Looking for a comprehensive guide to eCommerce SEO for 2017? Well, look no further. We have put together this piece in order to give you our predictions for the industry throughout the year, as well as discuss various tactics that merchants should be using.
Be aware—this guide is for an advanced SEO user. On a scale of 1 to 10, you should be at least a 5 in terms of SEO knowledge. We are assuming that you have used SEO agencies before, in the past, or have executed SEO work yourself at some point. We hope this gives you real, actionable, and concise information on the modern SEO landscape to better help you plan and execute your eCommerce SEO efforts in 2017.
Here are some of the topics that you should be aware of:
The Pyramid Structure
There isn’t a worse website for search engines than a pyramid structure. This is basically a website that has a ton of pages with no content (categories), a bunch of links to different pages (products) which have very little content, or—a lot of times in SKU-heavy markets—duplicate content from the manufacturers. This is a nightmare for Google. Good news is that every eCommerce has the same struggle.
We have held onto a simple philosophy, at Visiture, that has helped us optimize an eCommerce business:
Level 1 – Homepage – 70% of Backlinks
Level 2 – Categories – 15% of Backlinks
Level 3 – Products – 10% of Backlinks
Level 4 – Blogs – 5% of Backlinks
This is our basic pyramid structure. Simple, right? But why is this important? If you structure your pyramid the right way, you can funnel link authority down the pyramid to the bottom. This way, links that go to your homepage share authority with your categories, products, and blogs, which allows those to rank higher and increases the long-tailed traffic and sales.
If you have anything that is getting in the way of this, you need to fix it ASAP. The navigation bar should have every category that you want. Every category should link to as many relevant products as possible. You also need the homepage with a link to your blog. The blog should have rich interlinks that go to products and categories, in order to help get link authority up the pyramid and to help increase the products and categories rankings.
Recommendations for 2017: Follow our above suggestions and make sure there is nothing stopping you from linking from your homepage to categories, to products, and to your blog. Then you want to make sure that your blog also links to your products and categories. We will soon cover the blogs and best techniques.
There is a lot of noise out there in the industry about Schema markup. Technical SEOs absolutely swear by it, but is it really necessary for an eCommerce business? We Googled “Schema Markup,” and here was the first schema markup result:
“Schema markup is code (semantic vocabulary) that you put on your website to help the search engines return more information results for users. If you’ve ever used rich snippets, you’ll understand exactly what schema markup is all about.”
So, how does this affect eCommerce? The answer: It really doesn’t, to a certain extent. It helps Google crawl a website. Sure, this is absolutely great for a hotel with dynamic changing content or maybe an airline company. It is also great for lists of items, such as a cookbook or a list of items needed for someone searching for their favorite dish. We have been seeing Google link content from popular websites for certain phrases, so it will be important for body content, as the screen shown below suggests.
Recommendation for 2017: Right now, Schema is not as necessary as some of the other SEO initiatives. This is especially true if you run a CMS, such as Shopify, BigCommerce, etc. With more open sourced platforms, like Magento and Demandware, you might need help to correctly markup different items.
However, if your aim is to increase organic search traffic right now, Schema isn’t going to really help. Yet, we are sure that Google’s aim is to get users’ information and content more quickly, so could we see products marked up in the organic listings? Maybe, but we don’t think it’s likely because of Google Shopping’s popularity. But, who knows? Be sure that the Schema markup is correct, but don’t spend a ton of time on this.
2017 is the year of computer learning. It is already affecting the way we do everything—especially the way we do meta information. The old days of just stuffing keywords are deader than a doornail. However, we still want to optimize meta information for two things: engines and people.
With the rise of computer learning, Google now understands what a user wants and has realized that meta information is relevant but not as necessary. Let’s consider an example:
If we want to optimize a keyword for “Garmin Watches,” a 2015 method would be to optimize the meta title by putting the keywords on the farthest left-hand side. For example: “Garmin Watches for Sale by XYZ Company.”
But, now, with machine learning, Google can tell who clicks what (higher click-through rate increases authority) and how they interact with the page (bounce rate, exit, time on page.) We want as many people to click on it as possible, so using something with a high call to action or click-through rate is best. Example: “Show now for Garmin Watches – Best Prices.”
In the old days, Google could not understand modifiers, meaning if I put more keywords in like “best” or “new,” I could outrank someone who did not use those keywords in the meta title. So, if one meta title says “Best Watches for Sale,” and mine says “Shop Now for New Modern Watches,” it will carry the same weight or very similar weight, as someone search for “Best Watches for Sale.”
Recommendations for 2017: This might be confusing, as this is a very gray area, but we need to focus on optimizing for engines (still have the keyword “watches”) and for people (by including calls to action or modifiers to enhance click-through rates).
This might be a very bold statement, but meta descriptions are more impactful than titles because of computer learning. This is very similar to meta titles and it focuses less on keywords and more on the actual calls to action. However, there is a gray area.
For example, an eCommerce business category may have multiple keywords for which you are optimizing. The best way to optimize the meta description is by including a list separated by commas.
Let’s say you have a “Wedding Rings” category with multiple versions, you want to include the different subcategories in this description. Using a meta description rich with keywords is still an effective tactic and should still be utilized without stuffing the keywords.
- Wedding Rings
- Wedding Bands
- Classic Wedding Rings
- Colorful Wedding Rings
- Good: Shop at XYZ Company for the best wedding rings and bands, including classic, colorful, or modern styles. Shop today and get 10% off your first order.
- Bad: Shop at XYZ Company for the best wedding rings, wedding bands, classic and colorful wedding rings. We also have modern, contemporary, and more.
As you can see, the bad one utilizes too many keywords, saying wedding three times, and includes even more modifiers (modern, contemporary) instead of a call to action to induce a click through rate.
Recommendation for 2017: Make sure your meta descriptions are keyword rich, but without repeating keywords. Also, include calls to action or modifiers to induce a higher click-through rate. Talk about the company or specials you run, in order to produce the highest long-term results for an eCommerce business.
You might think that Google is this beyond-intelligent company that can understand anything in the world. However, the truth is, despite how smart Google is—and it is extremely smart—Google can’t read images, only text. Therefore, until Google can read images, you need ALT tags. Most of the time, ALT tags are also the last items to optimize for SEO. However, ALT tags can be very important—especially for merchants that want to get results from the Google images tab.
While ALT tags are not the most important thing on this list, you should pay attention to them. If the resources permit, you want to optimize your ALT tags very similarly to your meta information. Be sure to describe the image, and use similar keywords to the page it is on—otherwise, it could look suspicious to Google. Is that likely to happen? Probably not, but you never know—and not doing so could be costly.
Recommendation for 2017: Use ALT tags if you have the resources in place to do so. Be careful not to keyword stuff, and make sure that the ALT tag is similar to the page it is on.
Let’s go back to our pyramid structure. Google wants folders to be categorized correctly. Using a template like the one below is—and, generally, always will be—the best tactic:
Please note: If you have products with multiple categories, using an example.com/product and example.com/category/subcategory works well to cut down on duplicate content, especially if they follow the rules below.
Obviously, there are going to be exceptions to the rule, but, generally, you need two out of three of our “tripod”—that is: breadcrumbs, sitemap, and site structure. If you have two out of these three, then you are generally pretty good. However, having all three is superior in Google’s eyes.
What’s changed with URLs? With Google’s update to Panda 2.0, they now focus on shorter URLs. Prior to this, having “keyword rich” URLs was superior. WordPress even automatically makes the URL the same as the title of the page. If we were to create an article, “How to Quit Smoking,” it would become example.com/blog/how-to-quit-smoking.
What we have found, with Panda 2.0, is that having a different URL from the title of the page and the meta title was superior, and it under-optimized the page. Therefore, a better URL would be: example.com/blog/quit-smoking. Google likes the keywords on the farthest left-hand side, similar to the old ways of doing meta titles. Also, make sure you keep it as brief, short, and sweet as possible.
Recommendations for 2017: We’ve learned that, for this year, having a brief and “to the point” URL is superior. Keep them short and brief, with your keywords on the farthest left-hand side. Keep the traditional structure of example.com/category/product, and make sure that you have two of the three tripod options.
Category Body Content
Category body content is still a very vital tool for eCommerce businesses. However, many eCommerce retailers have tried this tactic with zero success, or, at least, any tangible results from the resources allocated for this. Does having content on all of the category levels really impact positive search results? Well, that’s complicated. The answer is yes and no. It does if you have other positive attributes that will help optimize the page. This can include inbound links, navigational links to the page, reasons for people to share the category level, etc.
In short, yes, having body content does, in fact, help. However, it isn’t going to help if that is the only thing you are doing to optimize a category level page. We ran a test for an eCommerce business for one category page where they had inbound links and proper information filled out in the meta field. When we put on a piece of body content, it surged to a second-page placement. Here is a screenshot of the ranking report:
We can see that this does, in fact, give a positive lift. However, we have tried the same experience with just content and received zero benefits. We think that this is because of the dreadful Panda update in Google. An eCommerce business naturally picks up any Panda update because it is a bunch of pages that has many inbound links going to other pages with thin content. To combat this, a Panda update applying body content will always be a tested and effective tactic.
However, when you are writing this content, you want to make sure that you include relevant content about the page. If you are writing miscellaneous content that has nothing to do with the pages it links to, Google will find this bizarre, and you will find yourself susceptible to different updates, especially a few recently where Google has tried punishing affiliate sites that create content to trick the algorithm into ranking the page for products it does not sell.
Recommendation for 2017: Body content is still a viable tactic for the category level. Only optimize it with relevant content that correlates to your products and the category level. Do not over-optimize it, and make sure the content fits the user. Make sure to not bog down the page with content, and, remember, the searcher wants your products. Too much content can ruin the searcher’s experience and, ultimately, cause high bounce rates. Having content below the product level is ideal, with some content above the products. Having 200-300 words on top and around 300 words on the bottom is ideal.
Interlinking has always been a fascinating subject for eCommerce merchants. Technically, the whole website interlinks to each part very well because it utilizes things like a navigation bar, categories, “related products,” or other features to give users product or category suggestions. However, there is still work that can be done.
Interlinking your different pieces of category page content and product content is a very underutilized tactic. Google favors long form content, as a study found out in 2016. eCommerce is being pushed down because of Google Shopping and affiliate content. This is most likely to the detriment of the user. However, this doesn’t mean that we should give up and only use Google Shopping. It just means that our tactics have to change for 2017.
One way for eCommerce to combat Google’s changes is to become more like the websites that they are favoring: long form content websites.
If you look at some long form content websites, you will see that they have a lot of content, images, and more that links to different products and categories using text links compared to product images links. Having body content at the category level or product level, which interlinks to different pages, could be a very sneaky tactic for the advanced SEO user in 2017.
However, there are also plenty of websites which abuse this tactic. A safe rule of thumb is one interlink per 100 words. Of course, sites like Wikipedia use upward of 100-500 interlinks per page, but we aren’t trying to be them. We just want to be safe and make sure that what we do makes sense for the user and the search engine. Only use interlinks if it makes sense for both.
Recommendation for 2017: Using interlinking is important, but you want to make sure that you don’t over optimize it. Apply 1 per 100 words, and only if it makes sense for the user and the search engine.
Many old content management systems or shopping cart solutions have produced a lot of outdated tagging systems for their content. Being able to have Google crawl your site and understand quickly is imperative. Shopping systems like BigCommerce and Shopify do a great job of keeping it clean and easy for Google to understand.
Each page should start with an <h1> tag for the category title, and then the paragraph text should be wrapped in <p> tags. Any subheaders should adopt the <h2> and <h3> tags. For in-depth content, the use of <h4>, <h5>, and <h6> are also needed. Making sure to look through your source code to check that the different content items have the proper tags is imperative.
It is also important to look through your source code to identify and remedy any line items of code that do not make sense when tagging your content. For instance, having a <bold> tag around all of your text or having a <tr> tags can confuse Google, which will not understand how it is displayed.
Systems like Shopify, BigCommerce, and Magento are paving the way for proper use of the tags. You can also check to make sure <h> tags are not wrapping your logo, breadcrumbs, etc. All text should be tagged in the way Google needs it to be.
Recommendation for 2017: Google hasn’t changed the way it does tags. It is still important to make sure that your tags are properly tagging your content in your category level and product level. If do you not have <h1> tags on category pages, it is imperative you do so for every category page.
Canonical linking hasn’t changed much for 2017. Robust systems like Magento and other shopping cart solutions will still require canonical tags to cut down on duplicate content. One prediction for 2017 is to look into your content—has a higher source republished your content and not given your site the original credit for it in Google’s eyes?
Getting your content republished for links and social signals is fantastic! But, if you publish your content on a new site with a higher domain authority, and the link to your site does not contain the rel=canonical, you can suffer from a lack of social signals and link authority to your site.
Recommendation for 2017: If you are already implementing canonical links, then not too much will be changing. An important focal point in 2017 will be for content teams, PR teams, SEO teams, or anyone else managing your content to make sure, if someone republishes your content, that they are not deemed the authority for that piece of content. If it is found to be so, it will be extremely important to reach out to that source and get them to implement the rel=canonical tag.
Duplicate content will be a large issue faced by merchants heading into 2017. Open sourced programs are notorious for these duplicate content issues, and, with merchants being more advanced, a technical audit will be necessary for many merchants.
It is important for merchants to look into their robots.txt file for different types of their shopping cart pages which should not be indexed. Merchants can also go into Google webmaster tools to tell Google which pages to crawl or not to crawl. Useless pages like example.com/my-wish-list will need to be stopped from being indexed.
Having attribute pages being indexed will also create problems for merchants, as the competition will continue to rise due to the advancement of technical SEO that merchants are gathering.
Another item to be looked at is duplicate content from links and from resources. It is important to also look at your content and make sure it is not republished on other sites with a higher domain authority. Otherwise, that content has a chance of being indexed—over your content—in the search engines.
Recommendation for 2017: Check webmaster tools and your robots.txt file to no-index or tell Google to not crawl useless shopping cart pages and any additional useless pages, which creates duplicate content issues like attribute pages.
Brand Pages Focus
Generally, brand pages are a very underutilized asset that an eCommerce business has in their repertoire. They can provide very high-converting organic traffic if done right. In 2017, eCommerce will move even farther away from manufacturers’ default content and more into unique content for their particular site to help them rank above competitors in SKU-heavy markets.
In addition to this, it is important to also have your content and links focus on the individual brand pages to help them rank above the competitors.
Recommendation for 2017: Stop using manufacturing default content, and write unique high-quality content for your site. Have your links and content centered around brand pages to help them rank for those phrases.
User Generated Content
If you aren’t generating user-generated content for your site, you are probably lagging behind your competitors. Generally, we consider user-generated content consists of reviews for your products. This is how Amazon does so well in search, as their products have hundreds, if not thousands, of unique pieces of content (reviews). It is genius, and it is a tactic of which you should be taking advantage.
There are many ways of attaining user-generated content. Offering rewards for user-generated content will continue to gain in popularity. There are also other ways, such as social media shares for monetary discounts upon checkout, writing blog content, providing reviews on their personal blog, and other various user-generated content techniques. With it being more difficult to manipulate the system, we will see more merchants focusing on how to develop user-generated content, compared to producing the content themselves and using scarce internal resources to do so.
Recommendation for 2017: Make sure that all of your reviews are your own content, with 100% control over the reviews. Focus on how to generate user-generated content, such as reviews, social media shares, and different tactics you can use to develop high-quality unique content.
We all know that your site needs to be fast. Without going into too much depth, we are going to focus on what you need to know for 2017 concerning site speed.
With the emergence of cart solutions, such as Shopify and BigCommerce, merchants are able to have fairly well-optimized sites quickly out of the box. This has given smaller merchants great, fast, and well-optimized websites in an efficient manner. The challenge to compete will be for merchants with more complex and robust solutions. The good news is that these merchants have a large presence, more links, and more authority in Google’s eyes, but they should still look to improve their speed to compete with these new solutions.
In 2017, we will see a bigger focus on the mid-market of merchants with archaic or slower cart solutions to optimize their site speed to compete with the newer merchants who are using optimized carts out of the box. Using tools like the Google page speed tool and other independent tools like Optimizely will start to be a bigger part of the solution. Leveraging browser caching, minifying product images, and removing features which bog down site speed will take shape in 2017.
Recommendation for 2017: If you are a smaller site using Shopify or BigCommerce, you surely have great site speed or, at least, a very well-optimized site. The larger pressure will be on the mid-market sites that have to compete against these cart solutions with more open sourced platforms, which require more development resources. We may find larger stores pulling back their resource-heavy features to speed up the site in order to compete with these shopping cart solutions.
Mobile optimization differs from merchant to merchant, size, and shopping cart solution. It also depends on whether you are using a mobile site or a responsive design. Either way, UX and SEO go hand in hand because a better site design that is easier to navigate and use will ultimately help with SEO. Google is able to understand how people interact with your web pages, so, if you have a high bounce rate and no one click on the additional links, you will soon find yourself pushed farther into the Google sandbox.
In 2017, SEOs will work closely hand in hand with website design and development, CRO, and UX services to optimize not only for the search engine but also for the user. How can you give the user information the fastest way possible?
Recommendation for 2017: Have your SEO team work closely with your optimizing team to make sure you are optimizing for both the user and the search engine. For mobile, the main focus needs to be on how we can give the user the best experience and what they want the fastest.
We have talked a lot about RankBrain and computer learning, but a big topic for 2017 will be usability. Let’s say that you want to rank for “Aftermarket Parts for Mustangs.” The people on the first page will go through usability scoring or ranking. Basically, Google will evaluate how people interact with those pages.
If you game the system and get really high scores with a bunch of links, but then Google sees that no one really interacts with your page from that particular search, you will go back into the sandbox. Here are some key criteria:
- Bounce Rate – Do people bounce off your page right away? Do they click any links on the page to get information?
- Information Acquiring – Google wants web pages to give an “ah-ha!” moment. They want the user to find their information. If your content does not give the answer to the questions or the answer to the query, you will plummet from the top.
- Time on Page – How long do they stay on the page? This may be the biggest one. They do not want people going to a link, not staying long, and then not clicking on a link for more information.
At the moment, we don’t think Google is extremely advanced with this, yet. However, we know that they have to be at least using a couple of the three points above.
Recommendation for 2017: Focus on giving users the “ah-ha!” moment, whether finding questions from your blog/resources or the products they want the quickest. Make sure your products and categories are clear and have great information, and make sure your blog content is thorough and very informative.
In case you don’t know what a backlink is, be sure to check out our guide to backlinks. It will be very useful to get you up to speed. In reality, backlinks are useless if the user finds them useless. With computer learning and the advancements of Google’s algorithm, backlinks don’t mean anything unless they have social signals, comments, backlinks to that backlink, and users actually using the content. In short, useless backlinks are a thing of the past, while good links are more important than ever in 2017.
The first thing that you want to look at is the relevance of the link. Anyone can get hundreds, if not thousands, of links, but all that really matters is how relevant they are to you and how users use them. When we say relevance, we mean the content has to do with the content of your site. If you sell aftermarket automotive parts, and the links you get have very little to do with your business, you will find these links provide very little impact on your site. How do you judge relevance? Usually, you want to look at these key criteria:
- Website Relevance – Does the website have any commonalities with your website? Do you have similar keywords?
- Content Relevance – If the webpage that links to you has nothing to do with you, then you will surely not see any impact from it. But relevance doesn’t end just at the website itself. Content is also important. For instance, getting a link from an automotive website but having the webpage talk about scholarships will not provide as much impact as an article about automotive replacement parts.
- Link Relevance – Do the actual links, anchor texts, sentences, or paragraphs that link to you provide keyword support to support the link being relevant? Does it make sense? If not, you will see a lesser impact from these links to your pages.
Recommendation for 2017: Link relevance is going to be very important this year. You will need to refine your linking processes to websites that have to do with what you do, and the articles, links, and content must be centered around your products and categories. If not, you will find that your link profile will provide a lesser impact.
Number of Links
Believe it or not, but the number of links is important for your backlink profile—especially how many domains point to your site. Having 10,000 links from one affiliate site has diminishing returns, and, in most cases, will only help so much.
Many SEOs will preach quality over quantity, and, while this is true, it is rather misleading. Having quality links is very important but having a larger number of quality links is better. Google won’t positively judge a website based on 5-10 super high-quality links unless you are in a very specific niche.
Almost all large merchants have thousands of links from high-quality websites, directories, forums, blog comments, and more. Having a large, quality link profile is necessary in today’s world. This goes against SEO in nature, as we usually want the most high-quality links, but having some non-important links is just as important.
In studies from both Searchmetrics and Backlinko, sites with a larger link profile generally do better in Google search. Google understands sites will get links pointed to them and sometimes have low-quality links point to them.
Instead of disavowing every link under a DA 30 on a weekly basis, we need to embrace these links that are not built from us and understand that Google knows these links are in a healthy profile. Having a large number of links is actually a really good factor in Google search, as more websites are giving you an upvote, instead of just a few.
Recommendation for 2017: We are not saying to go build links like it’s 2010, but just know that having a large number of links is a good thing and is usually easier to manage in a link profile. Stop focusing on removing the bad links, as Google doesn’t usually count them. Instead, focus on acquiring good quality links that are relevant and which users find useful.
There are many factors that go into what make a good source of a link. We’ve already covered relevance, but there are more factors to it than just relevance. We want to look at the impact of the source. Here are some key criteria below:
- Domain Authority – How high is their domain authority with Google? There are various tools you can use to judge this. Ahrefs does a good job understanding DA.
- Social Influence – Do their social media accounts have legitimate likes, shares, and followers? The more natural social following they have, the better, and, if your link gets shared on their channels, it is impactful.
- Alexa Rankings – You can also look at Alexa ranking to determine how well people interact with the site.
- Ahrefs Rankings – Ahrefs is a great SEO tool that can judge the popularity or authority based on their backlink profile. The lower the ranking (it ranks all websites), the better the source.
- Influence – This is more of an eye test. Is this an impactful website? Do people interact with it? Is there new content being published regularly? Do they have email subscribers?
The above are good criteria for looking for good sources of places from which to get links. However, a lot of them will require your best judgment.
Recommendation for 2017: When performing your content outreach campaigns in 2017, be sure to find good sources using our key criteria. A lot of them go hand in hand because when you have good DA, you usually are strong in the other criteria. Good source links with relevance will be more of a focal point in 2017 backlink profiles.
Links – What Is Impactful
In this section, we will analyze what is impactful for a link in 2017. Generally, we want to see social signals on our individual page. Getting a good editorial article published with a link to our site is a good start, especially if you share it in your social channels, and then they share it in their social channels.
In the end, what we want is viral content, and to get links to our site from that viral content. It is rather simple in its nature when you think about it, but there are also other factors to look into:
- Link Placements – Where is the link? If it is in a bio link, then it won’t help as much as if it is at the top of the article. If you have more than one like—one at the to and one at the bottom—it is better. Of course, too many, and you receive diminishing returns.
- Social Signals – This may be repetitive, but having a link that has social shares and social interaction—meaning, people share it on social media and visit it—is impactful.
- Email Click Backs – If they share it on their newsletter and get clicks back, it helps make the link stronger.
- User Engagement – Similar to email click backs, the more users visiting it and interacting with it, the better the link. Useless articles are useless links.
- Anchor Text – Anchor text does help, but it can hurt, so be careful with it. Backlinko does say it helps, but be careful as you can always trigger Penguin updates.
- Anchor Context – The content around your anchor is important, as well. Oddly placed anchor text can hurt your efforts and the anchor text.
- Backlinks – The last and strongest factor is having backlinks pointing to your backlink. If people point links to your links from good link sources, your article will rise in relevance.
Recommendation for 2017: Use the above criteria when forming your editorial content, your content promotion, and your backlink efforts. Do not try to do too much of each, but it is to be hoped that this will help you form your backlink efforts in 2017 to focus on the user and the search engine.
Backlinks audits are still very important for 2017. It is a good rule of thumb to audit your backlink profile once a quarter, and go in and disavow any links that could look suspicious or hurt your profile. Even though Google has come out and said it is almost impossible to hurt a website with negative SEO linking practices, there are some best practices to look for when optimizing your link profile. Here are some key criteria to look for:
- Anchor Text – This is a sneaky trick. If you have too much or more than 5% of one type of anchor text as a commercial phrase, you can disavow links to get the anchor text ratio to a reasonable level.
- Low Quality – Low-quality links from DA 10 and below can be a nuisance and should be disavowed if you did not obtain them yourself. This won’t help you rise in the SERPs from disavowing them, usually, but it is a good practice.
- Non-Relevance – If you have links from non-relevant websites, it is good to disavow these.
- Old Linking Tactics – A good rule of thumb is that any link which was built to game the system, such as a private blog network, is a good link to disavow. Many SEOs spend time getting great links, only to counteract the bad links achieved from other negative efforts.
- Link Wheels – Any links that were built or are placed on link farms or link wheels should be disavowed
- Oddly Placed Links – Links that make no sense or which were built back in the day could be a good target to disavow.
Recommendations for 2017: Go through, once a quarter, and audit your link profile according to the link criteria identified above. Remove any links that could be negatively impacting your profile by reaching out and emailing webmasters or by simply disavowing them as a last effort.
To understand social shares, you must understand social media. A social media channel, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, is a gigantic website with billions of “no follow” backlinks. You might be thinking “Why would we want to get a bunch of no follow links?”
The answer is: Google understands how social media works and knows when a website is popular with the social media channels. It does not count a Facebook link the same way as traditional web page backlink, but it does understand social media shares. It can tell and judge popularity based on it. In short, more high-quality social shares will help Google identify your website as quality. You cannot rank your website with just social signals, but it helps strengthen your website as a “quality” website in Google’s eyes.
Google also understands when people click on the social media links back to your site or your backlinks sites. For instance, let’s say you write a blog, “The 20 Best Aftermarket Parts for a 1968 Mustang.” It gets 20 Facebook shares and 150 likes. Google will understand this is a strong social link to this article and will be more likely to rank it for “best aftermarket parts for 1968 Mustang.”
What generally happens with social media shares is that your site rises in popularity, and then you get more eyeballs on your content. From there, people can link to you from their articles or share your site on their social channels. Generally, if it is a good piece of content, Google will understand people came from a social channel to your blog and, if they interact with it well and read the content, then it will positively impact your links.
There are a lot of tricks that people use to gain social signals. People create lists and use catchy titles in order to get as many clicks as possible. For example: “20 Best Aftermarket Parts for 1968 Mustangs – You Won’t Believe #5.” They can put 5 parts on 4 pages so that the user has to click on 4 pages to see all of the content. In Google’s eyes, it shows a lot of people clicking and interacting with the link, which makes them value your websites more and like it more.
Recommendation for 2017: Merchants must put a bigger focus on creating great content and sharing this content on their social channels to gain social media traction. Interact with your communities and followers, and garner hard-fought social signals, as this is becoming more prevalent with Google’s algorithm. Make sure you never buy likes or fake social media interaction, as, just as with Penguin, Google can make a social media update and crush merchants who game the social channels to fabricate popularity.
Backlinking is becoming more and more difficult. As you can see in our above-mentioned guide, just rating backlinks and finding the right ones has become much more difficult than it was in 2015 or 2016. In this section, we will cover our top strategies to help assist you in finding relevant backlinks in 2017 and becoming a thought leader in your particular vertical as the merchant.
Please note: Our backlinking strategies are based on acquiring links through great content, content research, content promotion, and relationship building. We do not build links and acquire them through natural and innovative SEO strategies.
Content Research and Creation
First and foremost, if you do not know what to write or promote, then how will you acquire good links to provide useful information? Guessing is the last resort that you want to use. You can use a tool like the Ahrefs content tool or Buzzsumo to help you figure out what content has done well in the past so that you are not guessing about what to write. This is super important—you must do the research in order to find out what consumers find most relevant and what they want to hear about, compared to just what you think they want to hear.
Using these tools allows you to find relevant topics and determine how well they have done from backlinks and social media signals. With this information, you can use the data to create even better content. Never copy and paste content. Make sure it is in your own words; otherwise, Google will punish you for duplicating content, and, really, it’s just immoral to copy someone else’s content.
Then, once you know what content you want to create, it’s time to actually create it. You can have content writers, designers, marketing people, yourself, or all of the above work on it. Make sure you are always creating content with the “ah-ha!” moment. You need to solve the reader’s problem, either with a product, category of products, or a solution to the problem which they were researching. For instance, we could create a blog called “20 Best Aftermarket Parts for 1968 Mustang.” This way, we are helping people know about the best aftermarket parts, and we are showing them where to buy them (at your site).
Last, focus on the content depth, not the quantity. It is better to have one fantastic blog rather than three okay ones. You want to have the absolute best content possible, built for the user and the search engine. The search rankings will follow, as computer learning can rank content even though they do not have the exact keywords or matches in their information.
Recommendation for 2017: Focus on doing as much research as you can on content and producing content depth, finding the “ah-ha!” moment for your users. One-up your competitors on content, and produce the best content you possibly can, while being hyper-focused on what the content serves and solves. This means knowing who this is for and what it is supposed to solve for them.
Content promotion is one of the absolutely most tedious practices in SEO. This is where almost everyone falls short—promoting the content. If you don’t promote your content, how will anyone know about it? Google isn’t going to rank a piece of content #1 just because you create a blog. You need to promote the content to the right people. Here are some tools and tips to help you. Remember, you should spend three times the amount of time promoting content as creating it. If it took you 2 hours to create the piece, spend at least 6 promoting it.
Social Media: This one should be obvious. You need to be using your social channels to promote your content and interact with other social media influencers. If you are an automotive aftermarket dealer, then find automotive blogs and interact with them on social media. Follow them, share their content, and send them your content. Good things happen when you interact with people.
Email Promotion: This is a fairly simple tactic. Find good targets based on similar articles. If you write a blog, “Everything You Need to Know About Anti-Aging Products,” you will want to share it with people to have an interest in it. Google anti-aging blogs or skin care blogs to find related articles, and then email those authors. Let them know that you enjoyed their article and thought they should see yours. If you do this enough times and refine your process, they could share your article on their social channels or link to it.
Advertising: This one is the easiest but most costly. You can promote it through the display network, social media advertising (which is big), or other traditional means.
Calling: Believe it or not, no one does this. Call these influencers and learn more about them. Let them know about you and how you enjoyed their content. This is the most surefire way to build a relationship with their blog. This is the best and most effective method, but it is also the hardest.
Recommendation for 2017: Content creation and promotion is not a new idea and if you don’t know about it, by now, you are missing out on the best off-page SEO tactic since Google was invented. For 2017, more and more of your competitors are going to be learning about it, so you need to focus on better promotion ideas and new and clever ways to promote your content.
Let’s talk about social media one more time! There are tons of social media platforms out there, and you have to know how to leverage them. One thing that many merchants don’t realize is that you have to invest money into the advertising tools. Also, social media generally does not provide the black and white ROAS that a PPC campaign would produce.
However, getting more likes on Facebook, more pins, more tweets, and more engagement can provide real long-term profits over time. And, yes, social media does help SEO. Right now, in our opinion, Google cannot tell the difference between sponsored content and organic content. Therefore, you can use the advertising tools and get social signals to help SEO off-page efforts. Use your social channels to promote your retargeting efforts for products, but also use it to promote your content. And, last, build relationships with the key influencers in your market.
Facebook: By far, Facebook has the largest number of users and can provide the highest ROAS from their advertising tool. This is the best tool for promoting your blog content with the advertising tool, performing dynamic retargeting, and sharing the links you achieve. In 2017, we will see SEOs sharing their links through Facebook and using the advertising tool to promote it.
Pinterest: While you might not see it in their interface, Pinterest and Facebook are very similar, especially when it comes to the way that Google reads them. All pins have separate URLs, which makes it easier for Google to read Pinterest. The advertising platform is great, and it is fantastic for promoting products that can help them in the SEO game.
Instagram: Instagram is becoming a huge branding tool in 2017. It’s not just for the younger generation, anymore. As far as SEO is concerned, it is rather poor, but we should see a shift in 2017 to Instagram being more integrated with Google—as soon as it learns how to interact with Instagram.
Twitter: Twitter is also very similar to Facebook; however, this tool is great for influencer outreach and relationship management. You can manage the relationships with the people from whom you achieve links. It is impactful to find key influencers in your market and follow them, share their content, and interact with them. A good retweet from them can dramatically benefit your content.
Recommendation for 2017: Make sure to use your advertising tools to promote content, products, and categories. Of course, you want organic, but, with every change the platforms make, it is harder for commercial entities to earn organic value compared to non-commercial entities. Always leverage your tools to build relationships, and utilize those relationships to get strong social media signals.
Editorial articles (also known as guest posts) have been around for some time. The big difference in 2017 is focusing on the factors we mentioned above, and being very detailed about how to get them and how the link is rated. Creating content with the highest quality is, obviously, very important. Spending as much time as you can on one piece is better than producing hundreds of articles.
A good example is one client who wrote an article that took a great amount of time and research. We won’t mention who it is, but they ended up getting 147,000 Facebook shares, and the blog piece ultimately garnered 5 million plus—and counting—visits to the blog. The reason it was so successful is that a key influencer (an old Star Trek cast member) shared it on his Facebook account.
The more time you spend, the better, with an obvious breaking point. You cannot spend 100 hours on one piece, but the more research and thought that goes into it, the better. Plus, the more thought that goes into it, the more likely it will be picked up as editorial content.
For 2017, building relationships with content editors through social media is more and more important. These are real people with requests for publishing articles on a daily basis. To stand out from the crowd, you have to do your homework on who they are and what they want/like. Learn from them via social media and interact with them. Then create amazing content just for their website and pitch to them why it will make them better by having your content on their website.
Recommendation for 2017: Focus on building relationships with content editors through social media, and really spend the time to build these relationships. More and more merchants are using SEOs and editorial content tactics. The competition is tightening up, so, to compete, you need to advance your methods and be more tactical with them. Do one-on-one emailing with personalization, compared to mass emailing.
Becoming a thought leader can be very important for merchants. It gives your store more credibility and gives you a better chance of having your products purchased if someone relates to your content. Make sure, when you create content, that it is of the highest quality and solves people’s problems or answers their questions. Creating content can also be spun into designs, where you design content to give it the wow effect.
With more and more competition, it is important to become crafty and even to use traditional means to become a thought leader, such as publishing articles in traditional magazines or becoming known as a speaker on your subject.
Today, more than ever, SEO is becoming more and more incorporated with PR and is less of a technical art of manipulation and more of a value-adding art.
Recommendation for 2017: Promote yourself as the thought leader for your niche through the content creation and promotion tactics above. Remember, SEO is becoming very integrated with PR and other traditional marketing means. Long gone are the days of manipulation; the focus is now on value adding.