Although the use of keywords on website pages and in the anchor text of inbound links remains important for SEO, search engines are increasingly using a site’s branding, visitor behavior and social data.
Google's new Panda update has changed SEO and it appears to include user behavior and (possibly) branding data.
But even if they aren’t considered at all by Panda, these factors are considered by Google's main algorithm.
So you must consider them in your SEO planning.
To become a leader in your niche’s SERPs you have to be a leading brand in your niche.
To stay a leader, visitors from SERPs are going to have to like what they find on your site, probably stay on it and certainly not return to the SERP that brought them.
That’s user behavior.
Engagement - that’s comments, mentions, sharing and links from social media (Twitter, Facebook, G+, StumbleUpon, etc) - will increasingly be used to rank and verify ranking.
The old SEO factors of on-page optimization, site build and inbound links with target keywords in the anchor are still important.
But branding, behavior and social data now count too. And will likely count more in the future as search engines learn how to use them.
All this means the user experience is now at the heart of SEO.
This is the New SEO.
Google engineers say they don’t favor big brands.
But Eric Schmidt, Google chairman, and ex-CEO, seems to disagree. When talking about the “cesspool” (his description) that is the internet (ie, spammy results on Google), he says:
“Brands are the solution, not the problem”.
These two viewpoints are easily reconciled though. Google favors sites with a wide range of factors that big brands just happen to display. Factors like:
• Brand mentions, shares and links in social media.
• Brand mentions and links on highly trusted sites.
• Searches with brand and domain names.
It’s important to note that the definition of a big brand is relative to the keyword and the market it is part of.
So a big brand in a small market might not be a large company. But a big brand in a big market will be a large company (or a smart small one).
In practice, this means if you’re a small company it’s going to be hard to do well in a big market.
This is a bit like high rents keeping small shops out of the shopping mall.
User behavior data is all the factors that Google can measure via its toolbar, search results pages (SERPs) and other data sources it might choose to use from its vast store of information. Factors like:
• Time spent on site when clicking through from a SERP.
• Bounce rate.
• Bounce rate back to a SERP.
• Use of the ‘block all results’ button on Google SERPs.
• Time on site.
• Return visits.
(About those other data sources I’ve mysteriously referred to: you might believe Google that it was an accident its Street View cars downloaded the web browsing data of the wifi signals they passed. But it wasn’t a coincidence because Google is dedicated to gathering as much information as possible about everyone.)
That Google uses toolbar data is now clearly documented. For evidence, read SEO veteran Mike Grehan:
“Andrew Tomkins, Engineering Director at Google and former Chief Scientist at Yahoo, made it quite clear at SES New York in 2008 that, in his opinion, whereas anchor text had always been the ‘workhorse’ of search, the strongest signal now comes from the toolbar.”
Also, when Panda 2.0 rolled out, Google publicly stated that user feedback signals were now being used. These signals can come from use of the ‘Block all results’ links which now appear next to search results if you quickly bounce back to them. See the example below:
All forms of engagement including comments, likes, tweets, +1s and mentions, either:
• Might be found by search engines and directly used in their algorithms; or
• Share your content with a person or website (it may be automated) that then might mention or link to your website in a way that is used directly in search engine algorithms.
Also, such engagement might also lead to repeat and new direct visits and response.
That social might work and work for SEO is clear. The question then becomes: is it significant? And the answer is: yes.
A simple piece of evidence to support that answer is that Facebook is now the most visited site in the US and therefore more popular in the US than Google.
It’s not hard to see why Google would like a piece of that social action.
Google and social
Social websites, especially Facebook and Twitter, are now serious competitors for Google’s audience and subsequent advertising revenue.
So Google has tried (but failed) to ‘do’ social eg, with Lively, Google Buzz, Orkut, Dodgeball, Google Wave and Google Me.
Google+ is its latest effort and this time it might succeed. We’ll see.
With +1 buttons, Google is trying to integrate social with search. If you visit a page or see a search result you like, Google wants you to click a +1 button (similar to Facebook’s ‘like’).
“+1s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query.”
That means that if a searcher’s friend +1s a page it will move up the results when you search.
Exactly how and when +1s, Facebook likes and tweets will affect others’ results is not yet clear and will evolve. Whatever the answer ...
Social is now part of search and therefore part of SEO.
Beat your competitors by mastering The New SEO
The factors that have been so crucial to SEO for many years remain so, like how you use keywords on a page, inbound links containing target keywords in their link text. But branding, user behavior and social factors are becoming increasingly important.
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