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We’ll stop building links when they stop adding value”. This seems to be the motto around at the moment and it’s probably due to the high value that gaining links still offers to sites.

Within the industry we are always striving to keep one step ahead of the curve, to ensure that our client’s rankings continue to progress whilst keeping ourselves afloat within the search engine results pages (SERP’s), and link building is still a very powerful tool. 

I believe that this is changing and that Google will devalue the power of links over the next few years, defending against the manipulative optimisation trends and habitual forms of online marketing taking place.  

Bearing this in mind, I believe that now is the best time to start adapting your search engine optimisation (SEO) for this change if not already.

We have recently heard Matt Cutts’ comments on the falling value of guest posts and with the increasing comfort level of some SEO’s who are carrying out 'negative SEO'.

I foresee Google being slowly prompted to devalue the benefit of link building. As it stands links are still incredibly valuable and in my opinion Google have not quite achieved what I perceive was their original goal following the Penguin and Panda updates.

However, it has effectively steered the industry down the desired path towards quality content through Panda and natural, high quality (non-commercially focused) link building through Penguin, but Google’s original problem still exists and a new form of negative manipulation was created alongside the Penguin algorithm.

Taking stock of some of the changes I have seen in client’s accounts over the last year, there is a clear trend forming, which takes search engine optimisation far away from where it originated.  

These changes are transforming SEO into a user-centric strategy, with a growing dependency on site management, user experience (UX) and customer focus.

Changing trends

Away from:

  • Commercially focused anchor text.
  • Follow links.
  • Out dated web design.
  • No follow internal links – internal link sculpting.
  • Thin and duplicate content.

Towards:

  • Quality content.
  • Peer reviews driving click through rate (CTR) increases.
  • Uncluttered and focused design – increasing page engagement and conversions.
  • Responsive design - adjusting to our changing device habits.
  • Good semantic markup/code.
  • Comprehensive on page SEO / housekeeping.
  • Owning your niche with content tailored to your customer’s needs.

If I had to bet on it and I do… I would be leaning towards a reduced value of links over the next year or so, which would be replaced with an increased value of following metrics:

  • Trending / Viral nature traffic.
  • CTR’s.
  • Bounce rate.
  • Time of site.
  • Overall traffic.
  • Page depth.
  • Social signals.
  • Site maintenance.
  • Obviously including the stable quality content, tailored to user’s expectations, requirements and ease.

Most of the above metrics already play a part within Google’s current algorithm, but I anticipate the weighting ratio being adjusted further and with the inclusion of social signals.  

I have personally seen CTR’s and site maintenance making what I believe to be a significant contribution to organic positions; above the level that I would have anticipated.

Bear in mind that it will be a considered task for Google to include social metrics into their ranking algorithm due to the high capacity for fraud and manipulated signals, it is difficult to forecast what metrics will ultimately be included.  

Personally I would recommend implementing a social strategy, which complements and incorporates your other marketing strategies and activities, building your social presence naturally if none exists. 

If you are looking to future proof your 2014 strategy I would recommend integrating your offline and online channel marketing efforts together to drive traffic online.  

I believe increasing your overall non-paid traffic contributes to your organic ranking positions, this illustrates how developing valuable and relevant social campaigns with a viral nature can become a worthy exercise.

With all of this in mind I think a few more exercises should be included in our SEO housekeeping list.  

I’m often shocked at how many new clients come on board who have many of these standard issues and once they have been rectified the rankings increase steadily. 

House keeping list and plan of action:

Keep your website software, code and website design up to date and fresh

      • Meta Descriptions, Title tags etc.
      • Site map.
      • Robots.txt not blocking incorrect pages.
      • Correct use of canonical tags.
      • Run a Screaming Frog crawl to check what the search engines will index.
      • Search “site:www.yourdomain.com” to verify the amount of pages and if it’s incorrect investigate. 
      • Site framework updates e.g. WordPress.
      • Server software updates to ensure security.
      • Review Google Webmaster Tools for issues.
      • Keep on top of 404 Errors – over 200 errors drops organic positions.

Ensure your page layout is user friendly and does what it says on the label

      • Strong calls to action.
      • Encourage deeper page views with internal links to related information.
      • Understand page hierarchy and positioning to achieve your page goals.
      • Clear focus above the fold.
      • Avoid heavy ads.
      • Decide on a primary focus per page.

Build your sites perception and authority through

      • Design.
      • Content.
      • Video.
  • Set up Google Authorship.
  • Tie in any reviews or awards – star ratings. I have seen the CTR increase by 60% with this alone.
  • Add Value with helpful content and resources.
  • Social channel development and tie in your other marketing initiatives. 

Monthly backlink 'new link' reviews, removals, disavows.  

Each tool has different data you will need to merge your exported lists to get a more accurate account.

      • Majestic SEO.
      • Ahrefs.
      • Open Site Explorer.
      • Google Webmaster tools.

Analyse your data.

Know your conversion rate, check your bounce rate, time on site, page depth.

      • Look for issues.
      • Room for improvement. 

Staying on top of the above and with a well thought out SEO and social strategy you will be in a good position to adapt and benefit from a change in Google’s algorithm which reduces the overall value of links.

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Published 5 March, 2014 by Helene Hall

Helene Hall is Digital Marketing Director at Gravytrain and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus

2 more posts from this author

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Andrew Cock-Starkey, Digital Marketing Manager at Cambridge English Language Assessment

Interesting article Helene, thanks. I'm curious where you got this information from: "Keep on top of 404 Errors – over 200 errors drops organic positions." as everything I've read on this says Google see 404s as 'quite natural' and that they don't affect organic ranking in SERPs?

over 2 years ago

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Helene Hall, Digital Marketing Director at Gravytrain

Hi Andrew, thanks for your comment.

Its through personal experience witnessing an increase in over 200 404 errors reduces the rankings, which I have seen on repeated occasions with different client accounts.

It appears that Google may interpret a growing list of 404 errors as a site which is not valued/maintained etc. 404s are 'natural' but at the same time they also indicate a potential issue. Are they genuinely 404 errors i.e. do you want Google to drop them from it's index, or do you need to redirect the pages? Has site development changes been implemented which need to be managed or rectified?

In either case its worth managing within Google Webmaster Tools and or considering 301 redirects. If you genuinely do want Google to deindex a large amount of pages you can handle that separately.

Here's a quote from Google. https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/64033?hl=en

"If outdated pages from your site appear in the search results, ensure that the pages return a status of either 404 (not found) or 410 (gone) in the header. These status codes tell Googlebot that the requested URL isn't valid. Some servers are misconfigured to return a status of 200 (Successful) for pages that don't exist, which tells Googlebot that the requested URLs are valid and should be indexed. If a page returns a true 404 error via the http headers, anyone can remove it from the Google index using the webpage removal request tool."

Personally if I had to remove a lot of pages which I did not wish to 301 redirect. I would use 410 gone or the webpage removal request tool.

You may wish to 301 redirect pages of value i.e. high traffic pages or pages with high level of external links.

Hope you find this helpful.

Thanks

Helene

over 2 years ago

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Ben Griffiths

"Personally if I had to remove a lot of pages which I did not wish to 301 redirect. I would use 410 gone or the webpage removal request tool."

You should not use the UL removal tool for this purpose. Google even helpfully has this help article making this explicit:

https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1269119?hl=en

And 410 "Gone" means slightly faster de-indexation, perhaps, but means you can never ever put new content on that URL, so I wouldn't recommend that either.

I think you're over-estimating the harm 404s can do - internally linking to 404 pages is a sign of poor maintenance, serving 404 itself is not.

Ben

over 2 years ago

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Helene Hall, Digital Marketing Director at Gravytrain

Hi Ben,
Thanks for your comment and great inclusion of link to:
https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/1269119?hl=en

Just to clarify my "Personally if I had to remove a lot of pages which I did not wish to 301 redirect. I would use 410 gone or the webpage removal request tool." there is usually a specific reason which would require a mass removal job, or a specific reason where you would not want the typical 404 response.

Its very specific to the purpose of the job and the resolution has to be specific to situation. I provided those examples, including 301 etc. to show that there are more options available and dependent on the situation more appropriate actions.

Yes you absolutely right the 404 pages can highlight poor site maintenance which has a knock on effort to the rankings.

Thanks

Helene

over 2 years ago

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Ian Lloyd

I disagree with the premis that Google will reduce the value of links in their algorithms. Penguin and manual penalties are Google protecting their link based algorithms. I agree that SEO in 2014 includes a vast array of tactics to form a overall strategy compared to SEO of three years ago,and you have mentioned many of them in your article, but links are still key to most verticals and will be for a long time. This is backed up when Matt Cutts commented that Google took the link rating aspect out of their ranking algorithm and it delivered much worse results. Links connect documents on the web, they are the basis of navigating around the web. Google have used that to create the most accurate guide to what is good for your querys which the whole world uses every day, this is thanks to links.

over 2 years ago

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Helene Hall, Digital Marketing Director at Gravytrain

Hi Ian,

Thanks for your input, its good to have two sides of the coin as it's still very much a subject of debate. Its my personal opinion that links will decrease and I feel that even though the outcome of the link test recently was very negative, it just goes to show that Google are testing or considering a life without links.

Thanks
Helene

over 2 years ago

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Andrew Moore, Account Manager at Not saying

Hi Chris (and anyone else reading this). Do you think Google's opinion of your mobile site will affect the rankings of your desktop site?

Thanks,

Andrew

over 2 years ago

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Andrew Moore, Account Manager at Not saying

Sorry, commented on the wrong post and there's no option to delete

over 2 years ago

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