In the past couple of years, SEO has turned from a compliment to a curse word. From being associated with technology, to being associated with Spam. Thus, new buzzwords have woken up to cover for SEO’s reputation flaws and bring new and positive connotations into the puzzling world of online marketing.
The “growth hacking” phrase was coined and used by bloggers as much as I drink cold water in a hot Tel-Avivian day.
If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, “inbound marketing” jobs have overlapped and exceeded SEO jobs during 2013. In research conducted by Moz CEO Rand Fishkin, the number of LinkedIn Profiles containing “Inbound Marketing” in job titles grew by 210 percent, while profiles containing “SEO” grew at only 170 percent last year.
One fact you cannot argue with; there’s an evergreen need to be search-engine friendly and user-friendly all at once. The only thing that is changing over the years is the diversity and the emphasis you should put on each.
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When Google first started, you had to be 90 percent Google-friendly and only 10 percent thoughtful of your users. Today, it’s more like 70 percent user-oriented – and just 30 percent search engine focused.
Here’s a breakdown of what you need to do in 2014 to win, with exclusive actionable items.
1. Become one with your link profile
Backlinks are one of the most precious things in the overall formula that determines your search engine rankings. That’s why Google’s web spam team keeps a zillion eyes open on link profiles while releasing updates to their algorithm.
Long gone are the days where webmasters had no clue what’s going on in their link profile, so can you blame the tens of thousands of people that wake up to see this frightening message in their WebmasterTools Inbox, which usually comes along with a 90 percent traffic decrease?
People don’t realize how easy it is for a competitor to destroy your entire Google ranking with the click of a button. There are so many options and services out there, which, at $5 a piece, are designed to build thousands of low quality backlinks to any website of your choice.
Just imagine if your competitor would spend, let’s say, $200 on those services … your rankings and traffic could soon drop massively. If they spent $2,000 on those services? You could kiss your website goodbye. To be on top of your link profile, you have to audit it first. Extract your links from at least 2 different sources, because none of the link research tools scores 100 percent.
I use OpenSiteExplorer. Sign up for free, enter your URL and extract the “Inbound Links” section to a spreadsheet. Then, head over to your WebmasterTools account and go to “Search Traffic” – “Links To Your Site”. Download the spreadsheet of both options (More Sample Links and Latest Links).
Unite all of the spreadsheets and remove duplicates. Now you have a complete picture of your Link Profile. Go over your link profile one by one, and use colors to visualize the genre of each link.
I use green for natural links, meaning links that I earned and had no idea existed. Trust me, Google has their way of knowing that you REALLY earned them. Orange stands for guest columns that I run in blogs, and blue stands for links that I got from opening professional profiles in marketing related websites.
Here’s a glance of the spreadsheet I use to monitor my backlinks at Ranky:
When it’s visualized in front your eyes, you can finally become one with your link profile. Is there any excessive use of one color, meaning most of your spreadsheet is combined of guest posts, or from company profiles, or from forums?
You must be aware of each and every link, and on top of it all – working hard on diversifying it.
2. Use content to prove to Google you’re real
The generic keywords that you place in your homepage title are great, and so are the ones in your product pages. But nothing — and I mean nothing — beats the long-tail strategy you can only fulfill with a proper company blog.
During 2012 I discovered that big Brands outrank “regular” websites beyond recognition, simply because they are big brands – and it made me think about what it takes to prove Google that one’s website is in fact a brand. My research found that you increase your chances of doing so by running a company blog, attracting organic traffic with it, and choosing your content diversity wisely.
Building your blog is easy, especially if you’re a WordPress website. Just open a new blog section and name it in a sexy way.
Then, make sure all of your authors are marking their authorship using their personal Google+ profiles. I recommend the WordPress plugin AuthorSure to do so. This will show author’s faces in search results and prove to Google that there are real people behind those posts.
As I said, setting the blog up is pretty easy. The hard part is knowing what to write about in a way that will both attract readers and prove Google you are a brand.
- 50 percent of posts should be based on keyword research
Find all the long tail keywords, questions and ponderings that your potential clients might be searching the web for. Besides the obvious option of Google’s Keyword Planner suggestions, I recommend you use tools like Ubersuggest to get new long-tail questions ideas. Also, find popular forums in your niche and take a look at the name of the discussion boards, usually they contain the exact question that users are asking themselves.Another nifty trick is searching a generic term in Wikipedia and looking at the table of contents. If you go to Wikipedia’s “Online Marketing” page, for example, you can find these great ideas for long tail topics to write about and attract potential users needing Online Marketing assistance.
- 40 percent of posts should be based on Real Company Stuff (Moz calls it #RCS). Examples of good RCS include:
- Your latest fundraise.
- Pictures of your new office.
- A birthday for an executive or key employee.
- A tiny bit of self-promotion is allowed … but just a tiny bit.
- The remaining 10 percent should be completely off-topic. You can even label these posts with the #offtopic hashtag.
Write about news from your industry, your favorite app-of-the month or a funny YouTube video you liked.
The last piece of the puzzle is spreading your company blog posts on social media. Here’s a quick formula for attracting a minimum of 100 new readers to your latest blog post:
- Find the most relevant Google+ communities and share the post with them, assuming it could help any of their needs.
- Share your blog post on Reddit.
- Tweet your blog post with a minimum of 5 hashtags such as #startups, #growthhacking or #onlinemarketing.
- Submit your blog post to StumbleUpon.
- Find a niche site that seeks interesting blog posts. For example, the online marketing industry has www.inbound.org to do so.
3. Be mobile and be fast, or don’t … Be
These two SEO parameters are uniting in 2014, especially after the notorious Hummingbird update. Your company’s website must be mobile-oriented and must be loading fast either for mobile or desktop devices.
Recent studies show that 68 percent of search engine queries are generated from mobile devices even when there is a desktop on hand. This means that we are all just plain lazy and prefer doing everything on the go.
The basic rules of going mobile are as follows:
- Choose the basic foundation of your mobile presence.
Some companies use a dynamic and responsive template so they can invest all of their resources and content budget on one website (www.mashable.com for example). Other companies use a separate sub-domain for mobile (m.facebook.com for example). This is the “classic” solution but makes managing both sub-domains more complicated.
- Use minimalized design with optimal font sizes (usually 12 px) and very few images, plus simple content with clear calls-to-action and no annoying pop-ups.
- Test your own website from different devices and fulfill Google’s requirements as seen in their Page Speed Test.
The game isn’t over: You must keep track of your site speed in desktop and mobile each and every week until you feel comfortable about the rhythm. Don’t trust just Google’s opinion, but try other speed test tools such as Pingdom.
As you can learn, 2014 and the near future are all about user experience, speed, and helpful content. The only way to survive the search engine jungle is to stop struggling, stop building low quality links, and stop playing cheapskate on your own company’s content.
If your blog is amazing, using a high level of content that targets many families of long-tail keywords, there’s almost no chance you won’t grab tons of traffic that your competitors are targeting with old school SEO tactics.
Yoav Vilner is the CEO and co-founder of Ranky.co, a growth hacking and online marketing team.