SEO - The Modern Elements of Optimization

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO), Web professionals have two choices – adapt their approaches and practices or sit idle and watch their websites disappear from view and their businesses become obsolete. Now more than ever, new demands have been placed on those responsible for the success of SEO campaigns by both consumers and the search engines; which are constantly evolving, and at a pace faster than any point in the industry’s history.

The good news is that today’s Internet and search marketers have an advantage over their predecessors. While many of the traditional elements of SEO are still useful, there are new elements that are relatively easy to deploy and can positively impact any SEO strategy. The result is more options and opportunities that make SEO as a practice much more approachable.

Still, businesses both online and off, and particularly those of the small and medium variety continue to struggle with SEO. Fortunately, one of the best ways to improve any website’s SEO is also one of the easiest.

Design platform SiteKreator’s Small Business Usage Study from early February 2011 indicated that there is a strong correlation between success and the level of the business’ engagement. Unfortunately, they also found that more than half (54 percent) of small businesses update their website just once a month. According to the study, even as few as five updates per month could increase Web traffic by 300 percent. Says SiteKreator Founder and CEO, Ivaylo Lenkov, “We see it over and over again; small businesses who are either disengaged online or not online at all do not grow at the same rates as those who have invested in an online presence.” Now, imagine the effect of going from 10 new content items each month to 100. What about 1,000?

That’s but one element of SEO success and has not changed much in the past decade —
content is still “king.” But what about new forms of content? What else moves your site up the search engine results pages (SERPs), and what should a business concentrate on for future success? Structure, Speed, Social Connections, Data … there are many. Keep reading.


New Approaches to Content Development
Every business needs a point person, a manager for SEO. But reporting to that manager should be a team of content specialists providing their expertise in producing video or audio, developing images and infographics, and even drafting sales and marketing material to use on Web pages, applications and everywhere else in every possible format. If there is one important organizational trend as it relates to SEO today, it is that every department within a company is responsible for SEO.

In 2007, Google (followed quickly by others, including Yahoo) rolled out universal search – breaking down silos of information and giving users more of what they want in one convenient location. What many organizations failed to realize is that alternate content like videos, images, news and other assets were also getting ranked and in many cases, ranked above the fold. “The algorithm changed but the organizations did not,” says Greg Jarboe, of SEO PR.

A customer service team might have a set of videos explaining how to use a product or service, or the sales department could have several infographics detailing how certain systems work. This information can be used to a positive SEO effect — but only if every team member and department knows that this valuable content exists and is made available.


Universal SEO
The most likely item to appear on the SERPs still remains an organization’s core website. But video, news, images and photos, blog content, local and real-time updates (social) are absolutely receiving their share of attention. Therefore, companies need to leverage their entire organization; bring in public relations and make them responsible for appearing in news and blog results, tap the customer service department to deal with external social forces (e.g. feedback or complaints on Twitter) and even sales to play an advisory role in content development.

The simplest way to minimize the inherent siloing occurring in any organization is to form a cross-functional team or appoint an individual (ideally someone knowledgeable about SEO) to manage the de-siloing process. If search engines are indexing and blending “all the world’s content,” individuals and departments in organizations must follow suit and work collaboratively, in order to meet the demands of search engine users hungry for a variety of content.


Video and Search
Video is one of those content assets that has a major presence on the search results page and its importance can no longer be denied by any department in the organization. How can video assets be leveraged to influence position and exposure on the SERPs? Greg Jarboe, author of YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour a Day, provides some helpful insights.

He notes that if YouTube were classified as a search engine (instead of a video portal) it would be the second-most used search portal, behind parent company Google. In fact, YouTube has more searches than either Yahoo or Bing. Consumers don’t search YouTube in the same manner as they do Google or Bing, however — they use different search queries. Conducting research via the YouTube Keyword Tool will provide insights into the variance in search volumes for keywords and key phrases versus those same queries on a traditional search engine. Armed with this information, appending video meta data in titles and descriptions will increase the likelihood that your videos get seen.

What many also fail to grasp in terms of promoting on YouTube specifically is that instead of using links to determine relevance, YouTube uses the number of video views to determine placement on the results pages. Outside of increasing distribution, the quickest and easiest way to increase the number of views is to use the YouTube player, not your own video player, on your website and other pages as it counts toward the total number of views on YouTube.

Using these strategies and others, one of Jarboe’s clients (The Voyage Channel, Voyage TV) went from a paltry 1,500 views in more than nine months to well over one million views today. The care and consideration to keyword-focused optimization specifically for YouTube resulted in 40 percent of views coming from YouTube search and 20 percent from the “related videos” feature.


Agency Support of SEO (and SMO)
When the demands of SEO require greater collaboration between departments and individuals, don’t rule out those managing paid search advertising either internally or at an agency. They too can support your SEO campaigns, and rather effectively. How can using these agencies’ or departments’ insights and material support help?

“Using SEM to support social is a good way to drive traffic but it may only drive clicks and activity, not so much sales,” says Ben Kirshner of SEM Elite. “In the long term, however, it obviously gets [users] to the site, giving you longer term value.” In other words, using paid advertising to drive traffic and brand awareness can lead to increased interaction, and perhaps even a nice inbound link to a piece of content.

Kirshner provided a practical example of how his firm orchestrates marketing support for clients on both SEO and SMO campaigns. “Companies with social media followers and friends can ask their community to send testimonials for a chance to win a prize or sweepstakes.” Continuing, he says that the content from “ratings and reviews has helped boost the SEO efforts, for long tail keywords particularly.”


Keyword-Centric Content Optimization
You can’t execute a successful SEO campaign by turning a blind eye to the role that keyword-centric content development and optimization plays in search engine marketing — the website itself still provides the best possible opportunity to secure competitive SERP positions.

Most successful SEO relies on the presence of keywords — and why not? Keywords are a meaningful indicator of relevance. Visit a few high-ranking sites on your own today and it won’t take much mental processing power to understand, by and large, why those sites are ranked so highly — keywords, lots of them. Some variety in what those keywords are and how they are applied matters, too.

Based on Website Magazine’s review, the factor of greatest onsite importance is keyword use in the title tag. Most frequently advised is to include those keywords in the first few words of each title. Of less importance, but worthy of the same attention, is the use of keywords everywhere else – from the headline tags (h1 or h2) and using them in the first few hundred words of the HTML, to alt text and image file names. Keyword use in format tags (in bold or italics) also play a role, as does the use of keywords in meta tags (keyword tag and description tag).


Combination of Keywords and Links
You might be the best keyword researcher on the planet but even the right keywords mean little without links pointing to your website. Keyword-focused anchor text from external links remains immensely important. Of equal and obvious importance is the link popularity of those external sources, as determined by the number and quality of its own external link graph and its diversity; consisting of links from many unique root domains. When all is said and done, keyword use in external link anchor text is one of the top SEO factors, overall. In fact, you might even find sites ranking for competitive keywords without a single reference of the keyword on-page — simply because of external link text.

Based on rather frequent monitoring of the industry and the SERPs, it is safe to assume that many of the tried and true onsite optimization practices, such as accurate and descriptive anchor text, still play a positive role in positioning. How much they matter is difficult to tell but it is better to be safe than sorry.


Other SEO Elements of Ranking
We have successfully outlined a few of the most important factors in ranking but there are many others.

While perhaps indirectly related to how Google will score a domain and its pages for ranking, the following elements have been shown to carry some influence. In the end, the following suggestions could simply be considered a best practice to ensure an optimal user experience — something the search providers have been requesting from the community of Web professionals for a long time. Don’t think that search engines aren’t paying attention, in some way. At the very least, a quality user experience can result in obtaining quality inbound links. For example, sites employing intelligent, useful hierarchies for content organization (site architecture) will generate more page views and time on site. Those Web professionals paying close attention to the recent Google/Bing sting operation can draw their own conclusions about whether click stream data plays a role in ranking, but it is easy to see how it could. If the engines are following users from their search results (or via their toolbars), they are able to see the levels of interaction of those users. Not that they would, but it makes sense that this would be very valuable information, as they identify the site with the best user experience — as determined by the number of page views, time-on-site or the sites they visit next.

Another SEO element of success, of some debate of course, is the influence of domain names on rankings. Factors such as the length of the current domain registration, the domain’s registration history (how long it has been owned by the same entity and the number of times it has been renewed) are good if not classic indicators of how much a site could be trusted. The influence of domain names on rank or position remains questionable, as there are far better indicators of the degree to which a site can be trusted.

Factors that might indicate the particular relevancy of a domain and its pages could include signals such as inclusion of a site’s feed in trusted news sources and how often a site appears in local listings. Much like directories once provided a measurable boost to rankings, the distribution of links matters greatly today. That brings up the matter of user signals — a good, consumerdriven indication of how important a piece of content might actually be. Both Google and Bing have full access to Twitter and its presence is obvious — its impact even more so. Sharing content items on Twitter and other social destinations such as Facebook (and having those items shared by friends and followers) has been shown to guarantee inclusion in the major indices.


Getting Social for SEO
Social media activity helps search engines identify the quantity and quality of user signals surrounding your brand. Search engines are actively working to identify who tweeted or shared what and the public association between them. So how does one take a more social approach to SEO?

“The social media strategist in me tells me to provide content around what my followers are talking about, but the SEO in me forces me to ask what content can be included to address trending topics,” says Crosby Noricks, Red Door Interactive’s Senior Social Media Manager. The solution, according to Noricks, is to look for opportunities around a particular subject for which you have existing content then provide social access to that content.

Social media is not about content alone but the activity surrounding that content (how well content is distributed and the degree to which engagement happens). To spur this activity it is essential to include sharing options on your website.

“In terms of the actual strategy of getting visitors to share, make sure options including Facebook ‘like’ buttons and Twitter retweet buttons are available,” says Noricks. Too often, Noricks suggests, Web marketers elect to provide all possible sharing options which can be off-putting to site visitors. Instead, provide access to only a few (Facebook and Twitter, for example). Include any to which you are encouraging participation — for example, a niche such as fashion or design — only if it holds some value for users and is respected by search engines (indicated by its presence on the SERPs).

If you’re looking for a shortcut to SEO success there are no guaranteed strategies. What we do know from looking at the SERPs and conducting some competitive research is that the search engines are rewarding those sites that, over time, have created and established some authority (through credible link citations), that send and respond to user signals (social), and make every effort to create an experience as meaningful to the user, as much as it is designed to attract links and appeal to the search engines.

Source of Information : Website Magazine for April 2011

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