lot of fun to share stuff, and connect with other bloggers. And it definitely helped increase traffic to my sites through direct clicks.
Also, I noticed a small general lift in search traffic to the blogs and sites linked to my most active Twitter accounts. I’d read about how social media activity was now being taken into account by Google. Maybe this was it?
But the best thing about using Twitter was that my interactions on the site resulted in a few back links from other bloggers. And these voluntary one way links were valuable in the eyes of Google.
When tweets are sweet
It was then that I realized that social media was not just another way to bring traffic. It was actually a boon to SEO.
In retrospect this was all quite obvious. I had merely discovered for myself what Google had been recommending all the while. But if you get obsessed with one issue, as I had done, you can easily end up ignoring the wood for the trees –- or more specifically, the rankings for the tweets.
But I won’t be making that mistake again. From now on I’ll still be mindful of SEO when writing blogs and building websites. But I won’t waste time and energy fretting about it. Instead, I’ll be much more focused on adding good, interesting and unique content, as well as sharing it and other thoughts and links with my Twitter followers. This will be much more straightforward and enjoyable. It will also be better for getting search engine traffic in the long run.
- For a basic guide to SEO, you can download a Beginners’ Guide to SEO from SEOmoz, a company that provides SEO management software.
- Michael David of TastyPlacement, a social media consultancy based in Texas, did a small experiment to test how social media signals affect search, and created this infographic:
Photo: arnoKath on flickr