In the world of SEO, it’s extremely difficult to project for the year to come. Strategies are always subject to change. This is due to a variety of factors including algorithm updates, changing user behavior, new platforms or features launching, industry findings, and more.
As we enter 2017, I thought it would be helpful to establish a set of best practices that will have the most positive impact on your SEO strategies.
By successfully implementing these best practices, B2B organizations can improve lead quality, build valuable relationships to support link building efforts, gain brand exposure through online communication, and better understand their target audience.
Here are 30 essential best practices and tips to help improve your search engine optimization strategy in 2017. Each best practice is backed by supporting evidence from industry research, thought leaders and publications. Enjoy!
1. Buyers Want Personalized Content
It’s important to think about buyers’ needs throughout the keyword research process, as well as during content creation. This means that your SEO team needs to guide content marketing strategies that focus on content which speaks directly to your buyer’s pain points.
Of course, this involves data collection and analysis to better understand your target audience and their needs. Once pain points have been discovered, you can guide strategies to create highly targeted blog posts, industry news articles, webinars, product videos, and more.
According to the 2016 B2B Buyer’s Survey conducted by Demand Gen Report, 69 percent of B2B buyers say the most influential aspect of a company’s website is content that speaks directly to their needs.
2. Create High-Quality Landing Pages
In theory, the more landing pages you create, the more opportunities you have to pick up organic search traffic. However, you shouldn’t overlook the importance of a well-constructed landing page to improve conversions and generate leads.
How do you know if your landing pages are high quality? A good place to start is by looking at how many people actually link to your pages and/or share them on social media. A helpful tool to help do this is BuzzSumo. If you have some existing pages that are generating links, you can look to replicate this strategy across website pages.
If your existing pages aren’t acquiring links or social shares, take a look at competitive search results around the terms that your pages are ranking for. Are those pages getting links or shares, and if so, what are those competitive pages offering that yours are not?
According to MarketingSherpa, 44% of clicks for B2B companies go to a homepage, not a landing page. Sure, the homepage is important, but your landing page is where you initiate a relationship.
3. Take a Topical Approach to Keyword Research
In recent years, we have seen Google become much more intelligent when it comes to the user intent behind search queries (related searches, for example). With this, you must reconsider the keyword research process.
The key is to think beyond specific keyword targets and focus on targeting relevant topics or themes to develop content around. This means spending more time learning about your audience, looking at current search results to determine Google’s understanding around the topic, and developing content that aligns with your findings.
As Lee Odden notes in this article, “There is a little bit of hating on SEO these days, but as long as there is Google, SEO will be a staple in the content marketing mix. But B2B marketers need to broaden their thinking when it comes to SEO. Create content that answers users’ queries rather than just trying to rank for particular keywords.”
4. Match Content with User Intent
Keyword research can be both time consuming and challenging, especially when it comes to aligning your keyword list with specific content marketing tactics. In order to do this, you need to determine the type of content that appears in search engine results for priority keywords.
When analyzing search engine results for each keyword, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What types of content assets are performing best in organic results?
- What type of user experience are these content assets offering?
- What competitive websites are currently ranking in search results?
Successful application of SEO keyword research means matching content with the potential search intent of the user. It also means understanding the types of web pages and websites that appear in existing search engine results. – Derek Edmond
5. Make Sure You’re Aware of Google Changes
Search engine marketers can optimize content day and night, but when it comes down to it – Google does whatever it wants. Sometimes Google will display page tagging differently than you want, put your company / product name first and destroy your keyword strategy, or even display outdated information.
We know that Google wants to make sure that page titles and descriptions reflect the content offered on that page to provide the best user experience. So, what can we do as marketers? Make sure that you are aware of the changes that Google is making and try to determine why.
For example, if Google is displaying your product name first in title tags, it likely means that the search engine thinks this is most important to users. Could your other title tags benefit from this change as well? Of course, you’ll need to do some additional research by looking into search queries and visibility around the page, but it could lead to some interesting findings.
As Casie Gillette reminisces in this post, “Remember when we spent time building out Google+ pages, forcing our clients to not just create a page, but ensuring that every one of their authors also created a page? Oh, and remember when we told them ‘Authorship is important. Make sure you are implementing it on your site’ only for August to come around and Google to tell us they decided not to use it anymore?”
6. Use Natural Language
With the shift towards machine learning and voice search applications, it’s becoming more important for you to adapt content strategies for natural language.
Gartner research shows, within four years, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.
For online marketers, this means that the use of natural language in page tagging and on-page content will be essential for search engine optimization.
7. Make Sure to Leverage Schema
Google likes to show the searcher what they are looking for. With the recent changes we’ve seen in search results, Schema markup is becoming more important than ever. Let’s take a look at Google recent trends – Rich Snippets, Answer Boxes, AMP results, local businesses, reviews, etc.
Schema makes it easier for search engines to understand your website and helps ensure that your B2B brand is displayed correctly to users. This can help you appear for Google Answer Boxes and Rich Snippets, if Google decides to show those types of results.
According to Stone Temple, Google Quick Answers (or Answer Boxes) have grown from 22% in December 2014 to over 40% at the beginning of 2016.
8. Remember: Mobile-Friendliness Is More Than Responsive Design
While having a responsive website design is a good starting point for mobile, there is much more to it. As you are creating and optimizing content on your website, keep in mind that users may be on their mobile phones. This is why it’s important to consider elements like font size, multimedia content, site structure and navigation, content load times and conversion optimization.
As noted in Brian Dean‘s complete list of ranking factors, “Google’s official stance on mobile is to create a responsive site. It’s likely that responsive sites get an edge in searches from a mobile device. In fact, they now add “Mobile friendly” tags to sites that display well on mobile devices. Google also started penalizing sites in Mobile search that aren’t mobile friendly.”
9. Take a Question-Based Approach to Content Development
It’s important to explore opportunities to produce content that answers question-based queries with the overarching goal of ranking in top search engine results and driving relevant users to the website.
While Google Keyword Planner is often the preferred tool for keyword research, that’s not always the best approach when it comes to finding the questions that customers are asking.
When determining opportunities to create top-of-funnel content, you must consider longer-tail queries that do not necessarily have the high search volume that Keyword Planner bases suggestions on.
There are a variety of tools and techniques that can help you discover these new keyword opportunities and lead to valuable FAQs, how-to guides, support-related articles, Q&As that provide your customers and potential customers with the information they are looking for.
As Stacy Thompson explains in this post, “If you want to get your content out in front of your readers’ eyeballs, you need to provide the type of question-and-answer-based material users and search engines alike are looking for.”
10. Make Your Content Easy to Find
Users shouldn’t have to dig through your website to find the information they need, which is why a simple and user-friendly website navigation is crucial.
Over recent months, we’ve worked across a variety of client accounts to implement content hubs and resource sections that are optimized for both users and search engines. With successful implementation of this, we’ve seen organic traffic increase up to 75% year-over-year.
“People will be respectful of your position as a thought leader if they can easily access your content after it comes up in a search,”- Lauren McNiff, Senior Marketing Manager of Strategic Accounts for Glassdoor
11. Secure Your Site
Search engines are making it a goal to provide a more secure search experience, even by going as far as to say they will offer a ranking boost to secure domains as well as noting which sites are securing in results.
Although transitioning to HTTPS can have temporary impacts on organic traffic, it’s the best decision for long term SEO results. Google not only uses HTTPS as a ranking signal, but announced that unsecured sites will be called out in search results.
The Guardian reflects on the transition to HTTPS by stating, “The migration was such a big change that it was not possible to highlight all the problems at the beginning of the project, nor find a solution on paper for each of them. We had to work iteratively and solve these issues as they arose.”
12. Consider Chatbots for SEO
Chatbots can improve the user experience, boost engagement, and provide valuable data for SEOs. When thinking about engagement in online marketing, we typically think of a click; however, chatbots take engagement to the next level with an interactive conversation.
This presents the opportunity to get to know your audience better, ask targeted questions, add personalization to your messaging strategy, and bring the B2B brand to life.
As VentureBeat explains, “Rather than drive potential users to landing pages, companies are creating and driving users to chatbots for better engagement.”
13. Consider Link Acquisition Across Domains
The number of linking domains is more important than ever for SEO. In fact, Backlinko conducted a study where they looked at 1 million+ search results and found that the number of domains linked to a page correlates with higher rankings more than any other factor.
Ryan Young explains, “Leverage social media, online communities, forums, etc. to identify a list of publications or influencers that could provide valuable coverage. Generating links from high-quality publications will help your reputation with your customer base and search engines, killing two birds with one stone.”
14. Remember: Social Media Matters
While social media may provide more of an indirect benefit to SEO performance, a lack of social media visibility might mean your brand isn’t effectively connecting with their target audience across online channels audience.
At bare minimum, you should be sharing and distributing content through social channels to help boost visibility, support link acquisition and even gain exposure in search.
Justina Logozzo says in this post, “…Marketers need to consider how social media may impact organic search visibility, as well as become more of a lead nurturing tool. Marketers can continue to connect with individuals who are interested in what you are able to provide, but not be ready to make a purchase.”
15. Be Flexible
A broad range of skills are required to be a successful search engine marketer; however one of the most important, yet often overlooked, is flexibility.
In an industry that is always shifting, the ability to adapt to change is crucial – whether you’re faced with re-branding, new product launches or even a change in client goals or expectations.
Casie Gillette explains in this post, “Regardless of how much you try to keep yourself in the loop, sometimes information gets to you after the fact. Flexibility is crucial, and the ability to adapt your programs and deliverables at the drop of a hat is key to long-term success.”
16. Dig Deeper Into Performance Reports
There are certainly misconceptions in the analysis of SEO tactics that need to be considered when evaluating performance and making informed decisions on what works and what needs to be improved.
The ability to understand and interpret SEO data is not only essential to tailor strategies, but it is also a desired employment skill in the marketing industry. 62 percent of CMOs believe digital marketing skills are most critical to their team’s accomplishments; 49 percent indicate data analytics.
Derek Edmond writes in this post, “With all of the information and opportunity at hand, it’s even more important to dig deeper into performance reports and metrics, avoiding misconceptions that can be realized in the first levels of reporting capability.”
17. Create More Extensive Content Pieces
More time and resources are being dedicated to content creation, and because of this the competition is heating up every year. In 2017, your SEO strategy should include goals that take your content marketing to the next level.
Start by creating longer pieces of content that offer great value to your target audience. While blog posts that are ~500 words are standard, your strategy should also incorporate more extensive assets like whitepapers, eBooks, guides and other premium content assets. These more elaborate pieces can be used to capture valuable customer data and get to know your audience more.
According to Writtent, 93 percent of inbound marketers are now creating content on a weekly basis. More than half of the surveyed marketers say they spend more than six hours a week doing so.
18. Use Video #EyeRoll
Video, video, video! I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but video can be used to produce some pretty impressive online marketing results. In this sense, I’d like to point out how video can be used to support SEO and traffic goals.
At KoMarketing, Facebook Video has been an essential element of our content distribution strategy across client programs. We’ve developed an ongoing strategy that involves drafting video-focused articles and distributing them on Facebook while including a video and link back to the page.
From this, we’ve seen social media referral traffic increase more than 200% year-over-year to the main site and about 250% year-over-year to the blog.
According to this Firebrand Group study, about 85 percent of marketers have seen positive ROI from their video efforts.
19. Don’t Forget About the Power of Infographics
With all this talk about video marketing and live video, let’s not underestimate the power of infographics.
This type of high quality, visual information naturally support link building efforts and organic search traffic. Not to mention, they also present the opportunity for repurposed content like SlideShare presentations, blog posts, social media graphics, and much more.
As noted in this article, KISSmetrics was able to get over 100,000 monthly organic visitors in less than a year just through blogging and creating infographics (without building one link manually).
20. Implement AMP
Although Google hasn’t officially announced it, there’s a lot of talk in the SEO community that preference will be given to websites that have AMP pages when showing results to users on mobile devices.
What exactly does this mean for SEO? If your website doesn’t have AMP implemented on it, your content may not be shown as frequently to users on mobile. As we already know about Google, the search engine wants to provide the best user experience. And, in this case, the best experience is a mobile variation of your web pages for mobile users.
In 2017, AMP will continue to become more popularly implemented on websites. So, be an early adapter and start the process before your competitors.
Disclaimer: Implementing AMP on your website will require some technical understanding, so it might make sense to involve your website development team or someone with the proper coding experience.
“AMP should definitely be a top priority for B2B marketers heading into 2017, and although it’s not currently a ranking signal, it very well could be in the near future.” – Phoebe Fasulo
21. Optimize for Site Speed
With the introduction of AMP, Google has amplified the importance of site speed (especially on mobile devices). Slow page load times not only impact the user experience and conversions, but they will likely hurt rankings as well. In 2017, it will be more important than ever for B2B brands to reduce page load times.
This recent survey reveals that nearly 50 percent of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less, and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds.
22. Revisit Bing
The trends that we are seeing around voice search application push towards the impact of Bing on your overall SEO strategy. For one of our clients, we recently noticed a significant sale coming from Bing. So, we spent some time digging into it.
From our analysis, we determined several opportunities to further optimize for Bing traffic while maintaining optimization for Google. This involved:
- Claiming Bing local business listings for each branch
- Analyzing the pages that drove the most revenue from Bing to determine any SEO adjustments
- Considering Bing search volumes when determining new keyword opportunities
- Revisiting the content performing best on Bing to see if there are any additional SEO optimizations that could boost traffic on this engine.
Gianluca Fiorelli notes in this article, “Bing is fueling the search of Siri and Alexa, apart from being the default search engine of Cortana. If you calculate how many iOS/OS X, Windows 10, and Amazon Echo devices are used, then you have a rough idea of how Bing could be important as voice search grows.”
23. Keep Up with an Always-Changing Industry
As I’m sure many of you search engine marketers know, 2017 tips and best practices style blog posts are very popular this time of year. To be quite honest, it’s very difficult to set 2017 tips and best practices for an industry that is constantly changing. And, that’s where this tip comes from.
Stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry – both internally and client-facing. A few of the ways we stay up to date at KoMarketing include:
“The point is to keep yourself in the know and make sure that the content you’re producing is in line with the rapidly evolving search landscape.” – Stacy Thompson
24. Set Aggressive, But Realistic Goals
Goals that project SEO and content marketing growth are a necessary foundation for successful online marketing programs. There are certainly many ways to go about setting growth expectations based on specific tactics and objectives.
Here’s a simplified outline of the approach Derek Edmond recommends:
- Review competitive performance to get a better understanding of current tactics and set a baseline for industry expectations
- Gather a list of keywords and cross-reference to competitors’ rankings.
- Use Search Console to determine impressions, clicks, average positions and link profiles, while also cross-referencing competitors.
- Obtain monthly search traffic estimates through Google Keyword Planner and cross-reference with organic keyword rankings.
25. Optimize Local Business Listings
Business profiles and local business pages are simple ways to improve search visibility. The goal here is to complete applicable profiles, ensure they are consistent and identify any opportunities to link to the website.
We know that Google is moving towards local results, so make sure that your listings are optimized and ensure that both users and search engines can find up-to-date information.
I highly recommend using MozLocal to find opportunities. There is sometimes a lag between business profile submissions and updates on the listing website, and MozLocal makes it really easy to monitor the progress.
According to research from Google, 90% of B2B researchers who are online use search specifically to research business purchases. From there, B2B researchers do 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand’s site.
26. Be Actionable
As an search engine marketer, I’m certainly guilty of getting lost in analysis. While a great deal of SEO involves analyzing performance, providing actionable data is key.
Of course, it’s also important to keep clients informed about why you are making recommendations or tailoring the strategy in place; however, there is a balance. Be direct with what you need to get done in order to meet the goals put in place.
Whether putting together a monthly performance report or providing a SERP analysis, make sure that the information you are providing is actionable. Never leave your clients thinking, “This information is all great, but what next?”
27. Increase Accuracy in Google Analytics
Did you know that 50% of marketers report issues with the accountability and accuracy of reports? While this statistic alone is enough to support the need for more accurate Google Analytics reports, the report also goes on to reveal that 46% of marketers struggle with gaining actionable insights from reports.
Search engine marketers can look to improve accuracy in Google Analytics with the following remedies:
Matt Diehl explains, “The imperative is clear: Marketers need to regain control of their data by increasing confidence in the accuracy and including meaningful data sets that lead to decision-making conclusions.”
28. Tackle International Targeting
Meet the hreflang tag. If you’re tackling international SEO, you’ll become great friends with this tag.
The hreflang tag tells Google which language a website is using on a specific page, so the search engine can serve that result to users searching in that language. This tag helps search engines switch the correct version of the page into the SERP based on a user’s location and language preferences.
Once you get hreflang tags implemented on the website, you can monitor errors in Google Search Console. More likely than not, you will find some errors and it’s important to clean up any priority ones. Check out this article for a complete guide to hreflang tags.
Joost de Valk writes,”hreflang tags are among the hardest specs I’ve ever seen come out of a search engine. Doing it right is tough and takes time.”
29. Overcome Cultural & Language Barriers
The Chinese online market continues to grow significantly each year, and has become the country with the most internet users in the world.
For this reason, search marketers should start getting more familiar with platforms and tools associated with the country. Baidu offers some free tools for SEO analysis, similar to Google Keyword Planner or Search Console. These include Baidu Tongji and Baidu Zhishu (Baidu Index).
30. Leverage Blogs & Forums
Answering questions that people are asking on relevant blogs and forums is another way to generate traffic to your website. Create accounts on popular forums or communities, and start engaging with your audience in non-promotional ways.
Once you’ve established a trustworthy profile, you can start interacting with comments that link back to relevant content on your website.
There are several ways you can go about finding your audience’s questions. I would highly recommend searching keywords on popular forums like Quora, exploring keywords and phrases in Twitter search and seeing what people are asking in industry related LinkedIn Groups. – Yours Truly
While there are many SEO best practices and tips for B2B organizations to consider in 2017, these are some of the most important ones that came to my attention over the past few months.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, or reach out to me directly via Twitter!