With the holidays upon us, now is a great time to think ahead to 2014 and what it holds in store for us. There are five areas within SEO that jump into my mind rather quickly, so let’s move on from the small talk and get right to the point.
1. Get Serious About Your Mobile Strategy
Mobile browsing has already surpassed desktop in some countries, and the US is on pace to experience the same phenomenon in the next 12-24 months. If you have been holding off on getting serious about mobile until adoption hits critical mass, you are already starting to fall behind in the race. Don’t manage your business for a trend after it happens, get in front of it!
There are ample ways to address mobile. Here are a couple of things to focus on.
Start Planning the Move to a Responsive Website
Google has gone on record as saying that responsive websites are no detriment to SEO. The only reason to hold off on migrating to responsive would be for UX purposes, but I can’t see a downside to figuring out a consistent user experience across all platforms. If we let go of the old way, where we needed multiple sites built on separate code or custom apps with reduced features, responsive is clearly the best way to go. Since UX impacts ranking, I’ll go on record as saying an effective move to responsive is a boon to your overall SEO strategy as well.
Start Segmenting Platform Traffic by Intent
It has become clear over the past year or two that site visitors on different platforms behave differently. In many industries, visitors do initial research on mobile devices / tablets and return on a desktop format when ready to take action. Or in many cases, they research on a mobile device and make the purchase via a retail outlet.
Think about mapping out your website to cater to different stages in the buying cycle, to test whether your traffic behaves in the same manner. You may find that you can build the responsive website to get early funnel content highlighted first, while the full range of content is easily accessible to returning visitors who are ready to convert to a lead / contact or make a purchase.
If you are successful, there will be positive impact to your SEO results. Google will rank you for what your site focuses on, so adding early funnel material can really pay SEO dividends. Just remember that early funnel will not generate ready-to-buy leads, so you need to figure out a way to move them toward a purchase.
2. Get On Board with Author and Publisher Markup
While authorship markup has started to gain some momentum, the reality is that most of its users are in specific fields such as SEO, social media marketing, and tech writing. People like to work with real people, and Google needs to confirm that we are whom we say we are. If you have one or more bloggers posting on your site, it is simply short sighted to delay marking up their materials as directed. Your website will have better overall online visibility if you just do it.
Google also provides the ability to markup a complete website as a publisher, i.e. a Google Plus Page owner. Much like they are looking to verify identify on individuals, I believe publisher markup is a step toward a whole new authority metric they have in the works. I’m convinced this will come into focus in the coming months, so the smart SEO is getting their website ready to take advantage of it now. Learn how to set up publisher markup from Google Webmaster Tools.
3. Get Comfortable Targeting SEO Topics and Semantic Match Keywords
In the wake of Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, with Hummingbird under our belt, and who knows what else they have coming for us in 2014, the old SEO tactics are dead and buried. You have to be smarter and more creative about how you aim to earn rankings and links.
While on page still matters and keyword targeting is still important, the lens has widened in the past 2-3 years. Now you need to focus on bigger items such as topics and how those might resonate with people. Social shares will only grow in importance for SEO.
The most savvy SEO strategists are already applying concepts such as derivative and semantic keyword matching to their keyword strategies. Simple lists of keywords are insufficient for analyzing or benchmarking SEO and content success. First, they are short-sighted since they overlook long tail and semantic potential. And second, they motivate us to pursue the wrong objectives – ranking for a single keyword that we overoptimize for both on and off page.
Topics are the new priority. Keywords inform that approach, but they are no longer the only way to rank. How are you answering questions better than the competition? What value does your content provide? Is it good enough to earn word of mouth? These are the quandaries before us heading into the new year.
4. Start Building Premium Content Items
Blogging is still an accepted and useful way of building SEO value over time. It’s easy to build and manage, continually provides fresh content to be ranked, expands keyword coverage on an ongoing basis, and gives us a platform to soapbox about the values and priorities of our businesses.
However, blogging can only take you so far. You need to do something truly unique to earn the volume of links it will take to rank on page 1 for competitive keywords. The answer to this challenge is premium content items.
What do I mean by premium content items? They include the ability to access knowledge you can’t get anywhere else. I’m not talking about infographics here (they are no longer premium since everyone is trying to push them out on the web).
Premium content items require specialized knowledge to build, have some barrier to entry (either cost or skillset as mentioned before), and provide a great deal of value to the readers / visitors. Think software, tools, calculators, and similar items. Yes, this is functionality, but it is also linkable content!
Here’s a great case study on using tools to drive SEO value by Neil Patel of Quicksprout. Well lookie here, Neil just earned a link to the content talking about the tool, so there are multiple ways to make this work!
5. Adopt a “Customer First” Perspective Across the Board
All of the above leads to this logical fifth and final area of focus – the customer.
Over the past decade or so, it seems online marketers and SEO pros have gotten away from focusing on the customer. Content has been built to trick the search engines into ranking websites. Link schemes were structured to do the same. Social platforms and YouTube have been loaded up with fake followers, likes, and views. All of this effort overlooks the single most important stakeholder for your success: your customers!
The time is now to put an end to the madness. Google will not stop chasing the schemers and cheaters. Do what is right for your customers, create content they want to consume and share, and put all of that effort into building a real network of colleagues, contacts, and customers. Although it is not scalable, that’s the value you are adding to the equation. You can’t scale authenticity, so make a promise to yourself and your business to always be authentic, no matter how hard it is to keep up with.
Neither life nor business provides you natural shortcuts to success, and neither does SEO. That’s why we can position ourselves for success by learning what works and does not, and adjusting to reality. Now go kick some butt in 2014!