Never has SEO seen so much development as during the last two years. Google, by far the largest search engine, declared war on spammers, and this time they brought out the big guns. Updates named ‘Panda’ and ‘Penguin’ came out, affecting rankings for a huge number of websites. For instance, one of the most recent updates on January 22nd 2013, affected over 1% of all searches in the English language.
The Panda and Penguin changes
Without going into too much detail, for there has been a great deal written about it already, Penguin and Panda contained changes to the algorithm that Google uses to determine how well your website ranks. For instance, websites that had obtained their rank by having many inbound links from dodgy websites were penalised for it and lost their ranks completely. The same rang true for websites that had loads of keyphrases all over their website, just to show up for them in search results. Even though artificial link building and keyword stuffing had never been the best of SEO practices, up till the Google updates, they had been accepted SEO methods (in fact, recently a famous bank sent out a document advertising exactly these practices!)
Sticking to the rules
With the information above in the back of our mind, a logical question arises: is optimising a website for Google now a waste of time? The answer to that: absolutely not! In fact, Google encourages people to adhere to a set of content guidelines. A very basic thing you can do is check that your page titles accurately describe what your page is about. There are also more advanced ways of optimising a website for Google: for instance, there is the use of a line of code known as a canonical tag. When you have multiple pages on your website that have very similar content, you can use this tag to tell Google: ‘there are some pages that are very similar, but if you index one, then this one is the most useful’.
Getting links and visitors: the future-proof way
So what can we do to generate links to our websites, increase the number of visitors, and generate leads, while still being on the safe side of Google’s rulebook? We have listed some important tips:
1) How strong is your brand?
It might seem strange to take a classic approach to a digital strategy, but the first thing you should do is have a look at your own company and your competitors. Do your brand values still stand out amongst the competition? Is your brand proposition, your unique promise to your customers, communicated clearly enough on your website? Your website visitors should be able to tell from one look what you are all about – and be intrigued by it. Having your strategic basics in order is of key importance to the success of your digital campaigns. Moreover, there is much speculation about Google favouring strong brands.
2) Just that little ‘extra’
The difference between a ‘good website’ and a ‘great website’ is often in the small details. Clever options on your website will not only make your visitors happy, but also improve the chances that people will link to you to tell others about it. For instance, Skyscanner got it right when they added the option to be notified of price drops for specific flight dates. If you own a hotel website, the option to choose your own toiletries online for your hotel room, might just make all the difference. Be creative, appeal to people’s basic needs (curiosity, wanting to be part of a group, need for communication and education…) and you’ll come a long way.
3) More mobile
It can hardly have escaped anyone that mobile web usage is on the rise, with 60% of British phone owners owning a smartphone. If you want to improve conversion rates on your website, it is paramount to have a strategy in place for mobile users. Mobile users are normally in a different situation than PC users, and your website should cater to that. If you use Google AdWords, now is the time to set up different campaigns for mobile users: for instance, if you own a restaurant, make sure it pops up on mobiles near you around dinner time! Want to get even higher conversion rates? Consider making an app. According to a recent study, 85% of all people prefer apps to mobile websites
4) Get personal
Recently we made an e-health website that focussed on people with alcohol problems. In order to make sure we were doing the right thing, we asked a group of people for their opinions on the website and e-health in general. Their biggest concern? Not being able to ‘see’ who was behind the website – and whether indeed they could trust its source. Funnily enough, those were the exact same concerns that we heard from another set of people for a completely different website. Showing yourself, and making it easy to communicate with you, is a very important tool for customer engagement. Which leads to our next point…
5) Rally your fans
If you have satisfied visitors or customers, don’t be shy to ask them for a favour in return. A link to your website, a testimonial, a Facebook like or a Google Plus review will all be beneficial to ranking higher in Google. If you have dedicated ‘fans’, people who often return to your website and promote it elsewhere, make sure to spoil them a little, for instance by involving them in future development of the website.
6) The power of Plus
According to a recent article, getting +1’s on Google Plus (Local) is the best way to improve your Google rankings. Make sure you give Google+ the attention it needs by making sure your About page includes relevant keywords, regularly posting updates, and linking posts on your websites to their authors’ Google+ profiles by using Google Authorship.
There are more ways to make your website successful while being safe for future Google updates, but we find the six ways above of essential importance. What is your best practice for future-proof SEO?