The searchscape is constantly evolving, and SMX experts offered up some insights on how marketers can prepare and work to ensure constant search visibility for their sites.
1. Think about the SERP experience. Brafton has reported that Mark Munroe of Reply.com has spoken at past SMX conferences about his belief that Panda is a behavioral update, and the growing role of interaction metrics in SEO is common search conversation. (In a separate SMX West 2012 panel, Google and Bing confirmed that bounce rates are a rankings signal.)
Munroe encouraged marketers to “think about the SERP experience” when optimizing for search. Business owners should test their sites starting from the search results pages to ensure they aren’t serving as “false advertisements” on the SERPs. Good content is not enough, he said, suggesting that relevant content is vital. Looking at interaction metrics in analytics to determine what users think is relevant is key, as “every visitor tells you something about your site – even if they do nothing.”
2. Go back to SEO basics. The experts in attendance agreed that social marketing – and social search signals – sidetrack many marketers from the cornerstones of search engine optimization. Kerry Dean, chief traffic officer of Performance Media Group, said, “Pinterest is sexy, but SEO is core.” He advised marketers to look at their title tags, meta tags, navigation links, etc. The other marketers agree, with Marshall Simmonds, founder of Define Media, reminding marketers to check their sites for broken links.
“Getting your SEO ducks in a row” is essential to building the search foundation needed to survive in an evolving landscape.
3. Double up on analytics. The more data you have, the easier it will be to get an informed picture of where your site stands in search. If you’re using a paid SEO tool, get Google Analytics for free. If you’re already using Google Analytics, add Statcounter for free. Once you have mutliple analytics check points, pay attention to various campaigns, keyword referrals and – of course – interaction metrics to inform your SEO strategy.
4. Hire a content writer “for crying out loud.” Dean claimed that fresh content is the future of SEO – and the internet – and businesses need to invest in top content for their sites. Indeed, there have been fresh factor Google updates in recent months that reward sites for frequently updated content. Dean advised businesses to blog every day, add unique product descriptions and find ways to keep their sites unique and fresh. “A little bit of content can go a long way in terms of ranking,” he said.
Simmonds also suggested that marketers should take a look at their top performing content pages – in terms of pageviews and inbound links – and figure out how they can add and update content based on this data.
5. Go for landing page/ conversion optimization. This tip is somewhat similar to “thinking like a SERP.” When people land on your content pages, you want to send them deeper into your site – both for positive interaction metrics and, presumably, to support your business goals online. Conversion marketing is the ultimate goal of any SEO campaign, and the experts suggest it might also be key to positive interaction for SEO.
6. Embrace the age of personal branding with rel=author. Simmonds was quick to admit that rel= author is “confusing, but worth it for the SEO payoffs.” While Dean suggested some industry experts might not be good writers (or might need assistance from good SEO writers and editors), the idea of linking a business website to an industry authority is a good way to build both the company’s brand and the writer’s personal brand.
Notably, Elisabeth Osmeloski of Search Engine Land argued that rel=author is not hard to implement at scale (citing her publication as a website that has successfully and seamlessly done it).
Plus, there are now Webmaster Tools features that track author success.
7. Be relentless about making it easy to share. This tip came from Dean, but the panelists all expressed that social sharing is key. As Munroe said, businesses should strive to create content that will win shares – and it’s essential to give them opportunities to do this. Every share will be an indicator for organic ranking algorithms, and the panelists agreed that even if it’s not a prominent ranking factor.
While Dean sad that marketers should use “ALL the social sites,” he suggested that the must-haves include Google+, Facebook, Twitter and now, Pinterest.
8. Be even more relentless about mobile website optimization. This isn’t the fist session at SMX today where panelists discussed the need for a viable mobile website. In fact, Google’s Jack Menzel went as far as to mockingly beg marketers to make sure their sites work on mobile phones. (As Brafton has reported, 90 percent of sites aren’t ready for mobile use!)
As searches increasingly come from smartphones and tablets, mobile SEO is huge – but the SMX experts reminded attendees your don’t have to create an entirely new site and new search strategy. HTML5 web design is making sites more friendly to mobile browsers, and responsive websites mean businesses don’t need to build a separate mobile site – Dean says responsive web design is “like Flash, but readable.” And all main site SEO brands do will help with mobile SEO.
9. Use your sitemap to your benefit. As Simmonds said simply and effectively, “Sitemaps are your way of communicating with Google. If you’re not leveraging them, you’re missing out.”
Google, itself, says that sitemaps are a way to tell the search engine “about pages on your site we might not otherwise discover.”
10. Pay attention to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Michael Martinez, owner of SEOTheory, says it’s important not to tailor websites to algorithms, but marketers can be more strategic about the SEO research they do to stay ahead of the curve. He touted his personal belief that changes to the search guidelines are indicative of potential search visibility disruptions.
“You need to take a good hard look at your site and ask, ‘Is this a good site or a bad site?’ But you have no way of knowing whether Google’s opinion would be the same as yours.” Except, he suggests, through looking at Webmaster Guideines. Is your site created on the same principles espoused in these guides? When changes occur, even subtle ones, he suggests he has seen consistent search success by making sure his site fulfills the updated guidelines.
Ultimately, the SMX panelists suggest marketers will benefit if they don’t look at updates to Google (and other search engines) as roadblocks, but rather as reminders to make their own sites better for users. As Simmonds said, “Google moving the goalposts is your opportunity to push your SEO agenda.”