Even the people at Google at Google find it surprising – ‘intelligent’ machine thinking is now the third most important ranking factor. Considering there are over 200 ranking factors and that these are early days for artificial intelligence, we can expect the traditional concept of SEO to morph into a query-based, less link-dependent discipline.
How traffic is distributed between the first 10 positions of the first page
When it comes to representing SEO in numbers, one of the most frequent questions is: how do we measure SEO? Shortly followed by: what is a position on the first page worth? Well, a good place to start is a representation of clicks distribution on the first page:
This leaves us with only 4.09% of clicks/traffic for a particular term going to the second page and further in SERPS, with most of it going to the first place on the second page – just over 1%. The remaining positions on page 2 attract less than 1% of clicks.
It is worth noticing the share of traffic for the first five positions has increased compared to previous years, which might indicate the effect of paid search on organic results.
The conclusion seems inevitable: if you are not on the first page, you are nowhere. Although these numbers may vary slightly across Search engines and territories, the unequal distribution of traffic across positions is largely representative.
The SEO table of success factors has been around for a while, but recently Search Engine land has come up with an updated version, where, crucially, content has a much bigger role to play in the scheme of things.
Here is the latest incarnation of the table:
Recent changes mean links are still important, but are no longer the number one factor when it comes to ranking websites.
Other factors, such as Content and On site optimisation, have grown in importance following the post 2012 algorithm updates designed to tackle over optimisation.
Not directly related to SEO or Online Marketing, but this is a very interesting video about what motivates us to do well. As it turns out, it’s far more complicated than just financial rewards, both within an organisation and in a more general context.
Enjoy! It made me think a bit…
Technical SEO knowledge is a must nowadays for any SEO professional who wants to stay in the industry and be successful. In a context where being an all-rounder is no longer a bonus, but an everyday necessity, let’s look at HTTP status codes and how we can use them.
In brief, when a web server services a page, the process generates a code, which then becomes part of the log. The basic five categories can be summarised like this:
-1xx – informational, indicates a provisional response
-2xx – shows the request has been received and processed successfully
-3xx – shows a redirection
-4xx – shows a client error, such as page-not-found, bad request etc
-5xx – shows server error, such as service unavailable etc
With the most common status being 2xx, which generally means the website is operating normally, and 4xx, which means the requested service couldn’t be found on the server, for SEO we need to pay particular attention to the most encountered redirect status codes – 301 and 302. The choice between the 2 can be critical.
The 301 redirect is used when a page is moved permanently, therefore telling Search engines to associate any link equity and domain authority with the new Url. Also, users will be automatically redirected to the new page once a 301 redirect has been implemented.
When redirection is temporary, a 302 redirect is normally used, which is a signal that redirects the page to another Url, but doesn’t associate the new page with any authority or link equity of the source.
The implications for SEO are very significant: a mistake when 302 is used instead of 301 and the other way around can lead to losses of link equity and page authority, implicitly affecting rankings and traffic.
While it is generally useful to know all types of redirects, their use and implications for SEO, a solid knowledge of 301 and 302, plus canonicalization, is an absolute must for a proficient SEO professional.
User generate content, or UGC in its abbreviated form, has significant benefits for the brand and the way it is perceived by the customer, but within the right settings it can also boost SEO. Here are the main reasons why.
The main distinction is centred around differentiating between the marketing speak and the customer speak, with the latter providing more uniquely structured content and genuine signals for Google to pick up when crawling the web and ranking pages. Marketers tend to end up on the beaten track more often than they realise and any customer generated material will usually be more natural in form and content.
This is all great, but in order to benefit from reviews and other sources of UGC, a brand needs to house this content on its own Urls rather than on a third party site. This is what makes the difference! And those natural reviews need to be readable, normally in HTML text format which makes it accessible to the Google bot.
In any case, UGC can be a great source of free keyword research and ideas, which in the light of the ‘not provided’ limitation is even more valuable for businesses gunning for lucrative phrases in SERPs. If located within user reviews in catalogues for example, this material can significantly increase non-branded long-tail traffic.
Keyword rich quotes about products and services also add to the Social Media value of content and interaction and brand building. Google and slowly other Search Engines are increasingly using these signals in their ranking algorithms as part of the effort to ‘understand’ natural patterns rather than mechanically assess value and ranking power.
This source of content and online leverage is a great opportunity, but other sites/competitors most probably also appreciate this trend, so the sooner the issue is addressed, the sooner it will bring value to your internet presence.
Well into 2014, post numerous Pandas and Penguins, and Matt Cutts is still saying quality Search results are dependent on using links in the ranking algorithms’ – no news then? Well the answer while the ingredients for good SEO have largely remained the same, but the recipes have changed dramatically.
For many years competitor analysis has been instrumental in structuring SEO strategy and budgeting for link building, but with the introduction of the disavow tool the landscape has significantly changed, here’s why: nobody, apart from the Google database, knows how many of those links from a profile have been disavowed, therefore the data is no longer as reliable. Alternative link growth models and more reliance on content and Brand building seem to be the way forward in the current Search climate.
Anchor text – more Brand focus
Post Penguin, Brands have gained even more of an advantage, and branded anchor text is ‘safer’ because there is virtually no limit to how much branded links can be built, around content, PR and advertising. These ‘legitimate’ activities in Google’s eyes justifies sites linking in what looks like a natural pattern on the internet. On the other side, more aggressive, exact match techniques will almost surely attract unwanted attention.
Content, links and on site optimisation
For years, the SEO table of success factors had links as the most important ranking factor and SEOs focused on the offsite side for immediate results. As things stand now, content is at least as important and thinking in terms of SEO only, without taking into account the overall picture, is no longer enough. Meticulous onsite optimisation is a must and without it content and links are nowhere near as efficient.
SEO, other internal stakeholders and strategy
To achieve the best results possible, a coherent overall strategy is necessary to keep together the onsite and offsite sides of optimisation, as well as SEO contribution to other channels of acquisition – PPC, Affiliate, e-mail etc. An efficient SEO professional should be at the centre of implementing optimisation know-how in an interdepartmental context within the organisation. This wider approach takes longer to implement, but eventually brings better organic results.
As long as there will be Search engines, SEO in one configuration or another will be a valuable addition to the acquisition basket. The only thing to remember now, in the post Penguin and Panda world, is that SEO has to be part of the wider organisational culture rather than just a small isolated department working on its own.
1. Aim to be an all-rounder
Being an SEO or link builder exclusively is no longer enough. The Search landscape has changed (surprise!), and this time it has changed radically. A healthy mix of SEO, SEM, even PPC, Social and Analytics is the best recipe for success, both strategically and tactically.
2. Make friends with numbers
Number-driven decision making is becoming even more central to Digital marketing and some immediate challenges for Search specialists are replacing keyword data as a result of the 100% Not provided’ change implemented by Google recently, coordinating paid and organic search campaigns and tracking revenue per product/channel of investment to mention only a few. A healthy balance of quantitative/qualitative data in central to any successful decision making process.
3. Refresh your knowledge
For the last 12 years or so, SEOs have had it relatively easy, but the Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates have completely rewritten the SEO book. The luxury of relying on a relatively ‘safe’ algorithmic context is currently a thing of the past and keeping up to date with the concepts of Search is vital. Identifying reliable sources of information, which are very often maintained by the community of Search marketing professionals, is part of the everyday job, if you want to keep it…On SEO matters, I reference blogs such as State of Search and Search Engine land, but there are many others to add to the reading list. Reading regularly not only ensures efficiency, but also helps anticipate future changes in the Search realm.
4. Minimise Agency loss
Ensure communication, be it within the team or with internal stakeholders doesn’t get diluted by unnecessary extra steps such as emails or any other formalities when these can be avoided – talk to the relevant people! That way the message can be passed on more efficiently and only after that formal documents can help ‘set things in stone’ rather than the other way around.
5. Get the right balance of quantitative/qualitative data
Numbers are important – tracking, budgeting, acquisitions, return on investment, conversion – the list can go on, and it is essential numerical data is used to facilitate decision making. However, with SEO being a mixture of disciplines, from development to marketing, it is equally important to include qualitative analysis to complement numbers and then come up with the overall plan of actions.
Significant changes are reshaping the online landscape and as these changes become part of SERPs and most up to date SEM practices, we can start to define, as much as possible, the recent additions to the long and complex list of ranking factors. Overall, the most recent changes are rolled out to reduce the manipulative powers of SEOs and put Search Engines in a more commanding position when it comes to monetisation of Search.
Unusual patterns in Search results
In the last year or so, a number of Search specialists – Rand Fiskin among them – have noticed search results that weren’t determined by the patterns we so got used to across a number of years, instead appearing in what at first seemed random fashion. Upon more detailed examination, however, new definitions have emerged, namely co-citation, co-occurrence and text proximity, all three having a visible influence on how results are presented by SE.
Changes explained – Text proximity
To start with, all these new changes make optimisation more difficult for SEOs/SEMs and contribute to a more natural/organic evaluation of results to be displayed. Along with the new tendency to favor big brands, Google is now taking into consideration the text around a link, as well as the link and anchor text themselves. This makes sense, since from Google’s point of view a naturally placed link occurs in relevant content. As a direct result, branded anchor text in relevant content can help improve ranking for terms mentioned in the content and associated with the branded link. Something to think about, I’m sure, for most Search specialists!
Co-citation – link building without links
However strange it might sound, Co-citation refers to establishing a link between sites without the actual linking. For more clarity, the process of co-citation refers to the similarities between two internet sites, based on a third-party webpage that successfully mentions the first two webpages in a correlation with each other. Based on that co-citation, Google identifies a relation – or link – between those two websites, which is then used as an important search engine-ranking factor. This relationship can be referenced back to the old theory of links being counted as votes, only this time the vote is implied rather than directly attributed.
Co-occurence – establishing semantic associations on the web
Co-occurence and co-citation are very similar in concept, with the first often seen as a causal association of Brands and other search terms on the net. For instance, if your Brand is often seen in the same context as certain Search terms, your Brand will become associated with those terms.
Overall, the web is becoming more and more complex. The reason behind these changes in the algorithm are quite obvious to Search specialists: they are designed to reduce anchor text manipulation in Search results. SEO and link building as we know no longer works – in fact, old SEO practices are more likely to attract a penalty than improve your Search results.
Another month, another update from Google. And Penguin 2.0 is a serious one, with implications fro many businesses as well as online marketing professionals. From search results to the way we optimize, the two cute little animals from Google – Panda and Penguin – have changed the online landscape forever.
Matt Cutts mentioned a few industries that are targeted with the over-optimization penalties – online casino, payday loans and a few others found themselves a the end of algorithmic retribution that got many people thinking about moving on from SEO to SEM and more strategically to optimization within Digital marketing rather than SEO as a discipline on its own.
The changes that were rolled out in May will all but eliminate black hat as a tactic or strategy, with even grey hat reduced to short term significance rather than a solid case for decision making. And most importantly, the current Search marketing climate will separate the men from the boys, with only the most proficient optimization specialists to remain in business.
To me, what is happening today in Search marketing has been coming for a long time – there is only so much destructive, spammy work that the internet (and Search engines) can take. Users rarely link to a site using exact match anchor text – it of course depends on the industry, but only 1-2% usually make reference to a source using the anchor text desired by link builders and the people behind them. The current acceptable anchor text spread revolves around Brand – over 50%, random – anything between 30% to 40% and exact, phrase match anywhere between 2% and 10%. In other words, the big SEO party as we once knew it is over.
Without Brand credibility, good content to support it and a significant Social presence, links do no longer carry much weight. They are still valuable – the good ones, but the way in which link building that works is used has completely changed.
Another direct result of current changes is that many businesses have found themselves in a situation where getting rid of bad links is as important, if not more important, than acquiring new ones. That in my opinion includes both guilty and innocent sites – after all, nobody is in control of who links to a page on the internet.
We are slowly approaching the time when Matt Cutts’ prediction on around 70% of Search traffic to come from long tail, content-based SEO is about to become reality. In these circumstances, only those who can really understand the internet and how people interact online will be able to deliver results in Search engine marketing.
The ideal recipe for success seems to revolve around integrating SEO into pretty much all the other aspects of Digital marketing and channels of acquisition. Onsite optimization needs to be perfected to an art level, then content, links and Social have to complement the main element of any strategy – the Brand. As long as any optimization is done with the user in mind, it should succeed in delivering solid, measurable results in the Search marketing of 2013.