Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Will SEO Change in 2011?

How Will SEO Change in 2011?

It's that time of year again. SEO bloggers are either looking back at their predictions for 2010 and seeing how right (or wrong) they were, or making entirely new predictions for 2011 -- possibly because they were so wrong last year that it wasn't worth looking back?
I want to focus on just one prediction for 2011 and then go ahead and try to make it happen on behalf of my clients. This seems like a more simple task than coming up with five or 10 predictions, knowing that some of them were made up simply so that I could fill a blog post.
The big news in SEO recently was the revelation that social media signals affect natural search rankings, from interviews with people at both Google and Bing -- although no indication was given to how much they affect rankings.

To be fair, if you were a search engine and wanted to know what brands, websites, and general content people wanted to interact with online, where would you go first? It has an added benefit for those who think that the SERPs are a bit spammy (I'm not one of them, for the record).
One way of reducing the number of arguably lower quality websites would be to look at who the popular brands are in the social media space and try to reward them with more authority.
How can SEOs take advantage of what seems to be a clear shift toward sentiment as an extra factor in achieving better rankings?

A growing number of SEO techniques can be undertaken with SEO, and specifically link building, in mind -- from PR and advertorials to advertising on relevant industry websites.
In 2011, I expect this to become more closely tied with clients' overall marketing campaigns. The best way to explain this is with an example:
Client A is a retailer, looking to boost sales of a specific range of camping equipment products. Special offers, promotions, and TV advertising is all planned and will revolve around a creative execution involving a character who will appear in their ads.
The opportunities for SEO here are endless, and need to be part of the initial planning, not an afterthought. For example:

• TV ads to be backed up with a strong PR campaign, aimed at increasing the number of brand and URL links to the client's site.

• The specialist nature of the goods is such that a blogger outreach campaign can be undertaken, looking for product reviews, advertising opportunities, contextual links, or at least deep links from these relevant sites.

• The ad campaign's character will have a Facebook and Twitter presence. If it is an engaging campaign, they will get a lot of followers and their profile will have strong social signals, which can then add value when linking back to the site.

• Key influencers for this market on Twitter and Facebook can be contacted and encouraged to review products, follow the main character and will retweet, "Like," and re-post special offers or product insights.

• A campaign to win a free camping stove can be run as an "online game" (like the "throw the penguin" game, for example) and embedded on blogger sites to increase usage. It can also contain backlinks.
This gives us a "natural" balance between followed and no-followed links, contextual versus brand and URL links, from a variety of highly relevant sources, and also leverages the social media "buzz" metrics as further opportunities.

The point is that SEO, rather than being purely an ongoing process of optimization, will be more influential as part of a campaign-led marketing strategy. In 2011, we'll need to work with our clients to ensure this happens.
Joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year! 


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SEO Preparation for 2011.....

SEO Preparation for 2011

The holiday period is upon us and soon it will be the New Year. As we wrap up an extremely eventful year, it's time to review of some of the major events of 2010, and then look forward on the best way to prepare (SEO-wise) for 2011.

Let's begin with some of the major highlights of the year.

Page Speed Becomes a Ranking Factor

Earlier in the year Google announced that page speed had become a ranking factor. For slow ponderous sites this sounded a warning bell that the 7+ second load time they had on their pages was going to be a problem.

This is just one of the many changes regarding speed that Google has focused on over the past few years. However, there's no need to panic just yet. Only the really slow sites are likely to be negatively impacted.
Google's May Day Update

Google constantly makes changes and tweaks to its algorithms. They make hundreds of changes a year. However, once in a while they make a change that is more obvious to the public.

One example of that was their May Day update, which took place around May 1. Many sites reported significant losses in long tail traffic -- up to 10 percent or more.

The impacted sites seemed to be those with a lack of, or low number of, deep links. Matt Cutts discussed the May Day update in this YouTube video. Key points by Cutts were:

·         The update wasn't related to Caffeine.

·         It was an algorithm change.

·         Long tail traffic was impacted.

·         "High quality" sites were the winners.

One of the key questions then is how do you define "high quality?" Indicators of a quality site would be measured by links and other metrics, such as bounce rate and time on site.
Google Caffeine

This came closely on the heels of May Day, which is why so many people confuse the two. However, it was a completely separate change and had no direct impact on rankings.

As explained here, this was an infrastructure change, the purpose of which was to speed up the indexing system at Google. The prior indexing process required Google to update the index in batches, as opposed to relatively instantly once new or changed content is discovered. With Caffeine, Google can now make updates on the fly as these changes are discovered.
Google Instant

In September Google rolled out Google Instant. This UI change displayed search results as the user types into the search box. The search results reflect the top line in the Google Suggest box.

The theory behind this is if the user sees what they want they won't need to finish typing their query. Try typing "w" for example, and you will likely see the results for weather in your area:

This is one of the more curious changes by Google during the year, as there were many who didn't like the change. However, chances are that it is here to stay.
Google Instant Previews
Not far behind Instant (in November), Google released Google Instant Previews. This is a magnifying glass that sits to the right of the title of the individual search results:

Chances that a relatively small number of people (perhaps 5 percent) will use a feature like that.

If that is the case, why did Google do it? Knowing Google, it's about data collection. Also, Google can use it as a ranking signal.

If someone clicks the magnifying glass for a particular search result, and they then choose to not go to that page, it could be a negative signal, and vice versa. Then Google can consider the relative behavior of users who preview one site's listing versus the behavior of users who preview other listings. This allows Google to introduce a user's visceral impression of a web page as a ranking factor.

Bing-Yahoo integration
So far my review has been heavily Google-centric, but one of the biggest events of the year was the integration of Bing results into Yahoo, and retirement of Yahoo's independent search index here in the U.S. The big impact of this was a leap in Bing's market share.

Looking at recent Hitwise data, this caused a lift in Bing market share from just under 10 percent to just over 25 percent. The same data shows Google as being over 70 percent.

So Google still dominates perhaps, but Bing is now a competitor worthy of attention. From a paid search perspective, there is a large additional marketplace available here. Even from an SEO perspective, it makes sense to more closely monitor how your site is faring in the Bing search results.

Looking Forward to 2011

To state the obvious, expect lots more change. Here are some of the big things you can expect:

   1. The drive for new search ranking signals will continue. For example, more and more social signals will be used by the search engines.
   2. When changes are made in the UI, or new tools are offered, consider the possibility of ranking signals as being the purpose behind those changes.
   3. Google's obsession with performance will continue without pause. Look for more in this area as well.
   4. Expect Google, Bing, or both, to make some major shift in some area of search this year. This could be something like high quality voice enabled search, a significantly higher level of personalization, some way of distributing search away from the portal methodology, contextual discovery, or something else. Bing is striving to increase its market share, and Google wants to at least retain theirs. This will lead both companies to seek out seismic shifts in search value.

Be distinct, or be Dead

So what does this mean for publishers? It puts more and more pressure on publishers to add as much unique value as possible. The search engines will measure this by watching the way the web reacts to what you do. Signals include:

· Links (still a big factor!)

· Social media

· User behavior and interaction with your site

· How it compares to other sites covering the same topic matter

You need to think a lot like a traditional marketer now. Engage with your community, and if you don't have one, go build one. Offer items of value, produce good content ... the same thing that many of us have been saying for many years.

Gaming the system may still work somewhat. I know many who say that buying links still works, for example.

But the strategic goals of the search engines are working against you and they have obscene piles of money to invest and a lot more of it at stake. While this statement has been true for years, they are now making substantial progress toward their goals.

The beauty of a more traditional marketing approach is that it will be kind to you as the years pass. As search engines improve algorithms they will do a better recognizing sites that are seen as valuable by users.

Use a holistic approach to your online marketing efforts. Then, the changes at the search engines make are likely to favor you at the expense of your competitors who take a more short-term tactical approach.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Google & Bing Are Looking at Links on Twitter & Facebook for Organic Ranking..

Google And Bing Are Looking at Links on Twitter & Facebook for Organic Ranking

Search and social go well together, and the search engines are finding more and more ways to use them together. In fact, the right combinations of these two elements could eventually dictate who has the most useful tools for users.    It's become more and more clear over time that having a strong social presence is helpful in building a strong search presence for a variety of reasons, but it's not been so clear, just how the search engines have looked at things like Twitter and Facebook profiles when it comes to organic search ranking. 

Be supposed to social media be careful in search ranking? Tell us what you imagine

Search Engine Land Chief Danny Sullivan posted an important article about this very topic, with some rare and surprisingly direct answers from both Google and Bing. While, neither exactly gave away their respective secret sauces, it would appear that they have set some things straight. 


Google reportedly uses when an article is retweeted or referenced in Twitter as a signal in organic and news rankings (even though links on Twitter are nofollowed). They also use it to enhance the news universal results (based on how many people share an article). 

Google "computes and uses author quality" for when someone tweets. When Sullivan asked if they calculate whether a link should carry more weight depending on who tweets it, Google Responded, "Yes we do use this as a signal, especially in the 'Top links' section [of Google Realtime Search]. Author authority is independent of PageRank, but it is currently only used in limited situations in ordinary web search."

Google says it treats links shared on Facebook Fan pages the same way as tweeted links, but they have no personal Facebook wall data. Authority for Facebook Pages is also treated like Twitter. 

So, the more authoritative the crowd sharing links to your content, the better. Not that different than PageRank. 


When it comes to Twitter, Bing tells Sullivan it also looks at social authority of users and more specifically, looks at how many people they follow and how many follow them, adding that this can add "a little weight" to a listing in regular search results (though it carries more in Bing's separate Social Search). Bing decides when links should carry more weight based on the person who tweets it. 

As far as Facebook, Bing currently looks at links shared on Facebook that are marked as being shared to "everyone" and those from Fan Pages. "We can tell if something is of quality on Facbook by leveraging Twitter," as Sullivan paraphrases Bing's response. "If the same link is shared in both places, it’s more likely to be legitimate."

Bing does not use its new Facebook data in ordinary web search...yet.

On a related note, Bing is finding other interesting ways to utilize Facebook with search.

So, clearly it pays to tweet and build a credible Twitter presence. This means gaining a significant following in number, but also getting authoritative users to follow you (and hopefully retweet your links). This would appear to be good for plain old fashioned organic rankings as well as other supplemental search results. More importantly, it pays to create good content that will attract authoritative Twitterers to share it with others. 

These things of course pay anyway, but it's nice to know that they actually do have an effect on search rankings as well. 

It's not surprising that Twitter is currently playing a more important role in to search engine ranking than Facebook, simply because Twitter is public by default. Facebook is much more walled, meaning that most of the good Facebook data is private. Though it will be interesting to see what happens when Bing does integrate its newly acquired Facebook into its regular search offerings. 

This wall of Facebook's is also a factor into why Facebook could potentially unleash its own legitimate search engine. It's got a search feature now of course, but there is a great deal of potential for them to do a whole lot more and really get under Google's skin. More on that here. 

Sullivan provides more background and context around the search engines' social signals, as well as the full with both marketingseo, and details about the Twitter Firehose's lack of nofollow.

With the information Sullivan has gotten out of Google and Bing, will you focus more on social media? Observation here