SEO Is Dead, The Death of SEO, Why SEO Is Dying; one can seemingly not get through a working day without seeing one of these articles online and, personally, I have come to loath them. In fact, a Google search for the former returns a staggering 13.6 million results.
Unfortunately for some, gone are the days of the nerdy SEO sat in the corner or downstairs in an office. The modern SEO is a content-focused, technical and creative hybrid, or at least they should be. This has indeed led to the death of traditional SEO, but the modern day SEO thrives, contrary to the opinion of many a stickler out there.
It is not just SEO that has died either. Apparently link earning is dead, Facebook is dying, I even read the other day about the passing away of the app; just a month after Google improved their indexability in the SERPS. It’s all nonsense, I can assure you.
The problem really lies in what the term actually stands for: Search. Engine. Optimisation. Is that what we do? Yes. Is it all we do? No. In fact ‘Optimisation’ is just a small part of what a modern SEO has to do these days. It is this reluctance to accept that we all have to be versatile, hybrid search professionals that is, in my very humble opinion, the problem we face.
Although the majority of the aforementioned articles will be pure conjecture and baseless claims, I have nonetheless decided to give you all my take on how alive the organic search sector actually is.
And, because I’m a cool guy, I’m also going to give you some intriguing advanced SEO techniques that the Banc Media team and I have been using with aplomb of late.
The much maligned ‘Phantom Update’ in the spring caused much debate and was perhaps one of the more intriguing Google updates, due mainly to the fact that it was never confirmed but the fact it happened is beyond debate. Starting in early February and lasting until around the Mobile update in late April, sites from all sorts of sectors suffered unexplained drops in the SERPs, causing some great informed debate between the most renowned SEO professionals in the industry.
An abundance of e-commerce websites were adversely affected and the Banc Media team are united in the belief that faceted navigations were at least some of the problem.
Although it has been established that low quality, click bait articles were responsible for loss of visibility for many brands, why would e-commerce sites have been targeted so emphatically? The characteristic that many of these share is a faceted navigation.
However easy to use these navigations are for the users, they have always created a few SEO conundrums, mainly around the theme of duplicate content. The classic solution to this over the years has been clever use of canonical tags or even setting parameters in Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).
How Do You Know If You Have a Faceted Navigation?
If your e-commerce site allows users to sort your products by price, size or whichever criteria you see fit, then chances are that you have a faceted navigation. Although this enables your customers to find what they want with greater ease, search engines don’t like it as they have the needlessly crawl many pages, the majority of which will not be unique.
As mentioned, canonical tags spring to mind as the natural solution to this but there are flaws in this plan. For one, these tags do not have to be honoured by Google and secondly, it doesn’t stop these duplicate pages from being crawled; resulting in wasted crawl budget.
What Is The Solution?
A tactic that we have been investigating of late at Banc Media, is using jQuery and JSON-LD to serve your navigation. We believe that due to the fact that this does not create a new page every time a user performs a filter via your faceted navigation, that it will eliminate any negative fallout from the search engines with regard to SEO visibility and your rankings.
Using this technique essentially means that when a customer performs such a filter or search, it takes place on their device, taking your web server out of the entire process. Rather cleverly, a jQuery request is made to a JSON data object meaning that there is no new URL created and any concerns about duplicate content, authority flow or crawl budget are eliminated.
This is a new and advanced technique that we are still developing but one we think will pay dividends for a wide range of our clients.
As any SEO expert will know unless they have had their head in the sand for the last four or five years; microdata is evolving and becoming more and more important all the time. It is no longer about just making sure you have your address marked up, and we have been looking at some more advanced ways of getting this implemented and allowing clients to take full advantage of their SERP.
As well as Schema, Google has now confirmed JASON-LD as a recognised form of microdata and this can be easier and more flexible to implement than Schema; as you can do a lot of this via Google Tag Manager. This has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for SEO agencies as it reduces their dependence on the old foe; developers.
JSON-LD ultimately allows brands to reap the benefits of the semantic web without needing to add loads of complicated mark-up everywhere. Instead, this can just be placed in your website’s header as opposed to the body, making things a lot easier for all involved.
A great example of a brand that has absolutely nailed their structured mark-up, is TicketMaster.
JSON-LD uses Linked Data, which is explained extremely well in this video.
The Data Layer
This is also an awesome article regarding the data layer, which helps non-developers to use tag manager to implement JSON-LD for their site. If this can be leveraged successfully, it will certainly give the site a boost in the future as the semantic web gets bigger and bigger.
We are pretty excited about the future of microdata and the ease with which it can now be applied to website without having to get developers involved, and it will only get bigger and better in the future. Making sure your brand is owning every last bit of its space online is of paramount importance and something we are big believers in here at Banc Media.
Finally, content cannibalisation is something that is taking place a great deal on websites everywhere and is sadly on the increase. We have already mentioned content quality and faceted navigations when discussing the tightening of the algorithm so far this year, but there is a strong chance that cannibalisation has played a big part too.
Google has been telling us for a long time that is doesn’t want pages made for SEO purposes and as such, it won’t react well to several pages existing about the same theme or product. Not only does this confuse the search engines as to what the most relevant page, but this stinks of over-optimisation and could well dilute your rankings. Indeed, saturating the web with needless content has not been a prudent plan for some time.
The four types of content cannibalisation are:
- Internal Cannibalisation
This is where key pages are losing their rankings, only to be replaced with different pages from your site which are targeting the same or similar keywords.
This can happen when content isn’t linked to internally, or supported elsewhere on your site or externally and it becomes clustered or isolated. You need to dig into your data in Google Analytics and SEO visibility software to see which pages are conflicting with each other. Even if you get an inline switch with another page on your site, your overall rank is likely to suffer, there shouldn’t be pages fighting with each other for any terms.
If you see suspicious flux of a page, either positive or negative, look into this as soon as possible as it is most likely a sign of internal cannibalisation. Nip it in the bud early and resolve any issues and you should preserve your overall rank.
Our advice would always be to create one incredible page for each subject or theme and ensure it is perfectly optimised, something the content and technical teams at Banc Media are extremely passionate about.
- Subdomain Conflict
Another type of content cannibalisation is subdomain conflict. This is usually the case when there is a mobile site being indexed and should have been rectified by the mobile update. However, it is still good practice to optimise the right pages for the right crawlers, there are now all sorts of mobile optimisation tools available, not least the new and improved Search Console.
If you have any subdomains, ensure these are optimised correctly and use canonical tags where applicable.
- International Conflict
This will rarely apply but occurs when the .com battles with the .co.uk version of a site, for example. If you have sites all around the world them make sure you have them all geographically targeted and optimised. It also goes without saying that you need to ensure your hreflang tags are in order.
- Semantic Flux
Semantic flux often hits brands that have gone through a merger. Currys and PC World or Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank come to mind. Google may not have realised they are the same entity and you can get situations whereby Currys is outranking PC World for ‘printer cartridges’ or PC World outranks Currys for ‘dishwashers’. Webmasters should be sure to establish the link between any sister sites or subsidiaries.
- Monitor the visibility of content daily, if it is fluctuating then there could be some cannibalisation going on somewhere.
- Pay attention to semantic cannibalisation, this is on the increase across the web.
- If you see flux, investigate straight away.
- Check for internal cannibalisation first
- If there is a page you definitely want to rank first, give some signal to Google. Internal linking and canonical tags are usually the preferred option.
These are just some advanced techniques that we think show that SEO is far from dead and actually alive and kicking. We work in an ever-changing and thriving industry in which the search engines constantly move the goalposts, but that should be part of the fun for any SEO who takes their job seriously.
If you are curious as to how we could apply the above concepts to your brand or website, or if you have any questions about your PPC, SEO or CRO efforts in general, you can always contact the Banc Media team. You can also stay up to date with what we are up to via @bancmedia.