Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of many digital marketing tools. It's especially important for small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) to use the right search terms, keywords and terminology in order to attract new business. In an ideal situation, a good SEO program will organically grow the leads and potential sales that an SMB can then realize through closed sales.
The challenge, however, is that SEO is tougher to understand and to control compared to e-mail marketing or paid search. Tracking, measuring and reporting results has become increasingly complicated, especially since factors affecting SEO change on a daily basis.
The following ten trends are the only things standing between you and a page one rank. Conquer them and you will crush your online competitors:
1. Man and machine. Ten years ago, the SEO process included a monthly analysis, recommendation and implementation plan; a purely human-based process. This is no longer enough. Businesses need daily insight into their digital footprint: rank, competitors, backlinking. This is only possible when humans and technology come together. SEO software systems are now available and make this insight possible.
2. Closing the keyword conversion gap. Most will agree that SEO starts with the question, "What keywords do you want to be found for?" But the new era of SEO takes it a step further. "What keyword phrases are my prospects using to try to find the products and services I sell?" And more importantly, "Which keyword phrases are converting visitors into customers?"
3. Backlinking busted. Backlinks to your web presence represent referrals and relevance in Google's eyes and will impact your rank. A strong backlinking strategy continues to be paramount; however, the days of gaming Google's search algorithm are gone. Google's Panda updates this year ended quick-trick, backlinking tactics and many sites experienced an overnight downgrade in their organic search rankings. (Google improved its algorithm to detect suspicious-looking directory sites.) The best backlinking strategy that will win you relevance over time is one built on legitimacy.
4. Competition is fierce. There are billions of web pages out there to compete against and thousands more are published every day. It is humanly impossible to keep tabs on your competitors' web presence optimization efforts. Make use of SEO software or tools to gain daily insight into the competition.
5. Content commitment. Once you are committed to an SEO strategy, your success will hinge on your content. After closing the gap on your keyword phrases, get serious about a content strategy outside of your website. Proving to Google that you offer relevant, timely and consistent content published on blogs and in press releases will catapult you above your competitors.
6. Social seriously matters. In December 2010, both Google and Bing announced that they are now factoring social signals into their search algorithms. The justification is that social media is about relationships and conversations. This translates into relevance which is the cornerstone of organic search. A presence in Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter is important to SEO.
7. International SEO. If you are doing business in the United States beware of the difference in organic search rankings between Google.ca and Google.com. You might rank well at home, but not abroad. Your international SEO strategy deserves separate attention.
8. YouTube it, you rank for it. YouTube is the second busiest search engine only after its parent, Google. And it is so easy to outrank your competitors in YouTube by optimizing a simple set of parameters. Don't let video overwhelm you. A simple how-to video of your product or service in action or a video blog tagged properly is all it takes.
9. Local Search for Local Business. If you are selling your wares locally then local search is vital to your "findability". Every business can and should create and optimize a Google Place page. This will ensure you come up in the local search section of a Google search as well as mark your spot in Google Maps. Local directories are also important and time should be invested into researching. This will also positively impact your backlinking strategy.
10. Create a conversation. The lines between SEO and social media are thinning. Businesses can still influence prospects with published content, but it is now more about what your customers and prospects are saying about you. Create a conversation with them in the social channels, YouTube, blog responses and reviews making use of optimized content from your keyword strategy.
Bonus SEO Tip: 11. Causality. Marketers want to know the cause and effect of their SEO investment. Up until this decade, it has been challenging to prove the ROI of SEO. Through the intelligence of SEO software systems in the new era of SEO, marketers can finally obtain this information. Understanding every action on a web presence and the impact of that on SEO – from changing a title tag on a web page to sending out a press release or implementing a social media campaign – causality is now reality with SEO software.
Krista LaRiviere is the cofounder and CEO of Ontario-based SEO software company, gShift Labs. For more information on the company's unique SEO offerings, visit www.gshiftlabs.com.