Here we are again, another end of the year assessment. There’s been considerable changes to the SEO landscape in the past year, but those changes weren’t without warning. Google pushed out major updates to Panda, Payday Loan, and Penguin. They also dropped authorship, added https as a ranking signal, expanded their news link sets, and pushed out a new Pirate update to it’s filtering system. Here at Internet Marketing Team we pay attention to the shifts in SEO strategies to ensure that we provide the best resources, tools, and services to our SEO clients. Just like last year we’ll look at the past and present to provide the best projections on search engine optimization going forward.
Where Google Has Been
Google’s continued to push improvements to search engine performance and relevancy of search results. Google Search got smarter. They updated their algorithms to evaluate poor quality content and accurately estimate what information people are trying to find through their searches. The Hummingbird algorithm continued to demonstrate a strong form of brand association for search engine results based on user interactions with their search results.
In large part this past year Google was clearing out low-quality spam sites from their search engine results. They started the year with updating Page Layout to identify sites that are top heavy with ads. They also released several updates to their Payday Loans algorithm that targeted specific sites and spammy queries. Google released major updates to Panda and Penguin, the two algorithms that are the heavy hitters when it comes to weeding out web spam.
Google also ended up changing direction on authorship, which has now become a smaller signal running in the background. They also changed the display to their News-box results and HTTPS/SSL became a ranking signal. They also created major waves in the SEO community with the release of the Pigeon algorithm which dramatically changed the way local results and location cues functioned for search results. Google claimed that Pigeon created a tighter relationship with the local algorithm and core algorithms.
Where Google is Headed
Not surprisingly Google intends to continue developing the same areas that they were working on last year: furthering machine learning, mobile optimization, generating social influence, and working to eliminate black hat SEO. Last year we saw that Google was working on establishing authorship, but they had to shift away from that strategy. This year it appears that Google is very focused on location awareness as a way to make search more integrated with people and their local searches.
1. Machine Learning
Google doesn’t just want their search engine to produce the most relevant search engine results. They want Google search to intrinsically understand you as a human being. To know where you are, what you are doing, and what you want; thereby providing not just a relevant search result, but delivering the information you need. For the time being this will be reflected in persistent updates to Hummingbird to help it better anticipate how people respond to their web search results. The acquisition of Deep Mind though has some interesting implications for their future plans on making their search engine smarter.
2. Mobile Compatibility
Last year we predicted that mobile compatibility would play a larger role and in Page Rank and SERPs. During the SMX Advanced Matt Cutts proclaimed that mobile search was the future and that the majority of search was happening on mobile devices. Then at the beginning of November they released a new Mobile-Friendly Test and stated plainly that mobile optimization is a significant ranking signal. It’s safe to say that this will continue to be a high priority for Google as the mobile search market continues to grow and dominate the search market overall.
3. Social Influence
Cutts has stated that indicators such as followers, likes, and +1s don’t affect how a site ranks in their search results and it doesn’t appear that much has changed concerning how Google interprets these social media signals. However, our understanding of how social media is reflected in Google search results has changed considerably. Google of course has every intention in further developing how they interpret social media indicators and social media continues to grow due to the nature of how social media verifies authenticity.
Google’s focus on authorship was based on an idea about how they could better rank for authenticity of content. Now that they’ve changed gears they’ve been looking to other types of signals that provide indicators of authenticity. One being social influence, mentioned above, the other is location. The release of the Pigeon algorithm is pretty strong indicator of this shift to use location as a key ranking signal for search.
5. Illegal Sites & Black Hat SEO
Of course Google has always worked against certain types of web content and they’ve definitely stepped up their game. They release a major update to the Pirate algorithm after considerable pressure from Big Media companies. They’ve also announced that they’re shifting to doing continuous algorithm updates more than they were before, which definitely helps obfuscate their practices and strategies for fighting web spam and undesirable web content, like black hat SEO tactics.
Advice for Search Engine Optimization Moving Forward
1. Optimize for Mobile
If you haven’t already optimized your site for mobile you should do it now. Start with responsive web design, don’t forget to make sure your site scales appropriately — test your site with multiple mobile devices. Don’t use a separate mobile url and don’t use redirects either, Google gives a better score to sites that provide a consistent experience between desktop and mobile. Design for big thumbs, not for dainty fingers or a stylus. Don’t use pop-ups, they’ll drive up your bounce rate. Don’t use apps. For a while some people thought it was a good idea to use an app for their site, but this will not help your site in any way. Bottom line — mobile is on it’s way to becoming the definitive web experience, don’t get left behind like a dinosaur by not having the right type of mobile design.
2. Effectively Leverage Social Media
We know that Google currently crawls social media accounts as web pages and that it handles duplicate content from social media differently than it would on other websites. Just like it’s important to assess the effective utilization of blogging, not all sites need a blog for good SEO, it’s important to assess your level of social media utilization. Think of social media as lead generators that amplify you signal. People reposting and retweeting your social media can benefit your SERPs, but only if you have a legitimate content to take advantage of the boost.
3. Implement PR and Marketing Strategies
It’s likely many SEOs have already been doing this, some unknowingly and a few deliberately. SEO has matured into a fully developed marketing industry and it’s become important to be knowledgeable about offline social hacks just as much as being good at digital marketing exploits. There’s been a lot of talk throughout the year about how PR techniques effectively add a boost to your SEO strategies and if you haven’t buy PR domains them yet you should.
4. Develop User Focused Content (or Treat Google Like a User)
I know. You’ve heard this before, but hear me out. No matter what there is probably going to be content that you generate that almost nobody but Google is going to see. Despite what Google desires, no matter what people are going to design for Google. However, as Google gets smarter the closer they get to evaluating your site as what they think a user evaluates your site. So essentially I’m saying build your sites for Google’s eyes, but assume that Google sees sites like everyone else, because eventually Google will be able to see sites just like everyone else.
5. Make Your Ad-space Pretty
There’s been a lot of sites that have seen considerable benefits from avoiding ad heavy pages and minimizing ads, now it’s time to take the next step. Make your ad space look like it’s a part of the design of the site and not just an after thought. Not only will you see better rankings for your SERPs, but you’ll also see a better conversion rate for your site.
6. Don’t Abandon Link Building
A few people are claiming that SEO is dead, but that’s naive or even wishful thinking for some. Just because the leopard has changed it’s spots doesn’t make it less of a leopard. Now more than ever do small and independent businesses need help getting their sites more visible on search. There are still plenty of underutilized link building tactics that are not black hat SEO tactics, such as Newsjacking and Linkbaiting.
7. Beware of Bad SEO
Buying high PR backlinks from cheap black hat SEO firms or cramming your site with keywords might give you a fast boost, but it will kill your money site in the long run. While it seems like the hype about negative SEO is a bit unwarranted, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s still out there. Keep an eye on your backlink profile and disavow bad backlinks. Make your SEO bulletproof and utilize effective safe SEO linking and good private SEO hosting.
8. Use Semantic Keywords & Multimedia
Semantic keywords get a lot of mileage especially with the way Google’s algorithms operate. Semantic keywords are not a new thing, but they’re getting a lot more mileage these days than they used to and the smarter Google gets, the smarter this tactic gets. If you aren’t effectively leveraging multimedia then you’re not trying to be competitive. Click through rates and user conversion rates are critically tied to multimedia usage. Graphics and videos are king. There is a reason that YouTube and SnapChat have become so popular and if you’re going to have a digital presence then you need to catch up to the rest of the internet.
9. Build Your Brand
All of your SEO strategies should be in service to one critical SEO strategy — building your brand. Google, social media, and marketing all working around this cornerstone of digital growth. You want users to associate your product, or service, to be the answer to their problem. Your brand is the solution that should make them tweet, repost, blog, and share by word of mouth. These are the factors that Google is observing and trying to get their algorithms to understand. Hummingbird pretty much works in service of this idea of brand to SERP relationship. So make sure that your content, your links, and your ads are all working to build your brand.
These SEO secrets really aren’t that secret, but you’d be surprised by how many SEOs have yet to implement them into their business strategy. The industry is no longer a group of people who know how to manipulate PageRank with a series of cheap and easy tricks.
There are now large SEO firms like SEO company services AZ that are dedicated to being at the forefront of digital marketing, and you better believe that they know and utilize these “SEO secrets.” Keep these points in mind while developing quality content and building out your brand and you’ll find that your website will be the flagship for your business.