Preparing For SEO in 2017

Every year brings new SEO challenges and surprises. The year 2017 won’t be any different, but we do expect these topics to be important considerations in the new year:

 

Interstitials / Popups on Mobile Devices
We’ve all seen mobile sites with a popup covering the content we were trying to read. These popups will be punished by Google in early 2017. Like ads above the fold, Google feels these popups harm the user experience – and they do not want to send visitors to such sites. Many survey and tool vendors such as ometrics and surveygizmo have been proactive to make sure their clients are not at risk, but some vendors may not be aware.

 

SSL / HTTPS
Google is really pushing SSL, and this is the year they accelerate their plan to make the web secure. Having your entire website served over HTTPS used to be rare, and only credit card or health privacy transactions were secured. And even that was spotty. But Google has begun a campaign since 2014 to secure everything. Two years ago, Google introduced a rankings boost for sites entirely on SSL. Last year they provided better features in Search Console. And we started to see SSL as “must have”. But progress has been voluntary in many regards, with other business objectives prioritized first.

Next year, new developments will force your hand: Warnings will start appearing in Chrome. Come January 2017 the Chrome browser will show increasingly dire warnings for any site that hasn’t moved to HTTPS. Starting with pages that have credit card or password fields:

Initially, users will be warned:
chrome-indicator-image

 

 

 

 

 

With more dire warnings for insecure sites later in 2017:

chrome-warning-image

 

 

 

 

 

 

JavaScript-based sites

There are many great reasons to use one of the new JavaScript frameworks in a web app or site: They tend to be mobile friendly and give a superior user experience in many cases. You’ve seen JavaScript search widgets on ebay and amazon providing “faceted search” – allowing users to easily refine their searches by clicking a few checkboxes. Frameworks needing some help include Angular, Backbone, Meteor, and many of their child/related frameworks. Some frameworks, such as Angular v2, are getting better about being search engine friendly. And Google is crawling ever more javascript, but not well from what we’ve seen. And often sites need help implementing technologies such as prerender.io. We are increasingly seeing more of this kind of work, and expect it to accelerate in 2017.

AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages)
AMP is the super-speedy loading of pages you’ve likely seen in some mobile results. After you setup AMP on your site, Googlebot places your content on it’s super-fast servers – but making it look like your URL. AMP was just for news sites, but now Google has opened AMP up to other sorts of sites – and 700k+ sites have been using it! If mobile traffic is important to your site, AMP will likely become vital over the next year.

Schema
Google just loves schema. We’ve seen over this last year as schema has helped increase pages indexed, and expect it to play a greater role every year. As artificial intelligence is used more and more in the “Rank Brain” algorithm, sites that can be easily categorized by Google will received more visibility. I for one welcome our new overlords… subject to future review.

Backlinks
Links are still an important part of Google’s algorithm. But sustainable, authentic link earning is always the best longterm approach in link building. So how can you get these links?

1. Content marketing
Produce great content, and reach out to authority sites and influencers in your space.

2. Business Development Link Building
All of those traditional activities such as sponsoring a baseball team, joining the chamber, or participating in online communities/forums are actually great ways to get links.

3. Publicity
Publicity is that powerful branch of public relations that provides links and visibility from media sites.

These methods of earning links have the best longterm potential, and are quite powerful for building and keeping rankings.

More effort
The shrinking organic traffic (more ads at the top), increased competition, and ever-changing nature of organic search require more effort than ever. Gone are the days of getting your site “SEO-ed” and expecting free traffic. All traffic is either earned, or easily taken away. May you experience a great new year with SEO!

Penguin 4 has Arrived: What We Know [Summary of Search]

It’s been 2 years since the last Penguin Penalty update. The Penguin Penalties were known to destroy site traffic by placing sites – that were formerly on page 1
– onto page 4 or even page 9. Organic traffic would decrease sometimes to less than 10% of previous levels, and devastate revenue.

Penguin is such a serious update for any site relying on organic traffic, that new insights are being gained daily. This update is a little bit different than previous Penguin updates. They appear to get increasinglpaper-182220_960_720_phixry more harsh.

1. Google still cares tremendously about links

We’ve been expecting Google to use social media at some point for authority, but instead they keep using links as a powerful part of their algorithm. Looking at the amount of processing power, education, penalties and heat they have taken… well, we can assume links will be with us for a long time. And Google cares more about authority than popularity, freshness, content, spelling, valid html, or any of the other hundreds of factors they may (or may not) take into account.

2.  It’s now “realtime”

As Google discovers links to your site, they will be judged as good, bad or somewhere in-between. Rankings will fluctuate accordingly. This system is long overdue: Previous penguin updates have meant years of waiting to see if link removal, disavowal, site pruning, 301 redirecting, gaining high authority links, and other strategies would be enough. It was a horribly unfair system for most small businesses, as years of lost traffic was particularly painful.

3. Realtime can mean weeks

Few have done the math and research in this quora thread, but that sounds like it will be a few weeks.

4. Penguin penalties will now be on the page level, not site level

Penguin used to penalize an entire site, impacting rankings for all keywords and on all pages. This was horribly unfair and we saw several clients over the years being penalized after an intruder built pages (and bad links to those pages). Months and years after the intrusion, site keyword rankings (and traffic!) suffered greatly.

5. Bad links no longer penalize – they just don’t count

This is a return to the “old days”, simpler times when webmasters didn’t have to continually audit who was linking to them. One of the worst parts of previous penguin updates was the way that low quality links provided a “double whammy” to rankings: They stopped boosting rankings, and also penalized the site.

6. Disavow files are still recommended

Google still recommends the disavow file is used. It helps Google identify low quality sites, as well as offering protection against a “manual penalty”, where a human at Google has specifically penalized your site. In that case a disavow file can show that you are trying to distance your site from it’s bad links.

Every day brings more insight into how Penguin 4.0 is impacting rankings and traffic. We’ll keep you updated!

3 Persistent SEO Misconceptions [Summary of Search]

SEO has had many changes over the years. As marketers and small business owners have worked to understand its many complexities, several misconceptions have remained.

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Misconception #1: SEO is “free traffic”

Many small businesses are interested in SEO — they see it as “free traffic”. Tired of the ever-increasing click costs of PPC, they are drawn to the siren call of a tactic that will bring free traffic — forever. But this is a giant misconception. Search engine optimization was once a simple process of using the keywords your audience is searching for. And that worked fine  until 2001 or so. But now, competitors are a bit savvier, and ranking in search engines is more like a horse race requiring effort: server configuration, mobile responsiveness, image optimization, tagging, schema, AMP, plenty of content, and — oh yeah — the content should be interesting.

Misconception #2: SEO is one time (rules, competitors)

In the old days of websites and SEO, getting your site “SEO-ed” could be a one-time process. While the web has changed substantially, this view of Search Engine Optimization has persisted. Modern SEO is indeed a horse race, in which competitors must constantly be bettered by:

  • constantly adding awesome content 
  • earning and seeking inbound links

and we think probably:

  • social sharing
  • usability metrics

Misconception #3: High-traffic keywords are the best ranking targets

High traffic keywords can sometimes sound like the best keyword targets, but they are often the worst! High converting keywords are best in every case. Consider this example: Several years ago we received a call from a prospective client that wanted to rank #1 for “Travel”. Wow, I thought: This could be Expedia or Travelocity on the line. But actually it was a Breckenridge Condominium property.

Competing for rankings for the term “Travel” is a really bad idea for (at least) 4 reasons:

  1. People searching for “Travel” do not yet know where they want to go — they aren’t necessary looking for Breckenridge — and we don’t know if they would want a condo.
  2. In a best-case scenario, the site could get to page eight — and that still doesn’t mean any prospects would book a condo. Even page two is a ghost town, with page eight as quiet as deep space.
  3. They are competing at a huge level, way beyond what is necessary to rank number one for “Breckenridge Condo.” It’s crazy inefficient,  like investing in a triple-crown champion horse when you just need a healthy horse to win the race.
  4. In a fantasy universe, a Breckenridge Condo would get to number one in Google — and receive an overwhelming amount of bad leads a day. Keyword targets are also a prequalifying process when done right.

A better approach is for the condo company to first compete for exactly what they are:

  • “Breckenridge Condo”
  • “Breckenridge Condominium”

(These are the keywords with a 100% chance of conversion)

Only then should they look at broader terms likely to have some prospects:

  • “Breckenridge Hotel”
  • “Breckenridge Motel”
  • “Summit County Condo”

This phenomenon isn’t just among condo owners — we all have daydreams of ranking for something that delivers huge traffic. Instead, focus on what your best customers are typing into search engines — just make sure it does have some search volume.

SEO has changed much over the years, and has evolved from a one-time process of using high-search-volume keywords to using targeted keywords with a high search volume and high conversion rate.