2013 was a massive year of change for SEO and the way in which Google worked, with a complete overhaul of their algorithm in terms of Hummingbird, Panda and Penguin further evolved and keyword data started to disappear quickly in Google Analytics with the advent of encrypted search. As ever people started shouting that SEO was once again dead, however this wasn’t the case, it has just evolved, many would argue for the better. It is getting harder and harder to take shortcuts and game the system, so those that create a proper strategy and put the time in to create something that serves of value are being rewarded.
What does this mean for 2014 and what should your strategy incorporate to flourish in the new search landscape?
Firstly it is more important than ever to make sure that your site loads quickly. As internet connections become quicker and quicker people are becoming more and more impatient! Research previously carried out by Akamai and Gomez.com found that nearly half the people they surveyed would abandon a site if it took longer than 3 seconds to load. Another interesting speed related fact is that a 1 second delay in page response time can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. It is clear that you need to make your site as fast as possible, but how can you do this? Well firstly head over to gtmetrix.com and run your website through their speed testing tool. This will give you a grade and a percentage score of how fast your website is. It will also show you the areas that you can improve in order to make your site quicker. Alternatively you can use Google Page Speed Insights which is now integrated into Google Analytics (Behaviour > Site Speed > Speed Suggestions). One of the best ways to optimise the performance of a site in terms of speed it through the .htaccess file or the web.config file depending on what server technology your site is run on. Adding some simple lines of script can leverage browser caching and enable gzip compression which will provide a noticeable speed increase when loading and browsing a site.
Another important and often overlooked speed factor is to make sure that the images on your site have been optimised for the web, meaning that there file size is as small as possible whilst keeping an acceptable quality. Programs such as Photoshop have the option to save for web, which will allow you to adjust the file format and bit depth in order to reduce the file size, whilst showing you the output in a preview window. Another important factor to consider is to make sure that your images are served at their actual size and that you haven’t resized them in the html code by specifying height and width.
Ecommerce sites often have thousands of assets such as images which place a huge load on servers and as such many site owners are now turning to Content Delivery Networks (CDN). Amazon Cloudfront is a well-known and widely used content delivery network. CDNs are used to reduce strain on servers and load their images and other assets speeding up the site.
If you have a popular CMS such as WordPress there are many different speed optimisation tools available such as WP Super Cache, which can make a noticeable difference to your sites speed. Another great plugin is BWP Minify which will minify your CSS and JS files, without you having to get bogged down in the coding side of this sort of enhancement.
Make your site mobile friendly
There is an increased number of people that now own smartphones and tablet computers, such as the iPAD. With this in mind it is imperative to make sure that your site works well on these devices. The best way to go about this is through responsive design which will adjust your site to fit whatever size the screen is of the device you are browsing with. The advantage of using responsive design over having a separate mobile site is the fact that you maintain the same URL structure and you don’t have to update and work on two versions of your existing site. Having a fast site goes hand-in-hand with having a responsive site, mobile internet is getting quicker all the time, but it doesn’t tend to be as quick as a normal internet connection. Jay Taylor recently posted an excellent overview of why you should make your website responsive on Search Engine Watch here.
Remember it is all about the user experience; Google and other search engines are taking into account not only the information on your site but the way in which it is served.
Many SEOs believe that social signals have a positive correlation with search engine rankings and as such it is imperative to make sure that you are building a relevant engaged social audience that you can serve your content to when you produce it. This way you are more likely to get people interacting with you and sharing the content that you produce.
Take the plunge in 2014 and run a competition on your social networks, such as Facebook. This is still a great way to build your audience up. You also need to make sure you have a strong strategy in place to keep regular updates being posted. One great way to do this is through content syndication, identify some relevant sources and post links to their content, with a brief comment. In amongst this make sure that you are placing your own content from places such as your blog, if you have one.
Social networks are bigger than ever and it is important that you make it as easy as possible for people to share your products on social networks. Every product page should have obvious social sharing buttons. There are many plugins that you can get that will do this, one commonly used service for this is addthis.com.
Content Marketing has been at the forefront of SEO evolution with Google rewarding sites that produce good quality content that has served a purpose for its visitors. It is important to have a content strategy that will give your target audience a reason to link to and share on social networks. It is also important to make sure that you are producing regular content to keep increasing your social interaction and help your sites relevancy. Many sites have blog but not all of them regularly post on them. It is a great strategy to have a blog, but you need to have a strategy that means it is regularly updated. One great way of doing this is by encouraging relevant guest posts, preferably from people that hold authority online and have a good social following. There are lots of great ways you can perform content marketing effectively, take a look at the Content Marketing Show Round-Up for more.
Google Authorship and Google +
In 2013 Google made a big push to move away from the anonymous web and made it clear that they are looking to identify authorities within each niche. This is why it has become imperative to make sure that you have Google Authorship in place, so that any content that you produce can be clearly attributed to you. This ties in with Google Plus as you need a profile to setup authorship. In the 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors Study, Moz found a high correlation between Google +1s and increased ranking. It is important that you don’t overlook this social platform and start taking advantage of its great features such as communities, which mean you can easily get your content in front of a relevant audience. Communities and shared circles also make it easier to identify relevant people to interact with more easily.
Structured Data Markup
There is much debate around the effectiveness of the use of structured data markup such as schema.org, although one thing is for certain anything that makes it easier for Google and the other search engines to understand has to be a good thing and at worst make no difference. This is one base that I think everyone should make sure they have covered this year. Remember you don’t just have to do this by making additions to the code on your site you can use the Data Highlighter Tool for this, which can be found in Google Webmaster Tools (Search Appearance > Data Highlighter).
As we move forward this year now is a great time to make sure that you have your online house in order and make sure that you have a clear strategy in place that will help you achieve results in the new search climate that everyone is gradually becoming accustomed to.
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