It's never too late to start incorporating SEO changes that'll make for big gains in 2014. Check out this post for the top 10 SEO resolutions your business will want to keep this new year.
From the rise of new social media platforms to intensifying "manual actions," 2013 was a wild year for SEO. Thankfully, our SEO team has compiled a list of 10 SEO resolutions that can help your ecommerce site survive whatever Google has to throw at us in 2014. Here’s to an even stronger performance in the new year!
- Resolution #1: Commit to a better understanding of SEO.
- Resolution #2: Make it easy for spiders to crawl your website.
- Resolution #3: Categorize your site properly.
- Resolution #4: Optimize for a specific target market or audience.
- Resolution #5: Create a content strategy and keep it consistent.
- Resolution #6: Increase relevance by incorporating keywords and content.
- Resolution #7: Instead of buying links, build a fan base.
- Resolution #8: Clean up your link profile.
- Resolution #9: Own more search result real estate.
- Resolution #10: Build authority online using social media.
Resolution #1: Commit to a better understanding of SEO
Your first step towards being a successful online store in 2014 is understanding SEO essentials. In many ways, SEO practices have become standardized rules that websites can apply to better compete for visibility on the web.
Sadly, many of the websites we've helped were still missing the basic SEO essentials. In the past, this may have been acceptable, but the landscape is becoming more and more competitive. By simply applying some basic SEO techniques, you can see significant improvements in site performance.
Google offers a nice SEO resource section in Webmaster Tools to help webmasters understand their quality guidelines and rules for engaging in safe SEO. They also offer a SEO Starter Guide for beginners. As for us, we offer a guide to our platform’s SEO features and a number of SEO and on-line marketing webinars.
Resolution #2: Make it easy for spiders to crawl your website
Basically, you want to configure your site to be more accessible to search engines and ensure only important pages on a site get indexed in search engines. This step is vital to the success of any online store. Some of the important technical aspects you want to look at include:
- Sitemap.xml: Allows search engines to discover pages on your site by URL. This is a standard format most search engines prefer when submitting a large amount of pages to be crawled and indexed. The Volusion platform automatically generates a dynamic sitemap for your store located at www.YourURL.com/sitemap.xml. Submit this sitemap to Google and Bing and declare it in your Robots.txt file.
- Robots.txt: The robots.txt file allows for greater control of pages you would like displayed in the search results. Think of this as a guide to instruct search engines which pages you would like to predominantly show in the search results and which ones you don’t. As mentioned earlier, you can declare your xml sitemap in the robots.txt file so that spiders can locate it immediately upon crawling your website.
- 301 redirects: Properly 301 redirecting URLs can help preserve your organic rankings and forward visitors who land on 404 pages to pages with updated content or design. But remember: Forwarding URLs should be handled with care. If you'd like more details, visit our how-to guide on redirects.
For more advanced technical tactics you should consult an expert, however there are some other simple practices you should be familiar with.
Resolution #3: Categorize your site properly
How you organize your website will have a profound effect on your SEO strategy and performance. Your website architecture should be logical, intuitive and easy to navigate. A properly categorized website will provide a better user experience, as well as more SEO opportunities to rank for appropriately targeted terms. It also means giving Google more contextual clues to better understand the focus of your site – which products (and therefore keywords) are central to your store.
One exercise that can help you organize your site is to imagine it as a brick and mortar store. Which items would deserve their own aisles (categories) and which deserve their own shelves (subcategories) within those aisles? This can give you some insight into how to best set up your product category hierarchy.
Resolution #4: Optimize for a specific target market or audience
In a rush to attract as much organic traffic as possible, many storeowners start off on the wrong foot by targeting keywords that are too broad and competitive in nature. An easy solution to this problem is to switch gears, define a target market and focus keywords based around your target audience. Some quick tips for this can include:
- Develop an authentic understanding of your market and industry. You may want to focus on an untapped segment in a competitive market, a completely new market, a market in a geographic area or a completely exclusive market. . Once you define your market, define what your audience thinks, reads, visits or has interest in.
- Incorporate terms that specifically apply to your target segment in your keyword research. For example, rather than targeting a general term like “women’s dresses”, you might target a more descriptive and target-market appropriate keyword like “boho dresses” or “vintage style dresses”. These phrases not only more accurately describe the products, but they frame the product in the context and language of your target market. They are also far less competitive and further down the purchasing funnel, meaning these phrases will convert better.
Resolution #5: Create a content strategy and keep it consistent
Getting to know your audience while you're building your fan base will allow you to create great content ideas. If you're selling products for dogs, then creating shareable content is ideal. As an example, dog owners really love their pets so creating visuals or posting images to sites like Instagram, Flickr and Facebook is a good strategy. Here are some quick tips when considering a basic content strategy:
- Find out what your fan base likes by evaluating which social post get the most shares or likes.
- Come up with ideas that you think they would share and create that content.
- Choose your online media sources that will hit home the point. i.e. How to videos on YouTube, Dog Selfies on Instagram.
- Publish your content and share with your developing fan base.
- Track your results using Google Analytics referring traffic section.
Resolution #6: Increase relevance by incorporating keywords and content
In a recent post about increasing your SEO by adding content to your category pages, Everett Sizemore explains how simply targeting the right keywords and adding content can improve the performance of your online visibility. If your site doesn’t have target keywords or content, chances are you're missing out on a big opportunity. Again, this goes back to getting the basics first to your site’s organic presence. For larger brands, this is not really an issue since they have a lot of relevance signals and online equity built up from their online communities, backlinks, social media and years of ongoing brand awareness. For smaller brands however, this is a way to start generating some early relevance signals and traffic. Adding the right content can help your brand have some personality, which visitors love, and increase relevance signals to your site.
Need additional help with what type of information Google deems as important? Following Google’s best Webmaster Guidelines can help keep you on the right track.
Resolution #7: Instead of buying links, build a fan base
In 2013 there were many link networks that were identified and penalized by Google. Unfortunately, if you bought links from a link network, chances are you were penalized too. So instead of buying links, explore what enthusiasts in your industry are talking about in the following areas:
- Blogs: For example, if you sell dog products, a good outreach strategy would be to get to know dog lover bloggers. Reach out to them, get to know them and ask about their advertising guidelines, content promotion options or other ways to promote your brand on their site seamlessly. Finding these blogs isn’t hard, you can simply start with a simple search in Google or use search operators like this in Google to find them: dog lovers inurl:blog or modify with your Keyword inurl:blog.
- Forums: Participate in forums, but don't spam. Forum owners are well aware of shameless plugs and can ban you entirely from their community. Instead, get in touch with forum owners, find out how they handle promoted content and work out a partnership that can benefit both parties. Using our dog example, you could start discovering these forums by typing: dog lovers inurl:forum or modify with your Keyword inurl:forum.
- Social media: Find out what successful social media players in your space are doing. Identify the kinds of content that gets shared and then try to build your own innovative versions. If you are just starting out or looking to increase your fan base, many social media sites like Facebook offer great advertising platforms. Volusion’s Lauren Hill provides some good insight about developing social media goals for 2014.
- Email list: Reach out to your existing contacts and help build new fans and lifetime customers. Make them aware of your presence on social media sites and your content strategy plans like your new blog.
Resolution #8: Clean up your link profile
If you used an SEO firm in the past that guaranteed an X amount of blog comment links, X number of forum links or any other quantitative amount of links, chances are they were spamming blogs and buying links from a link network. Over time, many of these link networks get caught and sites with links from these networks usually suffer the most with decreased rankings or Manual Actions.
Where do you find out if your site is subject to these penalties? Set your site up in Google Webmaster Tools if you haven’t already, and see if there are any Manual Actions taken against your site. If there is, consult a professional as to what the next steps should be. Recently, a large lyrics site, Rap Genius, was penalized by Google for violating Google’s quality Guidelines. As a result, Rap Genius made significant efforts to clean up their link profile and recover their rankings in Google.
If there are no manual actions, but you’ve bought links in the past, we still recommend that you take a look at links pointing to your site and evaluate the quality of those sites.
Resolution #9: Own more search result real estate
Quickly do a Google search for terms that your site ranks for or terms that you would like to rank for. Next, compare your results against the diagram created by Moz to help you understand where opportunities lie for gaining more real estate and exposure in Google. This will help you decide which content pieces are worth pursuing to reach and engage your audience. Simply put, you want to appear in as many areas of the page as you can. Perhaps your store would benefit from optimized product videos, local SEO, PPC advertising or shopping feeds. While channels such as PPC and Shopping Feeds are paid, they drive valuable traffic which can enhance organic performance.
Resolution #10: Build authority online using social media
Google has reported plans to show more results for the "good guys," that is, people who are actively building quality content on a regular basis. Set up your personal and business Google+ accounts and share your content with the fan base you are actively creating. Additionally, start or continue building your fan base on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any other social channels that are important to your target market. Many experts predict that the importance and interconnectedness of social and SEO will only continue to increase in the years to come.
The winners of online marketing in 2014 and beyond will consist of those who best align messaging with the right medium. Understanding your industry and experimenting with different channels will help you find the winning recipe for your online store.
All of us here at Volusion wish you happy selling in 2014! Just in case you missed this, check out Google’s Zeitgeist recap of 2013.
-Mike Ramirez, Volusion