On Christmas Day, lyric site Rap Genius copped a hefty 10-day ban from Google for shoddy SEO practices that violated many of Google’s search rules. So for 10 long days as people searched for song lyrics or “Rap Genius”, the site would appear after page six of search results, ultimately burying it from those seeking to find it through Google.com and therefore committing search suicide.
This was a blow for Rap Genius who has made a successful business from leveraging the gigantic amount of search traffic associated with song lyrics. In fact, song lyrics have been said to account for roughly 7% of all search queries, making them more searched for than sex on search engines. Sexier than sex in search…? But they were pulled up on it when they created a Rap Genius Blog Affiliate ring that promised bloggers “MASSIVE” traffic in exchange for shoddy backlinks on their own site in order to trick Google into putting Rap Genius at the top for Bieber’s new album searches. This week that ban was lifted. What we can learn about search engine optimization (SEO) from Rap Genius’ misfortune is that Google makes the rules, and they’ll strike with an the iron fist when broken. This is a great thing for marketers. All we need to do to win the search game is follow the rules. No keyword-stuffing kind of fancy footwork necessary.
So what we know about the rules for search this year: The latest iteration of the search algorithm, Hummingbird — Google attempts to make searches for the searcher and provide the best match of information to the searcher seeking it.
So with that in mind here are a few good practices for proficient SEO practices this year.
Make the site something people like to use.
In order to protect the privacy of the people, all search queries will now become encrypted. Some queries already are for users logged into Google. You see this in the keyword referral section of Google Analytics for the “(not set)” keywords. This year public search behavior around keywords will become private and all keyword referrals removed in Google Analytics, therefore denying marketers access to popular search behavior. Without this knowledge, people cannot directly target popular keywords to take a slice of the search traffic pie as Rap Genius does so well for lyric searches.
Speculated to replace keyword relevance is user metrics. In this instance, Google would consider how many users bounce from a site, the average time they spend, how many pages they view and so on to determine a good site versus a crap site. The simple takeaway here is that to reap rewards of a high search ranking, make your site great – easy to navigate through with great content.
Make sure it’s as sexy on mobile and tablets as it is on a desktop.
For a searcher, a good experience is device agnostic. Think about the last time you searched for something on a mobile and came to what appeared to be a perfect match. But as soon as you clicked on it, the article took forever to load, and when it finally did, the page was all over the place and illegible. It’s frustrating. For Google to provide the best information for the searcher seeking it, things need to work when searching on a mobile. Therefore sites that are not optimized for a mobile or tablet browsing experience are penalized in search rankings. So be sure to make your site as sleek on mobile as it is desktop. Trim all the excess code, lighten server loads and ensure images are optimized for smaller screens.
Make it social.
In order to prioritize the best pages and push all the rest of the crap to the bottom, Google relies on recommendations of content. Shares, likes and +1’s on a piece of content show Google that it’s good enough that people have recommended it. This is a move away from topic relevance to topic quality. Before, Google would match the main keywords of an article to determine its relevancy on a particular topic. Now it prioritizes articles that are quality enough on the topic to be shared.
The weight of each of the different social channels is not known. However, Moz’s future of search report 2013 found that Google+ had the highest correlation to strong rankings. What this means? If you do not already have an active Google+ account, start one, and be sure to share content there. SEO can be very simple when we just play by the rules and have awesome sites. No Bieber affiliate blog rings necessary.
Amber Horsburgh is a Strategist at Brooklyn digital creative agency Big Spaceship. At the very minute, she leads digital strategy for AXE and YouTube. She teaches Google Analytics and Digital Strategy at Skillshare.
Image credit: CC by TechCrunch