Much has been written about the Knowledge Graph, and how Semantic SEO is important to the long term success of websites and web presences. On the other hand, we have existing best practices for organic SEO targeting.
Google has repeatedly gone on record saying that they want to evolve from a search engine to a knowledge engine, where they can rank content according to intent rather than straight keyword matching.
Let’s look at all of the key areas of organic SEO, to consider what role it plays in ranking and how it might feed into this knowledge engine concept in the future.
Technical SEO: Table Stakes
Technical SEO is the foundational to SEO success. If your site is coded poorly, has long page load times, or provides inaccurate information about site structure to search engine spiders, your website will not rank as well as it should.
We hear a lot of talk about all of the other areas, but technical is frequently overlooked. Don’t be naive. Your IT group or web development team/agency may be more concerned with checking another project off the list. In many cases, they will take care of the most important pieces of Technical SEO for you. But you need to know what to expect so you can hold them to it.
Activities that fall in this area include XML sitemap (build and submission to search engines), robots.txt, caching and performance tweaks, management of dynamic parameters, geo-targeting, and semantic markup, which we will discuss again in a few paragraphs. Technical SEO will play a very key role in the Knowledge Graph, as we will see shortly.
On-Page Optimization: Key to Relevance
Several years ago, too many webmasters and marketers thought of SEO as mostly on-page optimization. After all, if you pick good keywords and optimize the page for them, you should rank for those keywords, right?
Not really. On-page optimization played a much bigger role many years ago. Back then, competition was low and Google’s algorithm used much simpler logic. Today, on-page is but one piece of the puzzle.
This doesn’t mean on-page no longer matters. It plays a critical role in helping search engines decide what queries your content should rank for.
Keywords have always heavily influenced how search engines decide what your content is relevant to. With a “Knowledge Engine” concept, Google will be better able to understand similar topics even if they use different keywords.
We expect to see an increasing focus on topic-based SERPs, as opposed to a list of pages ranking for an exact match string of text. This should also help address some of the SPAM problems in the SERPs.
Moving along…Relevance will get you ranked, but it will rarely get you to page 1 any more. Enter the concept of “authority”.
Off-Page SEO: Domain Authority
With the uproar over Google Penguin since early 2012, you should be well aware of the importance of link-building to your site’s growth. You should also be aware that there is a right way and a wrong way to build links.
Links were originally counted in volume by Google, almost like votes for a website. Volume of backlinks was used to assign a domain authority score. This was then used as a data point for breaking the tie between two pages that were optimized for the same exact keyword. The impact of a backlink was later weighted according to the source domain’s authority, but volume still mattered over anything else.
Today, the model remains similar in structure, but with some very important changes. First, links from websites covering similar topics are worth more than links from sites on different topics. Relevance of linking parties has become an important piece of domain authority ever since Penguin 1.0 hit in April 2012.
Over the years, SEOs and web marketers became accustomed to using keyword rich anchor text on backlinks. This practice helped get destination pages ranked for those keywords, so everyone went out in pursuit of keyword rich links. Unfortunately for them, Penguin also penalized over-optimized link profiles, where “money” keywords represented an inordinate share of the total link inventory.
The good news is that link-building remains alive and well. Anchor text still influences the topic that a page ranks for if managed properly. Links from high authority websites still reflect positively on your own domain. If you use a natural mix of anchor text (think synonyms and semantic keywords) and focus all of your link building on industry or topic relevant websites, you won’t have to worry about Penguin.
Links will remain an important variable in the ranking equation, regardless of whether we are matching keywords, topics, or something else. As search engines move more toward understanding intent of search queries, links will play a key role in establishing your website as high quality, authoritative, and on topic.
Local SEO: More Relevance, Links, and Citation Flow
Local SEO is a specialized area, but one that can really move the needle for small and medium sized businesses. The leading local directories all carry above average domain authority. By listing yourself on them, you establish relevance to your location, relevance to your key service areas (by the category in which you are listed), and a high quality link to your website.
Especially for local SEO, citations, or mentions of your business on the web, have begun to influence ranking. The search engines use local directories to confirm where your location is, for example. Majestic SEO even released a new feature to measure Citation Flow.
Don’t ignore Local SEO. The Knowledge Graph will use these factors heavily in structuring knowledge from the disparate data sources online. As they build your “story”, all of these will play into it.
Social SEO: Author and Publisher Authority, SPYW
Social SEO has become a hot topic as well, and for very good reason. Everyone knows that Social will influence search engine ranking in the future.
Social SEO is already impacting the SERPs. Google+, while still a work in progress as a social network, has succeeded at building an identity authentication platform. This helps build trust in you as an author, which in turn ranks your content higher on topics that you excel in. It allows for the snippet to show up on the SERPs with your profile picture from Google+, which helps increase click thru rate for your organic SEO listing.
We also have publisher authority now. Whether an author is known or not, that writer can benefit from the overall authority that the publisher has established. Authors can contribute to multiple Publishers. When good sites highlight good writers, all ships rise.
I would be remiss to leave out Search Plus Your World (SPYW). Google is already customizing your SERPs according to search history, +1 activities and shares by your G+ contacts, and other social networking behavior. SPYW was the first step toward the vision of the Knowledge Graph, which will surely take social media behavior into account when personalizing rankings to the intent of your own search.
Semantic Markup: Turning Data Into Knowledge
I mentioned Semantic Markup earlier, and this is perhaps the most important SEO tactic for improving visibility on a knowledge engine. Semantic Markup provides structure to search engines, essentially dictating what types of content reside in different places on your website.
Examples of types of existing semantic markup include authorship, publisher, organization, video, event, product, and review. For a full list of markup types, view this page on Schema.org.
Think about the implications of Google crawling a fully marked up site. They will know who wrote each piece of content, what organization the site represents, when and where upcoming events are happening, and that a specific set of pages are product pages. The markup simply overlays context to content, which is the key to Google’s evolution toward search intent.
If your organization is not taking advantage of semantic markup, I encourage you to review the schema.org website in detail to learn more. Today it can be an advantage for those who embrace it. Eventually, everyone will need to get on board.
Organic SEO: Part of the Knowledge Graph
It should be obvious to you now that we are already on our way to a knowledge engine. Organic SEO as we know it is evolving alongside the algorithms. If you compare this vision to the various algorithm updates and penalties we’ve seen the past three years, every single one of them makes more sense.
In other words, organic SEO is already part of the Knowledge Graph. The two will grow together, and if Google hits their mark, they will have achieved a grand vision indeed.