Having recently attended the advanced SMX conference in Seattle, I became so inspired by the developments in search marketing that I couldn’t wait to share my insights with my customers. So today, following our exclusive Future of Search breakfast briefing, I am eager to publish just some of the many highlights that stood out as key insights to me for the future of search.

Advanced SMX Conference 2014

                    Advanced SMX’14 Seattle, Ask the SEO’s

“Because there are things we know; there are things we don’t know and there are things we don’t know we don’t know.” 

Why you need SEO’s?

With over 655 major & minor updates to Google’s algorithm per year, the industry needs SEO’s (Search Engine Optimizers) to translate the data and to identify the risks and opportunities.

What are the Top Google ranking factors for 2014?

One of the more insightful sessions at Advanced SMX is the ‘Ask the SEO’s’ panel session. I honestly derived the most value from the insights shared by some of the most experienced SEO’s in the world. So then, what do these top SEO’s say are some of the top factors that impact rankings the most in 2014?

Strongest on-page factor is site speed;
Structured data and proper implementation of schema.org mark-up;
Well optimised responsive websites (with auto-complete forms);
Well-structured HTML and CSS;
Creating, owning and marketing awesome content;
Knowledge Graph Optimisation;
Having a well architected, contextually relevant internal and external link profile;
Acquiring back-links that will send real customers that could actually convert and engage on your site;
The Human Algorithm: User Engagement Signals are becoming more valuable than links; and
Create Brand Buzz: If your brand has many mentions on the web, even if it doesn’t have a lot of fresh links, it could out-perform in the search results.

What is Matt Cutt’s top tip for SEO’s?

“Get ready for mobile”. Matt Cutts (Head of Google’s Web Spam Team). Cutts also stressed (several times) the importance and value of having auto-complete in your forms.

Picture of Gillian Meier & Matt Cutts at SMX

Gillian Meier (CEO, Blue Magnet Digital Solutions) &
Matt Cutts (Head of Google’s Web Spam Team)

Important factors to consider for Mobile Optimisation:

Google has been very explicit in saying that, to get top Google Mobile Rankings, your responsive site needs to be fast and there should be no broken content.

What is broken content?
Broken content is content would most likely cause the mobile user to bounce off the website, such as:

Hover effects
Sideways scrolling
Tiny font sizes
Tiny buttons
Device-specific content
Slow pages

Site Speed is critically important

As with all websites, load time of your responsive websites is also super important! When a page takes too long to load it affects the search engine bot’s ability to crawl the site, and as a result, reduces the number of pages that they crawl on your website. This means that the search engine will index far less pages for your website than what you actually have, meaning that some of your content simply won’t be found by searchers.

Slow pages also provides for a bad user experience. While responsive sites are generally a little slower than desktop sites or dedicated mobi sites, responsive is indeed preferred by Google. Which makes mobile optimisation just that much more important.

Why is Structured Data so important?

Having rich snippets appear in the SERPs is an indication of the health of your website. If you have marked-up your data using Schema.org, but the rest of your on-page elements (H1, Title, Description, etc) have not been optimised, then you are unlikely to see your marked-up data appear as rich snippets in the SERPs.

For those sites that have been rewarded with rich snippets, they have seen a 30% increase in traffic almost immediately. It is something that takes a few minutes to implement, but has massive results in increasing rankings and traffic. The other obvious benefit of rich snippets is that it takes up more space on the search results pages.

There are various ways in which you can mark-up your data using Schema.org mark-up, however some have more of an impact on your rankings and performance than others. Be careful though, as marking up for the wrong thing can negatively impact CTR.

See the table below for some guidelines on which should be focused on first:






Ratings, Price, Availability, Condition

in results within 2 weeks


Very High

Title, Description, Actor, Ratings,

Immediate increase in
traffic and rankings



Name, Author, Date

Other Mark-ups


Executive Bios, Events (Date &
Location), Recipes, TV Reviews, Geographical, Authorship, Pinterest, Facebook
(Opengraph), Twitter Cards.

Social Signals fuel Search:

All of the research done by the top SEO’s showed a very strong correlation with lots of social +1’s, Facebook shares and Pinterest Pins among the top ranking websites. However, to earn these signals websites need to create content that is worth sharing.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when creating your content for social engagement:

Write copy for social networks
Create digital assets that can be used on and offline
Add visual content (images, videos) to the mix
Make your photos and images social-ready
Create collages, Pin maps and Infographics for Pinterest
Create Slideshows
Add the +1, Pin & Facebook share button to your content
Definitely optimise your Google+ profile

What about Guest Posting?

The general consensus (and validated by Google) is that guest blogging itself is not dead, however poor quality guest blogging is. One of the best ways in which to raise your profile on the web is to become a contributor of content on a guest blog or website. However, if you are not adding value on these blogs, your rankings will be affected negatively.

This also raises the issue of feeder pages, or pages that contain content that does not answer a question or provide value, but that attempts to take the user off site to an external domain to answer their question or to find the information that they were looking for. In fact, the recent Panda 4 update smacked these types of websites really hard.

What’s up with the Panda 4 update?

So then, on the issue of Google’s Panda 4 update, here are a few things to keep in mind. Panda 4 (update to the Google algorithm) was released on 20th May 2014. At SMX, Matt Cutts reinforced that Google will continue to clamp down on websites that have thin and poorly written content. They are becoming a lot more ruthless on judging content performance.

One of the metrics that Google will consider is the percentage of content that it has indexed for a website, versus percentage of content that is actually being engaged with (see engagement metrics below). Content audits are becoming increasingly important. Companies should review their content and either consolidate, remove or repurpose their content to increase user engagement.
“Get organic oomph! Create content elements that are worth the buzz” Rebecca Lieb, Industry Analyst at Altimer.

Key UX factors (user behavior metrics):

CTR (0.35%)
Time on Page / Site (140 seconds)
Bounce Rate
Links & Page Value
Social Actions
# Pages visits

The search algorithm is trying to mirror what humans actually like. So, understanding how your users engage with your content is becoming increasingly important. People are our new critical links. Get more people to say things about you!

Does that mean that links are becoming less important?

One of the studies showed that websites who have a strong brand presence online, with many brand mentions and not many fresh links, are often out-ranking those websites with many fresh links. While Google has not had a Penguin update (penalty that affects websites with poor link profiles) in a while, there has been much suspicion that there is one just around the corner.

Surviving the next Penguin Penalty:

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to survive the next Penguin penalty update:

You can’t build links the old way without getting penalised. Lots of bad, weak or irrelevant links, could get you dropped in Google or affect your rankings.

Having an active brand presence online – even if you don’t have a lot of links – will assist you in performing well in Google. Google does however need to know the connection between the brand name and the domain. (This can be done by adding a publisher tag to your website that connects with your brand’s Google+ Page).

When considering your target links, always ask yourself if the referring site is likely to send you links that could convert into customers. Do your due diligence on the authority of the referring site, this includes researching their own social engagement and online presence.

Contributing to websites with high authority (that have a lot of engagement and active digital presence) will increase your authority.
Monitor your link profile very carefully to ensure that you don’t have any bad links pointing to your website. One bad apple can spoil the bunch.

If more than 50% of your linking pages have low authority, this will raise a red flag!

Final words of wisdom – top recommendations for increased search performance in 2014:

Get Mobile ready: Responsive Google-friendly Website (with autocomplete forms)

Conduct a comprehensive SEO Audit at least once every 6 month’s: Architecture, Link Profile, etc.

Do a thorough Usability Analysis on your website to find out how users engage with your content, and how you can improve the engagement rate.

Do a content audit on your website and remove, consolidate or optimise your content.

Invest in creating AND Marketing real digital assets that add value to your users.

Create content that addresses conversational search (e.g. How-to; ‘what-is’, type content). Google’s new hummingbird algorithm wants this.

Invest in video content. 8 out 10 search results include video. There is no better time than now to create video content. Marking up your video content will provide an immediate improvement in your search rankings.

Have an active online brand presence! Social Media, Web PR and Content Marketing is key to sustaining your search performance.

Ensure that your website is properly marked-up with structured data, and optimise your internal link flow architecture to give your key landing pages more prominence.

Always be optimising your pages for improved speed performance.


Should you require any assistance with implementing any of the recommendations outlined above, please contact us for a no-obligation consult.