Your guide to a successful online business!

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2014 saw some major search engine optimisation (SEO) changes, with new Panda updates penalising poor quality content, the Pigeon update improving local search results, and the HTTPS/SSL update giving greater credibility to secure sites.

As a small business owner, you need to keep up with these changes and determine how to adjust your SEO strategy moving forward.

So, let’s look at how SEO will change for small businesses and what you need to do to be successful online in 2015.

1. Mobile search will overtake desktop search

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At ComScore State of the Internet Webinar in 2012, the Internet research firm predicted that mobile traffic would exceed desktop traffic in 2014, and they were spot on.

Just look at these stats:

  • 81% of smartphone users have done product research from a smartphone, and 50% have made a purchase via their phone. (Prosper Mobile Insights)
  • 66% of time spent with online retail in September 2014 occurred on mobile devices—a 14% increase from the previous March (comScore)
  • 77% of mobile searches occur at home or at work; only 17% are conducted on the move (Mobile Search: Creating Moments that Matter, Google/Nielsen)
  • 44% of mobile shoppers research online, then purchase online (Google/IPSOS OTX MediaCT)
  • 17% of mobile shoppers research in-store, then purchase online (Google/IPSOS OTX MediaCT)

For a few years now, Google has been pushing for better user experience through responsive websites, which is why in November this year they launched mobile-friendly labels and are now experimenting with rewarding these sites with a boost in ranking.

They’ve even launched a tool that lets you test and see if your website is mobile-friendly. Go ahead and check it out.

While this isn’t a new trend, it shouldn’t be an option but a necessity. When one in five people in the world own a smartphone and one in 17 own a tablet, you’re only shooting yourself in the foot without mobile support.

So, not only should you focus your efforts on making your site readable and accessible from all devices, but also on optimising accordingly for each. This means smaller and lighter images and content.

Keep in mind that Google algorithms now take user behaviour like bounce rate into account, which means that if your site isn’t optimised, if it takes too long to load or if users have a hard time accessing your site or leave after just a few seconds, then your rankings will drop.

2. Local is more important than ever for small businesses

Last year’s Google Pigeon algorithm update has made it clear how important it is for businesses to optimise their sites for local search. The Pigeon update is meant to encourage site owners to provide a more useful, relevant and accurate experience to users seeking local results.

So, if you’ve been ignoring local search engine optimisation, you should definitely make it a priority this year.

These are old-school tactics but there are so many websites that aren’t correctly optimising for local search, so make sure you:

  • Include the city or state of your business in your title tags, H1 headings, content, alt text on images and URLs.
  • Add your physical address and phone number with an <address> tag on your site’s contact page and home page so it shows up on Google Maps.
  • Create local content. For example, if you’re a swimming coach, write an inspiring story about a local swimmer whom you’ve helped win a competition or about a new competition that you’re organising to put together a local swim team. Just don’t forget to optimise the post with keywords and also include a call-to-action.
  • Set your Geographic Location in Google Webmaster Tools. Remember that results are different depending on a user’s location which means you need to tell Google where your business is located.

Here are some useful resources to help you improve your local rankings and get an extra boost in terms of local SEO:

3. Focus on conversational keyword phrases

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Since the beginning of SEO, Google has trained us to run a search by typing in keywords that describe what we’re looking for. But Google algorithms are changing due to the fact that search is becoming more conversational.

The Hummingbird update changed the way Google parses queries: instead of matching up separate keywords to pages, it’s now looking for actual search intent. In other words, context will be more important than specific keywords that someone types in the search box.

Voice search and tools like Siri and Google Now are teaching us to ask questions. So, if you type “where is the nearest Orange shop”, Google understands “where” as location and “nearest” in relation to where you are at that moment. In addition, it can also figure out that you’re looking for an Orange phone shop and not a place where you can buy fruit.

So if you want to rank well in 2015, you’ll need to focus on targeting “conversational queries” meaning conversational phrases that people are likely to use when searching for your products and services. For example, instead of plumber or plumbing services, you could try a more specific long-tail keyword like emergency plumber in London and synonyms like 24/7 emergency plumbing repairs.

Also, when possible, target conversational phrases just as they are, for example, target need a plumber in London or where to find a good plumber in London.

4. Build relationships not links

If you’ve been focusing too much on the technical aspect of SEO when it comes to building links to your site, it’s time to take a break.

This year you’ll need to focus more on the “social” side of link building meaning: blogger outreach campaigns, building relationships with brand advocates, reaching out to influencers in your niche and engaging on social media.

If you want to earn great links, you’ll need to start investing time into building meaningful relationships with industry influencers. Reach out and engage with them on social media channels, retweet, like and comment on their updates.

By interacting with them and showing sincere respect and appreciation towards them you can then use this to your advantage. Next time you’ll promote your content, they might link to it or share it with their followers and fans.

So building links is still very important in 2015 but the way you go about obtaining those links has changed.

5. Increase your authority to boost user engagement

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In 2015 if you want to build trust among potential customers, increase user engagement and get your content to rank in Google, you need to build your author authority now.

And how can you build a reputation and get people to trust you? By creating thought-leading content. This isn’t content for SEO but meaningful, educational, interesting content that genuinely adds to the dialogue. People appreciate great content, which will result in links, shares, greater engagement, all of which are essential to your business success online in 2015.

So, the most important thing you should focus on next year is this: create meaningful content that serves your audience first. Google doesn’t buy your products or services so instead of writing for search engines, write for the people who will eventually become your customers. Create content that interests them and meets their needs. Make it useful. Make it entertaining. Create content that genuinely helps them solve a problem or be better at what they do.

Remember: your audience is where everything good comes from. They represent the traffic, they bring you sales, they grow your business. Google is just one way for your audience to find you.

6. SEO will no longer be an isolated department

In 2015, more than even, SEO should no longer be a separate department that hardly ever communicates with other departments like marketing or social media. Instead, these should all converge to achieve the same goals.

This means that SEO will need to be fully integrated with the creation and promotion of content, rather than be kept as a separate, isolated task.

Read our post about how to effectively integrate SEO into your business and marketing and learn how to dominate your niche and achieve long-lasting results by making all your channels work together to your benefit.

Wrapping up

There’s no doubt that the SEO game has evolved, now with a focus on semantic search, mobile web and localised content. However, no matter what algorithms and updates Google throws at you, your business will continue to grow if your focus is on high-quality content that serves your audiences. If you’re overwhelmed by the world of SEO, the good news is that 123-reg will soon be launching its SEO tool, which will help you get to grips with everything you need to do to rank well in Google and other search engines. Watch this space.

Now let’s hear it from you. What are your top SEO priorities for this new year? And what are some SEO changes that you foresee in 2015?

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