From childhood onwards, life can seem full of frauds. The kid down the street who cheats at “Candyland” becomes the coworker who takes credit for your work or the neighbor who lies on his taxes. It can take a lifetime to develop the ability to sniff out these charlatans, recognize their deceits and avoid falling prey to their manipulations. Too often, though, these people succeed in fooling the world and experiencing success they do not deserve.

Those offended by this dynamic should take heart: there’s one area where such fakery no longer flourishes and that is Search Engine Optimization (). In the past, companies could put up poor content, manipulate the search engines and still get hits. It’s much more difficult now. The Internet is no longer rewarding bad content. Now, if the content is bad, it rarely increases search rankings. Today, if you’re not producing quality, you won’t be getting value out of SEO.

How did we end up in a world of SEO meritocracy? The search engines have closed many of the loopholes. Years ago, it was fairly easy even for novices to game the system. For instance, companies could buy a link and the search engines would give them “credit” as if it were a organic link. This was the status quo for years, until the search engines figured out ways to put an end to these strategies. Spam-based links are ferreted out. Now, rankings are predicated on content value.

How do Google and its ilk measure such value?

  • Social relevance: who is sharing it
  • Shareability: when and with whom
  • Popularity: how often

End-arounds used to dominate SEO; now it’s FaceBook likes and Twitter retweets. Content length also matters. Search engines know that a 200-word blog post simply cannot have the depth and integrity of a 2000-word article, so they’re weighing things in favor of there comprehensiveness.

Many companies rightly view this new reality as a daunting challenge. It can be easier to fake quality than to actually produce it. With SEO now being based on social currency, companies really have to know what customers and the public at-large will be interested in. They have to constantly refine their message and content to avoid complacency. And there’s no getting around it – quality content is difficult to create because it takes time, resources and expertise.

Yet, despite these obstacles, companies should view the new SEO reality as a tremendous opportunity. In it’s simplest form, SEO is about building . If you can produce valued content, you become a respected source for information, which ultimately improves your bottom line.

But there’s also a halo effect, in which success breeds more success. Get to the point where you are viewed as an industry thought leader and your content will almost automatically reach the top of the rankings. Mainstream media publications are masters at this – consider Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, or Bleacher Report. As go-to sources, a high percentage of what they publish rises to the first page. Granted, that’s much harder for small businesses to achieve, but it’s worth the effort. That effort can and should involve relying on external experts and contractors to help with . But crucially, companies cannot expect results. If you have quality content, the clicks will come, and so too will top level SEO rankings.

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