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search-engine-optimization-411106_640If you are still running SEO the same way you were at the start of the year you are already behind the curve. SEO is constantly changing and proper SEO strategies need to be well-planned enough to stay on target over long periods of time while also flexible enough to adapt to the constant guideline changes, algorithm roll-outs, and new ideas about usability.

In the past year alone, Google has pushed out 13 updates to algorithms that the public knows about. That number is just the big algorithms that people might know by name such as Penguin and Panda, while there has also been a multitude of more incremental changes that have gone undocumented in the public.

You don’t have to rebuild your SEO plans from the ground up every time there are significant changes over at Google, but you need to keep the biggest changing trends in mind as you progress and refine efforts. As we head into 2015, consider the most important shifts in SEO thinking that have happened over the past year.

1. Focus on Mobile Traffic

This may not be the newest shift in SEO, but it is more important than ever and all indications suggest mobile isn’t slowing down any time soon. Google has also shown their commitment to improving the mobile web with the introduction of mobile analytics tools and new warnings for users who are about to click on non-mobile friendly websites.

You can see if your site passes Google’s mobile-friendly test here, but don’t stop with that. Ensure your mobile site lives up the standards set by your desktop page and your company to keep mobile customers coming.

2. Optimizing for Alternative Search Engines

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that 2015 may be the year when Google’s iron grasp on search market share could start to crumble. Google has lost some major clout as Firefox replaced the search giant with Yahoo as the default search engine for the browser. Google’s agreement with Safari is also ending this year, and Apple seems keen to replace their competitor’s search engine with a more neutral option such as Bing, Yahoo, or even DuckDuckGo.

Even if Google maintains a strong majority of the market share (which they likely will) you should still make it your mission to be visible across all platforms, not just the most popular one.

3. Stop Focusing on Rankings and Start Looking at ROI Metrics

Rankings are so last year. Since all the major search engines have put a heavy emphasis on personalized search results that cater to users’ interests and location data, there is no guarantee your site will show as the top result for someone else even if it is the top result for you. Instead, turn your attention to return on investment. It offers a more accurate depiction of how your online marketing efforts are working, and gives a more direct understanding of the value of your SEO.

4. Emphasize Social Media

In the past, emphasizing social media basically meant blasting the same updates across every platform you can find. But, social media has matured and users won’t respond to your efforts if you treat every platform as the same. You should learn the unique demographics and behaviors of any social media platform you are considering sharing on, and ensure your ideas, voice, and medium match the crowd.

More importantly, social media users expect brands to more than just yell at them. Users expect ways to engage your brand and establish a more personal connection. The best solution is to isolate two or three social media platforms that best suit your brand and build on your efforts there. If you can really succeed there, you won’t need to be on the other social sites.

5. Earn Links, Don’t Hoard Them

You have most likely heard the routine proclamations that “links are dead!” more than once since Google began cracking down on weak or suspicious link portfolios. However, this is no truer now than when the internet first gained a foothold in our society. Links are still the most influential signal of trust and authority to search engines and that is going to stay the case for quite some time. However, the game has changed in a couple important ways.

Back in 2011, you could purchase countless low-quality links to masquerade as a reputable site. Now, Google has means of seeing through the mask. Google can analyze link quality and they don’t take kindly to poor quality, irrelevant links meant to boost visibility without effort. In 2015, earning a single high-quality link the right way is worth more than any number of links you could buy or collude to gain. Put your effort into proper SEO and you’ll find success. Rely on shady tactics and Google will be hunting for you.

matt-cutts

Google’s Matt Cutts

With the big crackdown on spammy link building practices over the past two years at Google, there are still many webmasters left with questions about what exactly constitutes a spammy practice. Google has previously advised against using links in forum “signatures” as a means of link building, but what about using a link in a comment when it is topically relevant and contributes to the conversation? That is exactly the question Matt Cutts answered in a Webmaster Chat video on Wednesday.

The short answer is that using links to your site in your comments is fine the majority of the time. Everyone who actually contributes to forums has a habit of linking to relevant information, and that often includes their own blogs. But, like everything, it can be abused.

Matt gave some tips to ensure your comments don’t get flagged as spammy by Google or the sites you are commenting on.

  • If you can, use your real name when commenting. Using a company name or anchor text you want to rank for gives the appearance of commenting for commercial marketing purposes, which raises the spam alarm.
  • If you are using leaving links in blog post comments as your primary means for linkbuilding and the majority of your links come from blog comments, Google will probably flag you.

You can see the video below.

 

Links

Since the introduction of Google’s Penguin algorithm many have suggested that links are no longer important for SEO. I’ve even seen some misguided folks suggesting all links are outright bad. As usual the truth is more complicated than that.

It has become such a common issue that veteran SEO writer used his regular column over at Search Engine Watch to attempt to fully answer whether links are important for SEO these days. The exact question he was asked was “do you feel Google is putting less emphasis on links as part of their algorithm?”

The truth is there are a variety of types of links that have been devalued and count very little or are poisonous to your SEO. BUT, these links were almost entirely the type “that never should have been counting in the first place.”

You see, the types of links being devalued are being brought down because they are spammy. Google has gotten increasingly smarter and better at its job of helping people find what they want on the internet without running into spam or low-quality sites. The devalued links come from junk directories, link networks, paid link brokers, article databases, link wheels, etc. The list could go on and on. But, this hasn’t brought down the quality links that good SEO professionals have built.

In Ward’s opinion, quality links matter even more now. Google can tell a lot of information about links in your profile, and they are swift to penalize low quality or spammy links, but they are even more rewarding to those who have the “right” kind of links.

Any SEO professional or online marketer you hire to help raise your brand’s profile online should be able to tell the difference between good and bad links. They know what Google doesn’t like, and they stay out of trouble. However, the best online marketers know that organic search traffic and link building are only a part of a much larger system.

Stop Sign

Thanks to the big brand-named algorithm updates, Google has definitely been at the forefront of the link building discussion recently, but obviously the other search engines have their own opinions as well.

As Search Engine Land reports, Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager for Bing, recently wrote a post on the Bing Webmaster Blog detailing the four worst link building techniques and why you shouldn’t do them.

Unsurprisingly, these link building strategies are largely in line with the methods Google has been fighting more publicly. Nonetheless, it is important to highlight the more spammy methods people are still using to try to boost their link profile.

  1. Blind Requests – Links aren’t something that should just be given out. Sending mass template emails to websites is about as spammy as you can get. The only people who will respond are those who won’t give you a quality link. Buying email lists to try to send out mass requests is an even bigger waste of funds that really won’t get you far, but could likely incur some penalties.
  2. Blog/Forum Comments – Some link builders will try to drop links almost randomly into blog comments and forum conversations, but these won’t improve your rankings a single bit. The search engines have been aware of the practice for some time now.
  3. Link Injection – This is a tactic used by spammers where sites are hacked and links are injected into content such as headers or footers. Some will even push links directly into the body content. Bing does encourage keeping your CMS software up to date and secure, but they also try to take precautions on their side against this tactic.
  4. Guest Blogging – This is one of the more controversial link building strategies because it isn’t explicitly bad. The problem is, if your focus with guest blogging is to build links, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Forrester explains, “if you’re going to guest blog, best to do it with the intention to buildyour brand, drive traffic, and create awareness. Doing it to bolster your SEO efforts is a #FAIL these days.”

As always, there are a lot of different opinions about link building across the web. There are still those who offer ways to “dominate” links with schemes that push the boundaries of what Google allows and some who are beginning to completely write off link building as a practice.

It is a bit hasty to completely do away with your linking efforts, as they are certainly still a consideration by the search engines. But, we also live in an entirely different linking climate than that of just a couple years (or months) ago. Moderation and quality are the key words in the link building discussion these days, and it is important to know when someone is giving bad advice.

If only you explicitly knew what link building tactics you should just not do, right? Erin Everhart from Search Engine Land offers just that with her article from last week laying out exactly what linking techniques we can just cut out of our routines, and how to pinpoint when people are trying to give you bad advice.

Of course, it all starts with discussing that special word “quality,” which is now the most important factor in all your link building efforts. Google no longer cares if you have countless links to your site, if none of them are reputable. Actually, they do care. They will penalize your site for trying to use bad links to boost your profile. Natural, quality links from sites people actually read are the only way to get positive results from your link building, and anything else is just as likely to hurt you.

In the vein of quality over quantity, mass article submission is almost as bad as farming huge numbers of shoddy links. Its the obvious successor to the new “content is king” mantra everyone is espousing now, as those who were directly gaining scores of low quality links turned to submitting the same weak article to hundreds of different sites.

Of course, there are other link problems aside from link farming in various manners. Though it has become less popular after Penguin, there are still backlink profiles out there with higher exact-match anchor text percentages than their company name. Anchor text is still very important, but there is no reasonable scenario in which you should end up with that high of a percentage. You need way fewer exact-match links than you did a couple years ago, so just follow the rule of moderation.

Guest blogging is even becoming a problem. There are so many sites hiring “article writers” who churn out 10 to 15 articles a day that the tactic has become yet another link building scheme. Instead of outright buying links, they are buying writers to build them cheap links. Guest blogging can be great when done correctly, but you have to take the time to ensure they know a lot about the industry they represent and will provide value to your site.

There are even more link building tactics still happening right now despite Google’s best efforts to shut down the more spammy efforts. Everhart covers a few more in her article, but the main point is that any good-natured SEO tactic can be corrupted and used to try to trick the search engines, the problem is Google and Bing have gotten much smarter, and they will almost always catch you if you try to outwit them. Play be the rules, and give your sites the attention they need, but don’t try to play the system.

There are more than a few articles out there telling you the “right” way to do link building. Despite what they say, link building isn’t a uniform process for every website. If it was, it would probably be able to be totally automated at this point. There are more than a few wrong ways to do link building, but the right link building process for your site depends on a lot of different factors. Pratik Dholakiya explains why there will never be a single “right” link building strategy.

Repeatable Means Replaceable – An easily-explainable and easily accomplishable link building strategy sounds great, but it isn’t good in a competitive market. Any strategy simple enough to be easily copied, can be easily scaled. A smart, unique strategy will out-think your competition, but a repeatable strategy means it will be a competition of who can spend more on scaling.

Search Engines Don’t Stay The Same – There will never be a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for link building because the internet doesn’t sit still. Everything is constantly being made obsolete and reworked. In the past, link building was only about the number of links you could get. Now, search engines judge the quality of links, devalue paid links, automated links, press releases, and many other forms of old “standards.” Even if you find the perfect link building strategy for your site, it won’t work forever. It might even stop working next week.

Every Niche is Different – Link building inevitably relies on the creation and sharing of content. The better the content is, the more impact it will have on a site’s performance, and the quality of the links being generated. But, content comes in virtually endless forms, and different content is more appropriate for different industries. SEO loves long informative blog posts, lists, eBooks, infographics, and that type of thing, but long blog posts and videos don’t work as well on web design blogs. Restaurants looking for links won’t have any use for infographics, but photographs and social media will be essential for their market. You have to find what works for your specific website.

Even if you already know that link building isn’t easy or uniform, it is easy to fall into habits and using the same strategies over and over. Every website is different, and link building has to be tailored to each individual site, otherwise there will always be wasted potential.

Trash BasketTwo years ago Google unleashed Panda onto the world, and SEO hasn’t been the same since, especially when it comes to link building. Hundreds of thousands of sites have been penalized and some have made their way back to where they were, but countless others have perished or are still trudging along trying to recover.

Some of those sites were mostly innocent and got in trouble for just being a little too unscrupulous or not quite knowing what they were doing with link building, but the wide majority of these sites hit by penalties were flagrantly engaging in cheating trying to get their site’s traffic up by gaining a massive quantity of low quality links instead of a respectable number of solid links.

Still, those penalized have had to try to find a way to get their site restored to its former traffic rates and search rankings, and after two years of toiling away, the question eventually arises: “Should I just give up and start over?” Well, Eric Ward gives a simple question to that. “Are you going to do things differently with the new site than you did with the old site? If not, then it really doesn’t matter.”

Most of the websites unable to reclaim their former “glory” are still struggling because they haven’t wised up. The only way to be able to consistently rank highly on Google and Bing is to run a quality site people will want to visit. You can use SEO to get you there, but you can’t fake a good site.

 

Anyone that has built a website from scratch knows how much effort it takes to build an audience, raise your traffic and generally get your site known about. So, what happens if suddenly all that traffic disappears? All of that work can be undone in a single moment. Why does this happen? Usually it is because of mistakes you never knew you were making. Here are 7 common mistakes that could make your website fail.

  1. Pointing All of Your Backlinks Into Your Home Page – Link building is an essential part of any website’s SEO and doing it well means improving your search engine performance. The most common mistake with backlinking is directing all of your links back to your home page. Search engines think it is strange if all of your backlinks point to your homepage and will penalize your search rankings and your traffic. Instead, spread your link distribution and point backlinks to different pages within your website.
  2. Unnecessary Clutter – If you’re getting a lot of traffic, it’s natural to want to maximize your profit by monetizing your website. But be careful if you try to do this. Many add unnecessary clutter to their page while trying to monetize content, which changes your pages appearance and the way the public interacts with it. Too many advertisements and other clutter, will soon send the public elsewhere.
  3. Giving Too Much Content at Once – Content may be what the public is seeking on the Internet, but giving them too much of it in one place can be a bad thing. You want to keep your audience comfortable. Don’t make them feel overwhelmed by putting too much information in a single page. If you are going to be giving lots of content at once, split it across several pages so you will keep visitors’ interests.
  4. Amateurish Design – If you want your website to be respected, don’t put the design in unexperienced hands, even if they are your own. No matter how good your content is, if the design is off putting, you still won’t get visitors. It’s easy to find good website templates for cheap and there are always designers for hire. Don’t risk your reputation on a shoddy design.
  5. Being Disorganized – Visitors will always want their experience with your website to be as easy as possible. This seems simple, yet many still provide confusing and disorienting sites that frustrate their visitors. Those visitors won’t care about what content you are offering if they can’t find it easily.
  6. Trying to Advertise Before Your Content is Finished – Search engines will notice if you try to push for traffic before your website content is finished. Search engines favor content that is geared towards their audience and no audiences favor unfinished content. It seems amateurish, and you are focusing on the popularity and money before you have a proper product to offer. Instead, get some great content before you start trying to attract the public.
  7. Going Plain Text – It’s simple: people get bored quickly. Failing to add graphics, means your audience will get bored almost immediately. Give your visitors something to catch their eye everywhere you can. Keep them interested.

These ideas may seem like common sense, but websites continue to make these mistakes every day. Avoid them or one day you may notice your traffic has gone somewhere else.

 

For some other more information on how to keep your website running smoothly, go to Sathishkumar Varatharajan’s article at designrhub.

It’s always nice to have SEO experts and pros answer some of the major questions any SEO might have.  It appears that someone has done just that.  Outspoken Media snagged a number of fairly big SEO experts and asked some great questions, in particular about link building.

It’s pretty lengthy, so in the words of the poster, grab a nice cup o’ joe and sit down to read through this set of jewels.  There are plenty of SEO questions to see answered.

Pay for link building?  What?  Yes, the different ways people do their link building vary from totally free to exorbitantly expensive, but one method a lot of people have not really considered is actually sending traffic that will build links to pages that deserve them.

There are different ways to use PPC to target your landing pages, but if you have good enough content you can use the traffic you attract to help create more links.  The cost will vary based on the keyword you choose, but in some cases this can be very beneficial for your SEO.

Julie Joyce at Search Engine Land has 8 tips to help you fine-tune this approach.