Flexibility Is Key for SEOs [#CZLNY]

Flexibility is one of the most important aspects of search marketing, said Melissa Walner, director of SEO at Hilton Worldwide, during her ClickZ Live New York session.

Over just two months last year, Google launched a new SERP layout, increasing font size by two pixels; rolled out a soft Panda update; and officially launched Panda 4.0. Additionally, Matt Cutts, who led the search giant’s spam team, announced that Google can and will change title tags if they think something else would serve the user better. And in just a few weeks, the algorithm will change again.

“SERP changes to Google algorithms are as inevitable as death and taxes,” Walner said. “It’s more than likely that you’re going to have to adjust some element of your best practices or your strategy.”

To Google bots, the word “Hilton” is synonymous with “hotel,” which complicated things for the brand’s title tags. To that end, Hilton ran a 60-day keyword test comparing title tags using natural language structure with those in bot-speak. In one instance, they found that “Embassy Suites Tucson Williams Center Hotel” outperformed “Embassy Suites Paloma Village in Tucson, AZ” by about one-third.

Walner pointed out that while tools are invaluable, manual research can be equally helpful. Manually auditing the brand’s NAP across websites like Google Business Listings, Yahoo, Bing, and Yelp found some inconsistencies.

“Having 100-percent complete and consistent business citations across the local search ecosystem is critical for local search visibility,” Walner said. “When you’re doing enterprise SEO, you’re heavily reliant on tools to get the job because scalability is critical. You can’t scaling something for 4,200 hotels manually, but sometimes doing a bit of manual research will surface something you wouldn’t have found with a tool.”

In addition to not being wholly reliant on tools, Walner recommended using a large pool of metrics, always looking out for quick wins from low-hanging fruit, and being willing to take a step back and question practices. But ultimately, being nimble is the most important thing because the search landscape changes so frequently.

For example, Google’s carousel, which launched in June 2013, shook up search results for industries like hotels and restaurants. While Hilton’s page-one rankings went up, the hotel chain’s overall visibility decreased dramatically. Less than two years later, Google replaced the carousel with the three-packs of ads.

“When these things happen, we need to be taking a bit more of a holistic approach when it comes to reporting on metrics,” Walner said. “Make sure you’re casting a wide net and having a large pool of metrics because you don’t always know when these things are going to happen.”

Image via Shutterstock

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