Two things always start happening this time of year: We look back on everything that’s changed and we start predicting the game changers for next year.
Both are critical when you’re planning your 2015 SEO strategy, as are many other things.
It’s also about this time that things just start slowing down, both on the agency side and in-house, which finally gives you some downtime to figuring out what you want to do next instead of fighting fire after fire like you do the other 11 months of the year. So as you start your 2015 SEO plan, keep these seven things in mind to make sure you start the year off strong.
Talk to Your Stakeholders
It should be a given: The people you report to, the people who have skin in the game, should be your first outlet. What do they want to accomplish in 2015? What weren’t they happy about in 2014?
Depending on your situation, this could be your client, your client’s boss, your boss, your boss’s boss, your project marketing manager, or a combination of any of the above. Talk to as many of them as possible so you have a clear idea of where the business is heading next year.
Key questions to ask:
- Do we have any new products or product lines being introduced?
- What trends are happening in the industry?
- What are the biggest sellers for each fiscal quarter?
- What do you see your competitors doing?
- Is there anything we’re not optimizing for that you’d like to?
Pull Your 2014 Data
One of my favorite things about the end of the year is the amount of data we have available. So many times we’re stuck saying “It’s too soon to tell…” or “I need more data before I can make an accurate assumption…” but the end of the year is the one time that doesn’t hurt us (as much).
Start with the 50,000-foot view and work your way down so you get the clear picture of what worked, what didn’t, what changed, why and, most importantly, what are going to do about it.
Key things I pull and compare against:
- Full-site organic visits, entries, and revenue compared to all channel visits, entries, and revenue
- Compare visits and revenue on same chart, with annotations of any site or algorithm changes
- Organic entries, visits broken down by site category (i.e. service or product categories)
- Organic metrics for site categories compared to all channel metrics for each site category
- Keyword rankings and changing over the year. Map that against your organic entries
- Organic entries, visits, and revenue segmented by traffic type compared to all channel metrics
Note the outliers: What happened to cause the dip/increase? What areas do we have for improvement, i.e. the high-traffic keywords teetering between the fifth and 10th positions?
One of the hardest things about SEO is its timing and explaining that to your stakeholders. Most non-industry folk think of SEO like any other advertising medium: Q1 is the peak time for, say, workout equipment, so that’s when they need to start promoting it to be in the consumer’s mind when they’re searching for it.
Of course, we know SEO doesn’t work like that. We need time to get things ramped up. Unfortunately — and maddeningly — there’s no magic number for how long we need, but a safe estimate is three to four months.
That means it’s already too late to optimize for Q1 objectives, and your time is better spent on planning for what your business is focusing on in later Q1 and early Q2.
Just like timing, projections are the other thing that plagues SEOs when it comes to planning, and again unlike advertising, there’s no real formula that will help us estimate how much traffic or revenue we could expect with an investment.
Click-through rate (CTR) studies help and you can use your historic metrics to estimate traffic but both methods still rely on a lot of assumptions. Keep all of this in mind when you’re sharing plans with your stakeholders, and make sure expectations are clearly set from the beginning so there are no surprises as the year unfolds.
Every year, someone predicts the following year will be “the year of mobile,” and of course 2015 isn’t going to be any different. You’ve probably heard it as much as “content is king,” but that doesn’t make it any less true, and the reason it keeps getting said is probably because not enough people are paying attention to it.
Mobile SEO is a big freaking deal, like accounting for as much as 60 percent of online traffic kind of big deal.
This year, Google announced a user agent for mobile and debuted mobile friendly labels. With it came some changes in how your mobile site should be technically structured. There are great guides out there, but to touch the highpoints if you’re not using responsive design:
- Do not block Googlebot from your mobile site
- On your desktop URLs, add rel=alternate pointing to corresponding mobile URLs
- On mobile URLs, add rel=canonical pointing to corresponding desktop URLs
- Create a mobile XML sitemap and note it in both your mobile and desktop robots.txt file
- Mirror your mobile URLs after your desktop URLs
Triple-Checking Your Redirects
If you work on large site where URLs have a tendency to change frequently, it’s probably not a bad idea to start the New Year by reviewing your redirect file. Has any redirected changed? Are any 404ing? If so, where is the new destination?
Hopefully, these were continually updated as any site changes happened, but lots of things come up, and it’s not uncommon for these to slip through the cracks. Too many 404s are a bad sign for Google, and you could be accidently 404ing a key traffic-driving page.