The Google Penguin update has changed the perception of SEO for many businesses. But it shouldn't have. Effective, sustainable online marketing doesn't revolve around Google or even the Internet. SEO starts with your business. With your employees and your customers.
For a long time, Google could be gamed by making the system believe a web page was better than it actually was. It was deception by perfection. The recipe for improving your rank in Google was fairly simple: create links from high domain authority websites (think PageRank) using the keyword you wanted to rank for as the anchor text.
Webmasters could easily outsource or even automate this process to create the "perfect link", which was believed to greatly outweigh all other ranking signals.
But then the wheels started to come off. Blog networks were removed from Google's index. Anchor text was devalued. Hundreds of thousands of Google Webmaster Tools notifications went out. Unnatural link profiles. Over-optimization. Penguins! SEO is dead! Fire and brimstone!
Unless... you were doing it right all along. And "doing it right" means "doing something great" offline. Let's call it... real life. Businesses that do great things don't need to pretend they're great. Others see it and are drawn to it. They want to be a part of it. They link to greatness and share greatness. Greatness is immune to Google updates and negative SEO.
But it starts with your business; your brand. Take Subaru of America, for example. While some companies were busy writing articles that didn't say anything, the Subaru of America team was busy collecting food for Philabundance: 250,818 pounds of food, to be exact.
I'm not in the market for a car and Subaru wasn't on my radar until I heard about what they had done. It was great and I was drawn to it. If I was their SEO, I think we'd get along very well. I'm sure the relationship would be focused on broadcasting their greatness, not spamming the perception of greatness.
The changing art of SEO is less about links and more about relationships. Less about quality content and more about quality companies. On 5/12/2012 SEER Interactive hosted a meetup with SEOmoz and a panel of great speakers, many from the Philadelphia area. I was honored to represent WebiMax at this event because I believe that companies that have the same goals can come together and do even bigger things. Even if those companies are competitors.
The overarching theme of almost every presentation was about doing something that mattered as a person and as a company. And this one was of those things.
What the Penguin update and the Knowledge Graph have taught us is that the future of SEO is about people, not algorithms. So before you run your next ranking report, think about what you've done in the past month that deserves to be talked about. Your best content may not be written, but done.