Substantial algorithm updates like Panda, Penguin and Pigeon make the technology headlines, but did you know that Google makes around 600 alterations to its algorithms every year?
A daunting prospect, particularly if you happen to be a small business owner attempting to manage and improve SEO without outside help.
Algorithms are ever changing
As technologies improve, the specificity that search engines like Google, can embed in their software is becoming ever more advanced, cornering and inspecting your content in a way that wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago.
In short; the days when well tagged and well linked content was enough to succeed in the rankings are gone.
The most important thing to remember about search algorithms is that they move progressively in one direction, developing over time, creating trackable trends that, if followed correctly, can keep you one step ahead of the competition.
Here’s our pick of the 3 emergent trends to bear in mind over the course of the next year help keep your SEO on track. (We have focussed specifically on Google, because of its overwhelming monopoly of UK online searches)
Quality means much more than quantity
Page one of the Entrepreneurs handbook, but not a mantra that has always been applicable to online content. Back in the day, all one needed was a heavy, steady stream of halfway-decent content to see rankings rise substantially; but years of tweaks and revisions have all but closed that particular loophole.
Google is becoming ever more fond of ‘rewarding’ sites with useful, relevant, well researched content, and ‘punishing’ (and even delisting) those it sees as poor quality.
You should bear this in mind, not only in the content you create for your own site, but also any that you contribute as a guest for others. Make sure that your content is well structured, well ordered, well referenced, and above all relevant for the site on which it appears. In times gone by, the cliché ‘any publicity is good publicity’ held true when it came to content marketing. But more and more, search engines are examining the quality of relationships your business has built in the online community and using this as an indication your relevance within the industry. Think carefully before becoming a guest contributor for another site and be sure that it will stand in your favour in the long run.
Mobile Compatibility is gaining importance fast
It will come as no surprise that the growth in mobile browsing over the past few years has been enormous. Reports vary, but a good estimate would be that 60% of all internet usage now takes place on a mobile device, leading the way for mobile optimisation to become one of the key aspects taken into consideration by Google's ranking algorithms.
It’s all about how your website is displayed on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, and how accessible the information is made to users of these devices.
But, you don't need to be a web designer to make positive changes to the user experience of your site. A great place to start is Google’s Webmaster Mobile Guide; this allows you to run a report showing how user-friendly your site currently is, customise your website to improve its mobile appearance / functionality, and help you implement other best practices in mobile SEO.
No matter what your level of technical skill, there is always something you can do to improve your mobile SEO. It is no coincidence that Google is providing so much assistance in this regard; its importance is growing rapidly. If you haven't already done so, now’s the time to take the hint.
Social Media Indicators are growing in importance
A certain level of creative speculation is needed here, but all indications suggest that Google is moving towards placing a higher level of emphasis on social signals derived from networks like Twitter and Facebook. At the beginning of 2014, I would have said that the next big thing in SEO was Google+ Authorship, but amidst slow uptake, Google seems to now be turning its attention to the other major social networks.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this process is kicking up a gear, with strong correlations being drawn between user engagement with content on social media, and page rankings over the course of 2014.
Every small business should be using social media to its advantage, so the prospect that Google may be placing increased weight on the quality of your social engagements is really a win-win situation; it gives you an added incentive to make the most of your business’s social presence.
One Trend Remains Unchanged
Google moves in a logical fashion. Although it might seem that some of the alterations made to its search algorithms are random, and even self-serving, the vast majority of them are intended to improve its performance against its overriding mission 'to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful'.
As they do so, the process of Search Engine Optimisation becomes ever more integrated with a huge range of factors related to your site. Therefore having a sound understanding of how Google sees, interprets and understands your content, is now a crucial skill for any business with an online presence.
Eoin O'Hara is a business developer and lead content writer at Startacus.net. He has a background combining arts and culture with strategic business development, and now plays a central role in the growth of the Startacus brand. Startacus.net, The Self Start Society, is the place for enterprising people to learn, share, connect and bring ideas to life. Follow them at @Iamstartacus