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The Three Cs of SEO Explained

There are two sides to SEO (search engine optimisation). Cat and dog

The first is highly-complex, sprawling, and almost incomprehensible. A ball of algorithms, which change daily, and are guarded more vigilantly than the Enigma Code. The only way to determine the gears behind these gargantuan beasts of search is by: trial, error and billions upon billions of records, analysed for months at a time.

Whilst the other can be summarized in three words: content, context and conversation!

Content

We’ve been producing content since man first discovered that chisels work pretty well on cave walls. Content should be easy, because content is everything! From a scrappily taken photo in the small hours at an office party, to the magnum opus you’ve spent a decade writing, it’s all content, and it all tells a story.

That’s why content is arguably the hardest part of SEO. You can produce: blog posts, videos, graphics, etc, until the cows come home, but if it doesn’t enrich the story of your business, it’s as good as useless. Or worse, degrading to your audience, confusing to Google, and detrimental to your brand. This is why many content producers give up, they find their content doesn’t resinate and it becomes little more than white noise: all because they don’t understand their audience.

Google is becoming better every day at understanding whether a piece is well written, a video is exciting, or a graphic is engaging. It’s all about telling a story for your clients.

Context

If content is king, then context is his closest advisor.

Google’s approach to understanding the connections between content online is becoming increasingly human, and whilst that’s terrifying for anyone trying to ‘game’ their way onto the first page, it’s a hallelujah moment for the rest of us. Dozens of sources are used; maps to determine if your site is relevant locally, on page data to understand if content is enjoyable, but overall, the most important are links.

These links between pages are measured in two main ways:

Domain Authority – how trusted and influential your site is, determined by the breadth, relevancy and quality of the people who link to you.

Page authority – similar to domain authority, but focused on the topics covered on a particular page.

The best way to describe context online is like a friend at the pub.

Let’s call him Guy. Guy is a builder. He has a strong knowledge of his trade, you know this because you’ve known each other for years. Guy has a lot of recommendations from a lot of important sources, who support what he says with relevant information. This is domain rank.

Guy now (slightly drunkenly) starts a conversation with you about homing pigeons. You trust Guy as a person, but he has never talked about this topic before, so you take it with a pinch of salt, until people who are influential in the field support the conversation. This is page rank.

Search engines are rapidly developing the way they form links between content, to create connections which are similar to the way we do offline, with the goal of making your experience more natural and tailored to your tastes.

Conversation

SEO is rapidly becoming more socially focused, both online, and off. When I talk about conversation and SEO, it’s so much more than an odd tweet or acquiring Facebook likes.

Conversation, at least in my eyes, is a culture. Conversation is about having the confidence to actively engage in discussion, not just about your site, but around it. Demonstrating that you’re so knowledgeable about your business that you can make conversation; and ultimately direct people to your website.

This is where SEO comes full circle. Make content, provide context to fuel conversation: your customers will ask questions, which helps to define your content. This is not about throwing links into every corner of the internet, or spamming social media until your followers run away screaming, it’s about proving credibility, and overwhelmingly showing that you’re respectable people to do business with.

Search engine optimisation is becoming less about finding out how search works, and more geared towards a great experience for your customers. For now, in 2014, search still treads a line between code-breaking and content-driven simplicity. Every day Google is taking steps to make using their service better for users, which ultimately means a more effective channel for lead generation — but only if you create the content, context and conversation that Google is clamouring for.

SEO - the three cs

Optimised content, rich context, and vibrant conversation should be your SEO goal for 2014… as for 2015… I’ll let you know when Google changes its algorithm… again.

If you have any questions about search and how it can benefit your business, I’ll be happy to answer any questions in the comments below.

…0r if you fancy a chat I’m always available @YianniPelekanos on Twitter.

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  • Carys

    Really useful Yiannis. Your whiteboard diagram would look a lot better if you’d done it on an interactive Whiteboard Display!!!

    • Yiannis Pelekanos

      Good to hear that it’s useful.

  • Chris Old

    SEO certainly is a great, sprawling labyrinth of wrong turns. I think this is an excellent, succinct demonstration of how best to understand the functions of SEO. My fourth C would be ‘confusing’. Thoughts?!

    • Yiannis Pelekanos

      Confusing?! Sure, I’d appreciate more data on search traffic, and would rather google be more transparent, but I would call it an area with a lot of depth, rather than confusing. Maybe I’ve spent too much time focusing on SEO, I completely understand how it can be daunting though. There are a lot of little bits to get your head around. If you need help, I’m always happy to help @yiannipelekanos. :)

  • Ann Hawkins

    That’s a really useful and elegant explanation Yiannis. I like the diagram that pulls it all together and I’m so pleased that Google now recognises good content and human interaction instead of links created by bots and all the stuff that used to make websites easy to find but unreadable!
    SEO is a question that keeps coming up at Cambridge Bloggers Meetup so I’ll share this post with them as I think they’ll find it very useful.

    • Yiannis Pelekanos

      Thank you for sharing the post. Much appreciated.

      There was a time when the internet outgrew the algorithms put in place to find pages. There is still a long way to go, I personally don’t think enough filters have been put in place to obscure ‘dodgy content’ pay day loans, adult material, etc from accidental appearances in search. Though google’s web spam team are doing a lot to make search a better experience.

  • Phil Szomszor (theredrocket)

    Reckon you’ve nailed it with the 3Cs. I something thing that Content is a bit of a C-word, in the negative sense, for marketers, because they always go on about it – but it has to be the *right* content. Guess that’s the context piece.

    Also conversation tends to happen outside the blog/site imho, usually on social networks like Twitter or LinkedIn. Guess there could be a 4th C: Community…?

    • Yiannis Pelekanos

      Content can be a pain. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve looked longingly at my computer, hoping a post would write itself. There’s always video, or audio, or imagery, sometimes they are better avenues to follow. I always find that when I’m struggling to create content it’s because I don’t fully understand an audience. Do you feel the same?

      I would argue that there are six Cs. Content, context, conversation… culture, contacts and community — there’s a blog post in there somewhere. :p

  • Pritesh Patel

    Good post. Completely agree with the three c’s described above.

    Marketers forget that sometimes Google just wants what’s best for its users and if you can deliver good content (and a brand which is catching attention) then the rest will follow.

    Developing good content is hard. After all, what you think is good maybe not be good in the eyes of your audience. Create emotions. Use social sharing as a score or comments even.

    I read this quote somewhere: “Give Google a reason to show your business on page 1 of its search engine. If you can’t get onto page 1 then your marketing (and business) sucks. Face it, there’s just better, more relevant businesses and content than yours. Be smarter”

    Quite true in the sense of doing lots of little things but do them well. Many do lots of things poorly.

    • Yiannis Pelekanos

      I completely agree! Google has been one of the biggest and best influencers when it comes to ‘cleaning up’ the Internet and making it better for users, but also more targeted (search ‘Google Bubble’).

      There is always room to create a little controversy, but I wouldn’t use it as tactic, I’d use it to fuel conversation on a topic which needs a little opinion.

      In terms of doing lots of little things: it depends on how much time/energy you can invest. I would personally rather someone answered every comment on their blog, or replied to every email, than tried to interact on a dozen different platforms and spread themselves too thinly.