This week our guest posts focus on the latest trends in SEO.

Today: Bringing your SEO efforts up to date by Brad Shorr

If your firm is fixated on its search ranking positions, you are dangerously out of date with your approach to SEO.

I stress “dangerously” because, while rankings have been a poor barometer of SEO effectiveness for a while, they have now devolved nearly to the point of being worthless.

Monitoring rankings will no longer get you closer to more traffic.

Why Rankings Don’t Cut It

There was a time when search rankings were a healthy obsession; when getting to page one really meant something.

Long ago in a world far away, everybody saw the same thing: Google SERPs (search engine results pages) displayed a universally consistent set of results for a given search term. Moving from page 10 oblivion to the page one spotlight could make the difference between zero organic traffic and thousands of hits per day.

Today, several factors have obliterated this model.

  • Localization. Usually, Google knows where you are and serves results based on your geographic location.
  • Personalization. If you are logged into Google, your SERPs take into account your browsing history and social network connections.
  • Segmentation. Users have the ability to search for specific types of content, such as video, news stories, social media content, and images.
  • Semantic search. Google is getting smarter about understanding the intent of the searcher. Today, multiple variations of a specific keyword page can be matched up to a query, meaning that the SEO value of a specific phrase is less important than its context.

Put all of this together, and what do you have?  An environment where your ranking for a particular keyword phrase tells you very little about your search visibility.

  • Local variation. The results I see in Chicago on a search for “good Italian restaurants” will be drastically different than what you see in San Francisco. (If it weren’t, neither of us would be using Google for long!)
  • Personalized variation. If you log into Google and do a personalized search, you’ll see different results than when your personalization is turned off, and what other personalized searchers see.
  • Segment variation. If I’m looking for a particular style of wallet, I might jump right to image search, bypassing your keyword-optimized text page altogether.
  • Semantic variation. Someone searching for “buy trifold wallet” might be served up results from e-commerce web pages optimized for a variety of phrases, because Google knows I’m shopping.

Where to Put the SEO Focus

The rallying cry, “We’re number one!” still works for football, but SEO marketers need a new one. My suggestion: “We have awesome search placement!” relating SEO activities back to the four areas I’ve been talking about.

  • For localization, using local optimization best practices is essential for any business that is local or regional in nature. You want to make sure your content is well placed – and not just on standard Google search, but on Google+ local and credible local search directories.
  • For personalization, build and engage with relevant social media connections to build influence and visibility. Use rel=author links to achieve broader placement through the Google authorship initiative.
  • For segmentation, create and optimize a variety of content forms, most importantly images, infographics, video, news items, and original social media content.
  • For semantic variation, put the focus where it belongs, on creating content that is useful, relevant, and authoritative. Content that delivers value to searchers will be better placed than content that only attempts to manipulate Google’s algorithm.

Over to You

Today, anybody focused on rankings is a rank amateur. How are you approaching SEO these days – and how is it working for you?

Brad Shorr is director of content and social media for Straight North, and writes frequently on industry-leading blogs about content marketing and SEO strategy. Follow Brad on Twitter at bradshorr.