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What's In Your 2013 SEO Playbook?

2013 SEO PlaybookI’ve thought about writing my 2013 SEO game plan since I hit the submit button for last year’s version. The problem is, since when my review of 2012 came out last month, I’ve read numerous SEO in 2013 articles, and many of them are quite good or complete.

I have to give special kudos to Paul Bruemmer’s Which Top SEO Tactics Will You Focus On In 2013? That is a tough act to follow. I don’t want to be redundant, so I am taking a different tact this year. While there is no way to make this wholly unique, here’s what’s on my mind.

Change How You Think About Search Engines

Search engine optimizers tend to think in terms of earning top rankings and placements. Perish any thought we’re manipulating Google or Bing, not to mention YouTube, App stores and directories, maps and review sites, or all those other search results out there. Yet, the cold truth persists, SEOs work to influence search engine results and we want them to reward our work by behaving a certain way.

This year something changed, something every SEO must confront during 2013. Search engines became both bold and adept at doing whatever they want to do… or don’t want to do. They will reduce organic screen space. They will change organic results to paid results. They will favor brand popularity over quality. They will reserve analytics data for paying advertisers. The list of changes (and complaints by SEOs) continues to grow.

Up to 2011, the test of a good SEO was wrangling search engines into behaving the way we wanted them to. During the last two years, it all ended. The vision search engines endorse, and their ability to enforce and execute that vision, grew dramatically closer. And, while the search engines’ algorithms evolved, so did their internal analytics, which means they can make more data-driven decisions.

Google and Bing are still far from perfection, and we will continue to see their mistakes, especially as they roll out new features and products. But, they aren’t pushovers anymore, not even for the most talented search optimizers.

Not being pushovers does not make them bullies. Get frustrated. Challenge questionable changes. Fight for more transparency and data access. Become an activist. But, don’t condemn the search engines. Without them, we would not have such tremendous opportunities. Understand the search engines’ goals, then use that knowledge to achieve your own business goals. Symbiosis is the mindset to adopt for 2013.

Go Enterprise

When we think of enterprise SEO, large sites with thousands of pages come to mind. Even if your site has only a few dozen or a few hundred pages, you need to embrace an enterprise approach. Large websites have long development cycles. They have to make smart decisions upfront because they have to live with them for a long time.

Get your navigation, internal linking, site performance, and page templates set-up and optimized now, then forget about them. Optimize the content you already have, then move on. If you’re constantly tweaking or changing these things, ask yourself whether you are creating impactful change or are frustrated because nothing else seems to be working?

Focus on new content. Create it. Evangelize it. Teach. If you’re not writing and publishing content yourself, provide topic and keyword guidance to those who do. Train your copywriters to optimize as they compose. Arrange to SEO review everything before it gets published.

This goes hand in hand with my next point.

Become An Online Brand

Search engines make it easy for major brands to rank well across lots of queries. They seem to give Fortune 1,000 and Global 2,000 companies leeway and forgiveness that small and mid-sized businesses do not enjoy. Right? Then, why do hundreds of lesser companies seem to enjoy the brand bump? Because they dominate their niches with great content and communication.

Content is king. This was the mantra at the beginning of SEO, and it is still true today. The difference is your content must perform triple duty.

  • Keyword targeted and optimized
  • Link worthy
  • Social media worthy

Adding frequent, fresh content creates additional opportunities to rank well, but only if that content enjoys the necessary search engine authority, from either direct offsite links or internal links. This doesn’t mean everything you publish has to be link or social worthy, but you need successes and the occasional home run. It’s better to split time between creating content and promoting it than to keep churning our page after page.

Keyword Targeted & Optimized Pages

When it comes to SEO, if a page is not optimized for queries people search for, even the longest of long tails, it really isn’t optimized. Use keyword-research-generated ideas for fresh content and run keyword research on your ideas. It can go both ways.

Keep in mind, not every single page has to be keyword targeted. I contend you can always find one or two; but, if you have a great piece of content that you cannot match to any keyword, publish it and promote it. Every link adds to domain strength.

Link Worthy Content

Strive to create content that is so awesome other websites will be compelled to link to it. Make it interesting. Make it high quality. Create linkbait.

Did I write create linkbait? Linkbait has become an ugly term. Don’t buy into it. Read what Google’s Matt Cutts says:

Linkbaiting sounds like a bad thing, but especially if it’s interesting information or fun, it doesn’t have to have negative connotations. I hereby claim that content can be both white-hat and yet still be wonderful “bait” for links.

Matt Cutts – http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/seo-advice-linkbait-and-linkbaiting/

Linkbait strategies are approaches to writing content that’s psychologically primed to attract links. Let’s trash the negative connotations and bring back linkbait in 2013. If you want to learn more about linkbait, read The Link Baiting Playbook: Hooks Revisited by Todd Malicoat.

Social Media Worthy Content

Can you summarize your content in 100 characters plus a shortened link and make it compelling enough for people to click? In a nutshell, this is what social-media-worthy means. Please don’t equate social-media-worthy with popular. If George Takei and I made the same post on Facebook at the same time, I might get a dozen likes while Mr. Takei would get anywhere from 10,000 to 80,000 likes. Creating social media worthy content and posts is only the first part.

Social media for SEO must be accompanied by audience development, especially when you don’t have enough followers to create a critical mass of activity. This is where influencer marketing, community building and lots of other social media buzzwords come in.

I’ll refrain from explaining the flywheel analogy and just return to what I wrote earlier; take time to promote the content you create. Also, take time to participate, build relationships, promote others, and reciprocate. If you are doing social media for SEO, this is a good place to spend a chunk of your time.

Social Media For SEO

Do not confuse social media for SEO with social media for conversions. They can overlap, yes, but often they don’t. You want to identify and foster an audience that will follow, like, share, retweet, etc. If the people who make buying decisions do not congregate together online, you need to find an audience that does, one you can engage. This is often the case in B2B. If your social media program does not create search engine ranking authority, you need a separate social media for SEO campaign.

The Third Screen

There are three types of screens: desktops, pads, and mobile. Most people use pads as second screens inside their homes or offices. Smart phones are largely used outside of the home and office when a larger screen is not handy. You can be sure the search engines are tracking what types of results users select on these different devices. As they get more and more data, I expect the results to become increasingly customized by device type. Hopefully webmaster tools will add pads as a device type this year.

Structured Data

Google’s new WYSIWYG tool for identifying structured data is an interesting development. As sites use this, it will provide the search engine with a wealth of new data it can apply to create or tweak algorithms that identify “structure-able” data on any website, and then influence both Google’s search results and presentation. I imagine this type of application is a ways off, but it does signal Google’s interest in identifying and using structured data. If you haven’t yet, add RDFa or Schema.org markup into your pages and templates.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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