Master Class: How do you adapt SEO practices to deal with changing search algorithms?

Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of change within search results and rankings across all of our businesses.

Panel

Paul Kronenberger
Director of integrated marketing, SPX Corp.
paulk@pjki.com

Laurie Mahoney
Product marketing manager, Cision North America
laurie.mahoney@cision.com

Jim Mueller
Cofounder and president, The Great Online
jim@thegreatonline.com

Nick Shin
SEM and social media manager, Marketwire
nshin@marketwire.com

Miranda Tan
CEO, MyPRGenie
mtam@myprgenie.com

Paul Kronenberger, director of integrated marketing, SPX Corp.
Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of change within search results and rankings across all of our businesses. The evolution has been driven primarily from the algorithm changes within top search engines due to the impact of social media.

The changes ultimately have been good because they reinforce the importance of reputation, relevancy, and content, which have always been key to our strategy, but are now reinforced by the results people find.

In order to adapt to rapid changes, it is important to redefine internal processes and workflow around content management and publishing. This includes looking at content management and content optimization at a corporate and local level. Current and future areas of focus include:

  • Developing engaging, valuable content
  • Building community around our thought leadership and content
  • Quality versus volume of links
  • Integration with Facebook and Twitter
  • Localization of content through mapping
  • Paying attention to keyword linguistics and user behavior
  • Understanding how customers use devices, such as mobile, to search
  • Integrating more media types, such as video and infographics

Keeping up with the changes and demonstrating ROI will continue to be based on a company's ability to track content and tie it to search positioning, click-through rates, bounce rates, engagement level, sharability and conversion rates.

Whatever changes occur will likely benefit providers of content and information that are valuable to the end user. Adapting to these changes can only bring a good outcome.

Laurie Mahoney, product marketing manager, Cision North America
The ongoing changes in search algorithms increasingly reward those who engage through social media and provide quality content. So what can you do to improve your results?

  • Build your social circle. Do you have an active following on Twitter, LinkedIn, or your blog? Are you getting involved in groups on LinkedIn by answering questions that showcase expertise in your industry? Are visitors commenting on your blog?
  • Social media monitoring is no longer optional. What are your customers saying about your brand? Are you building a relationship with them? In what groups are they participating?
  • How does your website perform? Are visitors compelled to visit multiple pages within your site? Is the website well laid out and updated consistently with fresh content?
  • Share your story. Distribute your content and share it among your social circles. Is your press release sharable? Does it contain quick facts that can easily be repurposed on Twitter and LinkedIn? Cater your message to the audience you target - don't just blast it out using the headline of your release.
  • Content is king. Last, but not least, none of these tips matter if you don't have a captivating story that compels your social circles to share it. Before you write another press release, think about why your audience will care. Then, tell your story for them.

Search will continue to evolve and it's a full- time job to keep up. If you continue to put out quality content on a site that has a great user experience and engages your audience, you should start to see your rankings improve. That is, until the search engines decide to change their algorithms again.

Jim Mueller, cofounder and president, The Great Online
Some of the most compelling recent changes have to do with the fact that search is becoming more social. Search engines are starting to include social media content and actions into their algorithms. Factors such as how many times your business has been "liked," how many times people interact with your content, and what links are being shared all impact your search engine rankings.

For example, Facebook "likes" now affect search rankings on Bing. An article that normally would have surfaced on the second or third page of search results might appear on the first page if friends have "liked" it. Additionally, because of Facebook page integration, if a search result doesn't have any likes from your friends, but that result has a presence on Facebook, the Facebook content may appear in search results.

Google is also making moves in the social search arena. The biggest feature Google has implemented is the "+1 button," which is shorthand for "this is pretty cool" or "you should check this out." Much like the "like" button on Facebook, the results of these social approvals will show up in search results.

Lastly, a recent study conducted by SEOmoz, which aggregated the opinions of some of the top SEO experts in the industry, showed that social signals at both the domain and page level were predicted to be the second and third most influential attributes to search engine algorithms.

The message is clear: get your business involved in social communities if you want to be found in the search engines in the future.

Nick Shin, SEM and social media manager, Marketwire
For those new to SEO, it is important to understand the fundamentals before attempting to analyze any major algorithm changes that have been announced.  Make sure you're always using ethical ("white hat") SEO techniques as your long-term strategy and don't try to game the search algorithms by using unethical ("black hat") techniques.

For those who grasp search and follow best practices, major search algorithm changes should never be a surprise. If you've implemented your SEO strategy correctly, changes made will either benefit you or not affect you at all. Most SEO folks don't have to do much more than what they normally do. 

When a major search algorithm change occurs, check your Web analytics for fluctuations in traffic, keyword rankings, and a competitor analysis to compare how the change affected your industry.

Best practices for white hat SEO include: developing quality, topical, and relevant con- tent; conducting keyword research and providing effective meta data and title tags; including quality and relevant inbound and outbound links; and employing proper use of heading elements and mark-up structure.

Additionally, the following black hat SEO techniques should be avoided at all costs: hidden text, link farming, keyword stuffing, doorway pages (pages that solely target a specific keyword phrase), and cloaking (presenting different information to search engines than what a visitor sees).

In order to stay up to date on major search algorithm changes and not be caught by surprise, it's a good idea to follow the Google Webmaster Blog and read Google's official SEO guide.

Miranda Tan, CEO, MyPRGenie The Takeaway
Search engines regularly change their algorithms in order to improve the quality of search results. These updates often render some of the older SEO practices obsolete while also diminishing the visibility and search engine ranking of many websites.

While most search engines do not dis- close the precise workings of their algorithms, studies by SEO experts reveal a number of factors that tend to impact where your web-site stands in the search results.

According to a recent blog post by Google, the changes in its updated algorithm impact 11.8% of all search queries. However, those who use white hat SEO practices to improve visibility will only experience slight fluctuations in search engine rankings because the basic algorithm of most search engines remains the same.

Staying on top of developments in search engine algorithms is far tougher for sites that use black hat SEO techniques to game the search engines. Most search engines now focus more than ever on quality of content. Google recently penalized a number of sites that have duplicate or low-quality content.

So add fresh, original content on your website while ensuring it is useful for readers and not just crafted for the search engines. Studies indicate that the quality and user experience are increasingly pivotal in influencing search engine rankings.

A lot of search engines now penalize sites that use paid linking. Search engines usually share some details whenever they make a major update, so you can stay ahead of your competitors if you keep track of these changes and update your website accordingly.

The Takeaway

  • Gain a grasp of analytics and always follow ethical "white hat" SEO techniques, which includes creating quality, relevant, and fresh content
  • Avoid "black hat" SEO techniques and never try to game search engines. Avoid paid linking and posting duplicate or low-quality content
  • Stay engaged with social media and work to integrate social media into SEO efforts, such as by sharing links to your content on various channels
  • Search engines tend to provide details when they plan to make changes and updates to algorithms, so keep up with news from these companies so you have time to update your website before changes take place.

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