There’s been more than a few “SEO is dead” blog posts circulating the online world lately. I knew it was a phenomenon when my Dad, with concern in his voice, asked me if it was true that SEO is dead. It’s OK Dad, I still have a job. He piqued my curiosity so I Googled the term and there’s no shortage of article prematurely declaring that SEO is dead, mostly as controversial linkbaity type of articles (oh the irony!), replete with keyword-rich anchor text linking back to the authors’ sites. Anything for a link I guess.
OK, so if it’s not dead, what’s going on? SEO has changed. A lot. Specifically, one major aspect of SEO has changed — offsite SEO or link building. In the olden days, before the Panda update, link building was relatively easy — tactics like directory submissions, comment linking (spamming?), forum linking, paid links, footer links, and all sorts of other tactics could in most cases make a big impact on a site’s search authority.
Those tactics are now mostly dead and what that means is that link building is a whole lot harder nowadays. You have to have good content that people want to link to and you have to share the content so that people actually do link to it. And there’s evidence that co-citation is growing in importance, which places even more importance on who is linking to you than what anchor text they’re using.
We’re finding that for our more mature SEO clients (i.e. those that have had all the on-site stuff optimized to the hilt), the process of SEO is a lot more about what we do from the content generation and social promotion side of things. In the agency world at least, SEO has become a multi-disciplinary exercise.
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When in the development lifecycle should you start thinking about SEO?
If you’re like a lot of people, the answer is “let’s just get this damn thing built and then we’ll worry about SEO later!” I feel your pain—redesigning your website can be expensive, time consuming, and frustrating.
The last thing you want to think about is keyword research, and besides, can’t you just hire an SEO company to work some magic once you’re up and running? Well, maybe. But the SEO company’s first recommendation might be “this site sucks, it’s all in Flash, and you need a redesign.” Have fun at your quarterly review.
OK, so SEO is important, but what should you be considering while you’re in the design process? Here are some bullet points that we’ll flesh out below.
- Keyword targeting and site architecture
- Search-engine-friendly URLs
- 301 redirects
- Analytics and tracking
- Site speed (the silent killer)
Keyword Targeting and Architecture
What keywords are you going after? If it’s a re-launch, are they the same keywords that you were ranking for before, or are you looking to expand your reach? Either way, you need to think strategically about the keywords you will be targeting.
That means that each keyword phrase will need a unique page of content and each landing page should be no more than two clicks away from the homepage. In fact, by doing keyword research in conjunction with designing the site architecture, decisions about what pages to include and how to organize them will fall into place much more easily.
Another note about site architecture: key pages should be no more than two clicks away from the homepage, in order to a) make them easier for visitors to find and b) to effectively pass the link juice from the homepage to the landing pages on the site.
But what about aesthetics? Yeah, I know, aesthetics are important. And so are the actual humans that will be using your site. You have to balance the demands of search engines and real people—and helping people find what they want is part of good usability and SEO. If Ryan Gosling was using your site, you would want him to say “you’re the perfect combination of user-friendly design and search engine optimization.”
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Did you know that Google changes its search algorithm up to 500 times per year? Google is constantly trying to improve the search results so that they best fit what the searcher is looking for. What this means for marketers and owners of websites is that we need to constantly be monitoring what Google is up to.
Google algorithm changes are typically meant to reward sites that follow Google best practices and to penalize sites that take advantage of tactics that are not approved (known as “Black Hat” tactics). The algorithm changes can be simply adding a search engine result that displays information regarding an individual, penalizing link farms or devaluing sites that are “over-optimizing”.
Below are some of the latest and or most widely known algorithm changes and how they affected the search results:
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Penguin (Released April 24, 2012)
- Algorithm update intended to penalize sites that were “over-optimizing.” Over-optimization is the practice of keyword stuffing, link schemes, and other black hat tactics to push a site to the top of the rankings. The goal of Penguin was to reward sites that were not over-optimizing and push sites to the top of the rankings, while pushing over-optimized sites down.
Knowledge Graph (Released May 16, 2012)
- Knowledge Graph helps enable searchers to instantly get information that’s relevant to their search i.e.
- The searches are typically around the following that Google knows a lot about – places, people, cities, celebrities, buildings, will instantly show up in your results when searching for said items
- The search result will be a summary of the above with image results
- Example: Google “Michael Jordan” and on the right hand side of the results will be a large image of Jordan along with a summary of his life, career, net worth, even height