The search marketing landscape has changed a lot in the last 12 months. Perhaps the biggest change came with Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update, which has pushed the envelope even further for SEOs and companies seeking to practice SEO convergence in the future.
- Industry observations – Observations come from many sources, like Elasticity’s own search marketing updates that provide the latest on search engine changes.
- Correlation tests– Data driven correlation tests are helpful because they isolate and measure certain factors across the web, like in social media and search engine results pages (SERPs), and publish the results for insightful action.
- Search engine spokespeople – Google provides their own take on what search marketers should be focused on for higher rankings.
A combination of the above three sources allow us to define what we think will impact search marketing strategy the most in 2014. We’ll start with the more basic on-page SEO factors and work our way into more impactful, off-page factors. Enjoy!
ON-PAGE SEO FACTORS
I can’t write this post without highlighting the core of how Google ranks websites. After all, their number one goal is to give the user the most relevant, authoritative information for what’s in the search box. When thinking of content to create for you website, it’s important to keep several things in mind, like quality, keywords, engagement, ads, and freshness.
After Google’s panda update, your website content can no longer be thin or fluffy. It needs to be deeper. For instance, a lot of websites have recently benefited from long form content, like articles consisting of over 1,000 words. In short, you should be creating rich, detailed content that brings enormous value to your consumers.
Measuring engagement with analytics is also a crucial element when creating quality content. Are your visitor’s bouncing quickly (I like to think of this as the pogo stick problem) from your pages or your articles? Are they sharing your blog posts on social platforms? User engagement can help you stay focused on creating the quality of content that peaks your visitor’s interest.
There’s also something to be said about the freshness of your content. The more you post to your blog or update elements on your site, the more Google will come back to index that content. Start by creating a list of topics that revolve around your industry. Then, create a content calendar that will help keep you on track. It doesn’t have to be exhaustive, just something to organize blog topics, titles, descriptions, and keywords to target.
HTML related best practices, like meta tags, will remain the same in 2014. Although, many in the industry speculate that Google will begin to write more title tags algorithmically. If you see this happening, it’s worth changing some of these to what Google presents in SERPs. Then, test performance indicators and broaden optimization given better performance. As for description tags, I don’t see much happening here.
Structured data markup has been a big topic in recent years. Some might argue that this type of markup can negatively impact visits because Google will display some information right in SERPs. Take this Google authorship example:
The (weak) argument against markup is that some users might click on the link “168 Google+ circles” next to Rachael Powell, leading them to her Google+ profile instead of the Elasticity website. I disagree with this argument for many reasons: structured data makes you a trusted source, an authority, and helps users get what they want from your site much more quickly. By the way, the above example of Google authorship is considered a best practice. Do it!
At the beginning of any website audit or SEO strategy, there are some technical nuances that could affect the way your website ranks, if it even has the ability to rank at all. For starters, your website needs to be crawled by search engine robots. All of your SEO efforts will be lost without this crucial first step. Concerned about whether or not your site can be crawled?
Try this advanced search operator: site:yoursite.com.
This will search Google for all of the pages they have in their index, for that particular root domain. Next, check your site’s robots.txt file by going to yoursite.com/robots.txt. You should see something like this:
The “User-agent” calls out search engine robots. In this case, the asterisk is calling on all search engine robots. If you see Disallow: / , then you’re telling robots not to crawl your entire website. This is bad.
Duplicate content can also hurt how your site ranks in search engines. For example, search engines see the following URLs as separate pieces of content on the Internet:
When typing each of these in your address bar, do they stay the same as above or redirect to a set URL, like www.YourSite.com? If they stay the same, that’s bad. Duplicate content can come in a variety of forms. Bottom line: eliminate as much of it as possible, and as for the rest, put canonical tags in place.
URL architecture best practices should continue to hold true for 2014. Simple and easy to read URLs are favored over those that are complex and parameter laden. Also, it’s been said that readable URLs in search results are also clicked on more often, impacting your organic click-through rates.
OFF-PAGE SEO FACTORS
Link Quality & Quantity
Let’s get one thing straight: link building is NOT dead. Link building in 2014 is all about how and where you get your backlinks. Continually, this is becoming more of a media relations and influencer outreach play, which may mean more link building campaigns with a content marketing focus.
Diversity is also an important link-building topic in 2014. Put simply, you should make an effort to get backlinks from a variety of sources, instead of the same websites time and time again. An active content creation and marketing strategy can grow the audience you need to get a diverse set of links.
Be cautious of the amount of low-quality links you have. If the majority of your link profile consists of low quality or anchor text driven links, I suggest consulting a professional SEO company for an audit style link analysis. Link audits and logs can help your case if you do get penalized down the line, especially for reconsideration requests.
I can’t move to the next section without preaching that you do not pay for links. Just like Santa knows if you’ve been naughty or nice, Google knows if you’ve been buying links – they will put you on the bad list.
Local SEO has been a topic of discussion for a few years now. A lot can be done in this realm in terms of optimization, such as:
- Proper use of subdomains (www., etc.) and country code top-level domains (.com, etc.).
- Tagging pages with language codes, like lang=”en”.
- Registering geographic targets in Google Webmaster Tools.
- Submitting your company information to Google+, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, and other authoritative, relevant directory sites.
Links from sites in your geographic area can help establish your location. For example, you’re a St. Louis-based SMB that develops a valuable infographic for your customers, ultimately resulting in a mention (link) from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
A good social media strategy can boost your local SEO efforts. Using the example from above, if many people in St. Louis have you in their Google+ circles, you may be more likely to rank higher in the St. Louis locale.
Going forward, it make a lot more sense for websites to rank higher if they have more visits, a higher average time-on-site (ATOS), and more referral traffic from social.
Correlation tests have led to the assumption that Facebook likes, Twitter retweets, and Google+ circles can make you rank higher in SERPs. By now, we should know that correlation does not equal causation. That said, it’s important to keep an eye on this as we move further into 2014. Popular websites and influencers are just as likely to get links as they are social votes. Social is a way of spreading the word, thus creating more buzz about a topic and getting you more backlinks from authoritative sources.
It’s also important to know the affiliation between certain search engines and social sites. Google owns Google+. Bing and Yahoo have relationships with Facebook and Twitter. Social media engagement will continue to drive personalized SERPs. It’ll be interesting to see how this evolves in 2014.
What’s your take on search marketing in 2014? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!