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Are you looking for long term success when it comes to search engine visibility? Do you want to make sure all the hard work you do today will still be paying off a few months or years from now? If you do then you want to look forward in the your thinking with regards to search engines and their algorithms.

Yes it’s true that if you’re new to the game you’ll likely need to play catch up with the other sites you’re competing with, but catching up will only get you so far. Those other sites are ahead of you and as you’re working to get to where they are today, they’re working to get ahead of where they are today.

We all know that links are important to where you rank. But it takes time to build links and in that time your competition will also be building links back to their site. If it’s going to take you time to build enough links to compete why try doing so with today’s tactics. If it’s going to be a year before you see the results of your link building efforts doesn’t it make sense to be working toward where the search engines will be in a year’s time instead of where they were a year ago? In the recent past reciprocal linking was all the rage. Then Google decided it was an artifical means of building links. Overnight websites that had heavily traded links disappeared from the SERPs. Those that saw it coming were still ranking where they had been, or even better given all the other sites that had fallen.

It’s natural for those new to seo to see optimization in terms of formulas. It’s where things once were and it’s easy to find articles online about how to write meta tags and about ideal keyword density. Unfortunately the world of search moves very fast and these articles, even just a few years old, are long out of date. It’s possible that articles written today will often be less than effective by the time the tactic would be expected to pay off. By the time you’re reading about it, it’s probably already been in place for several months and may already be something the search engines are working to keep from being effective.

If you want your pages and site to rank well next year you need to think where the search engines are headed and not where they’ve been. It’s true that no one really knows where search engines are going. No one can even say with 100% certainty why a certain page ranks today. But we can, by looking at a collection of pages that rank well and by observing what happens when we make changes to our own pages, what likely works. The more we see what works today and what from yesterday has stopped working, the more patterns begin to emerge where things may be headed in the future.

Reading through patent applications is another method for determining what a search engine algorithm may look like tomorrow. I’ll admit patent applications aren’t always fun to read, but they can be understood. And for those of us who don’t want to read them at all Bill Slawski makes it a point to help the rest of us by covering patents often on his SEO by the Sea blog. Not everything you see in a patent application is going to be in the algorithm now or even ever, but they do give some idea of what search engineers are thinking and where algorithms might be heading.

By keeping track of news stories about the world of search you can see what Google, Yahoo, or MSN may be thinking in the months ahead. Recently when reading PC World magazine I came across a very short article indicating both Google and MSN were looking to better understand the intent of search queries. The article corroborated for me what I had already been thinking; that search engines will be placing more emphasis on personal search, user traffic patterns, and social communities. Do I know for certain? Not at all, but I will be looking to each of these more than I will to worrying about the keyword density of any page on my site.

What Can You Learn From The Past?

Just because you shouldn’t blindly follow what’s gone before doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand where the world of search has been. The foundations of search engine optimization have been known for some time. You can find out the basics of seo in older articles. Be careful though when reading an article on the latest seo tactic dated 2004. There’s a good chance that it won’t work any more. But the guiding principles are as true today as the were then.

Understanding what worked in the past and understanding why it no longer works can give clues as to other things that currently work, but may not in the future. Think again about meta tags. At one time they were seo. But they were also easy to manipulate and as search engines came to realize how easy they were to manipulate, less and less emphasis was placed on them. That should lead you to think that search engines don’t want to be manipulated. Google would actually prefer to serve less relevant results sometimes than to allow webmaster to manipulate their algorithm.

So if search engines don’t want to be manipulated you might conclude that anything you do that can be seen as manipulation might not be the best idea. Some artificial things will still work, and there will always be artificial methods and holes in the algorithms that can be exploited. But you can expect that search engineers are looking for ways to discount those things. You may have read about some way to hide text on your pages to boost ranking and it may very well work at the moment, but be assured that won’t always be the case. Search engineers are pretty smart and in time they will find a way to catch what you’re doing. When you understand that search engines would like to eliminate manipulation you can see that a holistic approach to optimization might be the best way forward.

Stay Current To Understand The Future

No one can really say with certainty where search engines are moving, but by staying current you can get a better understanding of where they might be moving. My favorite sources of current information are forums and blogs. Both by their nature are updated frequently. But it’s important not to accept everything within either as fact.

Forums are notorious for spreading misinformation. Everyone seems to want to chime in with an answer to any and all questions, and quite a few of those everyone’s are giving out bad advice. There is a lot of noise on forums. Noise that is often completely meaningless or worse, and much more often, completely incorrect. If you’re going to read forums look to the advice of those members whom you learn to trust based on the body of their posts. Don’t take everyone’s word at face value, but if you read often enough you can easily spot who does and doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Similarly with blogs, it pays to learn from the best. Not too long ago Rand Fishkin posted what he considered the 50 Top Blogs in the Search Space. Sadly, I am not on the list, but if you read through the blogs listed as well as some of those mentioned in the comments of that post, you’ll have all you need to stay current and forward thinking.

It is really all about forward thinking when it comes to seo. Learn from the past, but understand where the industry is heading if you want your site to be visible in search results next year and the years beyond. Search algorithms change and so should your tactics. If you focus on what worked in the past you’ll likely be left behind, but if you can guess where search is going you have a good chance of being there before anyone else. And getting there first might just be the competitive advantage you need.

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web designer and search engine optimization
specialist. Known to many in the webmaster/seo community by the username
vangogh, he is the author of TheVanBlog, which focuses on how to build
and optimize websites and market them online.

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