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Technology & InternetDebunking SEO: Jonathan Gebauer
What role do social media networks play in SEO and business exposure? How have Google's updates altered the SEO playing field? Meet former student of search engine algorithms and our CEO, Jonathan.
Former mathematician and CEO & co-founder of exploreB2B, Jonathan Gebauer, discusses the functionality of SEO from a combined scientific and business perspective. Here, he uses his mathematic study of Google's algorithms to explain how he observes and implements SEO as a business professional. As he delves into the sensitive debate of whether or not SEO is relevant, he answers the ultimate question: Is good SEO, no SEO?
When were you first introduced to the concept of SEO? What was your experience with its implementation?
JG: I studied mathematics at university and at some point took a class about data mining (finding patterns and therefore getting usable data from large amounts of data via an algorithmic approach). Google’s algorithmic approach to searching the web falls roughly into this category, so I ended up doing a talk about Google’s original PageRank algorithm. This, while from today’s point of view is a really basic approach, was revolutionary for search back in those days and served as my introduction to web search and SEO.
This was a great introduction as it provided me with insight from a more scientific point of view (an advantage, many so-called experts lack). When it came to implementing SEO strategies during the course of my business life, I quickly became known as the careful voice. The thing about SEO strategy is that it can work in “the now” but backfire in the future. This is not just due to Google’s algorithms updates, but also from over-optimizing content. (This might be good for search, but hard on readers’ eyes and brains.)
A good friend of mine once put it this way: “Good SEO is no SEO.” I would rephrase that: “Good SEO is natural SEO.” Recent developments at Google make me believe that they might actually be of the same opinion.
Do you currently utilize SEO or any aspects of content optimization?
JG: We (of course) implement some elements of content optimization into our strategy. We start by trying to provide strong, engaging content that people are interested to read. We focus on being an entertaining and reliable content provider. One aspect of this is to get good authors on exploreB2B, while trying to be exemplary authors ourselves.
That does not mean we are definitive or one-sided about the use of SEO tactics. We have strong discussions about the topic, but hold to our general rules: good content is always the top priority.
How has SEO changed with Google’s Panda and Penguin updates?
JG: Panda and Penguin fine-tuned Google to put more emphasis on the actual quality of the content and are therefore a step in the direction of making traditional SEO (more or less) obsolete. The traditional ways of building, or buying links to improve the ranking of a site, no longer work to the extent they used to.
From what I see, at least part of the SEO industry seems right now to be panicking. Some SEO ‘gurus’ simply try to ignore (or deny) the fact that the quick, moneymaking optimization techniques of the past will soon disappear. Others desperately look for alternatives.
The upside is that the current situation has benefits for those who focus on content marketing. SEO still is valid when used in conjunction with the production of high-quality content and as a technique to improve other marketing efforts. What is currently dying is SEO as a sole technique for driving traffic and profit.
What role do social media platforms and networks play in exposure? How do they relate to SEO?
JG: From an algorithmic viewpoint, it is hard to determine the actual quality of a piece of content. A search engine machine will not be able to decide whether content is good or interesting to humans.
Social data means we obtain statistics on how far the content spread, which channels produced high amounts of interaction, and combine it with how we observe our content was received among specific audiences. I believe this will continue to be the method by which strong content marketers will analyze their social data.
In essence, social analysis can be added to the already extensive amount of statistical data that search engines produce to generate relevant search results. (This has already begun.)
Social platforms and networks have thus changed our general behavior about how we discover content. Back in 2004, we would rely mostly on search to discover relevant content. Today, I discover content in many different social networks. A tool that actually replaces a lot of my work I would otherwise do on Google (for example) is, Quora.
If this development continues, than social has not only the power to enable search but also to leave it at a fraction of it’s once dominant role for information gathering.
How do content marketing and SEO influence one another? What does the rise in content marketing say about SEO?
JG: When Google launched its search engine with the revolutionary Pagerank algorithm, the main critique was that it did not actually represent people’s interests, but was based on numbers and links. In an ideal world, a search engine would rate results on quality and actual interest in the content itself. This would eliminate the need for SEO in the traditional sense of its definition.
Currently, search engines are making progress in finding an actual representation of quality and interest. The current “rise” of content marketing could be seen as a natural evolution away from SEO. One could say ‘SEO is dying’ – or one could phrase it in a way that would proclaim the emphasis on content marketing is the “new” form of SEO.
What do you think is the most efficient and effective way to have your content found online?
JG: Right now, I would say virality is key. Making content easy to read, interesting and likable is one part of that. Making it easy to share on social platforms is another. Reputation and trust are large aspects of that concept as well. If you are a trusted source, who gains a following through strong writing and informative and likeable content that can easily be shared - your content will be found.
This description does not mention the word SEO at all – but somewhere within this mix, it is still there. SEO (or how I see it) currently makes content available, even when the viral effects have worn off. Remember that article that went viral about a year ago on a blog? It is still available via a google search when you search for the topic.
What does the future of SEO look like?
JG: I currently see content marketing as a natural progression. That means, I foresee an online marketing world in which marketers, experts, copywriters, designers and strategists work together. (This would not be the worst thing to have happen.)
Who would gain the most from the potential decline in SEO? Who would suffer?
JG: I have never seen SEO as a self-sustaining industry. The people who have based their entire business career on an evolving mechanism, which focuses on one aspect of online marketing, are sure to be the ones to suffer the most. These people will have to adapt to survive. They must learn to assimilate into a world where they work hand-in-hand with content creators, experts, writers, business developers, and journalists…
Marketers who have expertise in SEO, as well as an array of content creation skills should have an easier time adjusting to the focus on high-quality content.
The better the content, the less time the searcher wastes digging through meaningless text. In the end, I believe it is the actual researcher who benefits the most - the person sitting in front of his computer, searching.