2013 Mid-Year SEO Review

30 May 2013 – Tina Courtney-Brown – Featured –

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2013 is already halfway over, and there’s been a flurry of SEO changes (thank you, Panda) to keep track of. Now is the perfect opportunity to review what’s occurred, take stock of current trends, and look to the remainder of the year for impending updates. With each day that passes, SEO becomes more and more critical to businesses, so keeping your finger on the search engine pulse is a wise move indeed. If you’ve fallen a bit behind, keep reading and get yourself up to speed.

 

Content Marketing Climbs to the Top

Google’s latest Panda release made what many already knew a cold-hard reality: Quality trumps quantity in the world of search engine supremacy. Those without fresh, relevant, valuable content are feeling the squeeze in a big way now, and those with excellent content practices are also scrambling to decipher Google’s preferences and land at the top of each competitive keyword marketplace.

Content marketing, therefore, could arguably be seen as more important than traditional on-site SEO. Offering your visitors useful resources and engaging content is now the key to landing prime ranking spots across the various search engines, but don’t count-out the necessity to balance this with SEO tactics.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Piggins recently expressed the same, stating in an insightful article about content marketing that SEO is not dead, just transformed.

“These scenarios do not herald the ‘death of SEO’. Far from it. The future lies in collaboration. The relationship between content marketing and SEO only reaches its true potential when it’s designed to be symbiotic. This means that brands need to underpin their content with SEO strategies like strong internal navigation… The idea is to use varied skills to build hubs around interdependent content and search terms in order to nurture cross-selling potential.”

 

The Rise of the Small Screens

The buzz around new technologies like Google Glass aims to shift SEO strategies all the more. It remains to be seen on a large scale what these screens really mean for rankings, but it’s likely that the need to reach page 1 results will now be usurped by needing the top 1-3 rankings all together. Mobile has already created this urgency with their smaller screens and impatient users, so things like Google Glass and the rumored iWatch will only up the ante. When users only see a few lines of results, it’s clear that most businesses won’t be able to stop at anything less than the top slot if they are after the lion’s share.

 

Mid-Year SEO Must-Do’s

As you become familiar with what’s changed, don’t forget to keep a constant eye on your existing sites, and keep your content and strategies clean and current. Now is a great time to dust the cobwebs off your Google and Bing Webmaster accounts and study your latest results. Look for SEO and crawl errors, 404 patterns, and other issues that are begging for assistance. Even small changes can help you optimize your site performance and speed, not to mention bump up those elusive SERPs just a little bit more.

It’s also an ideal time to review your keyword strategies. Use tools like those listed in our SEO Tools for DIY Webmasters article to help you analyze your current selections, study what users are actually using in the majority, and shift meta data, content keywords, and related on-site sections to help you capitalize on the most effective tactics for your niche.

Do a run-through on all your social media profiles and campaigns as well. Make sure all contact data, company info, and current promotions are up-to-date, engaging, and doing all they can to gain you loyal followers and fans. If you’re not staying connected to your customers in this space, it’s time to make a solid schedule to do so. Your Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social pages should never feel lifeless or outdated, or you’ve lost the chance to get these respective audiences excited about what you’re going to do next.

 

What the Rest of 2013 Holds for SEO

Google search engine representative Matt Cutts recently released a video outlining what to expect in SEO in the coming months. In it, he stresses the obvious (writing quality content), but also alludes to a forthcoming update of Penguin. “We’re relatively close to launching the next generation of Penguin,” states Cutts. “We call it Penguin 2.0. It’s an attempt to target black hat web-spam. We expect it to go a little deeper and have a greater impact than 1.0.” So if by some chance you’ve been employing less than honest SEO practices and have thus far gotten away with it, Google wants to make sure that won’t last throughout the year.

In the spirit of nabbing spammers, Cutts had this to say:

“We’re also looking at some ways to go upstream to deny the value to link spammers. We’ve got some ideas on ways to make that less effective. We expect that will roll out over the next few months. We’re working on a more sophisticated system, we’re still in the early days for that.”

Yes, that’s vague, but it does tell us where at least part of Google’s strategy still lies – in finding and punishing all those looking to cheat the system. How do you cheat in SEO? By tricking the engines to grant you high rankings without providing anything of value to your visitors.

Finally, Cutts also indicates that author rank will continue to be critical for top rankings later this year, stating: “We’ve been doing a better job of detecting an authority in a specific space. And trying to make sure those rank a little more highly if you’re some sort of authority or a site that we think might be a little more appropriate for the users.”

In other words, continue to be an online authority for the fields you specialize in. And when you hire writers to help you spread the word, find those that also have credibility in the space. Not only will you amass more valuable content, but the author rank scenario will offer a potential SERP boost too.

The SEO roller coaster has been wild and wooly this year, with no end in sight. By staying focused on your quality business practices and content offerings, you’ll give yourself an edge as Google continues to tighten the reins. In the end, a targeted blend of on-site SEO, keywords, and content marketing is the strategy that’s most likely to see you doing the victory dance at year’s end.

The Year of the Panda (and Penguin)

13 Feb 2013 – Lauren Hobson – Featured –

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In 2012, Google made some very big algorithm updates – namely, Panda and Penguin, that introduced a way for Google “bots” (or spiders) to better understand a website’s content and meaning. It also changed some fundamental ranking signals to penalize low-quality websites and give more weight to quality signals like fresh content and social media engagement. So after several iterations of Panda and Penguin updates all year long, do you know which changes can actually help or hurt your rankings in the coming year? Here’s a recap of some of the biggest changes from Panda and Penguin in 2012:

 

Low Quality Content

Google bots are now smart enough to tell if the content on a website is poorly written, is keyword stuffed, has spelling or punctuation errors, is riddled with ads or third-party links, or a myriad of other ranking signals that indicate a site’s quality (or lack thereof). This particular change knocked out many formerly high-profile “content-farm” sites and low-quality article sites from the top search positions, allowing higher-quality, more relevant sites to rise to the top of the results – giving users links to better content.

Takeaway: If you have published low-quality syndicated articles or have poorly written content (even if you wrote it!) on your web pages, it’s time to re-think and re-write for the new rules.

 

Freshness Counts

Google’s “freshness” ranking signals are highly important, while inbound links have become less important. Simply put, if you don’t add fresh content to your website regularly, don’t expect to do well in Google’s search engine results. Google’s freshness ranking signals focus on three key areas;

1) Recent events or trending topics,

2) Recurring events such as the Superbowl or elections, and

3) Recently updated or “fresh” content discovered on a website.

Takeaway: Add new content or update the existing content on your website as part of your marketing activities each month, because sites with “fresh” content get better quality scores and higher search positions than sites that have not been updated in a while.

 

Originality Counts, Too

With the Panda and Penguin updates, original content is now one of the most important ranking signals that Google uses in evaluating a website’s quality and determining ranking positions. Today, instead of flimsy content and “unnatural” inbound link building, sites need solid, original content that attracts links organically. If you don’t have the time or skills to write original content, hire someone who does – it’s that important.

In 2013, it will also matter who creates the content, and who does the linking out to that content – which is why Google is pushing businesses to get active on their Google+ profiles. According to many SEO experts, Google’s “Author Rank” now has the potential to be the biggest algorithmic signal for SEO since the hyperlink itself.

The Google Authorship feature lets authors tag their own original content (articles, web pages, posts, etc.) as belonging specifically to them by tying it to their Google+ accounts. Google already uses Authorship to help identify duplicate content on the web and provide rich snippets (images, video) in search results, but it is also likely that Google uses both Authorship and Google+ popularity as ranking signals as well.

Takeaway: If you publish original content (tied to your Google+ profile) and your competitors do not, which business do you think will be listed higher in Google’s search results?

 

Social Impact

Google now uses social “content” in its search results (e.g., “sharing” on Facebook, re-tweets on Twitter, posts on Google+, etc.). However – don’t just slap together a business profile or two on the social sites! In order to be successful, your social profiles should not only match your existing branding (colors, logo, marketing message), but must also provide valuable content that will resonate with customers. A social profile that just sits there (or spews pre-canned robo-posts) provides little value to visitors and no value to Google in trying to evaluate your social impact.

Takeaway: An active social presence matters – a lot. If you don’t currently have a marketing strategy that includes regular posts and sharing on social media, you need to think about including this for 2013. Marketing today demands a multi-channel approach (e.g., website, social media, mobile, SMS, SEO, etc.) in order to reach your customers and prospects effectively and score quality points in Google.

 

Technically Sound Architecture

Today, Google has little regard for websites that are built with non-standard code or contain technical errors. If your site was built with a freebie template, uses tables-based design or Flash code, or was created more than two years ago, it is probably time to re-evaluate the architecture of your site and repair or rebuild as necessary. If your site does not have the basic technical elements right, you have very little chance of getting Google’s attention – or rankings.

Takeaway: Google rewards websites that comply with its quality guidelines, which means that if you have not been keeping up with Google’s changes (e.g., using standards-based code, valid CSS tags, correct meta data, etc.), it’s time to get your site in technical shape.

 

What Matters for 2013

The year of the Panda and Penguin brought about some pretty substantial changes in the way Google evaluates and ranks websites, and if you’re still thinking that inbound links and keywords are the path to good rankings in Google, you need to think again. Although many of the tried-and-true SEO strategies are still in use by Google, they are less important today than ever before. So for 2013, the Panda/Penguin updates mean that your Google strategy must include:

* High-Quality Content (no pre-canned articles or poorly written page content)
* Regular Updates (freshness)
* Original Content (with Author Rank)
* Social Impact (useful, quality posts that are shared socially)
* Technical Correctness (standards-based code, error-free HTML, no templates or Flash, etc.)

In the coming year, experts predict that marketing channels will continue to mesh together – for example, the way that Google now uses social media signals as SEO ranking factors – so your marketing strategy needs to include multiple channels as well. The Panda/Penguin updates have fundamentally changed the way in which your website is evaluated and ranked by Google, so proceed accordingly.

5 Things that are In Store for SEO in 2013 and Beyond

16 Jan 2013 – Matthew Ellis – Featured –

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2011 and 2012 have been incredibly important years in the world of search engine optimization and for search design trends in general. In an effort to make the web closer to something semantic and highly responsive to the real needs of human readers, Google has performed some major overhauls to the way it ranks the websites it has indexed by its web crawlers.

These overhauls will be ongoing and will continue to develop further in 2013; creating a web popularity landscape that depends not just on classical SEO tactics but also numerous other factors involving social media, website design and friendliness to the latest browsing systems such as mobile web viewing.

Let’s go over some of these key trends that will almost certainly be really big in this new year.

 

1. Humanized Ranking Metrics

With Google’s repeated massively damaging blows to black hat SEO during all of 2011 and 2012, the days of effective link farming, content stuffing, keyword stuffing and other “nefarious” optimization tactics that don’t actually reflect site popularity are over. This trend will only continue and whatever black hat optimization tricks that are still working for some sites will only continue to deteriorate in their effectiveness.

Instead, Google is steadily working its way towards creating a more humanized ranking index that, in addition to reflecting other metrics which we’ll soon get to, also takes a lot of its value analysis from real time social media and human user metrics of actual popularity amongst readers.

The end result is expected to be a more “real time” search results profile for queries and an increasing amount of weight given to data collected from Twitter, Facebook, other social platforms and, of course, Google’s own array of social media tools. An important aspect of this will involve site owners connecting their content to each of these social platforms and also integrating themselves more with Google’s own network of content tracking. (despite the obvious bias in Google’s favor here)

 

2. Quality over Quantity

This almost certain 2013 trend is great news for a lot of content weary bloggers and site owners. Instead of giving heavy emphasis to massively content stuffed websites, Google and other search engines will continue to focus more on ensuring that their best ranked content is judged more by its quality, relevancy and freshness.

Updates like some of Panda’s iterations were a particularly good demonstration of this and played a part in giving precedence to sites whose content was most relevant and valuable for a given search, even if the sites themselves were not major content producers like some competitors might have been.

Based on this trend, site administrators should work towards really filling information needs with high quality posts without rushing to fill out as much new content as they can as quickly as possible.

 

3. Mobile Search

The mobile browsing landscape is only continuing to grow and soon it will completely overtake conventional web search. This means that adapting to the technical and practical details of this changing environment is a crucial step for SEO conscious site owners in 2013.

Speaking on a purely technical level, more emphasis has to be given to making websites more mobile friendly and designing them so that they are fully responsive not only to different PC browsers and screen sizes but also to thousands of different mobile platforms, from tablets to a whole array of smart phone types and operating systems.

Additionally, from other optimization standpoints, work to get your sites and their content more oriented towards mobile friendly content delivery. This could mean post design, text layout and presentation media such as video or audio

Another interesting feature of this emerging mobile search trend is the fact that a lot more of it takes place through a complex series of social network connections, bringing us to our next point.

 

4. Increasing Social Media Importance

We already partly covered the incredible importance of social media weight in our first major trend point, but it bears mentioning in more detail.

In 2013, you will absolutely need to develop your website’s social platform presence and integration as much as possible.

As more and more of the data about what’s trending on their platforms gets collected by social media sites, more of it will also become available for review by Google. This in turn will make such metrics more important in deciding search rank value. Ultimately Google is working to provide the most human relevant search experience possible to its users and the fundamentally human guided nature of social media popularity makes it a vital base of information for Google to achieve its goal.

Help this process along as much as possible by developing your popularity in the social media platforms and building up a base of dedicated fans that keep coming back to and repeatedly sharing what you have to offer further down the social chain. Not only will this eventually improve your essential human ranking value in the new search landscape, it will also achieve the vital site popularity building step of making you less dependent on search rank and SEO for the long run.

In essence, by developing a fan base at least partly through your social presence, you’ll be forcing the search engines to pay attention to you. Another way of looking at this is that building a deep human popularity amongst many fans and other influential websites will create a domain authority for your pages that no search engine can ignore.

Additionally, bear in mind practical technical steps that will improve your social media friendliness; things like creating multiple profiles across several popular media platforms, connecting them fully to your website through social media buttons and making it easy for people to log on through their Facebook or other social networking accounts.

 

5. Conversion Rate Optimization

However Google works, it has to also pay attention to reality on the digital ground. In terms of CRO, this has an enormous potential importance for 2013 because it means that a major factor in higher ranking may soon be how well sites get visitors to perform useful actions.

In essence, while many sites may have numerous visitors, the ones that optimize their pages for the best human engagement are those that actually get the readers not only to visit but also do things like buy products, click more links or opt in to a mailing list with their email addresses.

Since successfully doing all this is an obvious indicator that people are getting real personal value from a website, it’s very likely that Google will pay more attention to it in 2013.

For your own site, focus as much as possible on delivering high quality and getting maximal action or purchase conversion rates from whatever visitors you do have. Doing this is even more important than focusing on raw visitor numbers.