Thanks a lot Google! Causing as much panic as Godzilla in Tokyo, Google’s algorithm updates continued unrelenting in 2014. With Google being on a mission to nuke low-quality and low-value pages, especially those that are way over-optimized for keywords, many search marketers feel like there are hardly any optimization techniques left that won’t get you dinged by the folks in Mountain View. The way I look at it is that if there is fear about what Google is doing, you weren’t doing a great job to begin with and to be fair, Google does move the goal line frequently but they always tell you what direction they are moving in. With that in mind, there are some SEO strategies that will work for you and your business in 2015. Here’s how to stay off Google’s Naughty List:
1. Focus On Hummingbird-Friendly Keywords
Hummingbird completely changed the way Google looks at search queries. Instead of matching up separate keywords to specific pages, it is now looking at the actual search intent of the user.
SEO Keywords are still very important, but now you should look for larger groups of niche-specific keyword combinations. How does one go about doing this? First, come up with some conversational phrases people are likely to use when searching for your products or services. For example, let’s say your business sells toy trains. Instead of trains, try phrases like Lionel train set, g-scale train sets, or inexpensive train sets. When possible, try to target conversational phrases just as they are even if it is very long-tailed, for example, target where to buy train sets in Scranton. Take a look at the search queries on Google Analytics and Adwords. They are great tools to see what people are actually looking up to find you.
Next, you will want to classify these phrases into three categories: information seeking, navigating, and transactional. To address information Seeking queries, create educational content that links to your product pages. Using the example above you might want to have content on how on the differences between the various train set scales or how to identify vintage Lionel sets. Navigation queries are those from searchers who already know who you are and are already looking for your brand name, product name, or website. Use keywords that you’re your brand name to build brand awareness. Transactional queries signal commercial intent. They are ready to buy. To rank for these types of keywords, include words like buy, coupon, discount, deal, review, or hire.
2. Streamline Your Website’s URL Structure
Websites that have a sleek and streamlined URL structure often are ranked higher than websites with messy structures and confusing content organization. Unfortunately, most websites fall into this latter category. URLs are the building blocks of your website, so make sure that they are consistent and search-engine-friendly. Dynamic URLs end in a string of characters like id=18546&color=2&size=4&session=297864. These are not SEO friendly. They are usually too long, contain no keywords within them, and have lower click-through rates because people have no idea what the page is about by looking at a dynamic URL. It is far better to use static URLs than dynamic ones.
Broken links will harm search rankings. Use a broken link checker to find these and fix these. Now you will find that some search marketers disagree on the area of 404 errors. One camp says they should all be fixed from a usability standpoint while others feel that having 404 errors increases the amount of pages being indexed by Google. While not a huge factor in SEO, 404 should be fixed and send to a relevant page on your site but they are by no means crucial. I have seen a number of businesses who have created really great 404 pages such as the ones below. If you have a good 404 page that guides visitors back to your site that works as a temporary Band-Aid but you should also try to fix these errors as they pop up but don’t lose sleep over them.
Also, pages with too many outbound links are generally considered to hurt search rankings, although exactly how many is too many remains a topic of debate in the marketing world. Google no longer sets a limit of 100 links per page, advising instead that the links be relevant to readers of that page. You should focus more on building at least two paragraphs of original content per page with a few outbound links to quality sites. If you really have that many relevant links to offer your site visitors, consider dividing them up among several pages of content.
3. Focus on Fewer, Hard-Earned, High-Quality Links
I have heard it said many times from the folks at Google that one great link is as good as a hundred lower quality ones. So it is much better to have a handful of links that come from several niche authority sites than hundreds of single links from second or third-rate sites. Just remember quality over quantity. You can build these links in three ways:
• Editorial Links: These are the gold standard for links and always have been. These links come from mentions of your business by media sources, as well as via op-ed, thought-leadership or educational articles you write and publish on third-party sites. To make editorial links work for you, you must understand the audience of the site you want to be published on, find a topic that’s interesting to them and, when it’s published, share it on social media. One word of warning however, do you not be too promotional in the content or you will end up shooting yourself in the foot.
• Co-Citation: Each time you link to another site especially competitors or similar sites it serves as a hint to Google that your business and that other company are somehow related. If the competitors are already authoritative in your industry, your site for Google now also seems a weighty representative of that industry or niche. One way to get co-citations is to perform a Google search for lists such as top 10 [generic term for your business], or best [generic term for your product] of 2014. If your business isn’t there, reach out to the publishers and ask them to put you on the list. Be sure to make the case for why you should be included, and make it easy for them to do so by writing suggested copy that aligns with the rest of the list.
• Broken Link-Building: This is a labor heavy but very useful tactic in which you hunt for broken links on those authoritative niche sites, and propose that the publishers substitute your link instead. Think “Hey, I found this link on your site, its broke but here is mine”. Use an SEO service such as Majestic SEO or Spyfu to reverse-engineer your competitors’ backlink profiles to see which niche resources link to them. Next, check all the links on those resources to find broken ones. Reach out to owner of said resource informing them of the broken link and propose your link as a replacement. Rinse and repeat.
4. Look Beyond Personalized Search Results
Because Google search results are so highly personalized and are increasingly so, it can be difficult to get an accurate idea of how a page ranks for customers who have never been to your site before and for searchers in various geographic locations. Using your own computer and browser won’t give you the answer, because Google is personalizing your search, too, based on your own search history.
Tracking location-specific rankings may be biased by your IP address and the location set under Google Search Tools. Hey, it happens but both of these must match your target location in order to see true, local results. For example, if you’re in Scranton and want to check how a Philadelphia or New York restaurant ranks, even if you set your location to either of those cities, Google will assume from your IP address that you’re someone in Scranton searching for this restaurant in New York or Philadelphia and return different results than it would for someone on the ground in those areas.
A similar problem can occur when you’re using Web-based tools for SEO. These tools do let you tweak the location settings, but they check the rankings via their own IP addresses. To get truly accurate, unbiased results, choose a tool like Rank Tracker that automatically returns de-personalized, unbiased results and also allows you to set both location factors.
5. Consider HTTPS
A few weeks back Google officially announced that HTTPS would now become a ranking signal, meaning that websites using secure encryption may get a boost in Google rankings. HTTPS is a secure method of exchanging information across the Web that uses several extra layers of security to protect the transferred data. For now, HTTPS is a lightweight signal according to Google so it’s not a game changer but it may become stronger over time.
Ever since Google’s announcement, panic ran amok that not having an SSL certificate could push your site down in Google results, making many website owners start moving their sites to HTTPS without proper research and understanding. I saw many business owners immediately want to switch over to HTTPS just based on the announcement alone so let’s set the record straight.
For transactional and ecommerce sites, HTTPS has long been a standard. It’s a good practice to also use it for any site that collects personal information, including account logins and email subscriptions, and using it can help you build user trust – in addition to love from our friends at Google.
But there are costs that must be considered as well. For protecting transferred data, HTTPS uses SSL technology. So, to enable HTTPS for your website, you need to get an SSL Certificate, usually on a paid basis, and install it on the server. In addition to this expense, all HTTP URLs would have to be permanently redirected and any absolute internal links would need to be edited into HTTPS URLs or into relative URLs. So you are opening a whole can of worms which can potentially do more to damage your SEO with the potential for messy redirects and broken links than anything you would gain from such a “lightweight” signal as HTTPS. That doesn’t mean that I am against the idea but first make sure you need to do it before you start the process and have a plan in place for the transition and don’t wing it.
If transitioning to HTTPS is important for your business, then by all means make the switch. However, if it would be quite difficult to convert to HTTPS, it may not be worth the burden. And for a purely informational website that doesn’t handle any consumer data, at this point there’s probably not enough SEO value to make it worthwhile.
As you can see, most tactics described here are quite common sense and simple, most marketing is but that doesn’t mean that they are easy. They all require time and effort, but, if handled well, they’ll pay off big dividends in the end. If this is too much for you, and for many it is quite understandably, or you just want to leave it to the professionals, MarketingModo offers a full suite of SEO services following each of the tactics above. MarketingModo is your partner in SEO success. If you decide to go it alone, the one thing I would just like to remind you of is this. Always remember that in the end, what is good for the searcher is good for SEO.