Google’s all-out attack on spammers, as evidenced by its most recent Penguin updates and announced strategies, give some clues as to the search engine giant’s future focus. But beyond the Google search spam team getting a tougher workout, what SEO changes are likely over the next 12 months? Knowing what to expect can help you manage your company’s online strategy more effectively and be proactive, rather than reactive, with your SEO practices. Here’s what else appears to be on the horizon:
1. More Love for Complex Content. Content, leading to authority, continues to rise to the top as the darling of SEO strategy and there’s no indication this will slow. But expect Google to become more enamored with longer-form content that offers greater depth over the course of the next 12 months. Forget what you may have learned in years gone by about limiting the length of your online content to short sound bites.
Tip: Don’t create superfluous content simply to up your word count. The key is not just length, but depth of your content. If you are concerned quality will suffer for certain topic areas because you just can’t come up with a 1,000 – 2,000 word article on the subject while keeping it relevant, consider adding depth to your piece with rich media, like videos and infographcs. If the latter is unfamiliar to you, there are a number of easy-to-use tools like Easel.ly and Venngage that help you get started. For the most part, you will need to forget hard and fast rules about writing all online content in short sound bites. One rule of thumb to consider: the more complex thinking and decision making you need your visitors to do, the longer and more in-depth your content should be. The reverse holds true when asking little or nothing of your visitors.
2. Authority Gains Momentum. Expect Google to make greater use of Google Authorship and other methods to learn more about what you are writing and how authoritative your voice is beyond your own site. Quality and frequency of your posts, as well as social media response, will come into play more than ever and affect rankings of all your content.
Tip: Leverage your use of Google Authorship on your content wherever possible, including your guest blogs and sites where you are a contributor. Follow Google’s instructions closely on how to link your content. Be choosy when selecting where you post across the Internet. Just because a site is open to having you as a contributor, doesn’t mean you are doing your SEO strategy any good by posting there. Just as with content, look for quality over quantity when working to build your authority within your field. Also, avoid sending the same, or nearly same, post or article to multiple sites. You will hurt, rather than help, your standing.
3. Step Up Social Media Strategies. Despite earlier missteps, Google finally seems to have a viable social media platform of its own. It follows, then, that social media will likely play a growing role as a factor in search rankings. One reason search engines are likely to value social media standing, particularly with certain types of content, is that it’s considerably harder to skew social media ranking results compared with other attempts to interfere with search rankings.
Tip: While it likely hasn’t reached the level of significance given to factors like high-quality links and relevant keywords, social media strategies should be incorporated into your overall online marketing and SEO plan. Expect social media ranking to have more influence with Google search if your content is newsy or event-related. It’s not just a numbers game, however. In addition to quantity of shares on high-quality social media platforms, Google search is almost certainly looking at the authority of the people sharing your content. There’s strong indication that social media activity, particularly the number of people in your Google+ circles, is weighted heavily on determining your authority. Make use of plugins and similar mechanisms so that you not only make your content easy to share, but you can track the results. Manage your own sharing of content through sites like Hootsuite or TweetDeck.
4. Mobile Leaves the Backseat. You’ve heard it said before, but it’s worth saying again: the way people access the Internet has drastically changed. Today, about half of all people in the U.S. own a smart phone and about a third of the population is accessing the Internet regularly via a tablet. If your online marketing and SEO strategy is still created around the desktop experience, come out of the dark ages and make mobile your priority. You can bet money that in the not-too-distant future, a growing majority of people will be accessing the Internet via a mobile device than a desktop. Plan accordingly.
Tip: Your first step, if you still haven’t done so, is to make sure your site is mobile-friendly. There are plenty of free and paid online tools available to help you optimize the mobile version of your site. Google also offers a collection of “how-tos” related to optimizing your site across devices as well as analyzing your current multi-device performance. As you optimize your site, you will need to ensure cross-device compatibility. With clients and prospects using smart phones and tablets to do everything from online research to making a buying decision to navigating their way to local brick-and-mortar businesses, you can no longer afford to give a passing nod to the needs of mobile users.
5. Links Undergo More Scrutiny. There was a time when links were the way all websites got ranked. But as you know, there are now a number of factors that come into play. That being said, the amount and quality of links is still one of the most important factors for ranking a site in Google, likely led only by page authority, which itself incorporates links. Google continues to fine-tune its link evaluation by launching its plans to make more sophisticated adjustments to its algorithm. This also plays into its overall focus to discourage link spammers. Expect link building to become a more sophisticated, complex process.
Tip: Meet this challenge by upping your game as far as anchor text goes. Ensure you’ve diversified your link text so that link building is not obvious. If you’ve still been employing any black hat SEO strategies, stop. Google search is going to be even more unforgiving than in the past. You will also need to be on top of any negative SEO practices your competitors could use against you, like using low quality links to point to your site. If you need to clean up some bad back links, Google can help with its Disavow Links tool. Use this tool with caution, however; disavowing links by domain rather than by individual back links in your request file risks eliminating potential benefits of any good links emanating from that website. There is also some indication that Google search is moving away from anchor text toward link page relevancy, which means link relevancy is gong to be more and more important. In other words, having a high-authority website directly related to your business scope will be favored over a link from a much higher-ranking, but unrelated, video, even if the video uses your keyword and anchor text.
6. Strategy vs. Action Steps. SEO strategies should no longer be thought of in terms of a step over here and a fix over there. Instead, just as you have addressed your company’s marketing and public relations needs from an overall strategy downward, your online marketing needs to be given the same consideration. It’s not going to be enough to apply a few SEO tactics and call it a day. You need to work through your content strategy, your social media strategy, your authoritative voice strategy, your online branding strategy–you get the idea–and figure out how they contribute to your overall marketing goals.
Tip: Sure, you still need to get down to action level where SEO is concerned, but every step you implement has to be a part of an overall coordinated effort where several activities are simultaneously carried out for an overall cohesive SEO approach that follows your marketing roadmap. If you aren’t sure where to begin in putting together the subparts of your SEO strategies, there are a number of resources online that can provide guidance, like this online content marketing worksheet.
7. Use Design to Support Ranking. There are no do overs on first impressions. If your site is unprofessional, riddled with errors and lacking in media, it not only hurts your conversion rate, it greatly detracts from Google search’s impression of your company’s authority. Bare bones, unappealing text sites should become a thing of the past. It’s often the reason you will see sites such as forums or article directories rank lower than competitors exhibiting other design styles.
Tip: Give your site a design overhaul if necessary and consider sprucing things up even if your site is in good shape. Make greater use of rich and relevant content like images, screenshots, video and audio. As noted above, your site’s design should be mobile-friendly. In addition, make sure your site loads quickly. Website load speed is growing in significance in Google’s ranking algorithm. Expect cloud content delivery networks to continue to grow in popularity as companies seek to address this challenge.
Knowing where Google search is heading next isn’t a perfect science, so it can be hard to gear up for Google’s next SEO algorithm evolution. But a bit of research and trend tracking yields the type of clues reflected in the recommendations above. Pulling together an overall SEO strategy, with the focus on building your company’s authoritative voice across the Internet with relevant, high-quality content, is sure to be on target as Google search continues to evolve its process.
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