The Wild West days of SEO gunslingers are over. Sites can no longer manipulate links in order to gain more traffic, strengthening SEO and their reputations. Google is the new sheriff in town, armed with two black-and-white friends to keep the peace and restore civility to the search giant.
With the Panda and Penguin updates, Google has effectively shifted SEO strategies to focus on content for the consumer. While that may be the case, sites found themselves losing as much as 90 percent of their traffic when hit by penalties from these updates, created by on-page and off-page factors that didn’t measure up to certain quality guidelines.
Whether you were a victim or a benefactor of this shift, you need to know why it occurred and how you can optimize your site for the consumer in the future.
Why the Shift?
Prior to the Panda and Penguin updates, users were forced to sift through irrelevant links that provided little or no helpful information about what they were actually looking for. An established site could use its reputation and SEO strength to pull users in with manipulative links.
User engagement with these sites fell off the map, bounce rates skyrocketed, and viewing time plummeted, so Google took action against these websites.
In order for Google to win in the search game, the links had to be relevant; otherwise, Google would just be serving as a distribution channel for bad links to spammy affiliate sites. It had to realign its focus to become what users wanted, not what Internet marketers wanted users to see. In order to make the switch from SEO trickery to a user-centric mindset, keep these things in mind:
1. Be useful. Your site’s prowess is a reflection of how useful your content is to the audience. Instead of boasting about how great your site is, explain exactly what you can offer users. They aren’t searching for the site that can market best; they’re searching for the site that can offer them what they need.
2. Don’t focus on features. Provide tangible solutions for consumers’ immediate needs, rather than explain the multitude of product features you offer. Appealing to the specific needs of a large audience is nothing short of a challenge, but perfecting this craft can prove highly successful. To hone your audience-identifying skills, base your data-driven content on demographics and psychographics. Be personable, and show how your product or service can truly help the customer in each different area.
3. Go mobile. Creating a mobile-friendly site is a necessity. Internet searches are increasing steadily on mobile devices, so appealing to the mobile user can create long-term gains in SEO. Always give the visitor the option to view the full site. Users don’t like restrictions, so keep them happy with fewer restraints.
If a company has currently undertaken an optimization strategy primarily with search engine crawlers in mind — and not the user — some major changes may be required. They should take the following steps to improve the consumer’s experience.
- Begin by paying more attention to site metrics and user engagement metrics in the analytics data, making changes to navigation, page layout, usability design, and persuasive copy wherever needed to make improvements in those metrics.
- Take stock of the backlink profile to make sure it does not come across as “unnatural” (as Google calls it) or contrived. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether a site looks like one you would trust for information on your topic, or visit on a regular basis.
If the answer is “no,” you don’t want a link from the site. Nevertheless, you must keep in mind something that is counterintuitive, and that is that some links from low-quality (not spammy) sites are good for you because a backlink profile that includes those is natural.
New Trends for a Trending World
If your site is currently optimized for search engines and not the user, you’ll want to adjust in order to gain optimal results. You might not have seen traffic diminish yet, but the Google updates will inevitably catch up with you. When beginning this transition, you’ll want to pay more attention to site metrics, engagement, navigation, page layout, usability, and design.
Mobile compliance is also essential for embracing users who rely heavily on the Internet outside of the office. Attracting an audience is your key concern, which is only possible by meeting the quality standards search engines now demand.
The growth of the influential roles played by social signals will likely become important in 2013. Mobile readiness and compliance is becoming imperative as well. In your overall strategy, you should include a plan for capturing traffic from non-text-based searches via platforms like Siri.
The need to leverage benefits that are gained from semantic markups, such as authorship tags and rich snippets, should also be prominent this year.
Quality content is, above all, the most important aspect of winning in search, and if the user doesn’t care about the content, then neither will Google. Stay ahead this year by optimizing your site for the consumer. Tangible information leads to satisfied users, and a satisfied user will always be trending.