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FEATURE: SEO Checklist: 5 Factors You Can Expect to Change

by Kristi Kellogg, May 21, 2014

Audience: SEOs, Internet marketers, content strategists

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Takeaways:

  • Prepare for SEO shifts by knowing which factors tend to change.
  • Google is heavily invested in local search — which means that area is constantly being enhanced.
  • Even something as fundamental to SEO as backlink value will change over time.

SEO is constantly shifting. Google changes its core search algorithm on average once a day, according to Matt Cutts. Occasionally, a change can catch you by surprise (hello, "not provided") — but that's not always the case. There are, in fact, some changes SEOs can expect to see … which is why we're providing you with this SEO checklist detailing the 5 factors you can expect to change.

As a best practice, review each of these SEO factors regularly:

    •  Localization
    •  Schema markup
    •  Keywords
    •  Platforms and Search Behavior
    •  Link building

Read on to learn more about the changing nature of each of these SEO factors.

Localization

Google is heavily invested in the area of local optimization … which means it's constantly being enhanced and, therefore, changing. Internet marketers need to monitor how their listings are being presented. The way rich snippets display today is not necessarily the way they'll display tomorrow.

A recent change in the SERP, for example, is the prominent placement of Google reviews in the Knowledge Graph area and in rich snippets below a listing, and the de-emphasizing of ratings and reviews from other sites, as seen in the following screenshot of a search for Dodger Stadium:

seo checklist changing seo.jpg
 

Now, in order to make their search result hit a home run, Internet marketers need to prioritize garnering reviews on Google above other popular review sites.

Schema Markup

Schema markup (i.e., HTML code that a webmaster can insert around specific pieces of content to highlight what they are for search engines) is ever evolving — new properties and functionality are constantly being added. Though there are myriad properties you can implement from the master list at Schema.org, there is a limited number that Google can render when displaying rich snippets in search results. The capability of Google and other search engines to display schema properties, however, also continues to evolve.

This creates an opportunity, timing-wise. A webmaster should incorporate schema for as many types of data as possible, because tomorrow might be the day Google starts displaying a new property in rich snippets — and you want your listing to be first on the block to have that property in the SERP.

Furthermore, Bing’s Senior Product Manager Duane Forrester confirmed last week that schema markup is a ranking factor. Given that schema markup affects the Bing algorithm, it may very well be a ranking factor in the Google algorithm, as well. It makes sense to assume that any code that gives a search engine contextual evidence is probably is a ranking factor, whether or not it has been confirmed.

Keywords

If ever there was a moving target, it's a keyword target. Keywords and search terms are fluid, which means keyword research never ends. Keywords are influenced by platform (web search vs. mobile, for instance), by location and by general shifts in terminology. If you have a site advertising a yogurt shop, the only way to know whether users are searching more for "froyo" or "frozen yogurt" is through keyword research. And just because they're searching for one term now doesn't mean they won't start searching by another tomorrow.

Though Google's move to secure search impacted Internet marketers' ability to pinpoint exactly which terms were bringing traffic to their sites, keyword research is by no means over. Internet marketers have other avenues to identify terms their users are searching with:

AdWords Keyword Planner and the SEOToolSet®

Both the Google AdWords Keyword Planner and the Suggest Keywords tool in the SEOToolSet® provide data on the volume of searches conducted for any particular keyword, as well as suggest variations. If you have a keyword phrase in mind, verify that it is capturing traffic with one of these tools. The SEOToolSet also provides data on the number of web pages containing the phrase in their title, which is another indicator of a keyword's competitiveness.

Google Analtyics Content Drilldown Report

Take a look at what pages on your site are garnering the most views and identify any patterns. Are there five articles on a particular topic that are outshining the rest? Bingo — that's a key topic that your users are interested in, and you can capture more traffic by continuing to create content that addresses that topic.

Social Cues

Similarly, you can look at the success of your content on social media platforms to gauge what your users are primarily interested in. Do you have an infographic with 10,000 likes? An article that's been retweeted ad infinitum? As with the Content Drilldown report, analyze the topic of the content and work to create more content in that vein.

Devices and Search Behavior

The search industry continues to see the rise of search via mobile device. As smartphone and tablet use becomes increasingly common, search behavior has shifted to reflect that. Earlier this year, Google Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts stated that "he wouldn't be surprised" if mobile search exceeded desktop search in 2014. Search Engine Land concurred, pointing out that there are twice as many mobile devices in the world as there are computers. Mobile search will exceed desktop search — it's just a matter of time.

While it's possible for a website to rank without a mobile component, it's ill advised. One of an Internet marketer's chief concerns should be user experience — and if you're failing to provide a good mobile experience for the ever-increasing number of mobile users, you will have increasingly high bounce rates as users pinch and tap at their screen, struggling to interact with an unresponsive site.

Right now, the shift in search is toward mobile devices … but where will it shift in 2015? And in 2025? When Google Glass and other wearable search devices move out of beta and become available to the public at large, search behavior may shift yet again. And beyond Google Glass, what devices might emerge that are not yet even invented? Internet marketers need to stay on top of search behavior and optimize accordingly.

Link Building

As search engines become increasingly sophisticated, even the role of backlinks — one of the most fundamental SEO factors — has shifted. When Google's Penguin algorithm update hit in April 2012, webmasters quickly learned that purchased links, traded links and over-optimized anchor text would not pass the Google sniff-test any longer. Less-than-ethical SEOs had to adjust their strategy or suffer penalties and traffic drops.

Even for ethical SEOs, however, the role of links will change. This month, Matt Cutts stated that "over time, backlinks will become a little less important" — of course, "a little" is a subjective term and there are no guarantees when it comes to the weight Google will place on backlinks in the future.

"Sometimes backlinks matter for ... [determining] the reputation of the site or page … but for the most part, people care about the quality of the content," Cutts said. "As we get better at understanding who wrote something and what the real meaning of that content is, inevitably over time, there will be a little less emphasis on links."

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