5 Ways to Prepare Your SEO Team for Google Updates

SEO Updates

It’s been a busy couple of years for SEO professionals and agencies – Google updates Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird have all an impact on some sites, many of them serious and involving manual penalties. It’s not just SMEs that have been affected of course, many world famous brands were too and whilst some of this was caused by honest mistakes, the proliferation of guest posting has also done a lot of the damage.

Penalties can take a while to clean up, depending on the nature of the penalty and the extent of the problem. Further to this, SEOs can be held responsible if they have been carrying out black (or even gray) hat practices as shown in the case of The Rainmaker Institute. The company, which described itself as “the nation’s largest law-firm marketing provider” allegedly charged a law firm $49,000 to get its rankings up on Google but the lawyers received a penalty.

This led to a lawsuit which claimed The Rainmaker Institute carried out the work “knowing that its work violated Google’s guidelines”.

What Does this Mean to SEOs?

The days of bending the rules are over, period. Of course, we’re not suggesting that all, or even many, agencies use nefarious tactics to gain rankings, but these days it pays to be extra careful and that means taking a white hat approach to SEO and being vigilant when it comes to back linking. We’re sure to see more updates from the God of Search that is Google this year, so how do we prepare our SEO team to ensure that clients are protected?

#1: Careful Link Building

It should go without saying that any client sites should have already been examined for backlinks and any potentially bad links cleaned up by removing, adding a nofollow or with the use of the Disavow tool.

Going forward into 2014, link building activities should be approached with caution, but that doesn’t mean it’s a redundant practice. SEOs should use tools that allow them to keep a tab on back links, but should also pay attention to:

Broken links – both on site and off – there’s an excellent guide from Moz that covers everything you could possibly need to know on broken links of all descriptions

Link outreach – by now, we’ve all heard that guest posting for SEO is now frowned upon by Google, so it’s a good idea to have a list of quality sites in your niche that you can build relationships with. This applies to social media as well as guest posting and any activity in the latter should involve supplying quality posts, preferably more than one and one (or more) that involves truly useful content

Directory Listings and citations – for gaining good links, sites should be submitted to authoritative directories such as Yelp, Bing for Business and so on. For local SEO, these entries should be identical when it comes to NAPs (name, address, phone number) and also match the details on the site and social media, especially with regard to G+ and Google Places

#2: Take Control of Content

Content, both on site and off, must be of a high quality. The modern algorithms are very good at picking up bad spelling, grammar and relevance to the industry. Ensure that all content marketing activities are optimized with relevant keywords and phrase, using sub headers (H2, H3 etc.), but that it reads naturally. Don’t overuse H1s, these can be viewed as being a keyword stuffing tactic these days.

Forget short form blogging; how much value can be packed into a 300-500 word blog after all? Longer pieces perform better, gaining better back links and social attention, so your team should invest time in producing content that’s highly useful, as well as using multimedia that’s also optimized for keywords and Meta information.

#3: Google Authorship 

Claiming content with the use of Google Authorship should be a part of any content strategy for SEOs. Social signals when it comes to G+ are rising in importance and now outperform everything except page authority when it comes to rankings. Authorship is an excellent way of telling Google that the author is to be trusted and this is confirmed by Google CEO Eric Schmidt himself in his 2013 book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results.” Schmidt writes. “The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

#4: The Use of Schema Markup for Ecommerce

Whilst Matt Cutts maintains that schema markup won’t necessarily improve rankings, he doesn’t discount it either and it’s thought by many SEO professionals that it’s useful for higher CTRs.

Matt Cutts on schema.org markup and rankings

According to Search Engine Land though, schema markup can improve search results by up to 28%, making for higher visibility, CTRs and essentially improved revenue. Rich snippets aren’t just for product sites though, the hospitality industry can benefit from them too through consumer reviews, as these are more trusted than any advertising can ever be from the point of view of the user.

#5: Getting Social

It’s going to be social media’s year, especially for the quietly growing Google+, a network that’s also constantly adding new features, such as Google Hangouts on Air. Social media helps to build those all-important relationships and it’s increasingly important that accounts are managed imaginatively and correctly.

SEO is getting personal and social is the driver. Utilizing social in such a way that it drives traffic is vital and can be carried out easily with good management tools. Of course, strategy should include hooks for followers/fans to click through to the site (preferably to a well-crafted landing page) and this can be achieved through the following:

  • Competitions
  • Freebies
  • Vouchers

Sharing incentives are always good to improve reach too and social should be a big part of any SEO strategy.

We could include much more here that will help prepare a team for any future updates, but these, along with excellent website performance, mobile optimization, great site structure with sitemaps and content developed for both users and search engines are also essential elements.

However, probably the most important thing for all SEOs to remember this year is that the industry is evolving to take a more holistic approach to SEO. It’s about the sum of all parts; developing and maintaining trusted relationships in the industry niches that they work with and producing excellent content that will promote thought leadership, authority and trust.

This, alongside first-rate reporting, is the key to avoiding penalties and ensuring that clients trust the agency and continue working with them.

Creative commons image: Dunechaser / Flickr