The first page of Google results has always been a bit of battlefield. Unpredictable, ever-changing, with new victors fighting their way to the top and emerging in the first few spots every so often.
But the past two years have been particularly, um, bloody. Like something out of a Tolkien book, in fact. Imagine a sword fighting battle among hundreds of men when suddenly, on the horizon, we see a new huge army coming over the hill.
Wait…those aren’t humans descending on the battlefield. They’re penguins! And oh look! Right behind them is an enormous pack of giant pandas and a buzzing swarm of hummingbirds!
These creatures wreaked incredible havoc in the rankings battlefield. To really oversimplify what happened, here’s a quick rundown:
2011 – The Panda Algorithm
This was released and stomped out many of the low quality content sites out there, letting the high-quality sites rise in the rankings. In fact, many SEO experts first called this change “The Farmer” algorithm because it seemed to really target and penalize ‘content farm’ sites, which just churned out low quality blog posts and articles in order to rise in rankings.
A little known fact – “Panda” was the last name of the engineer that devised the filter.
2012 – Then Came the Penguins
The Penguin algorithm was ‘unleashed’ and its target was unnatural backlinks. So just as the Panda penalized sites that tried to rank better by paying for tons of low quality, meaningless content, do did Penguin smackdown sites that were paying for backlinks from sites that had nothing to do with the site itself.
2013 – The Hummingbird Algorithm
This was a complete overhaul. Where Panda and Penguin were tweaks to the current search algorithm, Google explained that Hummingbird was a completely new thing altogether.
At the risk of oversimplifying, where Panda and Penguin focused on what sites it did (and didn’t) serve up in the results page, Hummingbird was much more focused on what searchers were actually typing in the search box!
It was an attempt to serve better results to people using Google, based on how people actually type their queries in. The best explanation of Hummingbird I’ve seen is from Bill Slawski on his blog SEObytheSea.com.
He wrote of Hummingbird:
“Google might look at the query [What is the best place to find and eat Chicago deep dish style pizza?], and understand that a searcher looking for results for that query would likely be more satisfied with the use of “restaurant” instead of “place”.”
So now that we have a good sense of what Google wants when it comes to content, backlinks and even how smart it’s getting at translating what folks are really searching for, no matter what language they choose when they type in their search…let’s go through a back-to-basics SEO checklist for you to perform on your site.
On Page Tips
- Make sure you have made an XML sitemap and have submitted it to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. See XML-Sitemaps.com to get you started.
- Keywords should appear in your meta title, descriptions, page title, alt tags.
- The first few sentences and last few sentences of any web copy, blog post, etc. should include your keyword. Include it elsewhere in the article as well but only if you can do so naturally. Remember – you don’t want to keyword stuff!
- Get Geo Searches, particularly mobile searches. These rely heavily on geo-targeting. Make sure you include geo-meta tags. You can do so automatically by using Geo-tag.de
- Use those Google Webmaster Tools! Check for 404 errors, 500 errors, missing titles, short meta descriptions, any duplicate content and many other technical errors that your Webmaster tools can catch.
- Don’t forget to localize your H1 tags. Don’t just put “Best Pizza” here. Remember, mobile searchers might be just down the street from you! Make sure your H1 has “Best Pizza in Midtown Atlanta”, etc.
- Watch the truncation: Remember the appropriate chopping block/character limit for each tag. So for Title Tag, you have 65 characters or less but we recommend trying to keep it fewer than 55 characters to ensure it displays most effectively in search results.For meta tags, keep it to 155 characters or less. And again, remember to always, always include your location!
- Check to see if your CMS (Content Management System – such as WordPress) gives you the option of using absolute URLs in your back end code. You should use them versus relative URLs whenever you can. In other words, URLs with ? and number strings will not do well.
- You need to have some search engine friendly copy on each page of your site. I recommend about 100-150 words as a minimum (such as ecommerce product descriptions), in order to give Google enough to really ‘sink its teeth’ into and to help match your site with searcher inquiries.
- Make sure you include the same keywords you have in your Title Tag in your page content. Again, the name of the game is natural and so it makes sense easily to the reader. But try to sneak the keyword in there 3-4 times as long as it’s natural. This will help Google realize what type of product or services that your business is offering.
- Your content needs to be 100% unique. Probably the #1 worst thing you could do to your rankings is to get hit with a duplicate content penalty. What exactly does this mean? Unique content simply means that those words, in that order, don’t appear anywhere else on the web or on your web site.
- One easy way to make sure you’re not using duplicate content is to use a LOT of synonyms, when discussing topics you have often seen discussed online before. Don’t go crazy and stretch the synonyms so far that it sounds like English is your second language but use them enough to be conversational and different!
- Don’t forget that images are content too. You need to pay attention to them as well if you want to help your SEO efforts. Make sure all of your images have descriptive ALT tags and factors. Be very descriptive (without making your file names way too long) because the only way a search engine can “see” your images is by how you describe them.
- Link-building is not dead. You just need to do it in a natural, relevant, Google-friendly way. It’s too complex to cover here, but I recommend you research trusted sources and get a regular link-building process underway.
- Make sure you have created a Robots.txt file and submitted it in both Google and Bing Webmaster Tools.
- Social media is important to SEO. Back in the day, the amount of links to your site helped Google decide how ‘popular’ your site was. And social media is now another indicator. Search engines can see if you have a large social media following and it will count as a factor in ranking. So don’t ignore your social ‘life’.
- Make sure you ‘own’ your brand name on all the social media platforms. You don’t have to be using them. Just register them and fill in the profile with a link back to your site. Here are just a few templates and examples of how your brand name should look on some of the bigger social platforms. We will use Marketing For Owners as an example.
What should you write about and publish on all these social platforms? Your blog posts! SEO is a hungry beast and you need to be feeding it content several times a week. There are loads of topics you could cover. Industry news, new products you’re launching, behind the scenes footage at your office or warehouse.
Monitor Google and Twitter and Facebook trends for blog topics and content ideas. There’s no excuse for not blogging!
Tell me what SEO tips and tricks you have tried in the past that have worked. Which no longer seem to work? What will you be differently in 2015?
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