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2013 web predictions and the confusing Google zoo

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The web is currently awash with various expert gurus making their "predictions" for 2013. It’s remarkably easy to be an Internet guru these days, well over 50% of the predictions I’ve seen have been as vacuous as “mobile will grow this year” or “social will continue to be popular”; look out Nostradamus...

I think the one thing we can be absolutely certain of in 2013 is that Google’s continued tweaking of their search algorithm will continue to confuse many of these self proclaimed Internet gurus and in turn the many believers who blindly follow them will also find themselves rather lost.

Web forums are packed with people calling themselves professional SEOs doling out truly awful advice to all kinds of unfortunate business owners just trying to keep their search positioning healthy. Comments I see all the time are things like “Google declared war on business” or “SEO is such a complex science now”. Granted, for certain search terms SEO is very complex; we’re well familiar with this as two of the most competitive keyphrases around are ‘web design’ and ‘search engine optimisation’, but to the vast majority of site owners, SEO remains a fairly simple thing.

Google have been making these updates to remove cheats, duplicates and spam from their system. The decision to name a couple of them after pandas and penguins has led to all kinds of increasingly ridiculous debate and rumours about crushing changes to come variously called Pony, Zebra and a whole menagerie of other creatures. Some are real, some aren't, none of them are terribly crushing to anyone other than the cheats.

A lot of these puzzled SEO gurus are puzzled because they built their services around SEO short cuts; spamming article sites, directories, forums and blogs with totally irrelevant links, using software to auto post hundreds of links all over the place and so on.

Such activities do not create a quality Internet of websites or a quality search engine experience.

Google likes to do well by it’s customers, and people forget that Google’s customers are not website owners, they’re web surfers, so adjusting the algorithm to kick these cheat-built websites down the list is a good result for the customers. Tweaking is ongoing (you can stay up to date on the excellent SEOmoz website here), in places some good quality sites have lost positions and some poor ones have popped up at the top of results, but the work is getting there, the short cuts are fading away and the keening wail of cheats no longer prospering is reverberating around the Interwebs!

So what should a website owner do these days?

On-page SEO on your own website is still really critical; it’s well worth getting an experienced web copywriter to do all your text and make sure your web designer/SEO has filled out the hidden tags in website code called alt and meta tags. Make sure you are using the best possible keywords, and consider adding that blog you've been considering and updating it with interesting stuff regularly.

Off-page SEO is where most of the confusion reigns. In the past, simply having lots of links from third party sites was good for your search results. The big change is that now only links from high quality sites relevant to your website have any value.

That’s really it, that’s what’s thrown all these SEO experts into puzzled despair.

So, if you want to help your SEO, third party link building is still a great way to do it but you have to make it relevant and high quality;

Build reciprocal links with suppliers, partners and clients, often these will drive people to your website as well as helping SEO

Be part of forum and blog communities; find high quality blogs and forums (they’ll finish high in search results) that are relevant to your business. Start hanging out there for ten minutes each day, ask questions, answer questions, chat with others, fill out the autosignature with a link to your website, very quickly you have hundreds of links from a relevant and quality site. Same idea with blogs but using the comments feature most offer, don't be tempted to do the "great info thanks for posting" cheat; it's called fluff, it isn't welcome on quality sites and will ultimately get you booted off them.

Understand dofollow and nofollow; links can be labelled “nofollow” in the web code, this tells Google that the link is not endorsed by the website, for example all links on Facebook are nofollow; they have no control over what links are posted so they don’t want to endorse them , the nofollow label informs Google of that. Many high quality forums and blogs are also nofollow; you can tell which from the HTML code which is painstakingly slow, or there are a couple of free downloads around which highlight links in different colours for you; SEOmoz's SEO Toolbar is a good one for Firefox and Chrome browsers, and has some other useful features too. Obviously, dofollow is more beneficial for SEO, however it makes sense to build a balanced amount of nofollow as well; Google is looking for third party links to be natural, if you have 3000 dofollow links and 0 nofollow links it’s obviously not natural.

Offer guest posts to good blogs; every business sector has some high quality blogs, find out what the best blogs in your market are then offer to write them a guest post about a unique subject you are expert in, and request you be allowed a dofollow link to your website at the end of it.

Don’t be tempted! There are many SEO temptations, here are a few you might come across online;

  • “1000 backlinks for $10!”; the 1000 links will all be from appalling link farm sites with no relevance and no quality, there is no quick way to build quality links.
  • “Article spinning software turns one article into hundreds!”; you can build backlinks posting articles around the web on quality sites, but the articles have to be unique, spinning software mixes a few words up to turn a single article into lots of “unique” articles. It used to work really easily, it currently just barely works with the best software, soon it won’t work at all, there is no quick way to write unique content.
  • “Submit to over 500 directories with one form”; this used to work too, today getting links on 500 free, unedited and totally unrelated directories will do you no good whatsoever, there is still no quick way to build high quality links.

The greatest point of confusion out there simply seems to be that there is no way of fiddling the system anymore, every SEO now has to work in a reputable and high quality way rather than undercutting the quality providers by using cheat techniques.

So, my number one 2013 prediction is that the SEO whining from 2012 will continue for quite some time, don’t be part of the banshee wail, or get taken in by expert assertions that SEO is dead or anti small business or anything else; keep it high quality and you need never worry.

I built my first website 13 years ago whilst learning web design, within a few years as I got to learn SEO as well, based on quality on-page copywriting and reciprocal link building with relevant sites it hit the Google front page for a range of keyword searches. Ten years later it has dropped a sum total of three places having had no changes made to its SEO whatsoever over the years and thousands of algorithm changes (it's just a hobby site). The amazing SEO secret behind this success? I didn’t cheat, I just stuck to the essentials, everyone else on that front page with me is a corporate sized company, national newspaper or Wikipedia, so I can deal with losing a few places, one weekend I'll do some work on it and probably make those places up pretty easily.

At SDG Web Design we've always focused on the SEO essentials that are always a good thing as well, we bundle quality copywriting and keyword analysis with every web design build so that all our clients get that critical on-page SEO in place from the start. Recently we've begun expanding our services to improve on-page for competitive search sectors and we're working out some cost effective ways to support off-page methods like link building, which can be time consuming, as well. Give us a call at any time to discuss what we can do for your site!