We are settling nicely into this new year; though things have been turbulent in the real world, the web has enjoyed an easy, peaceful feeling so far – no major upsets or updates (some would argue they are both the same) have happened. Yet, late last year, Matt Cutts was definitive when he mentioned that the Caffeine roll-out can be expected after the holidays. Well, the holidays are over and the second month of the year almost upon us, so, those of you who haven’t yet taken stock of your SEO efforts, now would be a good time to do it. For, though SEO has remained largely unchanged over the years, this year will see some changes wrought to it thanks to the tremendous growth enjoyed by social media, and various developments in search technology. With this post I hope to bring you up to speed on all the changes you can expect to see in SEO this year and tell you just what you should do to claim a place on the SERPs.
1. Social Media Optimization Is The New SEO – This wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone; in the last two years or so, SEOs around the web have come to realize and accept the immense optimization potential that social media offers. Now it’s even more important that you no longer see social media optimization as something that will take away from your SEO effort, but as something that will help boost it. Be it building good backlinks from individual social sites or building a robust network, or developing a strong social media presence with good profiles (that will also help you land on the first page of the search results) or even ensuring you’ve got a piece of the real-time search pie, using social media as a crutch to take forward your SEO efforts will (only) be a good idea.
2. Site Speed And Other On-Page Factors – If you belong to the group of people who think it’s all right to ignore on-page factors, then it is time you changed your way of thinking and got optimizing, the site load time in particular. In their (latest) effort to school the web in good behavior, Google has decided that a slow loading site doesn’t just align itself with their ‘Don’t Be Evil’ policy and hence needs to be ‘penalized’. Site speed will figure prominently in the algo this year, so will the oft-neglected Meta tags. So, get your Webmaster working on tweaking your on-page factors adequately or prepare to miss one crucial ranking opportunity. (Or many, for that matter)
3. The Web Is Going Mobile In A Smartphone – With the number of mobile Internet users to touch 89.2 million this year, it will be hard to dismiss the importance of optimizing a site for mobile devices. (Thank God!) Ensure your site’s mobile presence by optimizing it with relevant mobile applications, like Google’s Mobile Search Service and the mobile keyword tool in Adwords. Especially with Matt Cutts harping on about ‘mobile search opportunity’ and Google itself admitting that mobile sites are ranked ahead of desktop results for ‘mobile’ queries, disregarding its importance would mean losing out on the opportunity to rank high in the search results of nearly 90 million users, and that is just not cool.
4. Pull Rank With Online Videos – Get ready to trick out your site with videos, after you’ve uploaded the same on YouTube. Thanks to Google’s Universal search, you stand a higher chance of ranking higher for a particular keyword, if you have video uploaded on YouTube with the same term. If that doesn’t hold much charm for you, consider this, last year saw YouTube outdo Yahoo to become the 2nd largest search engine in the U.S. So, putting up a pertinent video won’t just help you rank on big daddy Google, you also have the added benefit of drawing traffic from YouTube too.
5. Get Personal With Personalized Search – I’ll be honest, this a bit of good news-bad news situation. The bad news is that since Google has made personalized search a default feature, unless users opt out, your showing up in the search results of your targeted audience for a new keyword won’t be as easy as before. Personalized search draws from a user’s web history and will cause the most frequently accessed site to rank high for a relevant search query. So, if your site hasn’t ever been accessed by the user, no matter how many pertinent links you build, chances are your site will never rank high for the query. Yes, in the name of delivering personalized results, Google has made ranking more complicated than previously considered possible, for the SEOs and webmasters, that is. Now, on to the good news (there isn’t one really), if you are already big and have an established base of visitors, you’ll continue to rank high. Those of you who don’t fall into that fortunate category should expend your energy in building your brand and drawing traffic through (any)other means, in order to salvage your rankings. There is irony here, you are forced to get more traffic to maintain your rankings, when the reason you want to rank high in the first place is to get more traffic.
6. Power of Local Search – 2010 is probably a good year to try and rank high on your local search engine, Google has begun moving more elements from the local listings to the main page of the local search engine results. So, once you’ve established a strong presence on the local listing, dominating which will be a lot easier thanks to the lower number of players, the search engine will do the job of filtering the top listings to the main results page. Of course, the point will be moot if you’ve hosted your site in a different country to take more advantage of global search. In order to capitalize on the benefits of local search, ensure your site is hosted in the same country as your business.
7. Manage Your Reputation – One would think people or businesses needn’t be told to manage their reputation. Won’t anyone with a sense of self-preservation do just that? (Apparently not, or I wouldn’t be writing about it now.) Though not strictly an SEO-achieving task, online reputation management (ORM) can only benefit your SEO in the long run. With Google giving official sanction to ORM late last year, you can go to town building your web presence and trying to get those pages to rank higher. You’ll succeed in protecting your brand name and also end up with a lot of good links in the bargain, which will in turn help your original SEO efforts.
These, good folks, are the points that should make up your SEO-checklist this year. Later in the year, you may realize some tips worked better than the others, you may even find newer ways, ones that don’t even merit a mention here. That is just the nature of the beast, doesn’t mean you should have avoided the less successful ones. Make good use of this checklist, but at the same time continue optimizing your site using the traditional methods and you shall find yourself rewarded with a great year of SEO.