By Grant Muckle, Head of SEO at I Spy Marketing.
Gone are the days where advanced SEO solely involved black hat techniques. Today, there are lots of new and more advanced techniques that can be utilised by website sites that do not use any kind of black hat activity.
These techniques go far beyond the basics of having relevant keywords in title tags and writing good page copy.
Before progressing to adopting advanced methods, any search marketer must ensure that some of the less commonly implemented basics of SEO have been employed, and implemented to the highest standard.
If you've got a large website, designing the information architecture correctly is the key factor in elevating your site across the search engines. This means ensuring that any key site page is no more than two clicks from the home page.
Likewise, establishing the proper use of an XML sitemap will improve your site indexing and lead to additional traffic. Linking to your three or four most important categories from the footer on every page of your site will also improve rankings on these terms.
Even if your site has gone through a recent makeover, any old pages or content should not be forgotten. Organising old or archived pages is extremely important especially for sites going through regular changes or redesigns. 301 redirects need to be used to link old pages to the correct new pages.
This is critical to ensure that traffic loss is minimal and that page rank gets passed onto the new pages quickly. There are a variety of tools available for detecting old pages or 404 pages that should be used regularly.
Adding Google's new 404 widget tool to the site will also help users when they hit pages that are no longer available. However, make sure the search function is restricted to 'your site only' as (by default) Google will take your visitors to the web search and ultimately away from your site.
Another problem commonly seen is URL canonicalisation and multiple versions of the home page (e.g. index.htm and default.htm or http://example.com and http://www.example.com). These can be seen as duplicate versions of the same site or pages. The best practice approach is to use 301 redirects to point to the version of the site that you want users to see.
These may seem like basic SEO techniques but it is commonplace to see them over-looked or forgotten in the pursuit of focusing on good, keyword-rich copy or placing keywords in metatags.
One of the more popular recent advanced techniques involves Page Rank sculpting. This is the practice of using the 'no follow' attribute on unimportant links to pass more link equity onto pages that are more important within a site.
This can be a particularly effective method of making best use of a site's Page Rank to boost rankings on the most valuable website areas, especially with very large sites.
Universal search offers further optimisation opportunities. Businesses should embrace as many relevant areas of universal search as possible to drive incremental traffic through search.
In fact, for some of our clients, vertical search channels including Google Images are the largest referring source of traffic outside of normal search. Having an individual optimisation strategy for video, images and news can reap huge benefits for site performance.
With Google constantly changing the goal posts, link building is becoming an increasingly challenging aspect of SEO. The more difficult it becomes, the more innovative the link building techniques need to be.
However, given the changing link landscape, some businesses may find those links they bought through a link network 2-3 years ago are now not providing any link equity for their site. In fact, such links could even be penalising the site.
Identifying this early and being proactive is critical as you never know when the search engines may apply a penalty. If your site does have links from poorly designed link directories (i.e. improveyourpagerank123.com), then quietly removing these links could save you future headaches.
In addition to this, you can then try to get valuable links through some more advanced link building techniques. Such methods could include devising a useful widget that other sites can upload, or combining an engaging PR story with a link bait tactic.
Not only can these methods build up links naturally, but they can also yield links from some of the most valuable web properties and drive highly targeted traffic.
As the search world evolves and grows, so does the number of tactics for SEO. Keeping abreast of the latest developments is crucial in order to gain that extra advantage over the competition.
However, the more SEO that is implemented, the more important it is to be aware of the search engine guidelines and to play safely within the boundaries of white hat SEO. Something that is borderline white hat today might be considered black hat by Google tomorrow.
So stick to the rule of creating content with users in mind first and foremost and keep asking yourself "what would the search engines say if they manually reviewed my work"?
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