Search Engine Optimization in 2013: How Healthy Is Your Site?
The SEO landscape is an ever-shifting one, with new updates to Google’s search algorithms continually driving the development of new tactics. The search giant’s stated goal is to return the pages that readers really want to see. It claims that its search criteria have the effect of rewarding sites that offer high-value content while penalizing those that try to game the system.
For their part, website owners who have been hit by changes in search criteria claim that their sites are often unfairly punished. Small and midsize businesses in particular have been hit hard, as they tend to have fewer resources to expend on website upgrades. If a site’s SEO hasn’t been updated since before 2011, it may well be affected by some of the tweaks Google made to its algorithm. Google’s major updates — Panda and the more recent Penguin — now downgrade sites for using what was considered SEO best practice until very recently.
While the various debates about Google’s fairness or unfairness and what constitutes “black hat” SEO will no doubt continue to rage for many years, we can be sure of two things. One is that it’s imperative for site owners to respond to the changes by revamping their sites and updating their SEO. The other is that bad content has never helped anyone achieve a high page ranking.
The chief problem with many of the “tried and true” SEO techniques that have harmed certain sites and the businesses behind them is that they are aimed at robots, not readers. While the public may be fickle, Googlebot is even more so. Tactics that tricked it one day may be recognized and accounted for the next, making them obsolete — or even harmful.
One example is the tactic of placing keywords in a site’s meta data. This used to be standard practice for SEO, as web robots would read the meta text and use it to categorize and rank pages. Unfortunately, instead of placing relevant keywords in their meta descriptions, unscrupulous site owners would add irrelevant but high-scoring terms to the meta keywords. This improved the site’s traffic at the expense of cluttering search results with irrelevant links. Consequently, Google now largely ignores meta keywords when determining a site’s topic or ranking — except when downgrading sites that keyword-stuff their meta data to excess. Sites that were created before this change may therefore suffer if their old SEO relied on this outdated tactic.
Good articles, blog posts and instructional pieces are still the mainstay of quality site content, delivering a lot of value for visitors.Ideally, sites should offer quality multimedia content too. As Google places more and more emphasis on images and particularly on videos, this kind of content becomes increasingly valuable.
Thanks to its Venice update, Google now places more and more emphasis on serving local links. Even if a user doesn’t include a city or town name in their search, site software can detect the general location of the searcher based on that person’s IP address or Google profile. It then includes that information when processing a web search. This is clearly a smart move — when a potential customer in New York searches for “carpet cleaning,” a link to a firm of carpet cleaners in Boston is of no use to them. By ensuring that local links appear first, Google attempts to give users the most relevant information. For this reason, SEO 2013-style includes adding plenty of relevant local information to a site.
Whatever material a business provides on its websites, it will need a good social media presence as well. Google looks at the number of comments, shares and “likes” that a page receives through social networks when determining how high to rank it. A positive profile on social sites is fast becoming an essential prerequisite for SEO success. This includes general social media such as Facebook or Twitter but also platforms dedicated to multimedia content. Image-sharing platforms like Pinterest and video-sharing sites such as Vimeo and YouTube are increasingly powerful — especially YouTube, which is now owned by Google.
While it’s still just possible to game the system, at least for short periods, manipulating search results is no longer as simple as certain shady SEO “experts” like to pretend. Increasingly, Google and other search engines attempt to evaluate sites based on human input. Playing well with the robots now means playing well with the flesh-and-blood individuals who come to your site. With new ways of detecting suspect sites and the soaring importance of social media, it’s never been more vital to source quality content and keep a site’s SEO up to date.