For businesses to stay competitive in search results, they need to continuously monitor and adapt to the changing ecosystem of SEO. Two years ago social media and search engine optimization were totally independent; however, today it’s accepted by most SEO practitioners that social media plays a key role in search.
SEO in 2012: What Changed?
When SEOs discuss changes to their optimization strategy, conversation tends to focus on “quality content”. The Panda Update, which penalized ad-heavy websites with “thin content”, went live in February 2011, and continues to cause grief for spam peddlers. This update, as well subsequent tweaks over 2011 and 2012, have pushed webmasters to develop higher quality content using rich media, as opposed to churning out nearly duplicated pages with unique titles (e.g. “How to Roast a Turkey“; “How to Cook a Christmas Turkey“; “How to Cook a Thanksgiving Turkey“).
Penguin Update: The Over-Optimization Penalty
The recent “Penguin Update” of April 2012 targeted “webspam”, as Matt Cutts calls it simply. This update mostly affected on-site content, and is commonly referred to as “the over-optimization penalty”. Offending webspam tactics include classic black-hat SEO schemes (keyword stuffing, automated linkbuilding, “cloaking”, scraper websites that copy original content).
Above all, webmasters should be mindful of commonly “over-optimized” elements, such as title tags, alt tags, and on-page copy that uses keyword density as the metric of success.
Structural Changes to SEO: Semantics Rule
In terms of leading edge (or “bleeding edge”) SEO tactics for 2012, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have received most of the spotlight, while structural opportunities have not seen such fanfare. Regardless, implementing SEO best practices for 2012 includes a number of structural developments, including:
These structural tactics are simply new opportunities to tackle classic SEO issues – improving internal linking structure, making HTML more meaningful, and tracking user activity to attribute growth in search traffic and increases in SERPs with specific tactics.
The Semantic Web: Schema.org
Google, Bing, and Yahoo! have been pushing for webmasters to implement semantic markup on their websites since February 2011, when a standard markup called Schema.org was introduced. Schemas provide better semantic markup for search engines by defining properties of a person, place, or thing, by using existing HTML elements.
One practical use of Schema.org tagging would be to label information about a company (Schema.org/LocalBusiness). Using semantic markup, the three major search engines can easily identify relevant information about the organization, such as address, telephone, hours of operation, type of business, and more. Schema tags can then be used to link this organization to other entities, such as the owner of the company and his colleagues, to build a web of semantic information.
For local SEO and location-oriented search results, Schema.org markup can help increase a business’ search engine ranking by illustrating its importance through relationships to other entities.
Author Information in Search Results: rel=”author”
Including author information in search results has been shown to increase click-through rates dramatically by highlighting the result and putting a face to the article. Additionally, the result includes a link to the author’s other posts. Though this won’t increase search engine ranking, it has been shown to increase click-through rates because of the link’s heightened profile.
How Author Information Works
To implement author information in search results, webmasters need to add a link from a post to the author’s profile or bio page using the rel=”author” attribute. The author’s profile or bio page must also link to a Google profile, which allows the author’s photo to appear next to results. Finally, the author must link from their Google profile to the author page to complete the circle.
Recent studies have shown that approximately 17% of all queries include author information within the top 100 results. It’s no surprise that Google favors its own products, and with its vested interest in their social network Google+, promoting results that feature author information will in turn promote Google+ usage. Though its usefulness as a social network is in question, going along with Google+ integration appears to be an effective way of leveraging search results.
BONUS TIP: Integrate Social and SEO Metrics into Google Analytics
Though this final tip does not directly impact SEO, it can help webmasters capture the value of social media by measuring its impact on conversions and correlating activity to SEO success. Additionally, by tying social actions and robust ranking data to Google Analytics, traditional web metrics can have greater context.
When properly implemented, the social and SEO reports found in the new Google Analytics track a number of new and useful metrics:
- Facebook Likes
- Facebook Unlikes
- Social plugin use (Tweet Button, Share This)
- Social Visitor Flow
Beat Your Competitors by Monitoring Changes for New Opportunities
SEO is a dynamic playing field that changes regularly, so it is critical to monitor new opportunities as they take on significance. The tactics outlined above are fairly new, and those that implement early will enjoy high rankings above their competitors. As Google focuses on improving the quality of its search results, other search engines will undoubtedly follow its course, and look to adopt the same new ranking factors to provide the best quality results for their users.