Are you ready for some brand new (and some not so brand new but “it’s time to pay attention”) things when it comes to SEO?
Well, ready or not, here they are. Google has systematically eradicated much of what we were taught – rightly or wrongly – about SEO and in some ways made our lives a little easier and in some ways made our lives a little harder. But as long as people still use search to find what they need, businesses will still be in the SEO game. The important thing is that you keep on top of the rules so that you don’t find yourself slung to the bottom of the slush pile.
Here’s what you need to know in SEO and search marketing so you can take action to make sure your site gets found when it matters.
Keywords Are Still Important And You Can Still Find Them
Google has been phasing keywords out of its analytics data for a while. We started seeing the dreaded “not provided” some time ago and we all lamented the loss. Get used to it. Google is going 100% not-provided.
But that doesn’t mean keywords aren’t important, nor does it mean you’re dead in the water.
For starters you can still see keyword data from other search engines. “What other search engines?” you may wonder. Well, there’s Bing, and… well, Bing, sort of. But a little data is better than no data. Check it out. Mine it for ideas.
You can also check your Google Webmaster Tools where you will still find… wait for it… keyword data! It’s different than the old analytics data but it’s there. You’ll be able to see how many impressions your site got for a particular word or phrase and how many clicks, too.
To find ideas for keywords that people might be looking for, you can try a Google search yourself. See what comes up in the autocomplete box and check out the results you get for those terms. Are your competitors there? Then you probably want to be there, too.
Finally, make friends with AdWords. There is no shortage of keyword data – as long as you’re paying for it. If you set a budget and you’re strategic about it, you can test the veracity of any number of keywords and phrases.
Optimize, But Not Too Much
This is not particularly new but it’s even more important as Google goes for quality with a vengeance. There’s a laundry list of places you can use keywords – in your titles, in you descriptions, in you ALT tags, in your H1s, in your anchor text. But what you don’t want to do is use keywords in your titles and your descriptions and your ALT tags and your H1s… get my drift? All those keywords are little red flags saying to Google, “Hi, I’m optimized for a keyword.” And if there’s one thing we know Google doesn’t like it’s SEO.
Be selective, not repetitive. Use keywords in some places but not every place. And perhaps most importantly, don’t use the same keyword in every place. Use related phrases, synonyms and long-tails. It’s what people do, anyway, so you’re doing yourself a favor by hitting more bases.
Authorship Or Bust
If you don’t have Authorship set up by now then you also probably still have “learn how to program VCR” on your to-do list, don’t you?
It’s easy to do and it tells Google, “Hi, I’m me and this is my content.” It may even get your photo showing up alongside your content in search results and that’s been shown to increase clickthrough rates.
Stop reading now if you haven’t taken this important step and do it now.
Make It Mobile Friendly
Google recently and very specifically stated that a site’s mobile performance will affect its ranking. Will. Not maybe. Will. Google isn’t always as explicit, so when it is, it’s time to listen up.
But what does mobile friendly mean?
Responsiveness is one factor. Having a responsive design means that your site scales to fit whatever device its on – no crazy pinching and zooming and squinting required. Google also stated that it prefers responsive design over mobile versions of a site. So if you’re using a mobile plugin, it could be time to ditch your current theme and upgrade to a responsive one.
Speed is another – crucial – factor. You know how you go to a site on your phone and it’s loading… loading… loading… Google doesn’t like that, either. Use a caching plugin, clean up your database or HTML, try a CDN – do what you have to do to get that site zipping or kiss your rankings goodbye.
We touched on some of this in a recent post about blog maintenance so check it out and work on that speed.
Extend Your Domain Registration
This one is not particularly new either, but it’s important and it’s the little things like this that are going to matter more and more.
If you renew your domain registration for one year at a time, stop! Is your business going somewhere? Or do you plan to stick around for a while? Then pick up your domain for five years, ten or more. That tells Google, “Hey, I’m legit. I’m here to stay, not just some fly-by-night spambot.”
The age of your domain and length of registration matters.
Work On Your Bounce Rate
Google is sort of like Santa Claus – it knows when you’ve been sleeping… Namely, sleeping on the job and letting your visitors come and go without bothering to keep them sticking around.
If someone finds your site in a search result, clicks through and then back-buttons it out of there, you’ve got an SEO problem. It means that you’re ranking, and people are clicking, but you’re just not delivering. And Google knows it.
So clean up your act by improving the quality of the information you provide on your site, figure out how to give people what they need and keep them around, and you’ll ensure that when Google delivers your site as a gift to searchers, they don’t end up with a lump of coal.
Used to be that 250-300 words was the going rate for a good page. Then that got bumped to 500. More recently, 1000. But… prepare your keyboards… lately, content pages with 2000 words or more are being favored in search results. Holy crikes, Batman.
Now, lest you think you need to take the 8th grade essay approach and just keep babbling until you hit a word count, I assure you it’s still about the quality.
That means you may have to do some research. Expand on your talking points. Get in-depth. Try not to hit some artificial word count but do try to make your content more thorough, which will naturally lead to a higher word count.
Get Backlinks. Like, A Lot. But Not Too Many.
Sound confusing enough for you? The popularity wars are still going strong in Google search results, which means that you still need people linking to your content, proving just how popular you are.
But be extremely cautious about how you approach link-building. Never buy links. Avoid low-quality sites. Stay away from anything that hints of a link farm. And forget spinning your articles (ie: changing them up a bit and repackaging them for other sites).
In fact, forget link-building completely. Trade it in for relationship-building, instead. If you link to others, if you build online relationships and if you share the love, then love will come back to you in return… in the form of links.
Here’s your new SEO equation: in-depth content plus good relationships equals links. And by the transitive property of SEO that means improved rankings.
Mind Your Social Signals
The days of “should I be on social?” are long gone. The answer is that if you want to have a shot at SEO then you need to tackle social. At a minimum you should have a Google Plus page – which you’ll need to get your authorship in order anyway.
A better and broader social presence means more shares, means more links, means more signals to Google telling them you’re winning.
Rankings? We Don’t Need No Stinking Rankings.
In SEO’s infancy, we kept spreadsheets of a site’s ranking for any number of keywords at various points in time. We proved how worthy we were of our SEO mettle by showing clients how we moved their sites from number ten to number two.
But even back in the day that didn’t mean much. Who cared where a site showed up if that site didn’t get any worthwhile traffic? If sales didn’t increase? If emails lists didn’t grow?
Ranking as a measure of SEO success has become even more obsolete. Now, your ranking can change based on where you search from in the world, or who Google thinks you are based on your personalization preferences. It can even change based on your search history.
That means you need to wipe the idea of search rankings from your consciousness and focus on completely different metrics. Things like how much traffic did you get? And how much of that traffic converted or took the actions you wanted? Things like revenue and meeting goals.
Those are the things that matter and those are the things that will tell you if you’re managing your SEO effectively.
Play The Long Game And You’ll Be Fine
SEO is no longer about tweaking title tags and obsessing over precise keyword variations.
It’s about blogging and social communities. It’s about authority and expertise. It’s about how well you conduct business from all online perspectives because everything you do online feeds into Google’s gigantic, omnipresent ecosystem.
You may not see the results of your efforts today or next month or even three months from now. But if you’re focusing on the long-term benefits to the people you serve and the quality of what you serve them, good SEO will almost happen like magic.
If you’d like a little help getting your SEO off the ground, figuring out how to plan content or getting started with social signals and authorship, let me know. We can help you come up with a plan of action or help get some of it done for you!
Join the discussion 30 Comments
Ive tested content length to death and the inverse is true. 150 words is king at the moment.
Interesting, I haven’t seen that at all. But there’s always an exception.
My experience is more in line with @carollynnrivera:disqus’s. Perhaps it depends on niche.
Quite possibly. Also considering Google now has their “in depth” article listings, it would seem they are looking for… more in-depth stuff.
Interesting, Mark. Would love to know more. There are a lot of factors at play. More to it than just the length of an article. And there are so many factors. Like if a short article gets a lot of high quality interaction, that may outweigh the size of the content. However, everything we’ve been seeing says longer content will have better result as a best practice. Of course that’s what these are; best practices.
Great article. I like the tip about registration length, makes sense. I use the WP Yoast plugin at the moment, which still encourages optimisation in all of the mentioned places but you say not to, that is also interesting and I will make changes accordingly! Thanks
You can optimize for keywords by using them in the important places but you do have to be careful not to “over optimize”. If Google sees the same keyword everywhere, ti just reads like spam. Or “gaming”. Mix it up – keyword variations, synonyms. Repetition is what you want to avoid.
I think the game of SEO (yes the game) is ruled now with ever changing rules, but the one thing constant is PPC, which google and Facebook (at least they said it explicitly) are pushing towards more and more.
I understand that google or any other company in their shoes would do the same and more, which is to maximize their profits, and the only way they get profit is by us advertising on their site.
Google will penalize a site if it buys links from other than google to appear on google first page, but would be more than happy to sell you a link from the first page to your site.
I took the decision to go PPC and forget about organic results, and i have noticed that in my industry (pizza bags) , even the companies who are on the first page are using PPC to stay on the very top. and whatever google sends for free is well free.
The only sad thing is that i came to SEO too late after the free lunch is over.
PPC (especially by way of AdWords) is definitely part of the game. To your point, even people who have relative success with organic SEO still pay for ads so they can maintain more of a presence. If you’ve got the budget, it can trump organic search results so you don’t have to worry about that. Just keep paying into Google’s coffers and you can get all the exposure you want.
The most important long term strategy is quality content. That will NEVER go out of favour. Great article Carol!
Most definitely! It wasn’t always that way (lots of junk got through) but now you can’t win without it.
Here here! I tell my clients: Write (or get written for you) the absolute best, most reliable content you can that pings your prospects where they think they need it most. Think like the search engines (who care about the searcher, not about you-the-site-owner). Mind your basic SEO fields (title, keyword, and most of all description). The rest kinda takes care of itself. But I got a lot out of the suggestions here!
Aren’t there something like 40 billion zillion ranking factors? (That’s probably an exact number). So any you can put in your favor is a win in my book.
I’ve heard it’s only 38 billion zillion! lol Yes any edge you can get the better Carol. however some of these may fall out of favour in the future. Great content never will.
That’s always a possibility, look how we all learned the hard way about some other practices. In addition to content (which has always been the heart of good SEO) I think the new ten-thousand-dollar word is “legitimacy”.
Exactly, think like the search engines. They just want the best content at the top of their rankings, so that is what they are trying to do.
I like this common sense quide and in general I’m happy with Google’s latest (well, maybe not the 2,000) word articles. I especially liked the domain registration pro tip. Something I can get done today — and not worry about for some time. Have a great day!
Sometimes it’s little things you can do to send that extra signal of legitimacy. So why not!
Great stuff. We really need to get the word out to businesses who are way behind and confused when it comes to this stuff. Over the past year I have seen business website being penalized by Google more and more. There are still SEO’s out there building bulk backlinks, article spinning and all sorts of black hat stuff for these poor businesses who don’t know better.
Sometimes you can tell people until you’re blue but they want the fast and easy option. It’s a shame people still do these things unethically for their clients because if we were all educating people properly then there wouldn’t be this expectation that you can still do whatever you want and get “on the top of Google” for $20 a month.
Great tips, Carol 🙂
Do appreciate this post. I forgot some of these, like Google authorship (I got caught up in the excitement! Need to keep myself in check).
Same with domain/hosting registration (I am waiting on that thought…Haven’t decided whether I should stay with my current hosting provider. The service has been excellent, but I have had problems several time – down times because of server issues and so forth).
I am kind of glad Google is doing all this..it forces people to focus on the quality of the content (of course, this also affects those of us who are already working hard to provide great value to our readers).
Thank you for the tips, Carol. Appreciate it!
You actually mentioned a great point that I left out! Up-time of your site. If it’s down when Google tries to crawl, it can’t crawl. Definitely something to think about! Sometimes it’s about the little things we hardly think of. And of course, always about good content.
Some great info, Carol.
Yes, I stopped renewing my domain names year to year, but I have until, well, this year 🙂 The reason I was doing this before was just that I wasn’t sure if and how long I was going to keep those sites, and most of them I didn’t. Now, however, I know I’ll stick to the 3 I have for a long while 🙂 Probably never will get rid of the at all!
What I didn’t know at first is that Google even cared about that, but I’ve learned not too long ago that they do. Make sense.
Yes, I also heard about the 2000 words. That shouldn’t be any problem for you, Carol, as for me my posts are around 1,100 to 1,700, do you think it’s a problem? Should I really go for 2000 every time?
As for keywords, this make me laugh, because when I started writing on line I simply hated that keyword thing, I liked it the way Google like it now. So that’s not a problem for me at all.
Thank you for the great tips and reminders.
I would not worry about adding words just for the sake of adding words. The larger point is that you’re providing content that has details and information that is explained and well-written. It’s not one of those cheap quick posts that’s a few hundred words and doesn’t really say anything. I know you provide examples and plenty of details so I would not worry about word count.
Really great article (as usual). Definitely an evergreen one that I’m going to bookmark for future reference.
I had a question about the length of domain name registrations. I did know that Google takes into account how long a domain name has been in use, but I didn’t realise it took into account the length of registration. I’ve never come across that before. Have you got any more information on that or another article you can point towards? I am really interested to know more!
That’s a good question actually and it’s been open to some debate. I did read that post and others as well that contradict it. I included it because Google is notorious for being vague. The only specific thing they really ever say is “produce great content” which in and of itself is also vague. They imply and they don’t deny. At best they tell you “not to worry too much”. To me, not worrying too much doesn’t mean “no”. If there is something small that you can do to improve your legitimacy then I’m in favor. Lengthening your registration won’t hurt you except to cost a few extra bucks now instead of later. With a huge crackdown on spam and fly-by-nighters, building up that legitimacy is so important.
These are a couple of other things that have been said (or vaguely not said) on the matter…
“Valuable (legitimate) domains are often paid for several years in advance, while doorway (illegitimate) domains rarely are used for more than a year. Therefore, the date when a domain expires in the future can be used as a factor in predicting the legitimacy of a domain”.
(Matt Cutts) “My short answer is not to worry very much about that [the number of years a domain is registered], not very much at all.” He reiterates that the domain registrar claims “are not based on anything we said,” and talks about a Google “historical data” patent that may or may not be part of Google’s algorithm.”
Thanks so much, Carol. A really thorough answer. The other side to the arguments that you’ve referred to are very interesting. At the end of the day, it makes business sense to renew or register your domain for a longer time, because it means you mean to be in this for the long haul. As you say, it’s only going to cost you a little more money. It might not give you much (if any) SEO juice, but it might give you a bit, and it’s going to make you feel good!
Oh good, the comments showed up 🙂 They kept getting stuck in the ether! Anyway, yes, I err on the side of caution and when Matt Cutts says “Don’t worry about that too much” then I worry about it.
Awesome post. You pretty much nailed this one. I know my readers will enjoy it as well, so I’ve included it in my monthly roundup of the best SEO, content marketing, and social media articles. Thanks for putting this together. http://www.aseohosting.com/blog/2014/02/seo-content-marketing-and-social-media-best-of-january-2014/
Thanks, Daniel! I appreciate that and I’m glad you liked the post!