SEO Strategies and Inbound Marketing Best Practices for 2012

by Jason Acidre on December 20, 2011 · 74 comments · Content, Conversion, Search, Social


SEO is warIn 1998, when Larry Page and Sergey Brin received funding from Andy Bechtolsheim, no one really expected for Google to grow or to be as big as it is now. And perhaps, not one person expected for it to create massive job as well as business opportunities for people worldwide, which is now one of the most competitive and in-demand industries in the web space – Search Engine Optimization.

People have speculated enough – for over a decade of its presence – that the industry is predestined to die (particularly on every year-end posts/articles predicting that next year, SEO will be dead, I guess most of you have seen this statement a lot). Seeing that SEO is still continuously evolving, we all might not see its end anytime soon.

Given that it keeps on evolving, does it mean that SEO will be requiring more advanced methodologies? What is advanced, really? In my opinion, advanced SEO (now) is all about efficiency and appropriate marketing channel integration. That’s how Google is gradually transforming its services, and obviously, search/inbound marketers are already moving at this pace.

So what’s your approach for next year?

Here are some of the best practices (that I know and some of my ideas as well) on search, link development, social, content development, conversions and online branding for 2012.

On-site Optimization

Let’s start off with the basic website optimization processes, as this is the foundation of any online marketing strategy.

  • Site Structure – it’s best to have all your site’s important pages be very accessible to both users and search crawlers through a good site navigation scheme, as this will allow your important pages to be crawled, indexed and be ranked by search engines.
  • Page Titles – use unique titles for each of your site’s page as well as specific “keywords” that actually pertain to your page’s content. It’s also important for your title tags to target humans/users and not search crawlers.
  • Optimized Internal Links – using partial match anchor texts on your internal links to support the site’s landing, useful and deeper pages in terms of indexation and search rankings.
  • Length and value of content – in-depth content obviously gets higher search rankings (in some occasions), especially for informational content, these days.

These four are the foundations of a website that I see that might have bigger impact on search next year. But of course, there are also other areas of a website that need to be optimized for search, as search engines use hundreds of factors to map out the best and most relevant content for their users. For more tips on on-site optimization, you can check out my other (older) posts about it here and here.

Rich Snippet Optimization

Building trust upon first impression of the site is definitely one of the most effective ways to market a website next year (and as always), as it enhances the chance of selling your products/services to your visitors once they can see that you are offering real value to them.

And optimizing your pages to show up trustworthy on Google’s search results by having rich snippets for your pages’ search listings is one way to exemplify trust and prove that you’re an authority in your field. Here are some of the on-site optimization techniques that you can employ in optimizing your pages’ search listings:

  • Schemas – using microdata on your web pages’ source code (you can visit Schema.org to learn more about how to apply microdata on your website).
  • Authorship markup (rel=”author) – you can check out this post for a more extensive guide on how to implement authorship markups on your site/blog.
  • Optimized videos embedded on content, as Google’s search results are also displaying video snippets for pages that contain highly optimized videos.
  • Optimizing your list pages for search
Authorship Markup

The main benefit of having rich snippets for your pages (when they are showing up on search results) is that it increases the click-through rate of your listings – even they aren’t positioned on the top spot –since they are able to psychologically attract users through the perceived value of the content, which strongly suggests that your site/page is worth seeing.

Trust Optimization

As I’ve mentioned above, and even before – SEO is all about trust! The more people trust you, the more that search engines will place you higher on their search results, seeing as you truly deserve the spot.

Rand recently published a post on SEOmoz on how to prove trust over the web, and in this part of the post, I’ll just use one of his graphs in measuring a trustworthy website (since Rand has already mentioned everything that’s significant to this area of site optimization and I personally think that there’s no other better way to demonstrate it).

Mobile SEO

According to Google, 1 out of 7 search queries are happening from mobile devices (14% of overall search queries and almost 30% on some industries such as restaurants) and also reported to grow up to 22% of overall search next year.

Mobile users are still a growing segment of any industry’s target market, particularly when it comes to search, since businesses are also able to target users through building and promoting their own mobile applications, so tapping in to this area of marketing can be very promising for small, medium and enterprise-level businesses in 2012.

Here are some of the best practices on optimizing your site for mobile users:

  • XHTML code validation – you can use W3C’s mobile validator to see if you’re website is mobile friendly.
  • Testing the actual display as well as user-experience of the site when on mobile devices.
  • Implementing traditional on-site optimization such as the use of strong page titles, relevance of content to headline/page description and inclusion of inbound and outbound links within the content.
  • Long-tail optimization for speech recognition search, particularly on pages on your site that are getting mobile traffic or geo-targeted visitors (which you can track via Google Analytics).
You can also check this mobile search optimization guide for more tips and mobile search statistics.

User Experience Optimization

User is king in 2012 – as mentioned by Gianluca Fiorelli on his recent post on SEOmoz’s Youmoz – which makes design/usability testing a seamless strategy to be integrated with your online marketing efforts, since we all do want to satisfy the traffic generated by our campaigns, as this will always give positive results in terms of branding and conversions.

UX optimization usually streams through three major processes:

  • Collecting data from users (feedbacks).
  • Analyzing the site’s performance and results through the users’ feedbacks.
  • Making revisions and testing it again.

Some of the most known forms of usability enhancements are as follows:

  • Ensuring a user-friendly navigation scheme for the site, including the appropriate anchor texts for each destination page, specifically to direct visitors to the information that they’ll be looking for within your website.
  • The internal funnel of the site, an element that contains visitors and making them stay longer on the site (providing what they really visited for or more than what they have expected to see).
  • Site speed optimization, which is very important nowadays, as it’s being used as a factor by search engines in determining high-utility websites. You can use Google’s Page Speed Online to test your pages’ performance.
  • Removing or reducing distracting elements in the site to improve user activity.
  • Testing the site’s display on different platforms (different browsers, screen resolutions, mobile devices/browsers, etc…)
  • Readability, grammar as well as reading level of the content, in which you’ll mostly tailor your content to accommodate the specific audience that you’re targeting.

You can also use free usability testing tools like Usabilla and Silverback to improve your visitors’ experience when browsing your website.

Conversion Rate Optimization

SEO is the part that drives specifically targeted traffic to a website, while CRO is the side that converts the generated visitors into customers by compelling them to take actions once they are on your website/landing pages.  Combining these two practices is probably the most powerful approach to online marketing.

Based on Google’s recent algorithmic changes/updates, it is somehow evident that they are already on this path of determining high quality pages to be returned on their search results, by simply collecting user as well as website usage data.

This just means that the more that the users of a certain website are engaged (taking actions, staying longer in the site and/or frequently visiting the site), the more that it will be granted with higher search rankings, given that users are finding the site useful and valuable based on the usage data.

Conversion rate optimization is an area of website optimization that focuses more on testing site elements in order to refine results, particularly on how to increase user activity and of course, to improve the site’s ability to generate more revenue.

The major processes of CRO can be broken down into 5 segments:

  • Goal setting – identifying and deciding the goals that the website should achieve (leads/sales) as well as in building metrics to measure the campaign’s performance.
  • Measuring the site’s performance – knowing the benchmark of the how the site is performing, specifically with its current capacity to achieve your targeted goals, through analytics, user testing and surveys.
  • Analyzing existing data – this is the process that allows you to identify the site’s problems, which also allows you to determine areas of the website that might need revisions to be tested, based on the collected data from the 2nd stage.
  • Implementing changes for the testing phase – optimizing the conversion rates of the site’s important landing pages is usually done by employing the revisions that you have visualized to have better impact, based from your initial research and analysis. It’s also important to track everything that you’re about to test, as these changes are the ones that will justify your results.
  • Testing – you can use Google Website Optimizer to test the changes that you have implemented from the last stage by comparing their results (through A/B testing or Multivariate Testing).

Here’s a more extensive guide on how to implement CRO to your website from Unbounce.

CRO is a looping process, wherein getting positive results from your tests wouldn’t mean it has to stop, as you’ll need to continuously find more ways to refine the strategy for maximum results.

Enhancing your site’s CRO campaign by using/integrating methodologies that are mostly used in SEO is a strong as well as a scalable approach to marketing medium to large websites. Here are some of the integral methods that you can use:

  • On-site behavioral targeting through geo-targeted, demographic-targeted and/or contextual webpage content.
  • Absolute relevance of the landing page to its targeted keyword(s).
  • Increasing the amount of keywords that a certain strong landing page can rank for on search results, by building more links to it using variations for its anchor texts (short-tail, long-tail and semantically relevant keywords). Given that the more traffic that the page can generate, is the more you can increase your site’s conversions.
  • Segmenting types of traffic through efficient keyword research – and this will usually encompass the implementation of appropriate keyword targeting for the site’s pages (separating buying keywords from general information keywords). Here’s a great deck that explains a lot of SEO methods that can be used to improve conversions.
  • Also, here’s a good line from Patrick Altoft: build more links to important landing pages, rather than important keywords.
  • Strengthening the page’s main call to action by making it more obvious.
  • Putting emphasis on your product/service’s value proposition through the landing pages’ content to improve conversions.

Linked Data

Linked data is a practice that interconnects related data, information and knowledge on the semantic web (as defined by Wikipedia) through URIs and RDFs. Basically; it’s a process that assembles pieces of data retrieved from different open databases to form a single channel that will store all the interrelated information, which can serve as a more extensive resource about a certain subject.

A great example of this type of content is World Bank’s open data – this was a tip sent to me by Hannah Poferl a few months ago.

As you can see, most of their pages (from their data center) contain solid statistics extracted from different open databases that could be very significant to many existing or ongoing studies, which means these pages are of high value to both large and small communities (and would definitely mean a linkable asset that will continuously gain and attract natural links).

Making this a part of your campaign’s content development strategy might just earn you a lot of authoritative links, especially if you can link important datasets related to your industry or to its target market.

The outcome of the content may also be compelling enough to be worthy of ranking for highly competitive keywords, particularly if you can build a good navigational structure for these pages as well as obtain quality links through its promotion stage.

Learning how to create this type of content is quite hard, but the good news is that there are lots of available resources over the web that you can start with to know more and understand how linking open data works. Here are some of the resources that I’ve found very useful through my own research:

Continuously Upgrading Strong Pages for Freshness

I’ve been an advocate of this method for quite some time now, and will definitely be doing this more next year, as I’ve personally tested this method and has proven positive results in terms of getting higher search rankings. Especially now with one of Google’s recent update – Freshness – you can certainly dominate the SERPs for years if you have a solid content that can offer evergreen information.

Freshness doesn’t necessarily imply that a document should be new based on its inception date, but rather plays around many factors that can consider and indicate the content’s authoritativeness. Cyrus Shepard of SEOmoz recently published an article about the factors of freshness that may influence rankings.

A good sample of this method (I’ve been using and over-promoting this one a lot) would be my SEO strategies resources page:

Basically, it’s a compilation of my blog posts that I regularly update – every time I have a new post that’s suitable to be included on that list – which makes the page more powerful, as it’s continuously upgrading.

Here’s another tip:

Linkable Asset Creation

A linkable asset is a robust component of a website that aims to stand as the best content in a specific area of an industry. This type of content is capable of:

  • Serving as a link magnet that can continuously attract linkers.
  • Ranking for highly competitive keywords, as it can attract natural links.
  • Consistently generating traffic, since it can rank for highly searched keywords.
  • Sending out massive brand signals.
  • Producing highly fascinated leads, given that the content is exemplifying your expertise in the field.
  • Improving your site’s domain authority, through generated traffic and usage data.

There are certain elements that a web content must have in order for it to be a scalable asset, such as:

  • Appeals to a large audience
  • Content is evergreen
  • Have high content value

Ross Hudgen’s deck on creating a link building machine is a great guide to start with. And to get you more inspired, here are some of the best samples of linkable assets in this industry:

Using Statistics to Create News

This is probably old news to most of you, but again, solid data is still big news to any industry. Launching a survey that will gather relevant information to give solution to a particular or a well-timed issue in your industry can just give you massive linking opportunities.

You can use tools like SurveyMonkey in conducting your research/survey. Then after collecting the necessary data, you can then present your survey’s results in a graph format or you can as well choose to present the data by including it to rich-media contents (video, slide presentation or infographic).

Extending the reach of your results is very possible once you have released your initial content (that will host the statistics), as it will be easier to pitch your story/statistics as a resource to news websites, columnists, editors and even reputable bloggers in your industry.

Interactive Infographics and Data Visualization

Richard Baxter recently shared a list of interactive infographics that really caught my attention. Infographic creation and marketing has proven itself to be an efficient online marketing tool this past year, and many are saying that it’s already being overused by marketers worldwide, which might lessen its value in the coming years.

However, enriching your approach to data visualization – as a marketing channel for your content development strategy – by making it more interactive is a different story. It takes time to develop one, but its results can definitely be overwhelming, mainly in attracting solid links to your website.

via TheDailyBeast

In creating interactive infographics, here’s a video tutorial that I’ve found useful via Larry Ferlazzo.

Online Branding with Social Media

Branding is evidently one of the biggest factors that search engines will use in determining authority websites next year, knowing that brand-based data is one of the simplest metrics that they can use to measure authenticity and web popularity.

The most common metrics that search engines might use in assessing a brand’s importance over the web could be through:

  • Search volume for the brand name
  • Brand mentions from other websites (without link)
  • Amount of branded anchor text links directing to the website
  • Brand mentions from users on social networks

Judging from these metrics that Google is using, it is somehow certain that branding in SEO will mostly require the practice of social media in order to cultivate brand mentions, brand awareness, branded search queries and most especially brand advocates.

Using Social Media for CRM

One thing that really empowers businesses today in social media, is the benefit of having it used as a tool for customer relationship management (CRM), given that a large share of audience in most industries are actively using the web (particularly social networking sites) these days.

Social media, as a channel for CRM and customer support, can positively impact the efforts of building the brand’s online presence, and can definitely cultivate brand mentions, spread brand awareness, and branded searches from highly satisfied users and from people that the brand will be referred to.

Brand Building through Content Marketing

Externally distributing content or crafting extremely awesome web-based content can also help in building a strong brand presence for your website, as these types of content can send out massive brand signals. Types of content that can boost your social media and brand marketing campaign may come in forms of:

  • Videos
  • Games
  • Applications
  • Free web-based tools
  • Awards
  • Contests
  • Whitepapers
  • Free Ebooks
  • Infographics
  • Guest blogging

When distributing or launching heavy content marketing campaigns, it’s also important to make them have strong call to actions, such as following/liking you on social networks (Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+), as this will allow you to measure and scale your campaign(s).

Tracking Brand Mentions and Utilizing Brand Advocates

As you are building your brand and user-engagements through social media, it’s also vital to monitor brand mentions. You can use free tools like Google Alerts and Twitter Search to keep track of people talking about your brand, especially those who are citing your brand positively.

Keeping track of these people also means that you’ll need to make a list of them (use excel), as you can utilize this list in scaling your online marketing campaign (especially in link building). You can segment your list, particularly the ones who are mentioning you on Twitter, and see those who have blogs. Engage this area of your list (like offering freebies for reviews, VIP access, coupon codes, etc…) to get more contextual link opportunities.

Rapport Building through Content Creation

Building relationships has been one of the most effective and scalable ways to build high value links to a website these past few years, given that relationships can also take online businesses to a higher level in terms of acquiring links as well as in generating business leads through network referrals.

There are many ways to build relationships online, which most of the time starts with conversations through community discussions (forums, blogs, Q&A sites, social networking sites) as well as on industry conferences. But targeting to engage influencers in your industry might take you some time, there are still ways that you can do to get into their radar – by simply creating compelling content that features them.

Some of the most effective content formats that you can use to build connections with your link targets:

It’s always important to notify them once you have published your content, as most of them would share it to their own networks, which opens your doors for more linking opportunity, as this can somehow validate your site’s credibility.

Bonus Tip: If your client won’t authorize you to do this within their domain, try to start a niche-targeted blog (that uses a “personal” approach) that will focus on creating these kinds of content (it’s easy to build these types of content, as you’ll mostly focus on researching, curating posts in your industry, outreach for interviews, etc…).

Once you get to talk to your link prospects and have them thanking you for featuring them on your user-generated content, it’s then easier to penetrate guest blogging requests to them (which I think is a win/win/win situation for your client, your self-hosted blog and your link prospect).     

Link Building in 2012:

Link building in 2012

Targeted Link Building

Targeted link building is more of a principle than a practice. It’s a perception that focuses on building the right anchor texts to the right destination pages from the right and highly relevant linking websites. Other factors that make a link building campaign more targeted:

  • Focusing on your list of link prospects! As sometimes, people tend to get distracted by obtaining fast live links from general niche websites. You can refer to my recent blog post for extreme link prospecting, use it wisely.
  • Building links that people will actually click – through the position of the link within the document, or the length as well as the usage of powerful words in the link to attract users to clicking. Studying the top websites sending referred traffic to your site is also a good way to get ideas on how to build your artificial links.

Bonus Tip: Building links to undiscovered powerful pages of the site.

Basically, it’s just digging through your Web Analytics to track unseen opportunities that might help scale your link building campaign – particularly in generating specifically targeted search engine traffic – by pushing pages to rank for the keywords which people use in finding the page.

In discovering powerful pages of your site:

  • On Google Analytics’ Traffic Sources > Keywords
  • Segment keywords that have high user activity, which can be measured through the % of new visits and its bounce rate (keywords that have high % of new visits + low % of bounce rate).
Analytics link building

Having these traffic data segmented will eventually guide you to the right anchor texts to target for your strong pages, as some of the data that you’ll be finding indicates that people see those pages relevant to the search term they have used in finding them.

These pages are then easier to optimize and also have greater chances of achieving higher search rankings, especially when you start building links to them, seeing as they’re already showing up on search results (for their newly targeted keywords), and most of all, the data that you’ve collected prove that these pages have high user-activity.

BizDev Link Building

Recently, Eric Ward’s works and perceptions on link development as well as on how he really sees where this business is going have heavily influenced my own views about the link building business – and his BizDev link building style is certainly one of them.

BizDev link building is a methodology that concentrates more on the business end rather than the site’s search rankings – as defined by Eric Ward.

Brilliant examples of this technique can also be found here:

Although, probably the most excellent example of bizdev link building that I’ve seen so far was a technique that a got from a thread at Webmasterworld (by “viggen”):

  • Find authors of upcoming books (2-4 months before they get released) in your niche on Amazon.com.
  • Contact the author and ask if he/she’ll be interested to review another book or interview another author who writes about the same field or industry (preferably the ones that they might need for their own research), as this can help him promote his upcoming book. Basically, you’ll be offering help to the author in promoting his new book by creating a content that will be published in your website.
  • Once the content is done, you can start contacting the publishing house of the reviewed book and let them know that you have an extensive review of one of their books posted on your website. This can get you some links and social shares from the publishing house’s end as well as the author who wrote the review.
  • Another advantage of using this method is that many universities in the US and UK have publishing departments, which means you can have higher chances of engaging people who are authorized to reward citations from an .edu domain (knowing that they also have blogs and they also enjoy citing resources).
  • Benefits of the technique: you get a link from the author of the upcoming book, you get a link from the publishing house (could be from .edu), you receive a high quality content, and you get to build a strong reputation in the academic sphere of your industry.

User Generated Viral Campaigns

Viral marketing will definitely be still one of the most powerful marketing tools out there next year. This method has a lot of faces, and with social media growing larger every year, tapping more in to your target audience’s passions could be a little more interesting to implement – basing on the increase in web users’ online activity and involvement.

A good approach to this type of marketing is to support or create a movement (could be politically-related, perennial issues, etc…) that relates to your industry or a belief that your business genuinely believes in. Once you have this part sorted out, you can launch campaigns that will encourage actions from your targeted audience such as:

  • Collecting online signatures and compiling them all in a single webpage, which participants can freely share on social networks or link back to (online signatures can come in form of a link to their social network profile/blog, which may also include a statement from each participant). You can also choose to automate this process by allowing users to just key in their contributions using an online form and have all submissions moderated.
  • Interviewing real people (not industry influencers) and compiling their contributions in a single webpage (this will be more interesting if it’s a video). You can also scale this approach by allowing users to send in their own videos (it’s like allowing them to have their opinions about the issue heard).

People are more likely to share the content if they feel that they have slight ownership of it.

My Call to Action

I will have a Christmas/2011 testimonial /link love post this week, so if you liked this post, you can just tweet this:

You don’t necessarily have to say that I’m awesome or what, feel free to say anything alongside the #Kaiserthesage hashtag, and I’ll take screenshots and include them on my next post, and of course, I’ll be linking back to your websites.

Subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.

Image Credit: Poibuts

 

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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