You know those houses that are all shelled in, with capsuled steel windows that can open to reveal the daylight or completely close shut to put the dwelling into twilight zone? Or those "zombie" shelters built feet and feet below ground, with beautiful living areas, advanced lighting and power technology included? Those people got it goin' on.
Now, consider your livelihood. How would you like to know it's bulletproof...just like that previously described house or bomb shelter is? If you're an Internet marketer, this should be just as important to you as it is to the landowners on Doomsday Preppers (a reality TV show where all the people prepare for earth's apocalypse with aforementioned and described dwellings, for the non-nerds out there).
Let's Talk About Preparations...For The Rankings Apocalypse
With all of the algorithmic updates and changes to PageRank that Google is using to try to minimize black-hat SEO, it's likely that, unless you're one of the bigger companies out there, you'll be hit. One day you might wake up and find out that your visibility and rankings have dropped drastically (like many sites did in 2011 after Google's Panda algorithm update).
How do you prevent this from happening in the future? Or, if the worst should happen, what do you do if you lose visibility? Fortunately for you there are ways to defend against it happening and ways to reverse your rankings if it does. Most of these strategies you should be using right now to defend yourself because, as everyone knows, "the best offense is a good defense."
As long as you're implementing strategies early and continually cultivating hits and strategies in unambiguously legitimate ways then there will be nothing to worry about when it comes down to another Google PageRank update.
How can you prepare for a "zombie apocalypse," so to speak, that could (could not, could, your pick, hmm, or Google's pick?) occur and fell your link strategy?
- Private Link Networks Are Dying!It's common knowledge that PageRank takes into account incoming links. In order to prevent your site rankings from getting hit with penalties it's vital to let your links come as naturally as possible. This means that there should be no private link networks! Google is going full force and ripping these shady techniques out by the roots. Honestly, private link networks might not be a temptation for the big boys but for a startup it's a tempting and temporary solution for rankings, that can get your site slapped with a penalty.
- Incoming Hyperlinks. But even if you're not intentionally attracting shady links, you may have some less-than-savory links coming to your page and affecting your rankings. The links themselves may not be the problem but it might be overused anchor text that is the dead weight that might get Google to drop the hammer on a keyword it sees too often, according to a Moz blog on how rankings can vanish. There's also a problem if the quality of the hyperlinks isn't good enough. Google adds any anchor text linking to your site to your keywords. If your incoming links are frequently using "click here" in anchor text then your visibility will skyrocket when someone searches "click here." But who actually does that? If you find an important site linking to you with bad anchor text then contact them and ask them to change it.
- Don't Look Stupid. While you're watching the sources that are linking to you, check to see the other places they're linking to as well. Google sure is. If your site is linked on the same pages as www.terriblewebsite.com then you're going to be associated with that crowd rather than other, authoritative sites. This goes double for your outbound links. For one thing, you'll lose credibility with your visitors if you're linking to unreliablesources.co.uk just as fast as you'll drop in the Google rankings.
Obviously this is almost as important as your linking strategy, and remember-this includes real people too, since it's the forefront or cover to your strategies.
- Forget Search Engines. The New York Times didn't get readers through keyword mining and artificially inflating their readership by tricking them into picking up a paper. They gained rankings and popularity by being a quality newspaper with generally reliable information. Giving people what they came for will gain repeat visitors while making pages for search engines will cause visitors to bounce out faster than a boxer's speed bag. That's not to say that you shouldn't use smart SEO strategies but deliver what you promised and you'll have to worry a lot less about gaining rankings, traffic or conversion rates.
- Watch Your Visitors. Another way to gain traffic, and conversion rates, is to simply pay close attention to your visitors. This means that you should always be thinking about optimization (even during website redesigns). Whether it's making a responsive website that is viewable on PCs, tablets, and smartphones or making the behind-the-scenes aspects easy to crawl through and audit, providing an easy, pleasurable experience will keep people coming back and increase your rankings.
- Remember Search Engines. Google's PageRank algorithm isn't just going through your website and links to pick up on exactly what you are and whether you're worth it. They're going through your background nuts and bolts. Use your meta descriptions even if you're not using meta keywords (which are basically obsolete for the time being). But, really, this falls under forgetting search engines too because it's your blurb on a search engine page. If you make your meta description more interesting than your competitors then you'll see your click-throughs jump.
This is considered today as a foundation of SEO. So let's see just how you can be ready for the zombie world when content changes, too.
- Be Useful. There was once bottled water... for pets. Notice that last sentence is in past tense. Everyone who guesses why the product failed gets a gold star. It's because that product was absolutely useless. People buy water in bottles for various reasons: it's easy to take on the go, the tap water in your area doesn't taste good, or because you think it's safer than tap water. Also, if you want to give your pets bottled water for whatever reason, you can just as easily buy a case of your favorite bottled water so that you and your pet have some. It was probably cheaper to do it that way too. The point is that you should always be useful.
One of the best examples of a useless page is the flash intro. If you're wondering why there has been a decline in flash intros on sites since the early 2000s it's because flash intros are outdated and useless. They're not recognized by Google, not compatible with some devices, and don't add any content. They're like a commercial for a site you're already going to; they're self indulgent. They're also basically a barrier to getting into the site. If loading time will get your visitor time to drop faster than Felix Baumgartner then imagine what an additional page with no content (that also loads slowly) will do to your rankings.
- Incentives and Offers. The usefulness goes well beyond just having information or the gizmo that your customers are looking for. You should offer something for free. Particularly you should learn how to use content marketing for a boring industry and offer a solution to your customers' problems. If you sell shoes, have an article about how to keep your shoes looking like new. If you are a health insurance company then let your customers know how they can stay healthy. Does your business sell cameras? Write a tour guide to the most beautiful places to photograph. You know your audience and you know what they're there for. Offer them ways to enhance their experience with your product.
- Be Unique. Not only should your pages be useful, each page should be uniquely useful. That's not to say that if your company sells culinary cutlery you should have a page about chef's knives and then a page about how to check your house for bedbugs. They shouldn't be incongruous but they should be interesting for different people and different reasons.
- New Every Time. If your pages are full of content that is simply repeated over and over again your users will stop caring about what page they land on and likely won't explore your site and your rankings will plummet. When you buy a pack of soda you don't look at every can to figure out which one you need. You grab one, pop it open, and move on.
- Don't Repeat Content. We might be harping on this quite a bit, but it's important. What's more is that unique content is the only thing that search engines care about for rankings. It's the only thing they'll pay attention to at all because they're (kind of) using the same thought process that we do. They don't want to show you the same content repeatedly just as much as you don't want to see it.
- Be Relevant. When it comes to fast food or candy bars then having consistent and safe ways of distributing content (hamburgers and chocolate) is a plus because everyone is going to buy a certain product for that reason. News flash: information doesn't work like that. For a lot of information, once a person has it, they have it. If you stop putting new content up then people will stop coming to you. Maybe they're sporadically come to you for whatever widget you're selling, but this doesn't keep the visitors engaged and stops the visitors from wanting to return.
- Keep Adding Content. One great way to do this and to improve your Google rankings is to keep blogging. If your customers see that you're constantly putting up new information they will continue to return, your social media presence will rise, and your credibility will too, along with your rankings. This has been proven by all sorts of user-driven sites. Think Youtube. You may not go back to every user you look at on YouTube but you will certainly go back to the most useful ones that are frequently updating.
4. SEO Accuracy
Sometimes when you're battling the zombie hoards (read: sites that are trying to scramble for another shady tactic after Google drops their other one) they might see gaps in your fortifications, especially during a redesign. You know what to do in these situations: Board up the windows! Push the bookshelf in front of the door!
- Avoid 404s With 301s. There are a lot of ways that you can drop the SEO ball and a lot of them are amazingly easy to find and fix when trying to restore your rankings. Click through your site from time to time. Have developers audit the site and check out some of the work (especially if the work was done by multiple developers, has recently been updated, or was outsourced). If you're seeing 404 pages then it's your job to find the page, not the customer's. If it's turned into a 404 then use a 301 redirect, not a 302. Search engines don't follow 302 redirects.
- A Site By Any Other Name. Speaking of 301 redirects, use them so that search engines will count your http:// sites in the same bucket as www. sites. For example, if your site is www.examplesite.com and someone just types in examplesite.com, search engines will see that differently. Basically everything you've done could have been improved by 100% just by adding a simple 301 redirect.
You'll never get through the apocalypse alone. You've got to scavenge for food and search for water but it's all done in groups. Your food and water? That's traffic and conversion rates.
- Authors Make You Credible. Google+ has an interesting tool that you can use called "Author Rank." If you don't know what it is it essentially ranks authors as if they were websites. Unlike before, when you had to find an author's credibility through experience, a specific author can automatically add a significant amount of credibility to a site and improve its rankings. This also makes the author more memorable. This is infinitely useful if you have frequent blogs or articles from guests because users can subscribe to that person, rather than that site, and discover you through them and their credibility.
- Pay For Content. Along the same lines, if you're paying for something (not private link networks!) then make sure you invest in quality copywriting. As long as you're keeping your site up to date and checking it, that content will always be there and will always be useful. You never know how, or when, someone will come across a guest article from three years ago.
When it's all said and done and humanity starts to rebuild they'll be sure to send out helicopters to bring survivors to a safe zone. Without your flag held high and a big sign to see, you're not getting rescued any time soon. You have to let people know you're there so that they can tell others.
- One of the best ways to measure your impact on the online community is through social media. Although engagement and shares on social media do build credibility, traffic, and conversion rates, it may only be temporary, according to Quicksprout.com. Frankly, that "temporary" spread out steadily over time will pay you back significantly.
- There is a way to make your content sharable and interesting by default. First of all, engage your users with a picture. Why a picture and not a link? Well, what's the first thing that pops out at you when you're reading through your own newsfeed? It's a safe bet that your newsfeed is full of cute animals, pictures of celebrity, and images that make you do a double take.
- The next step is to make sure that your content is quickly sharable. When you're on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest and you're interested in a piece of content you might be likely to read it. But if you think of someone else then you've turned a piece of social media into sharable content. What makes sharable content sharable? According to science the most sharable things are good news, funny things, and articles that inspire some kind of wonderment. It makes sense if you consider the fact that you don't really want to make your friends sad or angry.
- Sometimes having just a catchy title is enough to drive shares and invite traffic. Consider The Onion or TMZ. Whatever your opinion on those two places are, the articles that they put out have eye catching titles juxtaposed with interesting pictures (in the case of TMZ it's usually a celebrity mugshot).
You're never going to get through the rankings apocalypse without a lot of hard work and continuous improvement. Whatever your product or service is, you have a market. Whatever that market is has competitors. If your competitors are using shady, automated tactics then search engines are trying their hardest to drop them.
Finding your real audience who comes to you for real content will keep your rankings rising. It's possible that fake links and automated traffic will drive a site up in the rankings but if they don't have the content to back it up then their real traffic will be bounces and their conversion rate will be zero.
(SERP apocalypse / shutterstock)