Thanks, Google! Its algorithm updates continued unabated in 2014, leading to panic among some search marketers and dread among many more. Now that Google has been on a mission to reduce the visibility of low-value pages, especially those that are over-optimized for keywords, does it seem like there are hardly any optimization techniques left that won't get you dinged?
There are, in fact, some strategies that will still work in 2015. Here's how to stay BFFs with the algorithm:
Hummingbird brought a change in the way Google parses queries. Instead of matching up separate keywords to pages, it's now looking for actual search intent.
Keywords still are important, but now you should look for larger buckets of niche-specific word combinations. To do this, first, determine various conversational phrases people are likely to use when searching for your services. For example, instead of flowers, try phrases like Valentines bouquet, same day flower delivery, or inexpensive flower arrangement. When possible, target conversational phrases just as they are, for example, target where to buy flowers in bulk.
Next, classify these phrases into three categories: informational, navigational, and transactional. To address informational queries, create educational content that then links to your product or sales pages. Navigational queries are already looking for your brand name, product name, or website. Transactional queries signal commercial intent. To rank for these, include words like buy, coupon, discount, deal, review, or hire.
2. Hone Your Website's URL Structure
Websites that have a streamlined URL structure often are ranked higher than websites with messy structures and confusing content organization. URLs and links are the building blocks of your website, so make sure that they are consistent and search-engine-friendly.
Dynamic URLs - the ones that end in strings of characters like id=13579&color=4&size=2&session=754839 - are usually too long, contain no keywords, and have lower click-through rates from search-engine results, because searchers have a harder time understanding what the page is about. With this in mind, it is better to use static URLs than dynamic ones.
Broken links and 404 errors also will harm search rankings. Use a broken link checker to find these and fix these.
Pages with too many outbound links are generally considered to hurt search rankings, although exactly how many is too many remains debatable. 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 Links
It's much better to have multiple links from several niche authority sites than hundreds of single links from second-rate sites. You can build these three ways:
- Editorial Links: These are the gold standard for links, coming from mentions of your company by the media, as well as via op-ed or thought-leadership articles you write and publish on third-party sites. To succeed with the latter, you must understand the site's audience, find a topic that's interesting and not too promotional, and, when it's published, share it on social media.
- Co-Citation: Each time your brand or a link to your site appears along with competitors or similar Web resources, it serves as a hint to Google that your firm and those other companies are related. If the competitors are already authoritative in your business niche, your site for Google now also seems a weighty niche representative. One tactic to achieve 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 2013. 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 laborious 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. Start by reverse-engineering competitors' backlink profiles to see which niche resources link to them. Next, check all the links on those resources to find broken ones.
Because Google search results are so highly personalized, 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 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. Both of these must match your target location in order to see true, local results. For example, if you're in Seattle and want to check how a Houston restaurant ranks, even if you set your location to Houston, Google will assume from your IP address that you're someone in Seattle searching for this restaurant in Houston and return different results than it would for someone on the ground in Texas.
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.
A few weeks ago Google officially announced that HTTPS would now become a ranking signal, meaning that websites using secure encryption may get a certain boost in Google rankings. HTTPS is a secure method of exchanging information across the Web that uses several extra means to protect the transferred data. For now, Google says, HTTPS is a "lightweight signal," but it may become stronger over time.
Ever since the "HTTPS ranking signal" announcement, fears spread 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.
For transactional 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 Google love.
But there are costs. 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 cost, 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.
If transitioning to HTTPS would be relatively easy for you or 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, yet they’re not easy. They all require time and effort, but, if handled well, they'll pay off in the end. To get the best return on your efforts , base your SEO decisions on accurate SEO data, like the one you can get with SEO PowerSuite. And remind yourself, while you're at it, that anything that's good for searchers is, ultimately, good for search marketers.