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Technology & InternetDebunking SEO: Gisele Navarro Méndez
SEO adviser and world traveler, Gisele Méndez, talks web strategy and content optimization. She delves into why some companies have a hard time being found - and what puts the SEO community up in arms.
Gisele (a local Berliner!) provides freelance social SEO consultancy and blogger outreach services, as well as SEO coaching for bloggers and small business owners. She’s the Social Community Manager for Upstream Connections and you’ll find her blogging at In Social We Trust. She tweets regularly via @GiseleNMendez.
1. What was your first introduction to SEO?
GM: I learned about SEO on the same day I decided to quit my job at a multinational corporation and start working from home. In order to learn more about search marketing, I turned to the books, added many many blogs to my RSS feed reader and joined a number of forums. My first position was as a virtual SEO assistant and a few months after that, my first dummy site was ready for SEO experiments to begin. Basically, I was forged by long hours of freelancing in exchange for minimum payment, but weren’t we all?
2. How has the process of SEO changed since your first introduction?
GM: Well, back then SEO had very little to do with the actual site, it was not about the content and -most importantly- it was not about the clients: every move was planned based on how search engines worked. Nowadays, we all know that there’s no room for a strategy that doesn’t take into consideration consumer behavior and their needs, the website's design, and its precious content.
3. Have Google’s updates influenced they way you conduct your SEO practices? If so, how?
GM: Not really, but it did change the way companies I work with think about SEO and their online presence in general. Google’s updates are in sync with their Webmaster guidelines - and we have all had access to that content since Day One. But as I’ve said earlier, many businesses I work with started to care more about their website and their content when they heard about these "evil updates" that were knocking sites down.
4. What is the biggest challenge companies and professionals face in terms of being found organically? What roadblocks you have discovered along the way that new companies should try to avoid?
GM: I think the biggest challenge for companies and professionals is working with a website that hasn’t been developed with SEO in mind. These sites maybe have hundreds of internal pages that need to be fixed, with no one (internally) who is prepared to do the job for them. In the past few months, I’ve been contacted by several companies who were in desperate need of SEO help and, as it turned out, were actually in desperate need of an entirely new website.
It’s important that new companies have all the right basics before they move on to the link building stage: they should pay special attention to their website and the CMS platform they’re working with; they should make sure they’re not leaving a trace of duplicated content along the way (this applies especially to e-commerce sites). Companies should also have an internal linking strategy without over-optimize their site. In addition to that, I would encourage new companies to inject SEO into all parts of their marketing: email, social, business partnerships, and content development.
5. Do you think is it easier or more difficult to be found in an organic search in 2012, compared to 2007? Why is this so?
GM: Compared to 2007, it’s harder to be found in an organic search now. Since that time many factors have changed:
- Google Suggest (now Gooogle Instant) appeared and people now receive suggestions every time they start typing their queries,
- Real-time search was born,
- Search algorithms take social signals into consideration
- “Freshness” became an issue to consider
- The space dedicated to organic search results has shrunk, creating room not only for ads, but also for G+ results, videos, images, and the Knowledge Graph
- Search results have gone from 10 to 7 for many queries
- Over-optimization became an issue to consider
- Search engines are shifting to personalization: Google has ‘Search+ Your World,’ Bing has ‘Social Search’
6. What relationship does “high-quality” content play in the process of SEO?
GM: If there isn’t a clear strategy behind it, content is just content. Instead of aiming for vague “high-quality,” I would think in terms of relevant, creative and timely content. Once the content is there, it will work as a cycle: SEO will help you get that content in front of the right eyes, and working with good content will make building links easier.
7. Is the black hat versus white hat SEO argument still relevant? What do you see as the biggest discrepancies within the SEO community?
GM: There will always be a black hat VS white hat argument because there are many gray areas in what we do. This concept comes from the hacking sphere. As long as SEOs keep seeing themselves detached from the bigger marketing picture, they will keep falling into sketchy methods that might bring them short-term results, but won’t contribute to their clients’ successes.
There are many points in which the SEO community seems to disagree: from link building techniques to the importance of social media. I think the biggest discrepancy would be that half the SEOs still feel like we’re battling against search engines.
8. Do the communities within social platforms relate directly to search engine results? Does building a social media following help boost organic search results?
GM: The number of backlinks pointing to your site is still the most powerful ranking factor, but search engines are increasingly identifying authority, trust and popularity in association to social signals. In my opinion, achieving huge followings won’t help you boost your rankings unless you’re also building relationships - that’s the strongest way you can prove relevance and relevance is the core of search.
9. What do you find more influential: SEO or community building?
GM: SEO is still more influential (as a ranking factor) than social community building. Matt Cutts agrees.
10. Where do you go to find the most up-to-date and relevant SEO news and advice? Who are current the leaders in SEO?
GM: I go to where all the SEO pros are hanging out: SEOMoz and the YouMoz blog, Distilled’s blog, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Roundtable.