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Oliver Ewbank

Future Proofing Your SEO: The Complete Guide

19th Sep 2013 SEO | 4 Comments


Future Proofing SEOToday I am speaking at the On the Edge conference in Birmingham on the subject of Future Proofing SEO. This post contains my slides and a summary of the presentation.

2013 has seen Google release fresh Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. These updates have shaken up the world of search and forced digital marketers to refine their approach to SEO.

With more algorithm updates imminent how can you protect your rankings? This post and the below slides cover future proofing tips for on-page, link analysis, content marketing, and other elements of your SEO strategy.

Panda Updates

Panda updates largely devalue mediocre content and are now a continuous part of Google’s algorithm. This year alone has seen a number of significant updates including:

Panda #24 January 22, 2013: Google announced the first Panda update of 2013, claiming an impact on 1.2% of queries.

Panda #25 March 14, 2013: this was the last update before Panda was integrated into the core algorithm.

Panda Dance June 11, 2013: suggestions that Panda was still updating monthly.

Panda Recovery July 18, 2013: Google confirmed an algorithmic Panda update.

Penguin Update

2013 saw another significant Penguin update. If you have an unnatural link profile the writings on the wall for the sustainability of your rankings.

Penguin 2.0 May 22, 2013: after months of panic Penguin 2.0 arrived.

Sustainable SEO

With more updates on the way prevention is certainly better than cure.  You can prevent ranking drops by practising sustainable SEO.

Sustainable SEO can be broken down into five main areas:

  • On Page Optimisation
  • Quality Copy
  • Link Analysis
  • Content Marketing
  • User Experience

Let’s take a look at some of these key points below:

On Page Optimisation

With the explosion of content marketing to gain social signals and backlinks people often forget about the all-important foundation of SEO – your own website. You can make huge gains on competitors by making sure your on page SEO is tip top.

Meta

Obviously title tags are a hugely important ranking factor. To make your Meta future proof it’s important you stick to the character guidelines (65 for a Meta title and 155 for a Meta description). Avoid short or uninformative Meta data and make sure you don’t duplicate any titles or descriptions. Duplicate Meta can devalue your page.

To make sure you are on top of Meta issues regularly check the ‘HTML Improvements’ section in Google Webmaster Tools.

Headers

Appropriate H1 headers are obviously a ranking factor. Only include the keyword if it fits the page and works for the user. Shoehorning keywords into a header will only work against you.

Technical SEO

A technically sound website will give Google the confidence to deliver traffic to your website.  A sustainable SEO campaign must include the following points:

  • Robots.txt (to help you exclude duplicate content)
  • Sitemap.xml (a must for indexing pages)
  • 404 Page (have a customised 404 page, Google suggest it, users love it)
  • Fix Broken Links (avoid crawling errors, gain external backlinks, offer a better user experience)
  • On Page Sitemap (it’s always surprising to see how many sites don’t have this, include one in your footer with the key pages)
  • Site Speed (essential for a positive user experience)

Other Technical SEO factors include:

Responsive Design

Having a responsive design will automatically reshape your website to fit a mobile or tablet device. With one in three searches taking place on mobile, responsive designs are a must for anyone that wants to compete on premium terms.  This will have a positive impact on your bounce rate and conversions.

If you want to test how SEO friendly your site is you can test it on the free Google tool Howtogomo.com

Rich Snippets

Rich Snippets are a great way of giving search engines additional information on your product or service. If you visit Schema.org/docs/schemas.html you will find a range of ways to markup your content including:

  • Product
  • Organisation
  • Person
  • Offer
  • Place
  • Review

Using the review rating can increase CTR which in turn will benefit your overall SEO strategy.

Blog

If you don’t have a blog you should make this a priority. Sites without a blog can look stale whereas a freshly updated blog can help you:

  • Target long tail keywords
  • Provide fresh content
  • Encourage social signals
  • Entice backlinks

A general guideline is to split your blog content into three areas:

  • 50% Industry Topics
  • 25% Company Promotion
  • 25% Company Publicity

Other blogging factors to consider include:

Authorship

You can link your blog posts to a Google + account to build up credible authorship. Instructions can be found here. This will display your picture to increase CTR. It is believed the more authority your authorship has the more credibility Google will give your content.

Quality Copy

Once you have optimised the on page and technical elements of your site it’s time to make sure your domain has quality copy. We have all heard the term ‘Content is King’ but there are still millions of sites at risk with thin content.

Always ask yourself:

  • Does your page deserve to rank?
  • Would people pay to view the content?

It’s essential that your copy is good quality. If the content is created for search engines and not users then you are at risk.

Thin Content Warning

Google have started sending out ‘thin content’ messages to sites with little or no added value.

thin content

To avoid this message make sure you:

  • Keep content above the fold
  • Don’t swamp your content with useless banner ads
  • Make sure your pages have at least 250+ words

Other examples of shallow pages include:

  • Thin affiliate pages
  • Cookie cutter sites
  • Doorway pages
  • Automatically generated content
  • Copied content

A video explaining when to remove dead content can be found here.

Duplicate Issues

If you get hit by a Panda update, nine times out of ten there will be some form of duplication involved. Avoid a duplicate content penalty at all costs. The following MUST be 100% unique:

  • Meta (titles and descriptions)
  • URL’s (don’t duplicate URLs with capitals or tags)
  • Internal content
  • External content

There are a range of solutions to get around duplicate content. The four most common include:

  • Exclude URLs in Robots.txt (use this if you are happy to exclude duplicate pages from the index)
  • 301 Redirects (if you don’t need the duplicate page permanently redirect it to the original)
  • Rewrite Your Content (time consuming but this is sometimes the only option you have)
  • Canonical Tags (this tag lets Google know where the original source is located – see example below)

canonical

For more information on avoiding a duplicate content penalty please read this blog post

Tips and Tools

There are a number of free tools to help you stay on top of duplicate issues and I suggest doing this regularly for peace of mind (particularly if you are in a competitive sector).

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is an excellent tool for exporting your website’s content. It takes two minutes to run and you can export anything from Meta data to actual content. By adding filters to your exported spreadsheet you can quickly organise pages with thin or duplicated content. You can also double check character counts for your Meta titles and descriptions.

You can check for duplicate pages on your own site by using the hash value. This code is given to each of your pages by the tool and is calculated based on the page content, meaning duplicate pages will have the same hash code.

Panguin

A simple but effective free tool. Link Panguin to your Google Analytics account and it will show algorithm updates in relation to your organic search traffic. This will help you identify duplication issues in relation to the type of algorithm update.

Copyscape

Copyscape is a free tool but I would recommend upgrading to the premium version. The premium tool allows you to paste in a group of URL’s and do a batch search for internal and external duplicate content issues. The tool will highlight the exact duplicate text in screenshots.

Link Analysis

Backlinks are still very much a ranking factor but it’s important you take responsibility for all inbound sources linking to your domain.  If the link is there for no other reason than SEO, then it’s unnatural.

Backlink analysis is now an essential part of modern day SEO. Links from the following sources are deemed unnatural and can have a negative impact on your rankings:

  • SEO Directories
  • Blog networks
  • Advertorial
  • Low Quality Bookmarks
  • Bulk Forum Comments
  • Sitewide Links
  • Text Advertisements
  • Link Farms
  • Excessive Reciprocal Links
  • Paid Links

To future proof your site it’s important you carry out a regular detox. I like to call this process ‘link weeding’. Link weeding can be done by gathering all your link data using the following tools:

Google Webmaster Tools is the best place to start as you can download your ‘latest links’. The tool now provides broader & more diverse link data to help you review your backlinks.

Manual Actions Viewer

If you suspect that manual action may have been taken against your website you can use the Manual Action Viewer in Google Webmaster Tools which shows information about actions taken by the manual webspam team. This will provide information on what is directly affecting your site’s ranking in search results.

If you see a message saying “no manual webspam actions found” then there is no cause for concern. If you do have a message you could be in the 2% that have had a manual penalty. The manual action could be related to spammy content or unnatural backlinks (see example below):

manual actions

unnatural links

If you have unnatural links or spammy content to address you can do this on the Manual Actions page by clicking “Request a Review”.

To spot unnatural link patterns review the following factors:

  • Anchor Text: is it natural?
  • IP Address: are there suspicious patterns of bulk links on the same IP?
  • PageRank: sort by PageRank and manually review the source?
  • Relevancy: could the source deliver appropriate referral traffic?

If you spot unnatural links you can detox your profile by doing the following in this priority order:

  • Removing the link
  • Disavowing the link
  • Adding a nofollow tag to the link
  • Noindexing the page that the link is pointing to

If you receive an unnatural link warning you will need to carry out a reconsideration request. It’s important you gather as much data as possible in your request to show you have worked to remove your unnatural links. Outreach emails and lists of removed or disavowed link sources in a Google doc are recommended. The tone of the letter is also incredibly important. For a cover letter template and more information on submitting a reconsideration request check out our free whitepaper.

Content Marketing

Once you have fixed duplicate issues and detoxed your link profile the best way to future proof your site is to create superb content for your target audience. Your content can be promoted externally, on your blog or through social media.

Content Marketing can take on many forms including:

  • Blog Content
  • Award Promotion
  • Blogger Reviews
  • Competition Promotion
  • Questionnaires
  • E-Books
  • FAQs
  • Glossary of Terms
  • Whitepapers
  • Press Releases
  • Infographics
  • Videos

Market content to web properties that can deliver referral traffic and conversions. This will also deliver:

Technology also plays a key role:

Content Marketing Technology

Content marketing is becoming more technology based to engage the user, for example competitions, polls and interactive features are an excellent way to increase social shares. By adding an interactive element you are able to make the experience more personal and if you want to stay ahead of the curve then interactive content is certainly something to consider. More results and examples can be found here.

Summary

So there you have it. There are no short cuts to future proof your SEO but if you adopt the tactics in this post you will be able to achieve sustainable results.

To survive future algorithm updates you need to stay on top of duplicate issues and regularly detox your backlink profile. Compliment this activity with quality content marketing and you will reap the rewards of sustainable rankings.

If you have any questions please leave them below.

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About the author

Oliver Ewbank

Working in new media for over 8 years, Oliver Ewbank has worked for a range of brands including eBay and SportBusiness.com on SEO, PPC and Social Media Management. He has won awards for his SEO work and been featured in a number of publications, including Virgin online.

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