2016: Convergence of Social and SEO

The last few years have seen major changes in trends for Internet traffic.  Social has exploded in importance, driving more traffic than search.  How marketers adapt has been interesting.

Until this year, companies could run their social media and content marketing operations separately.  Social media focused on brand engagement, content and SEO teams focused on driving eyeballs to the site.  In 2015, Google and Twitter’s deal came to fruition.  Additionally in 2015, Google’s Google+ Service got integrated as Google Local.  In 2015, these were add-ons, throughout 2016, the integration moved to the core of the system.

So what changed in 2016?

  • Semantic Web Became Real
  • Mobile-Optimized HTML (AMP, Facebook Instant Pages)
  • Video Came of Age

The Semantic Web was of academic interest until it exploded with social in the past year.  Open Graph and Twitter Cards became “must have” features as the social media networks gave prominence to links with content instead of merely including pictures.  As sites were updating to support these additions to HTML, supporting the Semantic Web just made sense.

Mobile-Optimized HTML dealt with the reality that Mobile Responsive wasn’t enough, with increasing mobile bandwidth, slow speeds and high latency were an issue.  Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages and Facebook Instant Pages have a shared core to deploy a cache-able stream-lined version of the website, feeding both social efforts and search efforts.

Every year has been the “year of video,” but 2016 really took off.  YouTube’s social integration with Google+ and enhancement of their social features really pushed Video to the forefront.  Pre-loading video on Facebook made including video critical to engagement, and the Video Advertising space heated up.

If you are still looking at SEO as something you should do (instead of building into your site structure) and Social Media as something else, you need to rethink that for 2017.  In 2017, all methods of interaction are becoming unified, and you should plan to engage in SEO, Remarketing, and Social Media as a unified structure.

Semantic Web in SEO: Theory and Practice

Almost since the beginning of the web’s commercial birth, the limitations of HTML have been glaring.  The “good enough” technology, the epitome of Worse is Better has been apparent with the web. HTML was never a great language for describing documents, XHTML was a disaster, and HTML5 is slow to come alive and clearly designed for committee… but it was good enough, worked well enough, and let business prosper. CSS took over a decade to come into wide-spread use, but the combination and simple-to-use Javascript has made it work.

Google’s “snippets,” and “break-out boxes” and “menu links” have all been efforts to figure out website and make it more useful for searchers. The growth of Schema.org and structured data and it’s role in web search has been both fun and fascinating.

For small businesses looking to promote themselves, the important area to pursue is Local Search. While Local Search does involve “Map Search” and “dropping pins,” providing regional content with appropriate markup can also yield big dividends. Creating a page targeting a city you work in, combined with a Review, a job/event you’ve done, and other aspects, all marked up with Metadata, can create a relevant piece of content to promote your business in that city.

Breadcrumbs have been a mainstay of navigating websites since Yahoo pioneered the practice, but their usage has fallen by the wayside. Single page sites, focus on shallow content (keeping all content at root level), and designers general aversion to breadcrumbs has been challenging them for years. Alternatively, sites that organize their content in an intelligent hierarchy, supply breadcrumbs, and tag those breadcrumbs with metadata might find their search results having an extra row with the breadcrumbs.

The return of deep content for long tail searches and breadcrumbs to manage them will help promote proper site design, information architecture, and deep content. If Google can promote this change by including an extra line in the search results, that’s a great use of using their power for good.

Usability, Content, and Calendaring

Over the past few years, SEO has become recognized as a critical component to a marketing campaign, instead of black magic ran by hackers.  Building your website content around your keywords makes sense, and hopefully we’ve all moved beyond keyword oriented pages as we build out sites.  Your keyword and brand should form the foundation of your site’s information architecture, but usability and a steady stream of good content need to form the core of your user experience.

Bing Blog has a great write-up for site management, “Usability, Content and Calendars: 3 Areas To Understand And Focus On”, with an overview of how to integrate these components. Content is straightforward, develop real, well written content, meant for human consumption. Usability is critical and often ignored, follow web conventions, make your site easy to learn and efficient for the user to get to where they want to go. Avoiding errors also means giving users meaningful responses to invalid entries. If the user leaves satisfied, you’ve done your job. Extra bonus, search engines like Bing and Google measure bounce rates and more advanced indicators to figure out if you’re making the user satisfied. If you optimize your site for robots and not people, the engines will knock you down for not satisfying them.

Calendaring is overlooked, and I’m guilty of that. When I launched this blog, I had an entry every week, and since then have abandoned and picked it up. A standard calendar of content creation is critical to keeping your content fresh and updated.

Including in your content, you can develop blog entries, but you also need to revisit your website content. Content should be updated regularly, not allowed to go out of date, and reflecting your current business. Out of date areas can aggravated, and if you alienate a Harvard Professor, a potential lawsuit, who attacked a Chinese Food Operation over a $4 discrepancy caused by an out of date menu.

Focus on your users, make your site usable, and have a regular content update calendar. With an up to date website filled with good, usable content, the traffic will flow. Your increased conversions will also help make your online advertising more effective. An organized website strategy that is integrated across channels will lead to success in all areas. There is no black magic anymore, but a little white magic never hurts.

Open Graph Brings SEO Opportunities to Facebook

So Facebook’s push for Open Graph integration, where the “Like Button” replaces the direct link, creates new opportunities for businesses to focus on Facebook’s search mechanism.  Some initial tests indicated that it is possible to now optimize for Facebook search, i.e. bringing SEO to Facebook.

Facebook Open Graph allows one to connect their site to Facebook without full integration, simply using new Facebook Meta Tags and the Like Button (a snipped of Javascript code).  Facebook is tracking these likes and building a “graph” of the Internet based upon the recommendations of your social network, and now they are including relevant results when you search Facebook for something.

This creates an opportunity for companies that are bringing their brand to Facebook to get additional exposure through Open Graph, which creates an incentive to use the technology.  This is exciting, as the move to the “walled garden” of social media threatened to disrupt the open world of search.  In the past, users could recommend a page on their blog, creating a “link graph” for the search engines to use, but now it’s easier to just click “share” and send the link out to your friends that way.  Without this part of the link graph, the search engines are missing out on the recommendations that they build their systems upon.

Open Graph brings out the ability to restore this, even if Facebook is the only company taking advantage of it for now.

Directories — Still Helpful for SEO

Whenever the topic of SEO comes up, I always still get questions about how to “hide text” and get good performance.  I’m always amazed that people neglect the basics and focus heavily on tricks.  The overwhelming bulk of SEO is about:

  1. Site Structure
  2. Links
  3. Content

In the early days, the Yahoo Directory was the most useful source of traffic on the Web.  The small, editor managed directory (originally a static site by the Founders) was the “Who’s Who” of the Internet.  As Google surpassed Altavista, bringing relevant search results, the interest in directories died off.  While Hubs and Authorities never quite had the direct impact that was expected, being listed near other relevant results has a huge impact.  You wouldn’t build a car before figuring out an engine, and you shouldn’t build a website without building your core.  Your site structure helps spiders and users understand your site, content makes your site relevant if found, but links are the core of the site.

Submitting to primary and secondary directories will not create traffic over night, but it can create some of the core links that can help engines make sense of your site.  Getting listing in the major directories will give you solid links to help define your site, and additional listings in industry specific directories helps further define yourself.  All the SEO tricks in the world won’t give you quality traffic unless you build a solid Foundation first.

With Dunhill Vacations, we have a collection of directories that will catalog our articles as well, and when we do an industry write-up, we submit it to those directories.  Over time, we are steadily building up quality in bound links, much more effectively than link swaps or other dubious link building strategies.  Quality content with quality links pointing to it, it may not be sexy, but it’s still effective.

Social Search – Critical for Time Sensitive Programs

Bing and Google announced deals with Twitter to access and utilize their data, and Search Insider is discussing the first impacts of this.  What’s most interesting is that this might be the first major change since “FreshBot” was added to Google (and later became the primary crawler).  Old hand SEOs remember the crazy update schedules of the early engines, but Google’s monthly “Google Dance” as their crawler finished and about a week later the PageRank was computed and the new index went up across their data centers.  Google started crawling and updating with “fresh” data (tagged with the data) with a guestimated PageRank for placement, and as they got faster at computing changes across the Internet, these Fresh results were no longer being inserted, they were the results.

Twitter has a disproportionate presence in media circles and other influential areas.  Twitter data, including trends, what people are talking about, etc., provides a view into what is new and what is going on.  While news feeds capture the mainstream coverage, Twitter will know what is news to the Internet.  This powerful medium helps determine if you are dealing with a “Google Bomb” or a bona fide story.  While Google originally assumed if people linked to you, like a citation in Academia, that made you authoritative, but only a select subset of the population had websites.  Blogs were more common than a full site, but Twitter is even more available to anyone.  Link and information trading on Twitter happens faster than someone writing a blog post, let along researching a news story, so Twitter gives a view into what is happening now.

This is an exciting time in search.  Twitter data will make it even more exciting.

Official: Google Ignores Keywords Meta

Not a shocked to anyone that knows anything about search, but it’s nice to see it confirmed by Google, both on the official blog and on Matt Cutt’s blog.  I don’t think I’ve included Meta Keywords on a site in almost 6 years, but from time to time I hear people explain to me that they don’t need an SEO expert, they are doing keywords and descriptions… and I just wish them well.

Launch a business with Social Media and SEO in 5 Steps

So I routinely get asked by friends for advice on how to get a web business launched with no money.  As I politely steer them away from the idea that I should do it for them, I thought that I should work on a basic guide for getting started.

Step 1: Pick a Good Domain Name

A domain name is your address, what you will hand out, and what you will advertise.  Your goals are short, easy to spell, nothing to trip people up, and keyword friendly.  If you are dealing with cars in Florida, and your name is Jake, then CarsByJake.com would be friendly, start with your keyword, and be easy to spell.  FloridaCarsByJake.com would also be good, but JakesFloridaCars.com gets tricky because without the appostrophy, it sounds like your name is Jakes.  Avoid double consonants (two words, one that ends in a letter and the next work begins with it), and definitely do no “merge” it being clever, people will get confused.  I find dot-com extensions better than alternatives, but it may depend on your industry.  It’s been over 10 years since dot-net was the premium TLD and dot-com a negative one, but dot-net still has cachet in technology sectors.

Step 2: Register with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

You don’t get to play if you aren’t there.  Twitter is important for the ability to move information out there.  Facebook has a tremendous number of users and viral power, and LinkedIn is where the professionals hang out.  While you may not use all these mediums terribly effectively on Day 1, the sooner you open an account, the sooner you are ready to use it.  If you aren’t going to optimize for all platforms, also register with Ping.fm or HelloTXT for content syndication, that will let you move your messages to all platforms at once.  I would recommend picking a URL shortener for social media (I use Bit.ly) and creating an account with stats, this way you can keep your collection of short links and start to see what drives traffic.  For Facebook, you should also setup a Page for your business so people that like your business can Fan your Page, even if they don’t know you personally.

Step 3: Setup the Website and add Content

If you aren’t ready for a serious commitment, using a free CMS system like WordPress.com, or other environment that let’s you publish and bring your own domain name is important.  Make certain that you can export content later if you move.  Despite my historically building my own CMS platforms for SEO reasons, I’ve been finding WordPress.com a great platform for self-publishing, and I can always export to a WordPress.org (self hosted) system later and work from there into whatever I want.  Good content is key to success.  Learning to write 5+ blog posts a week plus updating the core of the site (Pages in WordPress speak, the static content part of any CMS) of information, adding images, etc., is time consuming.

Step 4: Get in the Social Media World and Blogosphere

You need to participate to get involved.  For Facebook, setup the appropriate privacy policies and participate in comments, Wall Posts and pictures.  Wish people well on their birthday, tell them when they put up cute pictures of children/grandchildren, be friends with your friends.  For Twitter, grab TweetDeck, start finding the appropriate Hashtags for your discussions and start sharing information.  With your blog, find bloggers posting questions that you can answer, and either leave a comment (if short), or answer with a link to their entry with software that will ping them with the answer.  Like any form of networking, participate.  Retweet good posts, share your expertise, and build up an online reputation.

Step 5: Using Content and Social Media, Promote your Site which Promotes your Business

This final step is how you pull it all together.  Write good content for your site on the blog, promote it through your new Social Media channels.  The better the content, the more likely you are to get Retweeted or linked to from other blogs.  The more links you get to your site, the better you will do in search engines.  The more you get Retweeted in Twitter, the more likely you are to get Followers.  The more you get mentions and links on Facebook on news feed, the more likely you are to reconnect with friends or come to the attention of customers.  SEO = keywords + good content + links… the more advanced part of SEO, you can get to that later, when you get traction.  If you need to hire an SEO expert, you will already have new customers from your web site plus a great starting point for the SEO who can see your keyword success to get started.  As you add content and social connections, your traffic will build and build, and if your site’s core information is good, you will successfully launch your business.

This is my first draft of this 5 Step Process.  I expect to come back and revise over time.  Comments, suggestions, etc. are all appreciated.  Feel free to Follow me on Twitter and Tweet this Post!

SEO Friendly Content: The Holistic Approach to Web Design

When I started in SEO, everyone wanted a silver bullet.  As the years passed, people still want a silver bullet, but more and more clients and companies realize that SEO is part of the web site design process, not a bolt on service.  Sure you can do bolt-on SEO spamming, but it’s really expensive, time consuming, and only worthwhile for very wealthy companies in hyper competitive areas.

I saw another business blogger talking about Promoting Your Business For Free, and there is a discussion of business tools like blogs and press releases, and using social media to get word out, but not a word about SEO.  What’s a shame is every piece of advice he has on that article is good for someone doing SEO.  Add a little bit of ideas on keyword research, focusing on the topics your potential customers are searching for, and you’d have the basics for writing SEO-friendly copy without getting into the details of keyword density and emphasis.

A press release and a spider-friendly “landing page” aren’t so dissimilar, and it amazes me that to this day there isn’t anyone really offering the combined SEO/PR service (hint, hint, keep an eye on my site, I’m working with a PR firm to put an offering together).  Twitter is a great way to reach like minded individuals, but not necessarily a great way to build sustainable traffic.

Death of Search, Long Live Search

The growth of social media has Internet Marketers wondering if these new areas of interest mean the end of search as the heart of an Internet Marketing campaign.  I have always resented the tag SEO for my ideas on the Internet, because the concept of gaming the search engines has been dead for over 5 years now.  The growth of link based engines, starting with Google made gaming the engines less useful than a simple coherent strategy.  By building content with the user’s needs in mind, you were naturally doing SEO with good links, clear text, and simple content rich sites.

The emergence of social media as new avenues for traffic and links only add more aspects to your traffic strategies.  It is no longer “Google or Bust,” when you can generate traffic from Twitter or Facebook.

Good content, useful materials, clean HTML, and publishing your information into social media can all help you gain links to your website, or visitors that may leave comments and enhance your site.  Anyone on the Internet for more than 8 years remembers “surfing,” where you would click around from site to site exploring.  Pre dot-com, websites linked to each other, Google’s wars on spam may have discouraging linking for a number of years, but with the growth of social media, people are out exploring the Internet, and that helps publishers with good content find more traffic.