Our first digital forum

Last week we ran our first digital forum for clients and industry partners under the banner of ‘SEO for 2013 & beyond’. The Short version: The feedback was very positive, so we’ll be holding them regularly, with an aim of bi-monthly. Our next one will be late January/early February and will be focussed on digital strategy, giving the participants a framework for planning their strategy across digital platforms for the year. The Longer version:For those who didn’t have a chance to make it, here’s a quick overview of some of the key points covered.

Technology is changing faster than ever

That’s changing how people interact and shop. The time between new innovations is getting shorter and so we now live in an age where new trends such as wearable computing are emerging before existing trends such as mobile computing have fully played out.

Separating hype from reality

In the midst of all this change, it can be challenging to separate the hype from reality. The hype curve shows how products are initially launched with huge expectations, but that these expectations are often over-inflated and so inevitably are followed by disillusionment. In the third phase, participants gradually learn how to make effective use of the platform and it goes on to become a productive platform. We’ve had a go at plotting where different social media platforms are on this curve but obviously this varies depending on which country and industry is being examined. For example, the market in the US is further along the curve than Australia in most industries.

Timeless principles of marketing and customer service

And yet, in the midst of all this change, there are timeless principles of marketing and customer service that will always apply. In customer service, providing a great product consistently at a reasonable price is a fundamental principle, although the channels that this is delivered through now include the web, mobile and social media. In marketing, it is still about getting the right message, to the right person at the right time. But there are now an abundance of digital channels to market through, and the tactics differ with each one and are continually evolving.

The three fundamental steps of search

When it comes to SEO, it has certainly evolved dramatically since the first search engines appeared in the 90s, but at its core it has always consisted of the same three steps – index, search and results. All search engines fundamentally use the same process, however let’s use Google as an example: Index: Firstly, Google must create an index of the content available on the web. It does this using software called a bot or spider that crawls through the 60 trillion pages of the Internet. Google has put a huge effort into making this index as complete and fresh as possible. Search: Secondly, the user enters their search term and from that Google makes a best guess as to what the user is searching for and combs through its index to find the most relevant results. There are currently over 200 factors used by Google to retrieve the most useful results from the index. Of course, Google doesn’t always get this right but they are continually striving to return the most relevant results possible. Results:Thirdly, Google displays the search results. The way that the results are displayed is also undergoing change with the addition of features such as ‘Knowledge Graph’ that show summary information for commonly searched topics.

SEO for 2013 & beyond: the end of the free lunch

While the three steps of search haven’t changed, there has been incredible change in Google’s algorithms and 2013 has seen more change than any other year before it. This means that tactics that worked in the past like building thousands of low quality links not only no longer work but can result in penalties. The tactics that work now and into the future take time and effort and so the era of the free lunch is over. So, what is working now and looks set to work in the future?

There are five key strategies:

  1. Link building: This has always been the foundation of SEO and will continue to be so, but with some very important differences. These days it is about quality rather than quantity and so spammy links from low-quality sites or shadowy corners of the Internet can result in penalties. High quality links are earned through building relationships and this takes a lot more time than the old approach. Consequently, you should expect to devote more resources (time or budget) to link building than you did in the past.
  2. Content marketing: Great content has always separated the great sites from the average sites and while it was important in the past, it is now essential. It’s also a good idea to keep your content fresh, so set aside some time every week to update your site. All the world’s best bloggers say that their most popular and enduring content has taken time to write. Remember that disproportionate rewards go the best in the industry.
  3. Social signals: Links, shares and comments from social media have been a ranking factor for a while but social media has definitely shifted from an emergent to a mature platform in the last few years. Like all of the other strategies mentioned here, a token effort at social media will produce a weak response. Most business people see social media as a free advertising platform, but ask yourself how is that of benefit to your customers? Social media should be seen as a new way of offering value and service and using it effectively takes time, thought and effort. Again, no free lunches here.
  4. Mobile: Traffic on mobile devices is seeing strong growth and exceeds desktop traffic in some countries. Many of our Australian clients see up to 40% of their traffic come from mobile. SEO on mobile devices has different considerations and is a rapidly evolving field, so expect the tactics to change over the next year. Yet, the volume of traffic coming from mobile makes it too important to wait for the changes to leave it out of your plans. You’ll need to invest time here to learn about how mobile works and how it evolves.
  5. Structured Data: If Google understands what content is on your page, then it can provide better results. For example, if you are a restaurant and create your page using structured data, then Google can show the average price range of your meals and the average review. Or if you have a blog, then you can ensure that your profile picture shows next to any search results that include your blog articles. Both of these make you stand out from the crowd and so result in more traffic. There are a number of other ways structured data can also be used, such as events and products. There are some technical nuances here so if you don’t have a web guru in-house, then you’ll need to look to get some expert help to get this working.

Well, that’s a quick overview of the session. Thanks for all the positive feedback we got from the session and we’d welcome any other comments that readers have.

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