In the past two years, Google has made significant changes to their search engine… and it’s clear to me that Google’s long-term goal is to make traditional search engine optimization (SEO) tactics obsolete.  And Google has only just begun.  In the coming years, SEO as we know it today will no longer exist.


Timeline of Recent Google Updates

The shift began when Google Places launched on April 20, 2010.  Google Places leveled the playing field and gave the small, local business a way to compete with the ‘big boys’ because geography was now factored into the search ranking algorithm.  For example, if you search for “dentist” then you’ll see a map in the upper right corner showing you dentists in your area as well as contact information listed in the main search results.

Google Places was also the first attempt for Google to measure the popularity and quality of businesses by using a review system.  In theory, more positive reviews indicates a business provides excellent service and deserves to be #1 in the search results.  So now Google is incorporating location of the user searching in Google, the location of your business, and the popularity of your business via reviews.

But that was just the beginning…

Next, Google introduced Google+ on June 28, 2011.  Google+ is a social platform that functions similar to Facebook.  The critical feature is the ability for users to share online news articles, blog posts, videos, pictures, etc. with all of their friends and family.  Bingo! Now Google can measure users’ engagement with online content and use that information to further enhance their search algorithm.

If more people are sharing a webpage, or +1’ing (Google’s version of Facebook’s Like button), then that’s a great indication of the popularity and quality of the webpage.  By factoring in social signals, Google can rank the most popular content higher in the search results and filter out any junk that no one cares about.

Uh oh.. Does that mean SEO is really all about social media optimization? Sort of, but we’ll come back to that in a minute.

On May 30, 2012, Google migrated and renamed Google Places to Google+ Local.  As the new name indicates, Google made this change in order to incorporate the social signals from Google+ into the algorithm to rank local businesses.  This means businesses with more user engagement (i.e. +1’s, comments, sharing, and of course reviews) will rank higher than other businesses that are not as “socially active.”


What Does This Mean For The Future Of SEO?

Google’s goal is to ensure the most relevant, highest quality and most popular content rises to the top of the search results. Before the updates listed above, Google’s primary signal for relevance, quality, and popularity was hyperlinks pointing to your website from from other websites.  Essentially, a link is a vote in your webpage’s favor.  The more links you have to your webpage, the higher your webpage will rank in Google.

Therefore, traditional SEO was all about building links to the webpages you want to rank high in Google.  But the future of SEO will not rely primarily on links.  Google is now in a position to measure user engagement via Google+ and business owners must adopt a new SEO strategy to compete online.

Google announced and has already begun the merging of Google+ Local business listings with older Google+ Business pages.  When the merge is complete, all businesses will have just one core Google+ Business page where they can post engaging updates, articles, pictures, videos, etc and allow prospects and customers to +1, comment, and share.  The Meatball Shop is a great example.

All of this points to the fact that Google wants businesses to interact with users, and over time these social signals will become more and more important in the search engine ranking algorithm.


So What Does This Mean For You?

If you want to secure and maintain top rankings in Google over the long term, then you can’t rely on old SEO tactics.  Links are still (and will always be) important, but social media signals will soon be a major factor you can’t ignore.

First, if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you set up and claim ownership of your Google+ Local page.  Soon Google will complete their next update and you’ll be able to publish updates, contests, coupons, special deals, articles, pictures and videos to engage your prospects and customers.  Think about what you can publish that will encourage more comments, +1’s, and sharing.

The goal is essentially to generate activity on your website and Google+ Local page.  The more activity the better because it shows Google you’re a popular and high quality business that deserves to rank #1 in the search results.

For more information about exactly how to set up and manage your Google+ Local page, then check out The Local SEO Formula 2.0.  The Local SEO Formula 2.0 is a step-by-step video training course that walks you through the process of setting up, claiming ownership, and ranking your Google+ Local page.