A great SEO strategy means keeping up with changes in the industry.
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It was a big year in Internet marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). Although the general rules seemed to stay the same, Google introduced several big changes that revolutionized the way websites are found, ranked and presented in search results. Similarly, as new Web-based technologies hit the market and the world becomes increasingly more interconnected, it's more critical than ever for small businesses to keep up with these changes.
"SEO changed a lot in 2013," said John Lincoln, an analytics expert and social media, SEO and analytics instructor at the University of California, San Diego. It was the year that Google took en masse action against black-hat tactics that proliferated the Internet and manipulated search engines. [What Google's Hummingbird Update Means for Small Business]
"Black-hat SEO companies built a larger amount of external links and pointed them at a website to get them to rank," he said. "They would also create very low-quality content, which is where they would point these links. The Penguin algorithm made this type of linking ineffective, and the Panda algorithm made low-quality content ineffective."
Another change was Google's YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) initiative, a recent update that humanizes Internet content.
"Google decided that websites and Web pages that have to do with your money or your life should be looked at a little closer," Lincoln said. These sites include financial sites and medical-advice sites, he added.
Under YMYL, Google's Web quality team reviews these Web properties to determine if they are experts; if not, Google puts a manual action against the offending website to lower its ranking and reduce traffic. "I have seen quite a few sites hit by this," Lincoln said. "But it is actually a good move by Google. No one wants bad financial or medical advice. I know I don't!"
As a whole, Internet marketing is changing so quickly that businesses must stay on their toes to keep up, Lincoln said. Other things to watch out for include mobile innovation and consumer technology trends.
"A couple things people are looking at are [wearable tech], such as Google Glass; Google's new predictive search, Google Now; applications; mobile; social advertising; Big Data; and cross-device advertising tracking," Lincoln said. "The industry has made significant advances in 2013, so much that you really need a specialist in each area to perform at the optimal level."
Lincoln, who is also the co-founder of San Diego-based SEO firm Ignite Visibility, spoke with BusinessNewsDaily about the future of SEO and why small businesses need to pay attention.
BusinessNewsDaily: Why is SEO so important for small businesses?
John Lincoln: People are constantly searching for products and services. They trust Google, generally, to help them find these products and services. Getting ranked for a set of keywords results in leads and sales for businesses. If a company does not have an SEO strategy, they are leaving money on the table. When consumers realize a business ranks for certain terms, the business [that doesn't rank] loses credibility and potential sales.
BND: How can small businesses use SEO and Internet marketing to gain more visibility over competitors and larger brands? Can they?
J.L.: Generally, larger brands generate more external signals to Google — things like links and social media shares. But any company can have a search strategy that is effective on a level that makes sense to engage. Smaller businesses usually do the best with a local strategy. Furthermore, if they target a niche set of relevant keywords, they can do very well to rank and generate business.
A well-crafted Internet marketing strategy delivers results. It is a basic formula of social media, blogging, SEO, Pay-Per-Click (PPC), email marketing and engagement with other websites. In some cases, businesses will also do well with affiliate marketing and other strategies, but generally, business will do very well if they focus on these four core online marketing elements.
BND: Should brick-and-mortar stores that have websites care about SEO?
J.L.: Some of the most successful online businesses I have seen start out as brick-and-mortar establishments. In fact, I generally prefer to work with that type of client. The brick-and-mortar stores already know the business. When we bring that online, it gives them a new revenue channel with unlimited distribution. So yes, I think all brick-and-mortar businesses need to be thinking about an online strategy. It is such a great way to diversify the business sales portfolio.
BND: What role does social media play in SEO?
J.L.: It all starts with the blog. You do a blog post and share it on social media. Each time it is shared or liked is a vote to Google that the blog post is important. The internal linking in the blog post points to pages on the site. When Google crawls those internal links, it finds the Web page being linked to, and ranks it higher. The new content also gets ranked individually by Google, and shows Google that someone is updating the website and that it is not just a dead site.
Community growth is also important. If a community is growing over time and is highly active, that can be a signal to Google that the website posting to the community should rank well.
Finally, it is important to focus on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube, Reddit and StumbleUpon. There also needs to be emphasis on Google+. Getting +1s and connecting "rel=author" and "rel=publisher" — Google authorship indicators — can really help differentiate the website and increase traffic.
BND: Define "black-hat" SEO. Why should small businesses avoid it, and what are some examples of black-hat tactics they should be wary of?
J.L.: Black-hat SEO is when a person or SEO firm tries to get a website ranked using methods outside Google's quality guidelines. There are many ways to scam the system. There are whole communities dedicated to this kind of stuff, such as blackhatworld.
Some examples of black-hat strategies include purchasing text link ads, buying links on blog networks or doing something malicious. For example, in some cases, you will see a WordPress website get hacked and have a code injected into the site. The code injected into the site will create something called cloaking, which is when the user sees one thing and the search engine sees something else. In some cases, the code injected into the site will add links to the page that link to another website, with a term such as "e-cigarettes," for example. The black-hat SEO will do this so that the "e-cigarette" site will rank higher for that term used in the link.
I would strongly discourage companies from using black-hat SEO. It never works out in the long term, and you'll probably get a penalty. I have cleaned up many penalties this year for clients that used black-hat companies. It is hard work.
BND: How can small businesses grow their Web presence with SEO and Internet marketing? Are there any reliable resources available — for instance, tools they can use to find competitive keywords or to see whether their website is SEO-friendly?
J.L.: Here is what I would recommend: Check out our [Ignite Visibility's] SEO starter guide to get an idea of what it entails. This is a document we have invested a lot of time in. Here are a few others that are very good:
- SEO Introduction from Google
- SEO Moz Beginners' Guide to SEO
- Search Engine Land Guide to Search Engine Optimization
- Google SEO Starter Guide
As far as tools go, here is a list of 50 tools they should know.
BND: Can small businesses take the do-it-yourself (DIY) route, or do you recommend that they always hire a professional?
J.L.: They can do the DIY route if they have the time and if they are really motivated. But, I will say, getting ranked well can be a challenge. I have been doing it for 10 years now, studying every day for an hour or so. It generally makes sense to use a professional. It would be like trying to figure out how to build a house on your own. You might be able to put up some walls, but there will probably be a lot of other things that you don't want to take the time to figure out.
BND: Are there any upcoming changes to Google search algorithms? How can small businesses keep up with all the changes?
J.L.: Google+, and social media in general, will increase in importance. You need a mobile site, preferably responsive design. Also, along those lines, the variety of devices out there is growing rapidly. You need to make sure the site works on all devices.
Yandex, the largest search engine in Russia, just announced that external links will not play a role in its algorithm in the future. This might end up happening with Google, too. Overall, a great online brand that is technically sound with good content marketing and social media will continue to do well.
BND: What do you predict for the future of SEO and Internet marketing?
J.L.: I expect to see further integration among all marketing mediums, tied together with smarter analytics. Google is doing a great job with its analytics platform, although [analytics data labeled as] "Not Provided" continues to be an issue in the organic keyword data report. Moving forward, the really creative and innovative online marketing will cut through the clutter. That will be very fun to watch.
Originally published on BusinessNewsDaily.