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!