SEO: Redefining Theory, Policy and Practice ( Part II )

Kavin Paulson
Published on March 21, 2016
Image implies Artificial Intelligence

Some serious but informal discussions have taken place on various communities about the changing phase of SEO or a need to have a broad outlook on SEO but neither a common consensus has been acheived so far nor a formal, comprehensive document setting the guidelines has ever been written. We need to have a formal debate/discussion so that a common consensus can be acheived – this is highly important because our field, to be frank, is currently in a confused state due to the lack of commonly agreed theory defining SEO which is formally approved/accepted by an official body – yes, we don’t have one.


One of the serious discussions that took place on Rand Fishin’s WBF post at Moz . Rand brilliantly argues how new ranking factors have been emerging and influencing us to change our approach and practices. He advocates the need for SEO professionals to play a bigger role and see the larger picture.

Not only new ranking factors, but also the newly emerging devices and possible future developments in technology will take search to a whole new level and SEO has to evolve and has been evolving and so should SEOs – thus a broader definition of SEO becomes truly important. Now, let’s discuss how SEO has been evolving and not remains as just the core optimization work that we have always done.

Let’s have a look at some of the key developments that have added new dimensions to SEO.

We never heard of ‘social signals’ as a ranking factor before 2009, and Matt Cutts confirmed the use of social signals in 2010. Since then, there have been numerous debates and discussions about the level of influence of social signals in rankings – but it’s undeniable that ‘social signals’ are being used as a ranking factor by Google – though the level of influence has always been a matter of discussion.

Both Search Engine Land’s The Periodic Table and Moz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors reports have included ‘social signals’ as a factor that influences serp rankings.

As Google maniacally focuses on quality results and greater user experience – factors such as trust signals, authority, relevance, user experience, entity relationships, topical context, user intent etc. have come into the picture and out of these, factors that mattered in the past as well have gained importance like never before driving SEOs to co-opt activities which never considered part of SEO process into the SEO fold.

Hasn’t social media become more relevant to SEO since 2009? Social becomes an integral part of SEO process.

Co-citations and Co-occurence are arguably believed to be ranking factors since 2012 – many experts have been discussing and strongly suggesting that these factors influence serp rankings.

How do we ensure co-citations and co-occurences for our brand naturally? We generate co-citations and co-occurences by doing PR/outreach, content marketing, social media, ORM, viral marketing and more. In short, promotional activities result in mentions ( including links) and quality mentions contribute to brand building – brand means trust & authority. Quality Citations and co-occurences are trust signals that in turn possibly influence serp rankings.

This is the reason why big brands usually do well in search suggests Rand Fishkin. He talks about Google’s possible brand bias in this keynote

Doesn’t all the sub-fields of online marketing now contribute to your SEO success like never before? Doesn’t it make sense to bring them into the modern seo fold? ( at the same time, they stand alone as well). Moreover, as mentioned above, SEO has been evolving as new ranking factors have been coming into the picture.

Here are a couple of more key developments that have happened in the recent past which could reaffirm the fact that SEO is evolving.

In 2010, Google confirmed that speed of a website is a ranking factor and in 2014, Google announced that ‘https’ is a ranking signal. Whenever search engines announce new ranking factors – we fine-tune our approach to SEO. The process itself undergoes drastic changes –

  • Increase in usage of mobile and Google’s ‘mobile first’ approach has driven us to ‘think mobile’. Mobilegeddon has driven us to consider building and optimizing a mobile-friendly website a part of core SEO process, in contrast, a few years back mobile website/seo was considered an ‘additional’ effort.
  • Developments like Hummingbird – things not strings, the knowledge graph, introduction of schema etc have resulted in upgraded approach to SEO wherein we make logical, topical and contextual connections between keyphrases, user intent, content/webpages and linking out external sources.
  • Long back, external linkings used to be miserly done by webmasters in order to minimize outflow of page rank. In the recent times, SEO experts suggest that linking out to authoritative and relevant web pages may actually impact our SEO efforts positively. That’s one way of creating relevance.
  • Arrival of Conversational Engine/Voice search has drastically changed the way we do keyword research. Hummingbird too has contributed to this change.
  • Google’s maniacal focus on quality and contextual search results and great user experience has resulted in broadening of the role of SEO further – on-site user experience and engagement matters in SEO and an SEO has to ensure user satisfaction, period. Google understands user satisfaction level by studying user behavior. CTR, pogo-sticking, bounce rate are some of the parameters that Google might be using to measure user satisfaction. ( Google read: Why is a Quality User Experience an SEO Ranking Factor? ).
  • Google’s focus on quality is even more evident from the quality update it came up with in 2015.
  • SEO is not evolving? Anyone? Even after all these significant developments that have happened in the SEO landscape that have changed the way we do SEO, do you still think we can do with the old definition of SEO?

    If you think, this is it, take a deep breath and continue reading – the best is yet to come.

    Not only the SEO process but the search landscape itself has been changing dramatically and necessity to optimize website/app/content for different search platforms and devices and ensure cross-platform and cross-device visibility increases the scope of SEO manifold. Thus, it’s high time we adopted a broad definition of SEO that may stand the test of time.

    Search goes altogether to a new level with the arrival of new-age devices ranging from mobiles & tablets to wearables like Apple watch to Google glass. Think beyond Google, Yahoo and Bing and alike – search happens in app stores, social networks and Amazon alikes. Search happens in Siri, Cortena, Google now and Corespotlight too. Optimizing and ensuring high visibility of your website, app or content across these devices/platforms becomes part of SEO process thus enlarging its scope. SEO is not dying but evolving.

    Some Helpful Quick links:

    App Store Optimization

    App Indexing

    Amazon Search Optimization

    Apple Search Optimization (Siri and Corespotlight)

    Facebook Search Optimization

    Youtube Optimization

    Morover, the new technologies such as Physicalweb, IoT ( Internet of Things ), BLE ( Bluetooth Low Energy ), Artificial Intellgience in Search ( RankBrain is already there- consider it a good start) are likely to disrupt the search landscape in a bigger way. Once these technologies get rolled out, search will become even more complex – so will the SEO process. We’ll witness further evolution of SEO process and SEO is not going to be just the stuff we do now.

    Here is a great post where experts discuss and share insights on these new technologies – 9 Futuristic SEO Questions Answered by Top SEO Experts.

    So, now the million dollar question – how do we define the new-age SEO? Yes, Modern SEO 😉 . We need a holistic definition that will stand the test of time.

    I propose the following definition with the hope that it will be discussed and debated and eventually a widely accepted final version will come out. I hope that this post will be a good start that may spark some serious discussions, which may eventually result in coming together of thought leaders on one platform to discuss and build a common consensus on finalizing a holistic version of SEO. Not only that, we actually need an official body ( Read: Post Script below) which will recognize the standard, widely-accepted version of SEO

    Proposed definition of SEO:

    SEO is a process that involves practices and activities that directly and indirectly, without violating the guidelines/policies of the concerned search engines/platforms and devices, impact factors that help maximize the visiblity of your website, app or relevant content across search engines, platforms and devices for the right audience, at the right time when search happens or information is implictly sought.

    Do you have any suggestions or corrections or do you have a better defintion? Please share with us in the comment section below.

    Help us to spread the word – share this article around.

    Post Script:

    Here is my idea of having an official body for SEOs:

    The official body will comprise a panel led by SEO thought leaders/experts who will act as representatives of the countries they come from – the body will act as a regulator which will set broad SEO standards and guidelines. I was thrilled to know that someone echoed a similar sentiment way back in 2011 though the author discussed about creating better industry associations.

    Being a part of the SEO fraternity, these are my humble opinions and suggestions for the betterment of our profession. We need to be more organized. Hope the SEO veterans out there will take the lead.


    Kavin Paulson


    Kavin is a seasoned digital marketer with more than 10 years of hands-on experience handling multiple projects of various clients from different industries. A decade-long career in digital marketing has helped him gain diverse skill sets, rich experience and in-depth knowledge of how things work in the digital ecosystem. As a digital marketing consultant over a period of 10+ years, he has led many digital marketing campaigns to achieve set objectives and have delivered impressive results. Apart from working on digital marketing projects and handling clients, he does read, analyze and write about all things digital. "I welcome you to the community and invite you to be a part of it. Hope you like what we do here at The iMarketing Café. Your valuable suggestions and feedback is always welcome. Stay tuned!" - Kavin

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