Show of hands – who got Pigeon’d?
Not sure what I mean? Then consider this scenario for your company’s SEO rankings:
One day your website is performing really well. Your important keywords are ranking high; backlinks are sending you sweet link juice; people are converting on your site. Life is good in SEO land.
Then, overnight, it all changes. The next day’s analytics report shows a sharp turn in SERP rankings. You went from steady page 1 positions to page 10?! After cursing the internet and regretting your decision to get into digital marketing in the first place, you calm down and realize it’s not your fault – it’s Google’s.
Google’s SEO celebrity, Matt Cutts and his web spam team sometimes hint at upcoming algorithm changes (reminder to all of us – pay attention to what Matt Cutts says), but they’re never announced until after they’ve gone into effect – when it’s too late for you. As a result, you have to scramble to modify your SEO strategies and hope they satisfy the new guidelines.
(Pigeon, of course, was the name of the recent update that changed location-based rankings out of the blue.)
While we can’t completely predict the future of SEO, we can take a look at the dropped hints and recent trends to try and keep up. Here are a few methods to keep in mind as we finish out the year and head into 2015.
When it comes to SEO strategies, no other tactic is as timeless as flexibility. Given the unpredictable nature of algorithm updates and tweaks, it’s important to not put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Backlinks may be really helpful today, but who knows what kind of power they’ll hold in six months? Google rocked the SEO world when they implemented the Panda update in 2011, which dramatically changed the way sites were ranked. In fact, it penalized anyone who obviously (and lazily) tried to game its algorithm. Some businesses are still trying to redeem themselves and their rankings.
The lesson here was two-fold: 1.) don’t use shady black hat tactics, and 2.) be dynamic. If Google suddenly de-values one area of your game plan, make sure your other procedures can sustain you. It helps to employ a grand strategy that uses a mix of things that work well, such as on-site optimization, and off-site links. While the algorithmic landscape is always changing, the tried and true tactics don’t seem to be losing value any time soon.
Choosing a smart domain name, writing short title and meta descriptions with keywords, and creating fresh content with internal links can help search engine spiders accurately evaluate your site. Likewise, a backlink from a high-authority website will always help improve your rank (provided it’s a legit site, and not spam-y).
One of the most recent, sweeping updates has to do with authorship. Over the past year, Google has sent some mixed signals about how it values the authority of someone’s online power. At the end of last year, the search engine giant announced that it was going to start giving more preferential treatment to people with a strong reputation (which was more or less determined by the person’s authority ranking throughout social media and beyond). However, it later surprised everyone by saying it was removing most authors’ photos from search results in an attempt to provide a cleaner user experience, especially on mobile.
Once again, it can be hard to keep up with Google’s seemingly fickle methodologies, but that doesn’t mean you should disregard authorship. Authorship, which is a statistic mostly derived by engagement on Google+, still plays a big role in helping your rank. In order to improve your own authorship, your best bet is to try to establish yourself as an industry leader.
What does that mean? Start writing, making videos, and generally networking online. The better your content is – and the more you network – the more it’ll help you. This isn’t a new concept per se, but it’s one that seems to be only gaining in power.
But when it comes to refining your content, authorship isn’t the only factor that will help you in the future. The old rule of thumb was to use keywords as a way to drive traffic. This hasn’t changed yet, but last year’s Hummingbird update suggests that Google is considering de-emphasizing them when evaluating your presence online. The solution isn’t to abandon your keyword strategies altogether, but to start thinking of ways to more smartly target your content. In an ideal world, this will help businesses refine their audience, and speak to them more directly through their blogs, and other content strategies.
Use Social Media Wisely
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is Google’s world; we’re all just living in it. Its critics call it the dictator of the internet, since we’re more or less powerless to defend ourselves against its rules. Whatever your stance is, you can’t get around its regulations, so you might as well play its game. In short, get on Google+ if you haven’t already.
Few people go to G+ to see what their friends are up to, but businesses have only seen increased SEO value by actively using it. This isn’t predicted to change any time soon. From authorship to local listings, Google has come up with more and more ways for companies to use its social media platform and – no surprise – it puts greater emphasis on businesses and industry leaders who thrive on it than, say, Facebook.
That’s not to say it doesn’t value other social sites. True, a random link to your site shared via Twitter that disappears into the Internet ether isn’t going to carry much SEO weight. But if the link gets noticed by other people, that all changes. Driving engagement online through organic shares, comments, and likes will help your authorship. It’s more important than ever to smartly spread good content on social media.
To that end, it’s equally important now to avoid shady SEO tactics. Increasingly, Google has gone after fake likes, views, shares, etc. While it’s tempting to score quick SEO points by hiring a company to create false social media profiles, and in turn engage with your content, this will most likely backfire. Over time, Google’s become savvier about the authenticity of fans’ engagement. Even if you outsource the activity just to jumpstart the conversation online about your new product, or to help a video go viral, it monitors the trajectory of activity. In other words, if there’s a flurry of engagement followed by silence, it’ll figure out what you’re up to and penalize you for it. Future algorithm changes will only continue to reward those who play the long game of SEO.