For those still pushing backlinks as the golden goose of SEO, a recent revision to Google’s Ranking help guidelines could be potentially frightening. But, if you’ve been watching the changes in SEO over the past few years it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Google has become more and more strict about backlink quality and linkbuilding methods, and links were bound to be dethroned.

As reported by Search Engine Watch, it was spotted late last week that Google updated the Ranking help article to say “in general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.” Before, it told webmasters that they could improve their rank “by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”

There have been countless signs that Google would officially step back from linkbuilding as one of the most important ranking signals. There were widespread complaints for a while about competitors using negative SEO techniques like pointing bad links to websites, and every Penguin iteration that comes out is a significant event in SEO.

To top it all off, when Matt Cutts, the esteemed Google engineer, was asked about the top 5 basic SEO mistakes, he spent a lot of time talking about the misplaced emphasis on link building.

“I wouldn’t put too much of a tunnel vision focus on just links,” Cutts said. “I would try to think instead about what I can do to market my website to make it more well known within my community, or more broadly, without only thinking about search engines.”

Everyone involved in SEO will tell you how drastically everything has changed this past year. They’ll emphasize how Penguin and Panda “changed everything” and they will be more than happy to talk about how dramatically linkbuilding strategies have been affected, but it seems like very few are talking about what these changes mean for SEO as a whole.

John Mihalik wrote about four strategic SEO trends that he sees as important for the rest of the year, but his predictions also work as a summary of where SEO is at right now. He misses a couple things that can’t be ignored like local SEO, but remembering these four trends Mihalik points out should be enough to give you a good idea of what SEO means for website owners today.

Quality is the New Standard – To be blunt, SEOs used to be able to take any site of almost any quality, and improve performance significantly with keyword stuffing, link buying, and all sorts of other borderline spammy tactics, but Google’s algorithm’s have advanced to unbelievable levels. With their complex set of metrics to evaluate sites by, Google can pretty confidently tell if a site is low quality, and there will be no way to bring a site out of the ether until the quality problem is solved.

Social is Important – Social signals are just now beginning to affect search results, but Google has made it more than clear they are implementing social signals into their algorithms and Facebook is working on improving their own search engine relying almost entirely on social data. Aside from questionable privacy practices, implementing social data into search makes sense. Interests, friend circles, location, and even internet habits can help search engines deliver results more tailored for individual people.

You Aren’t Mobile Friendly Yet? – At this point, any website without a responsive or mobile friendly version is beyond behind the times. More and more people are doing their searches on their phones and tablets. You can’t just throw together a low quality mobile portal either. Search engines look for the same quality signatures they do on desktop sites, and you won’t be getting any more traffic with a shoddy mobile page.

Knowledge Graph

The Knowledge Graph – Google’s knowledge graph, or that box of information in the top-right corner of your screen when you search for a celebrity or prominent brand, has been slowly becoming more common on SERPs over the past year. Mihalik also believes it offers an opportunity for brands to optimize their web presence and gain a little added performance for direct searches.

I question to efficiency or importance of the last one. The knowledge graph information does allow searchers to easily find concise information, but for a brand to appear on a SERP, the user has to search directly for that brand. If there is another company somewhere with the same name as yours, you could use the knowledge graph to gain a foot up on them, but otherwise I don’t see the knowledge graph becoming a cornerstone of SEO. Every other trend mentioned is pretty much a certainty at this point, however.

Profit Increase Graph1With Google’s constant updates and new algorithms, it is important when you are optimizing your site to know what areas will give you the best returns and will have the longest shelf life.

There are two broad categories of SEO that complement each other to give your site the best chance, and you need to balance your work between the two. Before you can know exactly what areas to target, you need to know the difference between on-site and offsite SEO.

On-site SEO consists of optimization you do to the actual web page. Titles, meta tags, URL structure, and even keywords all make up on-site SEO, and they act as a foundation for all quality search strategies.

Offsite SEO, on the other hand, is everything done behind the scenes. The biggest focus of offsite SEO, according to Eric Armstrong, is to build a network of links directing back to your site, also known as linkbuilding or creating a link portfolio. Google and similar search engines judge links in order to determine authority and site quality. Social media and article marketing also create a part of offsite SEO, as you try to get others to link to your content and site.

The most important aspect of all SEO is quality content, and any site without it will have great difficulties getting any sort of results. But, great content isn’t enough by itself. Once you have content others will want to see, you can shift your focus to other areas which will get you solid returns over time. The trick is knowing where to invest your energy. Armstrong points out three specific action points you should be working on for both on-site and offsite SEO at Compete Pulse. If you can nail quality content, and these six areas, you’re site should be doing well before long.