In my previous post, I talked about Google’s new search algorithm, Hummingbird, and the search giant’s evolution from link engine to answer engine.
Next, let’s look at what you can do, in the absence of keyword data and traditional SEO tricks, to make your content Google-friendly.
Even before Hummingbird launched, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates allowed the search engine to recognize true organic content and see how it moves through cyberspace. Quality content is rewarded, while stale, not-unique, non-credible content falls by the wayside. I think we can agree that this is good news for everyone (spammers excepted).
Essentially, the “sharing economy” has surpassed the “link economy,” and SEO activities must shift accordingly – from building up links to building up real connections. How do you do that?
1. Build quality inbound links
Inbound links are still the most important piece of the ranking algorithm, but you need to remove garbage and replace it with high-quality, authoritative links that you’ve earned, not paid for. Some ways to build inbound links:
- Start guest blogging: But be sure to target reputable blogs.
- Distribute press releases: Use a syndication service and/or get media pick-up of your news. Being included in articles, lists or similar placements that mention your competitors is another thing Hummingbird likes to see. Having your brand mentioned alongside leaders in your market space lends authority to your site and can improve your rankings.
- Repackage existing content: Look for ways to get more bang for your content buck by turning a blog post into an infographic, adding video to a case study and posting it on YouTube, etc.
- Extend real-world connections: Find opportunities to link from events where you’re speaking or sponsoring and websites of organizations you belong to.
- Consider directories: Be thoughtful and choose wisely, however; don’t just add your name to every directory that comes calling.
Learn more in this guide to Penguin-friendly link-building
2. Make your content work harder
Create quality content, and make sure you’re squeezing every drop of value from it by structuring it to meet Google’s standards.
See my previous post about Google’s focus on entities over keywords and look for opportunities to organize your content in a way that the algorithm will understand.
- Define the page’s “aboutness”: Use well-chosen and labeled images, keyword-based headlines and copy that clearly explain the page topic and purpose.
- Change your approach to keywords: Make your keywords work for conversational queries (more on this below).
- Sweat the user experience: Make sure your navigation is easy to use, your site design is as clean and uncluttered, and primary interactions are indicated in clear and effective ways.
- Keep your content winter-fresh: Google looks for fresh content, so don’t let yours go stale. Easiest fix? Update your blog!
- Think about your mobile content strategy: Make content easy to consume on small-screen devices and distribute it based on where and when your audience is most likely to be mobile (e.g., are they using a device first thing in the morning and on desktop during business hours?).
3. Get more social
Site traffic, pickup and sharing are now the preferred methods for tracking which sites are useful, valuable and popular. Social media activity tells Google that your business and website are legitimate.
- Join the conversation: Being active on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google plus, LinkedIn, and others will show Google that your website has a broad audience.
- Brand your social presence: If your company is like most, it probably has multiple social media accounts (whether it should or not is a topic for another day). Look across the entire social ecosystem to ensure your usernames/profiles/URLs are aligned, have the same look & feel, and reinforce each other by communicating consistent messages.
- Make your content sharable: Add share icons to your site so it’s easy for users to spread the goodness, and be proactive about sharing other people’s content too. To paraphrase Alec Baldwin, “Always be sharing!”
- Have a platform strategy: Think about which social networks will get you the most bang for your buck in terms of content type and audience behavior… and don’t forget Google Plus! Not surprisingly, Google’s search algorithm seems to favor G+ activity above others.
4. Watch and learn
One of the simplest things to do is monitor organic search engine traffic after Google updates its algorithm. If traffic drops dramatically, revisit your search and content optimization tactics and look for areas to fine-tune. You can use Google Analytics for monitoring organic search engine traffic and check Google Webmaster Tools notifications to see if any manual penalties were applied to your website, which could also explain traffic disruptions.
To summarize, quality content still rules if you want to draw site traffic from Google search. Savvy content marketing and thought leadership activities can build the inbound links and broad web presence Google interprets as signs of quality and credibility. You don’t have to be a search specialist to create great content, but it helps to have one around to consult every so often.