We recently held a small summit and conference for some of our own customers who use the Yahoo! Merchant Solutions product. It's one of the leading ecommerce platforms and a great way to build your own online store - go take a look here.
Across the two days of the summit we heard a great deal of advice about SEO and here is a summary from several of the panels.
How to think about SEO now
The changes that Google has been making in its search algorithms (and similar changes are taking place at Bing) are all designed to enhance the value of results and find more accurate results that are original and really address the search topic. That means that original content that is clearly naturally created is valued more highly - and that certain kinds of content that Google has identified are devalued. What Google is looking for are the following - is the content written by an expert? Does the page provide substantial value? Does it contain original content? Does it provide description and insightful analysis? Is it comprehensive?
There is a common misconception that SEO is simple - it is not - the Google algorithms are looking for all the things listed above and take into account factors including indexing, duplicate content, relevance, popularity, quality, naturalness, usability, and site type among many others.
If you take away one single point it is that original, to-the-point content done well and with care is the one long-term strategy guaranteed to succeed even if you do nothing else.
What are Panda and Penguin and what do they mean?
Panda is an update to the Google search algorithms that is intended to address site-wide issues. It is aimed at removing results that have been manipulated as much as increasing good results. It is the change that is most strongly aimed at increasing the value of high-quality original content and as such has a few other ramifications one of which is that it is a good idea to minimize or reduce duplicated content and also get rid of low value pages on the site.
Penguin is a page-related update that is much more aimed at detecting and dealing with past poor SEO practices that led to artificially high rankings for pages. Specifically, link building and keyword stuffing will now hurt the ranking of a page. It is completely algorithmic and you can't recover from it. Penguin also means that buying links is bad practice that could hurt your page rank. Some have taken this to mean that inbound links are a poor or dying signal - this is NOT true. Instead these links should be natural and organic and that means that again quality content becomes important - since that is the best strategy to get naturally occurring links.
How to think about Content
Be an expert, be original, write naturally. A suggested workflow is to research keywords, for your topic, understand them but then absolutely do not stuff those keywords onto the page or into the content. Instead use them naturally and with variation. Specifically research a topic, research the keywords and then create content that is at least 200 words long that is written naturally (the same way you speak) and does not overuse the keywords. Then edit the page twice to ensure content quality. Do not try to add extra keywords but don't miss out any important ones either. Try not to duplicate content. If you get feedback about the content from customers pay attention to it and make changes. If you do a good job up front then you can relax in the long run and be confident you set that page up for success.
How to think about Links
Links are one of the hardest areas for people trying to optimize SEO. It used to be that they were critical and people would manipulate them to try to increase their ranking by buying inbound links and by implementing complex follow/no follow schemes. With the new updates some people are suggesting that links are bad. Instead of focusing on links the new approach is to welcome links but not seek to force their creation. Good content will cause people to build natural inbound links and these will help SEO. But penalties that are slowly being applied for trying to force links mean that this is a poor strategy in the long run.
How to think about Keywords
One of the targets of the Penguin update was keyword stuffing. But that doesn't mean keywords aren't important. You should make sure that the keywords that are important to you are included on the page but do not overuse them or neglect to use them in a natural way. If Penguin decides that the keyword usage on the page is unnatural, it will be penalized. So make sure you use your keywords but after that use natural content and use alternative ways to say the same thing - just like you would naturally.
Actions to take
Some specific actions that our team of experts suggested are the following.
1 - keep your site clean - fix 404 errors - find out where the broken link is coming from - if the broken links are on your site, first fix them and when that is done, fix the external inks by replacing the 404 page with a 301 redirect to the right page.
2 - put your site on a diet by addressing site speed and page load times - use webpagetest.org, Yahoo! Yslow for firebug (a browser add-on), Google page speed for firebug, Xenu and Smushit.
3 - organize your site with semantics - the semantic web is not a buzzword - a good resource is schema.org - make use of microdata, microformats (MDF), use as properties for tagging
4 - add product reviews and manage your reputation - that's the future of SEO - sentiment analysis from search engines - understanding if that product is good or bad - if Google can tell that on top of all the other signals you will do really well and Google often shows star ratings right in the search results
5 - focus on traffic not links - if you drive traffic SEO will follow
6 - diversify your inbound traffic - build relationships with other sites. It is valuable to help diversify traffic and in bulding inbound links. If you start engaging with them then they are more likely to naturally mention you.
7 - for anchor text - think about what it would look like if Google didn't exist and use that
8 - include authorship info - it gets you an image in the search results, particularly if you use a Google+ profile and that makes your result stand out
resource list at http://www.yourstorewizards.com/ysummit2012.html
Michael Ober, Director of Merchant Development, Yahoo! Small Business
Tim Ash, Author, Landing Page Optimization and CEO, SiteTuners
Nik Rajpal, Vice President of Client Services, Exclusive Concepts Inc.
Stefany Moore, Research Analyst, Internet Retailer
John Lawson, CEO, ColderICE Media
Kevin Richards, CEO, Ventura Web Design
Eric Yonge, President, EYStudios
Nacho Hernandez, Vice President & Co-founder, Mexgrocer.com
Chris Johnson, Vice President, Pegasuslighting.com
Don Cole, Your Store Wizards
Mark Schmulen, GM Social Media, Constant Contact
Casey Carey, VP Marketing, Monsoon Commerce
Lior Noy, Owner, Gardenfun.com
Coby Erez, Co-founder, 4PSite
Joel Jimenez, Practical Data
Dan Theirl, Exclusive Concepts, Inc.
Kathy Gould, Cajam Marketing
Jean LeClerc, Lead Developer, Monitus, LLC