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The unfortunate truth about SEO is that as soon as a strategy works, immediately everyone uses it. And everyone includes spammers.

In 2013, we watched Google’s webspam team leader, Matt Cutts, recommend helpful SEO strategies, only to turn around and kill them a few months later. Most recently, he declared “Put a fork in it, guest blogging is done,” on his personal blog.

Keywords are losing relevancy and backlinking now looks spammy. The old, faithful SEO strategies of 2013 have been corrupted and discarded. As you can see, 2014 will be a year of changes for online marketers.

So what actually works now?

Keywords

In 2013, we advised you to tone down the keywords as Google was no longer giving them the same SEO weight. Now in 2014, keywords should be limited even more. Optimize for keywords heavily on your business’s website, just make sure the content reads well and sounds natural – Google is still opposed to “keyword stuffing.” Individual product pages are helpful for optimizing a diverse amount of keywords without weighing down your homepage.

The easiest keywords to rank for are localized. If you are a local business, optimize your website for your region. Get listed on Google Places and get reviews from customers on Google, Yelp!, and UrbanSpoon.

Google Analytics

This may come as a surprise, but installing Google Analytics is a great way to help your SEO. Many website owners understand that Google Analytics can alert them to their best keywords. However, it’s clear that Google also uses the information gleaned from analytics to determine your site’s worth. Visitor behavior factors into Google’s algorithm.

So Google is looking at your bounce rate, your most popular pages, your least, the amount of time a user spends on your site, etc. Lowering your bounce rate can help your SEO. How does one do that? Well, it’s all about your user interface. Look at your website the way a user would. Is it easy to navigate? Is your contact information readily visible? Do you have regular fresh content in the form of a blog that would interest the user? Checking out your competition’s website and finding out what makes them successful can help guide you in improving your website.

Here’s a tip for your website that you won’t normally see on a post about SEO: fix your 404 error pages with a 301 redirect. Having dead pages hurts your SEO because Google views that poorly. Remember it’s all about the user, and a dead page is not helpful at all to the user. Use your Google webmaster tools to find the exact pages that need redirects.

Backlinks

Having tons of backlinks to your website is no longer a viable SEO strategy. In fact, having too many will hurt you. Instead, the name of the game is “nofollow” links. When Google’s spiders see a nofollow link, they will not pass SEO value to the website you are linking to. In effect, you are not passing on your authority to another website. But you are passing on a good link to the reader, who could click through it him or herself, helping the other website in terms of page views. If your pagerank is suffering, the amount of “dofollow” backlinks you have could be what is hurting you. Try changing them all to nofollow by adding [rel = “nofollow”] without the brackets into the HTML of your post.

Although Matt Cutts declared guest posting to be dead last week, he took back some of what he rashly said. Guest posting is still an effective SEO method. However, Google does not want you to think of it that way. The point of guest posting is to trade valuable content with another blogger, which comes with many benefits outside of pagerank. Those who are still using guest posting should put a lot of effort into the content, making sure it is something that could be of use to the reader. You can’t go wrong with rich, original content; but just in case you’re still worried, nofollow links in the author bio can help you out here too.

Social Media Backlinks

It’s unclear just how much your social media accounts can help your SEO, but all SEO experts agree that it does help. And, fortunately, it really doesn’t matter how many followers, fans, or likes you have, because Google just doesn’t have the ability to extract that data. However, they do crawl social media sites. This means that backlinks from a social media website, such as Facebook or Google+, can help your pagerank.

Devote time to all of your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), but if you haven’t made a Google+ account yet, you need to. Google+ holds more sway with SEO because it is owned by Google. Google Authorship is a feature that adds more authority to your name and any website that publishes your articles, making it indispensable for any business working on its pagerank. Having lots of people “circle” you on Google+ lends you more legitimacy, especially as an author, and so do “+1s” on posts and comments.

Visitors from social media sites will aid your website as well. With Google Analytics, Google is able to track where traffic comes from. So not only are backlink shares on your account helpful, but so are shares from other accounts. Any traffic driven to your site from social media will register with Google.

Conclusion

With many of the old strategies being scrapped, the best thing you can do for your website is to follow Google’s timeless advice of providing informative, valuable content to your customer. Instead of looking for “cheats” in the SEO industry, be authentic. Think about your customer and your customer’s needs when creating your homepage, landing pages, product pages, and business blog.

Concentrate the majority of your allotted SEO time, effort, and funds on social media engagement and on-site improvements. These methods will be the most lucrative ways to improve your pagerank and your conversion rates.

What else do you use in your 2014 SEO strategy? Tell us in the comments!

Sources:

Cutts, Matt. “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO.” http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-blogging/. (27 Jan. 2014).

GoogleWebmasterHelp. “Are pages from social media sites ranked differently?” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udqtSM-6QbQ. (27 Jan. 2014).