SEO in 2012 – What should you be doing?

Editor’s NoteThe following is a guest post from Liam Veitch, the SEO Lead from Tone Agency. Liam approached me with a guest post to start 2012 off with here on the Skyrocket SEO blog and he has really pulled out all the stops to provide a valuable and really interesting piece so I hope you enjoy it. He even had some cool little graphics made for the post. Thanks Liam!

The advances in search engine technologies over the last 12 months have been as rapid as they have far reaching. I think it is fair to say that 2011 was the most impactful year to date with regards to SEO.

This time last year…

Everything seemed peachy; a new year was dawning, Rage Against the Machine had topped the Christmas charts (in the UK at least) and in search engine land things were plodding along nicely. SEO appeared to have been “mastered” by many; there was healthy competition between websites utilising tried and tested techniques to perform well and the positions were relatively stable. Large scale content sites were putting the search engine spiders’ user experience ahead of the experience/feelings of their human counterparts but an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude prevailed.

On the shrewder side of the game however, more savvy SEOs had an inkling that change wasn’t too far away and that the tactics deployed by the black hat members of the community were weak and living on borrowed time.

The calm before the storm.

The Panda updates mobilised by Google started in February and saw the bold clampdown on what it considered to be poor websites with weak content and bad usability.

Panda: improvement in quality or a cost-saving exercise?

The updates introduced by Google threw cold water over the industry; waking it up from it’s apparent naivety and showed the realisation that search engines, especially Google, were getting smarter, becoming more astute and looking to consolidate their outgoings and save money by making changes which could be unannounced, could result in multiple updates and could occur at any time. This action would limit the amount of crawls and waiting around for sites. These updates clamped down the hardest on sites with thin content, keyword spam, poor usability, high advert to content ratio, link farms and sites with delayed page speeds.

Every single webpage needs to be regularly crawled for Google to create it’s relevancy lists for the SERPs. Globally this equates to billions of pages that all need indexing and referencing. This is a massive amount of time and ultimately money that Google have to spend to create these lists. As with any other type of business, Google has evaluated its incomings and outgoings and has decided that it is fed up of spending what totals billions crawling all these pages and decided, with the Panda update, to de-value pages that were useless to the consumer and in some cases block them altogether. De-valuing and blocking pages reduced the frequency of visits made by Google resulting in less cost to the company and a business minded approach to be adored yet cautious of.

The storm hits.

Panda hit entire sites not just pages, a real flex of the Google algomuscle, clearly demonstrating we can never be 100% sure if what we’re doing at the moment is enough to survive future updates.

“Industrial strength” content sites such as Mahalo and pretty much all of the Demand Media empire were hit hard and in some areas injured beyond repair.

In reviewing the comings and goings of 2011, it is clear that our sites now need relevant, informative and engaging content. Our SEO strategies should include on-page optimisation for specific keywords, should contain good and relevant social signals and should involve strong link-building tactics which will continue to provide weight in the form of laying foundations of good reach.

Takeaway 1: 2012 proof link building strategies

In order of importance, good content based link building tactics for 2012 would include:

Viral content – A great piece of content should be unique, engaging, pretty to look at or read and should take a lot longer to create than your average blog post. Techniques such as infographics are a useful way to create content based link bait. Good viral content will build links regularly and keep them coming. Create good content that goes viral and the rest of the link building strategy will take care of itself.

Authority links – These sorts of links take some effort. Constantly liaising with your outreach partners such as reporters and other contacts with authority sites will help achieve some really strong links to your site. Creating content for these types of people takes a lot of research. You need to ensure your content is reliable, on the ball, factual and up-to-date. Creating good relationships with these types of sources will stand you in good stead for future link development.

Relevant links – Creating content for other websites will gain relevant links. Outreach to blogs and enquire about creating a blog post for them. The partner may appreciate the day off and in return for creating the content, request a link back to one of your pages. Bring your ‘A game’ when creating guest blogs as you want the post to be welcomed by the new audience you’re reaching rather than be dismissed.

Another way of creating relevant links is in the form of a press release. Press releases take a bit more of a journalistic approach involving interviews and fact-finding, but done properly, press releases can be quite powerful. As they are news, one could argue that they cannot be deemed as duplicate therefore can reach a huge audience from many different news organisations.

Create a storm-proof strategy.

Looking to 2012 – staying ahead of the game will ensure you hurdle future update issues while your competitors trip and fall.

 
We need to plan ahead and make our SEO strategies future-proof. Google are constantly changing their algorithm so reacting to each change would be unwise and costly. It will put you behind on your competitors and could take time to rectify, which could have far-reaching affects on the bottom line.

The one sure thing about search engines is that they will evolve yet further and that evolution journey will undoubtedly leave some collateral damage.

Takeaway 2: Prioritise these metrics in 2012

Social authority both at page level and domain level should be one of the major ranking factors for 2012. Google, with its +1 button has shown how much social media matters. Google are going to start looking at how important each person is. It will take into account how influential a person or company is and will be able to judge who is authoritative and who isn’t. A Tweet/re-Tweet from an authoritative person will be the equivalent of a good link from a strong website.

On-page value for consumers including content usability and design has always been an important ranking factor, however will have even more authority in the future of search. The reasoning behind the Panda updates was to eradicate useless websites offering useless products. In order to rank well in the future, you need to show Google that you have a relevant product worth offering, it is at a competitive price, and the page is user friendly and easy to navigate.

Bounce rate, dwell time and click-through rate are going to be important for the future of SEO. This goes back to the user experience of consumers and the relevance of products on offer. Represent each keyword with a corresponding excellent product. If you deserve to rank above competitors in a particular field then during 2012 Google will recognise this and will rank you both accordingly. It may take time to happen… but it will happen.

Google’s holding area seems to have disappeared. This means that a new website, with optimised pages, may rank immediately after launch. “How can this be when my site has dozens of solid links?” I might hear you say… Google has realised that new websites may offer products as good, if not better, than some of the ‘older’ sites that seem to have gotten lazy and cut corners. Google has started to acknowledge freshness in a way it hasn’t before, giving new sites the opportunity to get the rest of their site up to scratch with regards to links and social authority which, if done correctly, may rank them above their competitors in the long-term.

Consolidating pages is one of the ways Google is looking to save money. Google spends billions every year indexing pages and is clamping down on the useless pages. More indexed pages will no longer mean a better site. We feel that if you get rid of the ‘not so important’ products on offer and consolidate your pages to only show your main products that are most beneficial to consumers then you will be on the right track for future online developments.

Takeaway 3: A few things to stop wasting your time on

A lot of time and money are spent on certain elements of an SEO strategy. For the more successful strategists, things such as anchor text in external links, the effectiveness of paid links and exact match keyword domains are factors that are going to have less influence on serps in the future.

Rather than spending time, money and effort on these strategies, why not create a great piece of viral content?

It goes without saying that this will be your best line of defence when Google decides to knock the trouble makers down a peg or two.

Join in the discussion if you agree/disagree with the topics in this post, what do you consider to be the future of search?

4 Comments

  1. avatar
    Anthony Trollope January 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

    Welcome to the Sky Rocket SEO blog, Liam!

    I thought you gave a good review of 2011 without dragging it out (there has been a lot spoken about 2011 in recent weeks).

    Good to see social topping your list of takeaways for 2012. I think we’re going to see Google introducing more metrics that determine whether a site is active a social level, especially with Google+ now coming massively into the foray.

    Google’s holding area for new sites is an interesting one and news to me. I guess in the same token they have revised how they measure a sites true early impact, otherwise it would be gamed in just the same way it was before they introduced this ‘moderation’ period?

    Consolidating pages, especially for large content sites (ourselves included) has always been quite important but I think you’re right about this being a bigger consideration in 2012. I think social will play its roll in measuring contents elasticity and in general, the content that doesn’t resonate that well with the socialsphere will likely drop off compared to those that do.

    Cheers,
    Anthony (@atrollope)

    • avatar
      Liam Veitch January 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      Hey Anthony, thanks for the kind words.

      I think you’re right, social will play a big part and I feel that is definitely a step in the right direction. Afterall, it isn’t easy to amass a solid group of fans/followers so certainly this is a more true barometer of reach/popularity.

      The holding area is potentially quite big here too aka the “reverse sandbox” – actually I have to give a nod to Dr Pete at SEOmoz here they ran an awesome webinar on the topic, recommend it.

      Thanks again

      Liam

      • avatar
        Anthony Trollope January 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

        Thanks, Liam. Fortunately I am a premium member over at SEOMoz so I’ll give that webinar a watch.

        Hopefully we’ll be seeing you on here again soon!

  2. avatar
    Hannah January 10, 2012 at 12:34 am #

    Great post Liam. I love the Panda update, I think it was a long over due shake up. There were to many poorly built websites with very little useful content, that somehow still managed to dominate page one due to domain authority. Working on a high quality long tail content optimisation strategy, especially Ecommerce sites weathered the storm, and they came out stronger. The balance for perfect SEO remains as ever to satisfy the search engine and user simultaneously.

    I still sit on the fence with “social” there is no doubt that it is a factor, but unfortunately the more we lean towards “social” the less actual interaction there is. I personally don’t think anchor text links will ever be a disregarded ranking factor, I think you will just need to use them sparingly and wisely, within relevant resources in whatever niech you work.

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