How Has Web Marketing Changed in 2013? - Ask the Experts

This year seems to be flying by as we are already in September so I wanted to find out by asking some of the leading experts what they have changed or discovered regarding there web marketing efforts in 2013.

Each expert has been asked four questions regarding on-page optimisation, link building, Google and what they have learnt themselves involving web marketing in 2013.

The questions are:

  1. Has the way you do onsite optimisation changed this year? If yes then how?
  2. What is the most important aspect of link building activity in 2013?
  3. What else do you think Google could change in 2013 to improve search results?
  4. What have you learnt the most in 2013 regarding your web marketing activity?

And these are the answers.

Phil Nottingham

Phil Nottingham

1. To be honest, not really - though it did take a bit of a shift throughout 2012. I stopped worrying about things like the placement of keywords and have basically taken the perspective of "if the keywords are on the page somewhere a couple of times, that's good enough." on-page stuff for me is now more about having appropriate copy for conversions and ensuring a good mix of quality media-types. On-page is now as much CRO as it is SEO.


2. Ensuring you get high quality, genuine editorial links. I've seen huge spikes from just a few proper editorial links compared with tons of lower level stuff. Additionally, if you have a questionable backlink profile - getting some really seriously quality stuff in the mix too will do more to safeguard you than pruning away the bad stuff.


3. More contextual focus, i.e. Incorporating data about where you are and what you're doing when you search; using more of the semantic web to provide answers to informational queries; fighting some of the egregious link spamming happening in some of the hyper competitive markets e.g. insurance.


4. Polymaths win. You need to be creative and technical.

Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin

1. Onsite and on-page optimization are certainly becoming more nuanced and complex from years past. In a recent blog post on keyword targeting & on-page optimization, I detailed how on-page SEO tactics and features have grown dramatically, and the classic keyword targeting methodologies of the past are no longer enough.

These days, we're embracing things like responsive design, rich snippets, markup for social sharing, and more. I suspect it's only going to get more complex, which is nice job security for SEO folks.


2. Earning links, rather than actively "building" them. Google's taking more and more action against many types of acquired links that aren't editorially given, and I suspect the algorithm will be weighting them less and less over time.


3. Ironically, I think Google has gone a bit overboard with their own interests overpowering what's good for searchers in the results. The quantity and distraction level of ads, the occasionally misleading and almost always incomplete results in local carousels, the curious applications of knowledge graph, the placement of Google's own data & properties ahead of the organic results, and many more "upgrades" to Google's results have made for a very frustrating search experience.

While the organic search algorithm continues to improve, and spam is less and less prevalent, it's sad to see Google themselves making their results worse (and by worse I mean both more biased to Google's interests and less useful & valuable).


4. 2013 has been a year of thinking more broadly for me. I don't just want to optimize for more search traffic or higher rankings; I need to think holistically about the brand our content creates and about connecting all of our web marketing efforts back to our broader mission & long term vision. That's been a challenge, but a really valuable one.

Paddy Moogan

Paddy Moogan

1. Fundamentally, things haven't changed too much although things have certain evolved slowly over the last few years. The most obvious changes that come to mind are a concentration on Schema, site speed and generally focusing more on user experience. We're also looking more at using new technologies / platforms / APIs to drive user experience and content creation. One example of this is a move towards better integration of video onto client websites and moving away from the default position of YouTube hosting.


2. Focusing on building links that you won't have to take down in 2014 :) It isn't really a new message for many people, but the focus on quality and relevance when it comes to link building is stronger than ever if you're building a legit business that hopes to be successful online for years to come. If you're just spamming and building churn and burn sites, the situation is different and Google isn't doing a great job of stopping these right now. For everyone else, the focus needs to be on links that drive real traffic and conversions which naturally raises the bar on the types of links you get.


3. Since Penguin, they seemed to have taken a step backwards in terms of removing spam from search results which is a shame. I'm seeing spam websites rank for a few days or weeks before Google catches on and de-indexes them. So for me, they could do a better job of identifying these types of sites and the tactics they use and turning the dial down on mass link building in a short period of time. I also think they've focused a little too much on the Knowledge graph and have taken steps forward on providing the right answer to a question, but it seems to have been at a cost of the regular organic results where there may not be a straight answer to a question.


4. That SEO isn't dying but it is changing at a quicker pace than recent years. Mainly this is an enforced change because of Google but generally, I think it's a good thing and I'm seeing more traditional SEO companies looking at the wider marketing picture and the opportunities their clients have. It isn't just about technical SEO and link building any more. Yes these things are still hugely important, but many companies are looking for a more integrated approach from their agencies now and there are massive opportunities for agencies who embrace this.

Will Critchlow

Will Critchlow

1. Nope. I would say that my thinking has changed a lot in the last few years, but I don't think I'm doing anything especially different this year vs. last year.


2. Probably making sure that you are doing something worth linking to. Pretty much all methods of building links that don't have something great on (at least) one end of the link are becoming less valuable at best and risky at worst. My best sense-check of this is "is my content generating all the hallmarks of something successful beyond just links? Am I getting social shares? Am I getting engaged visitors?”


3. While they have been focussing on taking action against a load of manipulative tactics recently, I feel that they have in some instances moved the dial too far away from "verbatim" search. I've personally been finding myself carrying out explicit "verbatim" searches more and more because my query was interpreted too cleverly rather than searching for the exact words or phrases I typed in.

As an example - I recently searched (lazily) for [keyword] instead of [keyword] which is what I really meant. The first page was full of results from Mozilla and similar places that didn't actually mention That isn't a great search experience for me.


4. Honestly? I've found out how hard affiliate marketing is. The net effect of my affiliate marketing activity in 2013 so far is negative after we got attacked by a bunch of scammers :(

Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith

1. I've been racking my brains, but honestly - no; I can't say it has. When it comes to onsite I tend to focus on the following:

  • Check for potential penalties
  • Indexation, indexation, indexation :)
    - If the bots can't crawl and index your pages then you're screwed. Good information architecture is imperative.
  • Unique, genuinely valuable content
    - Phil Nottingham very eloquently explains the importance of this right here.


2. I think most SEOs are primarily concerned with 'future proofing' - i.e. building the sorts of links that aren't likely to be devalued by the next iteration of Penguin. I've a few thoughts on what this looks like, but the tl;dr version is build the sorts of links that you'd want to keep even if links were no longer a ranking factor.


3. I definitely concur with Tom Anthony's views on the implicit aspects of search queries - I expect that we are going to continue to see more context signals being used to drive richer and more detailed implicit-aspects to queries - i.e. when I search 'cafe' on my iPhone I want to see cafes near my current location - not a Wikipedia entry explaining what a cafe is. Clearly, this is already happening, but I imagine we'll see more contextually appropriate results as time goes on.


4. In terms of my own personal development I've been digging deeper into tangentially related topics - UX, psychology, storytelling and good old fashioned marketing in order to try to better understand what drives an audience's engagement with content. It's been fun, and I plan to continue to learn more; I highly recommend extending your reading list outside of the industry.

John Doherty

John Doherty

1. The basics haven't changed, but I am more cognizant of heavy anchor text internally. I'm also more willing to be more creative with title tags and don't prioritize having the important head terms first in the anchor text always. For some sites, I care a lot more about branding or linkability than optimizing for a keyword.

The biggest change as far as content is concerned is I ask "Is this content oriented towards conversions as well, and will it drive people to what I want them to do?" I try to make every piece the best piece about that topic on the Internet.


2. Will this link drive traffic to my site? We've found that it's more worthwhile to build relationships with influencers in your space who will not link to you, but also share the content you're referenced in and then share more content of their own accord is much more powerful in driving business than just links.


3. Quit using links. I'm kidding, sort of.

Google needs to find a balance between links, social media, and mentions around the Internet. I think they're doing a pretty good job of this now, but I still see people gaming the algorithm. Sustained velocity of this over time should be a larger part of the algorithm, in my opinion.

I do think Google is putting too much faith in brands right now and allowing them to dominate SERPs. Local queries are a mess, as Yelp dominates them. I don't just want Yelp - I want to see actual restaurants, Zagat, Opentable, and others so I can see different reviews.


4. It's always going to be changing. I've learned that Google is getting a lot better at ranking brands where they should, but they need to be sure to not make it too hard for the little guys to compete. It *is* possible to get traction with a new website, but it's harder to keep it going as we're losing keyword data more and more each month.

*My* biggest lesson is that SEO itself is not enough. As I've been building HireGun, I'm seeing that there are some other avenues that can drive just as good of traffic that converts just as well. SEO is a key component to web marketing, but it's not even close to the whole picture.

Neil Walker

Neil Walker

1. In essence No, but yet it has drastically, just before the “Unnatural Link Warnings” and “Penguin” hit, I worked as the Group CTO for a Swedish company managing workflow across the UK, Italy, Ireland, Sweden and France. As I left to focus on my own projects Google unleashed its most aggressive stance on off page ranking factors I have ever seen in ten years. I therefore focused on consultancy roles with the aim of getting my hands dirty again. This gave me great insight from working with PR companies to in house roles working directly in the office or part of a full marketing team. I still believe that on site SEO has basic hygiene factors but also the way I break down on site SEO has evolved; I tend to think of On page SEO as:

  • Technical SEO – Is the site coded correctly, is there any requirement for Micro formats, 404 errors, sitemaps etc. page speed.
  • Structural SEO – How we determine priority of pages within the site, how the navigation works, and URL structure.
  • On Page SEO – Titles, headings, image alt tags and page content.

Of course my approach to content has changed (I’m not talking about content marketing); I’m talking about how optimised content is structured; its debated about Google’s use of LSI technology but never the less I have personally made a shift into having content produced which answers a problem first, then approaching how it is optimised. – That said there are still plenty of low competitive niches that use traditional content stuffing and over optimisation which often out ways producing more relevant content.

Localisation has been for me some of the biggest changes we have seen in the SERP’s especially for the UK, the creation of specific office pages that use rich snippets and link to their Google Plus Local page have been successful (Note: Google Plus Local and not Google Local).


2. As mentioned above I’ve taken 18 months out of traditional agency work to consult, this has given me great exposure to more campaign led work (from a personal perspective); Link Building has changed immensely (yet not at all); I’ve been part of or carried out over 500 reinclusion requests with circ. 450 successful Manual Spam revoked messages both pre and post disavow tool. So my approach to link building has to be cleaner than clean (unless requested otherwise.)

Link Building is one of those subjects, as soon as the warnings came out and penguin hit, 70% of the industry changed from free directories and article submissions to a move to Guest posting, why? Because how else do you build links? Buy them? Advertorials? Press Releases? Widgets, you may remember Jon Cooper’s “Link Building Strategies – The Complete List” – however if you go through the list, how many would you actually use?

I personally take a rounded approach for a few reasons:

  • Dealing with a Manual Action or Penguin is not a quick fix
  • I’m simply more conscious about where a website will be in 5 years’ time
  • Also the landscape has changed – For many niches, new sites do well as simply they have a clean slate.


So I look at content, this may be a big piece that’s heavily promoted down to daily news, I have gained links from sites such as Bloomberg, Huffington Post etc., simply by having article written pushed out into Google news and then picked up by journalists or bloggers. Similarly writing content for specific audience such as university can get nice links (Not like the .edu’s people used to / still sell).

I also work heavily with PR teams, PR people are great at outreach and getting stories seeded, making sure that a link is in that piece where possible is something I keep firmly in their mind.

Of course guest posts, love them or hate them are a necessity, having a good story to tell on a relevant website is great, I tend to try and get multiple posts on each site for a client so they become an actual author rather than getting something posted on an adsence site.


3. The key focus for me is “localisation”, “Diversity” and “relevance”; Google will continue with its war on bad links and poor content, it may even start to look at the social signals in more detail, but sat in the background is Google core aim; “Give the most relevant result as quickly as possible” (Ok maybe it’s also profit). If you look through any of the 50 changes post from March, April or before, you can spot changes such as “Live results for UEFA Champions League” trying to deliver the most up-to-date information as quickly as possible. In terms of localisation it seems to have a huge impact and be giving local business more of a fighting chance in the serps.

Google seem to be expanding its universal search features, more and more queries seem to be presenting videos, news and local results than the traditional ten results, as a digital marketer it simply shows that we should be expanding our content channels.


4. Reporting and integration, my consultancy is now starting its first expansion, I’m an SEO by trade but I never sell SEO, its merely part of the overall strategy and reporting is key, I’ve always been an analytics and data geek, but I used to feel that time is often better spent doing the work than reporting about it, these days I think any business needs to fully understand the cradle to grave life cycle of its marketing source to sale (and beyond) once this is firmly set in place you are able to make real actionable decisions.

The other part if reporting, Sending out standard ranking reports or analytics pdf's doesn’t work for me; setting up a clear goal and targets and focusing on this with each client or marketing team, giving clear direction each week and month help form a completely fluid campaign.

Finally Integration, that’s a big key part to me, for my own business model has changed with my web marketing strategy from how I approach project to what roles I’ll employ to deliver projects and how to integrate individual’s talents better.

Gianluca Fiorelli

Gianluca Fiorelli

1. Sincerely, nothing has radically changed in the way I do onsite optimisation this year respect what I did in 2012.

Panda is a reality since 2011, hence everything related to avoiding duplicated content, canonicalization, thin content et al is something you should have too dates since 2011, as well authorship and rel="publisher". And if we look at International SEO, the hreflang too is nothing new.

What changed (better: evolved) is the task of educating the clients in how SEO has changed, also in its onsite facet, hence how all those not so new "factors" finally must be implemented once and that optimizing a web document is not anymore a question of H1 and Title. Luckily, at least in my case, clients have evolved too and are more proactive.


2. Also in link building nothing has really changed in its core. What changed - but it should be better saying: what regained importance - is doing link building forgetting the links. With this I mean that the most important thing - IMHO - is being able to really target your audience, so to create content that fit 100% with their interests and needs, hence which may have the highest probability of obtaining success socially and in the outreach.

Surely Penguin 1 and 2 are at the base of this reconsideration of the essence of the link building practice.

If I have to underline one specific thing, I would say that people is learning how Google is very reactive with every potential exploitation of licit link building tactics - i.e. guest posting or infograhics - that could solved in acquiring links with cheap quality content. Guest blogging can't be used as a synonym of article marketing, and infographics can't be used as the only tactic.


3. I think that we are already seeing where Google wants to go in order to improve the SERPs: answer, converse and anticipate.

This means that more and more Knowledge Base, Personalised Search and Semantic SEO will influence how the SERPs will be shaped.

Hopefully, Google will start relying onto authority/trust signals as the ones the Authorrank is about and factors like co-citations and co-occurrences for understanding the popularity and relevance of a web document.


4. I learnt, also in the hard way, that even if you have created the most wonderful strategy for a client, if you are not equally able to involve it 200%, then your strategy will remain just a nice essay about Internet Marketing.

SEO, or Inbound Marketing, is not just being a great technical SEO or Link Builder: SEO is also being a great "politic".

Gaz Copeland

Gaz Copeland

1. I don’t think so.

Onsite SEO for me hasn’t changed a great deal over the past few years, it’s one of the few things not to! I still talk to people about title tags, unique content, internal linking, site speed, good site architecture and navigation in the same way I always have. I’m probably a little more cautious on things which are clearly only there for Google and alike, I’m not keen on things like the old “SEO Quick links” you used to see in the footer of every web page using various keyphrases but that’s not just this year.


2. Wow, that’s a tough one!

One of the major things I have been trying to focus on in the past 6 months or so is getting traffic from links. A crazy idea, right?

People get so obsessed with DA, PA, linking root domains and all that Jazz they forget the fundamental reason links exist on the web, for people. There are countless posts on link evaluation, what’s a bad link, what’s a good link and how to sort the wheat from the chaff. My question though in the more recent past has been “Will this link bring targeted traffic?”, if the answer is yes then it’s almost always a good link.


3. Google could do A LOT! They’ve made quite a few changes over the last 12 months but one of the biggest problems I’ve seen is in the fight against spam results. Google in many areas have been good at reducing the number of spam results for queries but the problem is what they’ve been replaced by. I’m seeing so many more newspapers and wiki type sites seemingly taking the place of spam results when they’re just not what the user wants to see.

Take the infamous “payday loans” SERP as an example. Much cleaner that it’s been previously but 3 of my top 10 are either wiki or newspaper sites.

Other than this domain crowding and foreign sites in SERPs are still a problem for me.


4. I’ve learnt a lot! In a field like this I believe you’re always learning. That said it’s impossible to pick out just one thing.


I hope you have enjoyed reading the answers from the leading experts as much as I have putting this blog post together. I would like to say thank you to them for helping and lending there time to put this together. If you would like to leave a comment or discuss any of the points above then please tweet us @ISD_Marketing or ISD_Paul with #ISDblog.