Google released an algorithm change early this month that has been dubbed “Mayday”. The name references the timing of the release, but it also describes the panic expressed by many SEO consultants who have invested much time and effort into optimizing sites according to their theories of how Google’s crawling, indexing and ranking algorithms work.
SEO forums such as WebmasterWorld are abuzz with the prattling-on of search engine optimizers who are debating how to take advantage of this latest update. I can’t respond to this chatter any better than the excellent advice of Vanessa Fox on Search Engine Land:
Focus on what Google is trying to accomplish as it refines things (the most relevant, useful results possible for searchers) and you’ll generally avoid too much turbulence in your organic search traffic.
On the heels of this update I have had various conversations with local businesses who hope to achieve top ranking for competitive keywords. To those businesses I have two pieces of advice:
- Play to your strength – focus on local optimization.
- Invest in content, not SEO.
Play To Your Strength
Google and other search engines are getting increasingly better at recognizing local intent in user’s queries. For example, if I do the query “industrial supply”, I get Google local results after the first two listings. I was talking to a client recently who has a small business selling industrial supplies and hoped to show up on the first page of results. Maybe it would be possible for a small business to show up on the first page of organic results, but not without a considerable investment in link-builing and content development. On the other hand, the competition for local results is not that strong.
Many SEO consultants will take your money and do their best to improve your ranking in the organic results, but the return on investment is likely to be much better for local optimization, and you are less vulnerable to the whims of the next Google update. Look for a marketing consultant who has experience with local optimization, or read up on Mike Blumenthal and Matt McGee and work on it yourself.
Invest In Content, Not SEO
Or, at least, invest more in content than SEO. The goal of a search engine is to deliver the page that best matches a user’s query. There are a number of best practices that help ensure that a search engine can crawl your content, and that you are getting credit for the good content you offer. But pick any one of those and I can find an example of a page with good content that doesn’t comply and still shows up in the top results. It is possible to game search engine algorithms and rank well with poor content, but the safer and better long term investment is to provide content that is useful to searchers.
I was responsible for SEO for the social/local community Guidespot.com (my involvement ended about a year and a half ago), and we did incredibly well in organic search. But my job was easy, because we were investing a lot in fostering good content. If you are striving to achieve a top ranking, you should ask yourself if your content is more comprehensive, funnier, more informative, more engaging or in some way better than all of the other content on the web. If not, you are polishing a turd, as the expression goes.
I don’t think it is possible to give an exact ratio, but if your SEO budget is more than 1/10th of what you spend on content, you are probably spending too much.
In summary, you should not care about any given algorithm update if you are a small, local business. Focus on showing up well in local search before trying to compete with large, national businesses in the organic search engine results, and invest in good content on your web site if you want to attract visitors.