Both SEO and social media can be met with some scepticism by businesses that don’t see them as a core part of their marketing strategy. A frequent criticism is that marketers or business owners might put in loads of effort, only to have the rug pulled out from under them when the next update or change to algorithms come along.
Following on from my last post about the basics of SEO, it seems pertinent to discuss a few of the recent changes to these important components of any digital marketing strategy.
It is true that in a fast moving world, in which digital marketing is no different, we need to keep track of the rules of the game. Failing to do so can result in penalisation of websites in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), and social media posts that don’t reach the desired audience.
A lot of people will have heard about the more famous Google Penguin and Panda algorithm updates, but there are hundreds of changes every year, and small ones daily. Facebook have also hit the news recently with a big update to the way their news feed works.
So, which recent developments should you be aware of, and what might happen later this year?
SEO and Social Media – Playing by the Rules
The last of Google’s (un)confirmed major algorithm updates was in March 2017, and it was designed to recognise websites or blogs that are utilising thin content to attract visitors, whilst being heavily utilised for affiliate marketing and advertising. We now know that all Google algorithm updates that target site quality issues and aren’t given a specific name are dubbed “Fred”!
So, what is thin content? Google deems thin content to be low quality pages that offer little or no value to the reader. This can mean blog posts that are far too short, duplicated pages or automatically generated content.
Ideally, every post on your blog should be a minimum of 500 words, but longer ones inherently allow greater depth and use of long tail keywords. These allow you to answer and solve more complex questions and problems. Naturally, posts such as these will get higher engagement, and may be shared more widely, all of which is a signal to Google that your website is offering valuable content.
Whether your website is designed to generate ad revenue or not, as far as SEO is concerned, thin or low quality content is always a bad idea!
2. HTTP versus HTTPS
Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is the secure version of HTTP, the protocol over which data is sent between your browser and the website that you are connected to. In short, this means over HTTPS communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
In a series of changes last year, Google started to place more emphasis on the importance of HTTPS. This began with a warning to all Chrome users when completing a form on a less secure HTTP site, and by the end of 2017, 75% of organic results on page one used HTTPS.
3. Facebook News Feed Algorithms
In January 2018, Facebook announced major changes to the algorithm that determines what appears in a user’s news feed. The claimed purpose of this update was to refocus Facebook back towards what it started out as – a social network to help connect friends and families. The more cynical among us might have noticed that this is also a way of making it more difficult for businesses to reach their intended audience without paying for advertising.
The impact and consequences of this change are still being figured out, but the most noticeable difference was the reduction of reach, engagement and referral traffic for posts on company pages. Facebook has shifted the emphasis towards interaction, both in Groups and for posts that get swift engagement, such as live videos.
4. On-Site versus Off-Site Content
All of the social media platforms have long since developed ways to make sure users don’t see a constant stream of irrelevant, poor content or fake news in their feeds. In addition, they have all introduced features to promote content that doesn’t require the user to leave their own platform. Instagram’s Stories, Facebook Live and LinkedIn’s Publisher are all good examples.
The end goal for marketers is still to drive traffic and therefore customers to the company’s website, but this should now include a mixture of both off-site links and native content.
5. What might change in 2018?
This is speculation, but of course it is possible to take an educated guess. We already know that the use of voice search will become more important, and therefore so will rich snippets, which is where these results are drawn from. We also know that mobile first will come into play, where web pages and content designed specifically for mobile devices will be prioritised. Consequently, non-mobile friendly sites will become completely obsolete.
For a great opinion piece on what else might be in store this year, look no further than this blog post by Pratik Dholakiya.
In the field of SEO, there have always been practitioners that tried to “game” or “hack” the system. Google have consistently countered these efforts by changing their algorithms, penalising those using so called “black hat” techniques. This has ensured that the results served up not only match what users are looking for in the first place, but also provide high quality and original content.
Social media has been slightly slower to catch on, but the algorithms of platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram are all being updated on a regular basis. They too are striving to turn the tide in the battle against low quality content. High profile examples of this can be seen in the ongoing battle against fake news, highlighted in recent research from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) that has shown on Twitter at least, it travels faster than the truth!
Ultimately, the same best practices that apply to SEO should apply to social media. A long-term and well thought out strategy, designed to deliver great original content to the people that want to engage with it, will always produce the best results. Keeping an eye on the useful tools available, including Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is also a must.
By sticking to the mantra above and keeping abreast of algorithm changes and developments, you can make sure that your company’s digital marketing strategy stands the test of time. By trying to cheat the system, you are starting a fight that you won’t win!
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