Long since gone are the days where a few strategically placed links and keywords would earn your website love in a search engine’s eyes. As digital marketers, we’ve learned to evolve with Google and not get too attached to any one way of doing things. Google’s constantly updating algorithm (500-600 updates each year) keeps us on our toes – updating content and marketing tactics to fit the best practices of the minute. And if you ask me, Google’s doing us a favor. We’re not allowed to be lazy or complacent with digital content, or we’ll miss out on the massive traffic opportunity that is organic search.

So what does Google have in store for us in the new year? Last week, we had the chance to geek out a little bit at the IndyAMA luncheon where Timothy Warren from SEO Exposed talked about Google ranking factors to anticipate in 2015. He confirmed the trends any good SEO or digital marketer has seen for a while now – Google is looking at your entire digital marketing strategy and content is still king.

 

Conversion Rate Optimization

One of the main things Warren discussed – and one of the most meaningful factors we should be aware of as marketers – is the importance of aligning user intent with user experience. There’s never been any sense in tricking people into visiting a page that isn’t really what they’re looking for, but it’s amazing how much value is placed on click-through rates when conversion rates are a better measure of success. Now, Google’s become smart enough that it’s forcing SEOs to become CRO experts, which is good news for everybody.

Google picks up on whether people are bouncing or engaging with your content, and uses this as an indication of whether your page is relevant to the search query that brought them there. This means focusing even more effort on keeping visitors engaged with your site, not only for your own brand’s conversion rate and business growth goals, but to actually aid in increasing organic traffic and rankings as well. (The folks over at Conversion Rate Experts have some good tips for improving CRO, and Optimizely is a great tool for A/B testing.)

Moral of the story? Optimize your landing pages and don’t make people guess what they’re supposed to do once they land on your site. User experience goes hand-in-hand with user intent – you’ve got to make sure you’re giving people what they’re looking for and not just what you’d like to create. This means you need to write…

 

Unique, Authentic Content

People can easily tell the difference between something written by a spammer or someone who really knows their stuff and cares about their reader (a.k.a. writing for a bot versus a human). Guess what? Google can tell the difference, too. If creating a personal, relatable, and engaging brand wasn’t reason enough to invest in quality content, Google’s recognition and reward for meaningful content should be.

This means focusing on a few key tactics:

  • Keep your content fresh. Work on a blog strategy to make sure that you’re giving your audience valuable new content on a regular basis. And make sure it’s actually valuable. Google’s more interested in content sharing and link earning (not building) than ever, so that means you need to be creating content that people want to share and link to. More on this later.
  • Don’t worry about repeatedly targeting the same fathead keywords if you’re doing it through fresh long-tail content that aligns user intent and user experience. Focusing on long-tail keyword phrases allows you to get really specific with your content, so that it matches up with searchers’ really specific queries, which, in turn, will keep those visitors engaged longer (remember that whole conversion thing?).Your target keyword might be “Indiana beer” but that doesn’t mean you should only have one page about this topic. You can provide more helpful and engaging content by breaking this out into several related blog posts that focus on long-tail phrases like “where to buy Indiana beer,” “brewing beer in Indiana,” “most delicious Indiana winter beers,” etc. Don’t be afraid to talk a lot if – and only if – you have something worth saying.
  • Do your research to make sure your content truly is unique and desirable. Use more than just basic keyword research – search the web, news, videos, and social media to figure out what’s trending in your industry. And use tools like Buzzsumo to help you find what existing content is popular online, so you can gauge topical interest, but also make sure you’re not creating the same white paper, guide, or video as everyone else.

 

Social Media Matters

Links on social networks may be no-follow, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. Last we checked, Google doesn’t incorporate social signals directly into its algorithm, but earning links and attention on social media usually translates into building overall brand awareness. Shares on social media are a good indication of the relevance, popularity, and overall value of a piece of content. This is the difference between link earning and link building. And here’s the thing: Lots of love on social media usually translates into genuine, authentic love elsewhere (online and off), which isn’t always traceable, but is always valuable.

They key here is remembering the importance of creating that unique, authentic, valuable content we talked about earlier. By building a consistent, personable brand across platforms, you’re creating more opportunities to build relationships with more people. And this is the real key. Those relationships are what really matter, both to your brand and to Google. Invest in those, and the links will earn themselves.

So, what’s the point? All of this adds up to one very clear conclusion: SEO strategy is getting harder and harder all the time and digital marketing teams have to be extremely well rounded. Only brands with a holistic, customer-centric approach to their marketing will come out on top, and there are definitely no easy wins. That might sound intimidating, but it’s actually really good news for anyone with a marketing team who cares about their brand, their customers, and contributing something meaningful to the conversation.

 

SEO illustration by Theyoungyi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.