2012 saw an avalanche of updates to Google’s algorithms, and I don’t expect 2013 to be any different. Many websites were caught out and penalised for SEO tactics that at one time would have been commonplace and successful. Following this huge crack down on any ‘unnatural’ optimisation activity many site owners and SEOs have been left thinking about how to avoid being penalised in the future. In essence, ‘future proofing’ your SEO.
This post covers basic future proofing tips for on-page, link building, technical, and other elements of your SEO strategy.
Future-Proof your Link Building
This is where many sites were caught out last year following Google’s Penguin update.
Link building now needs to be a lot more strategic than simply going after any link with optimised keyword anchor text or from an authoritative site.
Analyse your link profile before you even start link building. This will not only identify if you have any unnatural looking links which need to be dealt with, but also give you an idea of the aspects of your existing profile which need improving.
Even if you think your link profile is healthy and haven’t had a warning about unnatural links, you should still review what’s coming in to reduce the likelihood of being hit by any unnatural link penalties in the future.
There are lots of posts which will show you how to identify unnatural links. The tool I found most useful for this is Majestic SEO.
Some of the things you should be looking out for when identifying unnatural links:
- Lots of links from the same IP address (often the case with low quality directories for example)
- Sitewide links (for example blog roll links, footer links etc)
- Links from irrelevant websites
- An unnatural ratio of keyword specific anchor text in comparison to branded or keyword variation anchor text
How to deal with unnatural links:
- Don’t go crazy and remove everything unless you can justify that it is unnatural
- If the site is irrelevant get the link removed
- If the site is relevant but the link is sitewide, ask for it to be moved to a single page
- Avoid using no follow unless you absolutely have to (no one knows how effective this really is and in my opinion it just highlights you’re trying to hide something from Google)
- If you have over-optimised anchor text but the sites are relevant and not of bad quality then try getting the anchor text changed rather than removed
- If you have lots of low quality directory links from generic directories remove them
- If you’re an agency contacting sites for link removal on behalf of a client, get an email address set up for yourself under the clients domain (you’ll get a much better response rate)
- Use your instinct…if the site looks like it holds paid links then get your link removed (e.g. if they have links to lots of unrelated products)
The ideal future-proof link building strategy and link profile …
When looking at your future link building strategy it’s important to analyse your current profile and see what’s missing. Also look at the link profile of your competitors and look to replicate any elements of their strategy that you’re not currently employing.
The ideal link profile should contain:
- Links in context where the brand is mentioned along with the related keywords (the anchor text may not be as important in future so by doing this you can future-proof your link profile). Learn more about this here.
- In your anchor text aims for at least 50% branded text at minimum, then a good amount of keyword variations followed by a smaller amount of targeted keyword specific anchor text
- Lots of links from relevant sites, ideally high quality sites
- A wide variety of sites linking to your site
The most valuable links in the future will be the ones you have to earn (see the paragraph from Ned here). This means building relationships and going the extra mile to get the best links. The arts of SEO and PR will need to combine to get the best links.
Start going after the kinds of links which your target audience may actually see, and may result in referral traffic to your site. Build links for your users not just for search engines.
Don’t stop once you’ve got the link. Maintain the relationships and promote the content which contains the link via all the relevant social profiles to build up additional social signals.
Avoid building too many ‘easy’ links, including social bookmarks. In future updates these are the kinds of links which are most likely to be targeted.
Future-Proofing Your On-Page SEO
If you can make sure the user is at the heart of all your on-page optimisation (not the search engines) you are already half way to future proofing your on page SEO tactics.
Particular tactics which used to be commonplace and should now be avoided are:
- Excessive (over-optimised) footer links
- Bolding / repetition of keywords in content
- Having lots of pages with little content on each page (number of pages is not a quality signal for Google)
- Excessive ads above the fold-of-the-page
The best on site optimisation should include:
- Content needs to be natural and written to give benefit to the user
- A good proportion of your content should be above the fold of the page (ecommerce sites are guilty of hiding paragraphs of text at the bottom of their category pages)
- Include a natural level of different variations of the keyword
- Include keyword variations in headings
- Update content regularly ( even ‘static’ pages like your Home page and Category pages)
- Create relevant and fresh content regularly (this is nothing new but even more important than ever) – for example through blog posts
Future-Proof Technical SEO
The purpose of technical optimisation now needs to be focused on working with the search engines rather than manipulating them.
Schema is going to become much more important in the future. Everyone should be implementing this, but In particular I’d recommend this for local businesses / reviews / events and product mark up for ecommerce sites. Learn more about the benefits here.
Rel Author has already made an impact, but in the future this may well become an official ranking factor. It works great for individuals but it can be tricky for companies to put this in place as there’s no rel author alternative for pages yet. Get it in place and learn more about it here.
Meta titles are still important, but like everything else make sure they are written for the user rather than the search engines. If the keyword doesn’t naturally fit in the title then don’t include it. Try using a variation instead. From experience I find sentence style titles work well. Avoid outdated techniques like pipes for example ‘Joe Bloggs SEO | PPC | Social Media’.
Use headings to break up content naturally. Don’t stick a heading in just to please the search engines and don’t worry too much about including your keyword in headings. Keyword variations are more natural. Most importantly, make sure the headings accurately represent the content (this is nothing new!).
Use Google Webmaster Tools like it’s your bible. Google are giving you this information so it’s obviously the kind of things they are looking out for. In particular keep an eye on the data within the Configuration and Health tabs.
Whether you believe social signals to directly affect a website’s performance or not, it’s still a key new development and hint of what might come to be in the future.
Make sure you have profiles set up for your website on each of the most prominent social networks (Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook). You might want to also explore less prominent social networks, which suit your industry and your audience use. For example if you are a design agency Pinterest would be a great platform to use.
Your site should link to each of your profiles so users can find you and social signals are effectively attributed back to your website. You should also include each network’s ‘like’ button or equivalent (+1, Like, Tweet, Share etc).
User Experience (UX) and CRO
UX and is an art in its own right, however it’s also something that SEOs can no longer completely separate from their profession. Basic UX optimisation should take place as part of future proofing your SEO. There is no benefit of getting traffic to your site if you’re not making money from that traffic or getting it to complete your end goal. This quote from Rand Fishkin in a Forbes article sums it up well:
“The SEO’s job, in my opinion, should have no boundaries other than ‘What are the things that positively influence this cycle?’ ‘What are the things that will help you achieve your goals?’ I don’t care if someone says, ‘Well, UI/UX, that is completely outside the realm of SEO. Usability, that’s outside the realm. Web page speed, page load speed–that is the department of software engineering and web development. That’s not an SEO’s job.’ “Screw that. No, it is the SEO’s job. If it positively impacts this process, it is now a part of our jobs.” – Rand Fishkin, CEO SEOMoz
It stands to reason that Google in some way take into account the way users interact with a site once they arrive at it (they aren’t collecting all the data in Google Analytics for fun). If you want to future proof your SEO you should consider that factors such as time on site, pages per visit, conversions completed etc may eventually be a solid rankings factor (if it isn’t already). Improving your UX will improve these stats and will mean you can get more value from the traffic on your site.
Review your checkout process or whatever process your visitor goes through in order to complete your end goal. There are lots of great posts out there which can advise you on usability, and you can learn about some basic CRO tips in another one of my blog posts.
One in seven people in the world’s population now have a smart phone. Tablet usage is also growing at a more accelerated rate than ever before. Make sure your site works on mobile and tablet devices and have some basic mobile SEO in place. You can’t afford not to tap into this audience. This post shows some elements to look at in a mobile SEO audit and you can also get advice from Google here.
Reconsider your Metrics
As SEO is changing so dramatically it only makes sense that the metric used to measure success should change too.
So many aspects now affect rankings that they are not a reliable method for measuring success of an SEO campaign any more. Personalised search, Search plus Your World, even more localised search results and lots of other factors mean that rankings just aren’t consistent enough to be relied on as a metric anymore. In an ideal world we would next turn to traffic generated by a specific keyword as an indication but as this data is slowly being taken away we need to think beyond this as a metric to future proof your SEO.
In addition to the inconsistency of rankings, we have recently seen Raven drop their rankings tool because Google have decided it violates their terms of service. If this is the case for one tool that scrapes Google’s data, it’s highly likely that other rankings checking tools might follow suit.
One new metric you might want to consider is to rely more on analysing the traffic levels to your landing pages and whether this traffic is resulting in conversions. You know what keyword you are targeting for each page, so it stands to reason that if the traffic (and conversions) for that page are increasing, then the keyword is performing well.
Integrate SEO & Paid Search
Paid search is continuing to dominate more and more of the SERPs, so make sure you are using it to enhance your SEO strategy. Even if you rank top for a term organically, you would still benefit from bidding on it in PPC. Think of the SERP as real estate and so by owning as much of that real estate as possible for relevant searches you can increase the level of traffic you receive.
These are some of my key ideas for future proofing your SEO strategy. It would be great to read your ideas and opinions so please leave a comment below.