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SEO (search engine optimization) is a constantly evolving activity. As the search engine algorithms become more sophisticated, they assess Web sites in more complex ways to arrive at suitable search results. There are significant changes on the horizon in how search engines will index and present their results. These changes are aligned with a goal of sorting through the exponentially increasing amounts of data available on the Web and giving users better and more targeted search results, which they will find useful.
There are four strong emerging trends for SEO:
These four trends are making optimizing Web sites for search engines even more complex.
The first two trends revolve around how the search engines are trying to accommodate the geographic and personal preferences of a user so as to present them with the best contextual results. By localizing, the search engines are presenting information in the language and geographic context of the user.
In personalizing search, the search engines are trying to align with what they have determined would be more appropriate for that specific user. Personalized search targets users’ preferences on two bases: explicitly and implicitly.
Explicit personalized search is based on an interpretation, by the search engines, of data and information the users provide directly to search engines, such as location, age, language, and gender.
Implicit personalized search is based on data and information search engines gather by analyzing users’ behavior. Search engines will track the pages users frequently visit or how they use certain sites—such as Gmail or bookmarking sites. Based on this, the search engines will predict what a user is probably interested in and tailor the results it presents to that user accordingly.
Surveys suggest that users are generally in favor of personalizationSearch results are personalized to, or vary according to, what search engines think a user is actually interested in. and are willing to trade personal information to benefit from better-quality results from the search engines. Large search engines, like Google, are even offering end users the opportunity to tell them what results they like—through the launch of user feedback mechanisms such as Google Search Wiki (launched in 2008).This kind of functionality allows the user to tell search engines what results they like or don’t like and would like to see (or not) again.
To optimize a site properly, factors like personalization and localization need to be taken into account and the site needs to be honed to do the following:
Search engines want their results to be highly relevant to Web users to make sure that Web users keep returning to the search engine for future searches. And the best way to establish relevance to users—how they use Web sites, of course!
Usage data are the most effective way of judging the true relevancy and value of a Web site. For example, if users arrive on a Web site and go back immediately, chances are it wasn’t relevant to their query in the first place. However, if a user repeatedly visits a Web site and spends a long time on the site, chances are it is extremely relevant. When it comes to search engines, relevant valuable sites get promoted, and irrelevant sites get demoted.
Most search engines also provide other services, all of which can be used to gather data relevant to search. For Google, some examples of these services include the following:
As of 2010, this is a relatively new area of SEO. It no doubt plays a part in search engine rankings, and that contribution is set to grow. So what does this mean for SEO? When it comes to a Web site, SEO must do the following:
Black-hat SEOUnethical techniques that are used to get higher search rankings. refers to practices that attempt to game the search engines. Should a search engine uncover a Web site that is using unethical practices to achieve search engine rankings, it is likely to remove that Web site from its index.
Google publishes guidelines for Webmasters, available through Google’s Webmaster Central (http://www.google.com/webmasters). As well as outlining best practice principles, Google has supplied the following list of precautions:
The bottom line: design Web sites for users first and foremost, and don’t try to trick the search engines.
Google offered a new feature called real-time search, which went live in December 2009. It’s designed to further increase the optimal user experience with search and follows earlier features on Google search engine results pages (SERPs), which now regularly include images, news items, videos, and shopping listings. With real-time search, Google now displays a dynamic function in its SERPS, where you can see the latest mentions or URLs published on the Web, related to your search term.
This is ideal for social media and microblogging purposes, and Google has partnered with the likes of Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, Identi.ca, and other online businesses to offer this initiative. It opens up a number of opportunities and increases the importance of a strong social media presence to augment your search engine marketing efforts.
There are a number of tools available to assist with SEO. Some are made available by search engines, and some are developed by agencies and individuals who specialize in SEO. Most are available for free.
Google provides guidelines to Webmasters and tools to help ensure your Web site is being indexed.
Quirk SearchStatus is a Firefox extension that allows you to easily view key SEO information related to the page you are visiting. As well as linking to Alexa and Compete rankings and a Whois look up, Quirk SearchStatus will highlight keywords on a page and allow you to easily access link reports from each of the major search engines.
SEOBook.com provides a number of tools that assist any SEO. For example, Rank Checker is a Firefox extension that allows you to save a number of keywords and to perform regular searches on them, giving you the ranking of your chosen URL for each keyword in the search engines selected. They also have tools to help with keyword discovery.
SEOMoz provides a wealth of articles and forums, as well as excellent SEO tools and guides. Some are free, but become a “PRO” member to access them all.
There are a number of tools available, some free and some that require a fee, to assist with keyword discovery. Some include Trellion’s Keyword Discovery Tool (http://www.keyworddiscovery.com) and Wordtracker (http://www.wordtracker.com).
Webmaster World (http://www.webmasterworld.com) is frequented by SEOs and Webmasters aiming to stay current with latest trends and search engine updates.
Google provides a free starter guide, useful for anyone new to SEO.
This provides valuable information about search terms you may want to target for SEO purposes. It also provides regional interest (i.e., by geography) for search terms, which is increasingly important as search engines move toward localization and personalization in their search focus.
Optimizing a Web site for search engines should entail optimizing the Web site for users. Done properly, it should result in a better user experience, while ensuring that search engines index and rank the Web site well.
However, it can be tempting to focus on the technicalities of SEO while forgetting that both robots and humans need to read the same Web site. One should not be sacrificed for the other.
Search engines update their algorithms regularly. Each update is an attempt to improve search results but can result in loss of rankings for some Web sites, depending on the update. A contingency plan, such as a prepared PPC (pay-per-click) campaign, needs to be in place to cope with a sudden drop in rankings.
As with any eMarketing practice, SEO should not be the only focus of eMarketing efforts. It works best when part of a holistic eMarketing strategy.
There are three strong emerging trends for SEO: