Google giveth, and Google taketh away. We know this all too well with the myriad of changes to search in the past year. 2013 was the year of the user experience, as every update to the search engine elevated the search experience in a big way. Some marketers moved confidently towards the future, seeing the changes search underwent in the past year as a good thing (BrightEdge included) while others are concerned about how to proceed. But there’s nothing to fear if we can embrace the future of digital marketing, and have the courage to change the things we are able to in order to compete online for search marketing in 2014; but that means avoiding those things that we know are inherently bad – the seven deadly sins of search marketing in 2014. Let’s look at what those are based on some of the big changes that happened in search in the past year.
Sin No. 1: low-quality content
After multiple iterations of the Panda algorithm, Google stated in March of this year that Panda would roll out continuously but without announcement. That likely meant Google felt marketers had enough warning and data about the consequences of Panda and low-quality content, making its point that “quality” was the new norm. Fast-forward to about six months later, and a new infrastructure to the Google algorithm launched. This infrastructure, called Hummingbird, changed the way Google understood queries so that it could help users find answers to some of those longer-tail questions that occur with the ever-growing mobile search, even if a page wasn’t optimized specifically for that query. How do marketers avoid the deadly sin of low-quality content in 2014?
- Create audience-centric content: This means defining the audience, knowing where they are spending time and what they are consuming, knowing your options for distribution channels and measuring your content’s ROI.
- Know content’s role in SEO : All signals point to centering the user experience on content. Content marketing provides brands with a new opportunity to impact SEO, improve search rankings and increase revenue through organic search.
As marketers invest in quality content, they would do well to also heed the five principles of content marketing suggested by marketing leader Ogilvy to get more return from their investment.
The Holy Grail for managing your content in 2014 is BrightEdge’s suite of content-centric SEO solutions.
Sin No. 2: dismissing mobile traffic
If you’ve been trying to decide if optimizing for your site for mobile should be a priority, Google just decided for you. In June, Google announced mobile-friendly sites would be favored in search engine rankings. And we’re not surprised; in fact, BrightEdge’s MobileShare report in August revealed mobile traffic growth was outpacing desktop traffic – and fast. Avoid the deadly sin of ignoring your mobile traffic in 2014 by familiarizing yourself with Google’s guidelines for creating mobile-friendly websites, making sure you:
- Implement clean and simple design principles.
- Optimize content for mobile to address the immediacy of what users want.
- Understand your true rank in mobile. More on that here .
You’ll also want to arm yourself with BrightEdge’s Mobile SEO to manage mobile search performance.
Sin No. 3: focusing only on keywords
Google committed some deadly sins itself this year by taking away precious keyword data from marketers when it launched 100 percent secure search. That resulted in those nasty keyword “(not provided)” messages in analytics skyrocketing. But at BrightEdge, we saw this change coming and have been working towards a page-based reporting model for some time. We don’t believe keywords are dead, and we still see their value; however, if focusing only on keywords was your entire SEO strategy, it was time for a change anyway. In fact, the Hummingbird algorithm prompts marketers to works towards creating content on topics, not just keywords. There are still ways to glean keyword data, and use it wisely (paid search and Google Webmaster Tools data being a couple options) – but to protect your brand from committing the deadly sin of short-sighted SEO in 2014, follow this 4-step approach:
- Measure the content, not the keyword. Start measuring what pages are generating the most value for you, and what types of content are generating the greatest ROI.
- If you have content that ranks well, but isn’t driving traffic or engagement on your site, it’s not doing a good job of satisfying your users. You want to think about metrics like overall traffic to a page, conversion rate and so on.
- Begin looking at groups of pages on your site that best perform on a traffic and revenue level, depending on your goals. In the old paradigm, SEOs may have used a “more content is better” approach. But now, it’s relevancy, credibility, timeliness and quality over quantity.
- Once you have a picture of page performance on your site overall, you can then begin to make decisions about where you want to focus time and resources on your website.
Fight the good fight against this tempting sin by using our Page Manager and Page Reporting tools. A note of caution - don't focus on keywords entirely but ignoring keywords altogether is a sin too! Continue to track keyword rank analytics while making up for lost keyword visibility by looking at multiple data sources. The BrightEdge Google Webmaster Tools integration is one such powerful example.
Sin No. 4: spam link building
It almost goes without saying that spammy link-building practices are one of the deadliest of all sins. Yet, Google’s Penguin lives on to target links gone bad and those marketers who still won’t embrace the “content first” model of garnering links. In October, a fifth round of the Penguin algorithm hit, which looked at links within websites on a much deeper level. What that continues to mean in 2014 is links need to have a reason to exist other than simply inflating rankings. For more on how to avoid this deadly sin, check out our white paper on white-hat link-building best practices created in collaboration with the experts at MajesticSEO and Rosetta.
Sin No. 5: not diversifying search engine efforts
While Google continues to dominate market share for search marketing in 2014, many other search engines exist that collectively make up a percentage of search traffic that can impact your bottom line. As Google continues to make updates, critics of the search engine have been refocusing efforts on some of those other players. Which brings us to Bing, and its innovations worth exploring in 2014:
- Bing Smart Search for Windows 8.1 was designed for a touch screen environment, and the Smart Search Preview tool launched.
- Improvements in voice query capabilities were made.
- “Connected Pages ” were integrated in Bing Webmaster Tools, allowing for keyword referral data to social pages like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Add to that the fact that Bing is currently the best source of keyword referral data (outside of paid search) now that Google operates in a 100 percent secure search environment. And don’t forget about the search engines that rule in other countries outside the U.S. If you’re doing business in South Korea, for example, Naver is the engine of choice and dominates share. So understand the complexities of SEO in Naver if you have a Korean site. We help our clients rise above this deadly sin by making sure our technology supports local and global search engines across devices.
Sin No. 6: ignoring social media's impact on SEO
Back in January, Facebook Graph search launched, blending social, local, content, and business information into its search results. And with the release of Hummingbird, forecasts call for social having more impact on Google rankings than it already does. The key to avoiding this deadly sin in 2014 is recognizing that social is part of SEO, not separate. Understand the connection between search and social in order to better impact your content strategy next year. Let BrightEdge give you the wisdom you need for elevating your social IQ in the coming year with our Social Site Audit (website audit) and Social SEO Recommendations.
Sin No. 7: not optimizing for the local carousel
In June, Google expanded its Knowledge Graph search results to include a “carousel” of local results at the top of the SERP. For a local business, this represents a new opportunity to be found through results that included images, reviews and a map. In October, we released research that showed a carousel appeared on results for 14 percent of keywords across all industries – 33 percent of searches in travel and hospitality, and 27 percent in the restaurant category. If you’re a local merchant, don’t commit the deadly sin of ignoring the carousel results. Follow these tips for Google Carousel optimization:
- Set up a Google Places for Business and Google+ page; it will give you greater control over how your business is displayed in the SERPs.
- Encourage happy customers to review your business on Google. Research shows reviews play a significant role of placement in the carousel.
Repenting your sins for search marketing in 2014
There’s temptation all around us in digital marketing. For some, shortcuts are attractive because it means less resources spent, but in the end, costs brands more. For others, the old way of doing things is comfortable, fitting like an old shoe, and they’re afraid of change. But with all the updates to search in 2013, the message is loud and clear that SEO needs to officially graduate to the next level – or else! So, where would you rather end up: in ROI heaven or Google purgatory?