Evolution is cyclical as it is progressive. While search engine algorithms have developed over the past decade to an extraordinary level of sophistication, Google’s ranking factors have all but gone full circle! At the heart of the panda update is content. Proprietary information and creative production is rewarded. Of course, off-site factors, most importantly links and social referrals, are integral to search, but with panda comes a renewed emphasis on intelligent development, insightful publication & brand popularity.
As the annual SEOmoz search engine ranking factors report highlights, pagerank is increasingly tied to page value at a human user-level, rather than the automated spider’s web of old. Website accessibility & usability are now strong signals to Google. Technically, Google will penalise websites that hinder their crawler agents. It’s more important than even to have logical architecture, approved web language, clean code & appropriate content allocation. SEO professionals also concur that issues of server load time, site speed & page rendering all count these days too. All the more reason to test, test, test…across operating systems, on various browsers, at different desktop/mobile devices.
What grabs my attention however is how users interact with search and whether search considers how users interact with websites. Google analytics has long been a free analytics tool. It is now almost ubiquitous on websites big and small. Therefore Google has a looking glass into website performance. Couple that with Google’s intimate understanding of their search user behaviour. Back to Rand’s 2011 ranking survey. At a page level, the focus is on CTR from Google to the page for the keyword and the bounce rate back to the search result. The emphasis is with Google instant and search suggest. How well do these technologies serve users and how complementary are the web results to the queries? Once satisfied with the search referral, attention then adjusts to user interaction with the website. Reports suggest that Google panda considers pages per visit, visitor loyalty, event/goal conversions and crucially, engagement such as comments, “likes” & “tweets”.
Finally then, as panda recycles Google’s guiding principles, does direct traffic to a website impact on SEO rank? From what you’ve just read, it would seem a fair assumption! After all, Google wants to reward popularity, brand adoption and online consumer satisfaction. Consequently you would think, Google must look at the direct type-in traffic in web analytics reports. What better gauge of brand authority and their website’s relevance than people bookmarking an address, typing the URL into the browser or requesting a particular domain name in Google search? Digging around a little, it’s interesting how muted this conversation is. The webmasterworld community vaguely addressed it recently, but if what I am suggesting is true, expect to hear a lot more buzz about direct inbound marketing and see “direct referrals” trend on SEO gurus twitter feeds!
The upshot of it all is a future of hybrid search marketing strategies where above-the-line advertising in TV, radio, print & outdoor drive consumers directly to the business web-address and search engines consequently reward direct referral traffic. Once again, Google is turning SEO on its head, resetting the rules whereby offline advertising plays an ever greater role in online visibility. Ultimately an SEO specialist today is the marketing manager of yore. Time to skill-up!