Saturday, December 3, 2016

Why You Should Ignore SEO "Trend" Articles

The core principles of SEO are timeless. For a website, online success requires a superior user experience and high-quality, relevant content.

Yet, SEO is also about identifying trends. Search evolves with the algorithms, which change frequently. And ever so often, new technologies, like Google's RankBrain, change search in a fundamental way.

Unfortunately, the SEO world often inflates the importance of trends. In fact, "trend" is one of the most abused and misused words in SEO. Many SEO writers use the word trend to describe "developing or changing" without paying heed to the transitory nature of the word.

"Trend" means "a general direction in which something is developing or changing." The word denotes a lack of permanency. A trend is mere fashion. But the only trends that matter are the game-changers, like RankBrain--not fashionable changes, but solid truths about the evolving nature of search.

1980s fashion--like clothing, SEO "trends" come and go. Organic SEO focuses on timeless principles. [Photo Source]
A Google search for "2017 SEO Trends" yields an embarrassment of click-bait, including relatively innocuous titles like Top 5 SEO trends for 2017 from Google and the experts and 39 Experts Share Their Top 3 SEO Trends for 2017 and Beyond as well as a few titles that veer to pomp, 7 SEO Trends That Will Dominate 2017, and 3 Unstoppable SEO Trends To Look Out For In 2017.

Dominate. Unstoppable. To be sure, these articles offer valuable insights. Yet the click-bait nature of the headlines--and much of the content--is antithetical to organic SEO, which requires patience and clear-sighted, evidence-based strategizing.

Most of the trends discussed in these articles are not trends at all, but different ways of interpreting timeless SEO principles. The "unstoppable" article, for example, offers three "trends" that sound suspiciously familiar: "quality content," "personal branding," and "user experience," all long-time SEO staples.

To be fair, the author of this article, Sam Oh, tries to put a new spin on each. But his spin is misguided.
Speaking of "quality content," for example, Oh asks, "Have you ever noticed how in a given day, you can go to a dozen different websites and read the same content over and over with slightly different wording?"

Oh's question is anecdotal, of course, so we'll offer an anecdotal response: We have not noticed.

Yes, many sites write about similar topics, but the sites that rank write uniquely different content. Even then, Oh's point is well taken. So much content is similar enough. In response to this similarity, Oh believes, we've seen "the meteoric rise of long-form, detailed 'uber-guides' that cover topics in extensive (borderline excruciating) detail."

To explain "uber-guides," Oh links to an article by Neil Patel: "Why 3000+ Word Blog Posts Get More Traffic (A Data Driven Answer)."

Patel is one of the most prominent advocates of longform posts, generally considered by the SEO community to be the best way to attract traffic for any given keyword.

This was not always the case. In 2012, SERPIQ performed a much-quoted analysis that seemed to upend the conventional wisdom. As the Columbia Journalism Review noted in 2013:

"When readers started moving to the internet, media analysts thought longform journalism was in trouble. Attention spans were going to shrivel. Readers wanted short, they wanted snappy, they wanted 140 characters and not much more (though a listicle on the side couldn’t hurt). Who would want to scroll through an 8,000-word article on an iPhone screen?"

SERPIQ and others, like Moz, proved the opposite to be true: posts averaging 1,500 words (in Moz's estimates) and 2000+ words (in SERPIQ's estimates) performed best.

Since 2012, then, the SEO world has put much more emphasis on longform posts. Is longform a trend itself? Sam Oh seems to believe so. He sees today's content as a choice between two bad options.

"People are either subjected to bite sized remakes of the same boring filler that you have seen plastered across websites for the past several years," Oh writes, "or they are forced to endure guides and articles that are so long and drawn out that they make Tolstoy’s War and Peace look like a children’s bedtime story."

The solution, Oh believes, is "content density", which can be described as "per word value."

Like content length, keyword density is another hotly-debated SEO principle. How many keywords (compared to the total number of words) should you use for any given piece? Currently, the vogue is a relatively low density: maybe 1-3%. But keyword density is not what Oh is talking about. He's seemingly inventing a new term, "content density," to describe a meaningless concept.

"Even though you might write a 3,000 word article that explains all the nuances of Snapchat marketing," Oh writes, "the actual amount of value you deliver per-word might be very low. However, by providing denser content that is focused more on function than form, you can deliver the same value in only 300 words. Every major SEO authority agrees that 2017 will be the year where we see the rise of content density across the board. And this is a good thing. The world of content marketing is adapting its standards to the decreasing attention spans of the American populace, meaning that you get to spend less time writing and your audience gets to receive more value."

Nonsense. This is pure conjecture fueled by flim-flam. For example, what does Oh mean by "more function than form?" And how does this translate to delivering "the same value in only 300 words"?

And who are these "SEO authorities" Oh speaks of?

A quick Google search for "SEO content density" reveals a SERP full of articles on keyword density with one mention of "content density" from 2012. This is a far cry from "every major SEO authority." Surely Patel--the SEO authority--is not one of these authorities.

And can we please dispense with the myth of the "decreasing attention spans" of Americans? There is no verifiable proof this is the case.

Next week, we will provide an in-dept overview of what real "content density" might look like. Essentially, we'll take Oh's bait, and do his work for him. For now, though, we use his example here to illustrate the inanity of trend-based SEO click bait.

Our advice? Ignore it--all of it. Yes, there can be real value in these articles, but for the most part all SEO prognostications belie the true purpose of organic SEO: To be natural.

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