2012 saw many changes take place in terms of which website marketing strategies were capable of producing the best results – and this is perhaps more true for SEO than any other area of online marketing. Google rolled out some major algorithm changes that left a lot of business owners and SEO professionals alike scratching their heads.
Strategies that worked well at the beginning of 2012 will now lead to almost guaranteed Google penalties at the beginning of 2013. It’s important at this stage to sit back and assess what has changed in the website marketing world, what has stayed the same, and how to align your strategy for 2013 and the years to come so that you don’t find yourself constantly reacting to unforeseen changes.
The End of Over-Optimisation
The big algorithm changes Google made in 2012 – most notably Google Penguin – targeted over-optimisation. What does that mean, in a nutshell?
Sites with unnatural, over-optimised on-page content (in other words, a crack down on ‘keyword stuffing’, which has long been targeted by Google)
Unnatural inbound link profiles – in particular, link profiles with a large ratio of ‘exact match’ keyword text links were targeted as a hallmark of link spam
This trend is likely to continue through 2013 as Google fine tunes its over-optimisation algorithm changes and continues to pick up on these spam techniques.
Now, this kind of development inevitably results in ‘sky is falling, death of SEO’ type talk in the blogosphere. Not surprisingly, rumours of the death of SEO have been greatly exaggerated (just like the last 10 times pundits predicted it). You can still rank your website on Google for the keywords you want, and do so deliberately.
There are two major key points to recognise.
1) For local businesses, there are now two equally important ways to rank on Google – one is through your website, the other through Google+ Local listings. Both rank based on different factors and need to be optimised separately. Read about local SEO here.
2) When it comes to ranking your website, the key is to stay within the parameters of what Google sees as a ‘natural’ high quality site. Many so-called ‘white hat’ SEO companies do not understand how to do this – even though they use ‘white hat methods,’ they still trip off penalisations because they operate outside the parameters of what appears natural.
Branded Search and Making Your Website Useful
Ultimately, surviving the SEO game is about making your website truly useful to people. Wikipedia is not about to disappear from Google tomorrow – why? Because people actually use it. You can no longer trick Google into thinking your site is useful if it actually isn’t (or you might be able to, but not for much longer).
Note I am not saying go away and write 3000 words on every page of your website and expect Google to see that as ‘authority content’ by default. Google’s definition of useful websites is based more on metrics like the number of pages each person visits, the rate of immediate clicks back to search results, and the amount of time users spend on your site.
Another important term you’ll be hearing more this year is ‘branded searches’ – in other words, being found by people searching for terms related to your products and brand name. Now, why is that important? Consider why Google would see lots of people searching for your brand name as an indicator of the quality of your business, and you’ll quickly start to understand the implications here.
If people are searching for you specifically, it means there’s a reason they want to find you – and Google would be derelict in its duty if it didn’t rank you highly in return. Being sought after is a big indicator that your website is useful to people.
Consider that for a second, because there’s another key implication here: search engine marketing is becoming increasingly tied up with good old fashioned word of mouth.
DON’T Put All Your Eggs in the Social Media Basket
Despite the hype surrounding social media, major case studies which prove a strong positive return on investment occurs with heavy focus on social media are conspicuously lacking. In other words, in most of the major case studies cited by social media gurus, results tend to be measured in fuzzy metrics such as ‘Likes’ or ‘exposure’ or ‘reach,’ which often have no real correlation to sales. (For more on the shortcomings of social media, refer to this post.)
Having a social media presence is important, but be aware that it’s a hot topic at the moment and its effectiveness is not in proportion to the current level of press coverage.
Where social media can be useful is in an area we just mentioned: word of mouth. Sites like Facebook can be useful for amplifying word of mouth, but the platform on its own will not do the work for you – you still need to make your business worth talking about.
What About PPC?
There have long been debates about the relatively value of SEO vs PPC. We’ve covered that in depth in another post, but the reality is that moving forward, you need to be incorporating both into your strategy. And by PPC we don’t just mean Adwords – there are many other networks which allow you to place banner ads and text ads privately. If you can find networks specific to your market, that can allow you to get your message out to a more targeted audience for a much lower cost-per-click than you’ll typically pay on Adwords.
Email Marketing in 2013
Email marketing is still just as important as it has ever been. Email marketing should not be looked at as a strategy that exists in a vacuum – rather, it’s a way to derive more value from the other strategies you already have in place. Email allows you to engage more deeply with people who come to your website through other means, such as through the search engines. The purpose of email marketing is the same now as it always has been: to build relationships with fans of your business by offering value (which will lead to them giving back value in return).
Is Blogging Still Relevant?
Obviously we think so! Having a blog on your website offers a couple of key functions. It allows you to give more value to visitors to your website and gives them reasons to keep coming back (and seeing what your business has to offer in the process). It gives you something useful to share in newsletters and email updates. And, importantly, it adds more content to your website which allows you to pick up SEO traffic from a wider range of keywords and make the most of the ‘long tail’ (uncommon and one-off search phrases).
Creating Your Tailored Website Marketing and SEO Plan for 2013
The website marketing needs of every business are different. Some businesses will use all the strategies above to great effect – others may find one or two work surprisingly well while others prove unprofitable.
Contact us today to get a tailor-made, personalised website marketing and SEO plan put together for your business so you can start dominating your online market in 2013.
Tom McSherry is the founder and chief strategist of Premium SEO NZ. Tom has been in the digital marketing industry for 8 years providing digital copywriting and optimisation services to businesses in New Zealand and around the world. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.
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