What Should an SEO and Inbound Marketing Strategy Consist of in 2012

The world of online marketing changes at a crazy speed. Every month brings another thousand blog posts on new strategies you need to consider, changes to Google that may wipe out your business or an SEO prophet claiming they know what you need to be doing right now. 2011 was no different. In fact, it may have been one of the craziest years for those working in online marketing. So just what happened in 2011 and how should it affect your strategy next year? What follows is my own brain dump on this subject with links to some of the most important posts from 2011 (in my opinion) and how they may affect your business in 2012.

On-Site Optimisation

It’s good to know some things remain constant and ensuring your website adheres to best practice on-site optimisation guidelines can still make a difference to your business. It’s important to still do the simple things right:

a. Web Site Structure

For me this is still one of the key areas websites tend to get wrong. A good site structure will ensure  your key pages are accessible by search engines, it will promote good navigation, it will map keywords in logical manner against important pages, it will restrict duplicate content issues and it will be easy for those bots to crawl and index. This is nothing new and this post from Yoast is a great example of how you can structure a small site around keyword research.

Panda Warning: This is the first of our Google Panda warnings. Without doubt the biggest change of last year was the introduction of the Panda. Many sites were totally wiped out by Google’s Panda update and it will have repercussions across a number of areas in 2012. I talked about Google Panda in relation to link building here and how hub pages tried to fix it with sub domains. Google provided subtle hints on what the panda may look for here, Webuildpages (now internetmarketingninjas) provided a series of great articles on the panda and for the latest winners and losers, here is the U.S.A and here are some for the European countries. For this Panda warning it’s now, more than ever, extremely important to reduce your duplicate content to help you stay out of Panda’s clutches. Dr Pete over at SEOMoz had a great post on Duplicate content in a post panda world that you should read.

b. Keyword Usage 

This has always been a critical part of an SEO strategy and something I have wrote a lot about, two examples are here and here. It’s another factor that can make a massive impact on your business and is something that should be taken seriously. For a really great guide on keyword research, check out this guide from ViperChill.

Tips: My favorite keyword tools have not changed much over 2011, they are:

a. Google Keyword Tool

b. Google Insights

c. Uber Suggest

d. Google Suggest

e. SEOMoz Keyword Difficulty Tool (this is new for me)

This is a cool little tool giving you a lot of information on how competitive individual keywords are. The picture below is for “SEO” on Google.com, odd to see  www.seo-usa.org ranking 4th.

SEOMoz Keyword Tool

You can get this tool over at SEOMoz

c. Internal Links

Optimising your internal links by linking from your high value pages to those you are trying to rank is still something I do for all sites I work on. I would add, in 2011 I questioned this tactic over on the SEODojo as I had noticed it didn’t appear to be working consistently. On a couple of sites I ran this tactic there were no visible improvements even though 1 site had hundreds of high value PR pages that were all thematically related to the page I was linking to. Barry Adams gave a good answer:

Tips: For a great way to optimise your internal link navigation, here is a great post from Ken Lyons over on Wordstream

d. Rich Snippets

Rich Snippets is a great way to build trust and authority for your listings in the SERPs. Google, Bing and Yahoo all support Schema.org and if you have content that already fits a format that is supported it’s definitely something I would allocate resources to. There are a couple of additions that could drastically increase your CTR on SERPs:

Authorship Mark-Up: This addition allows you to show a thumbnail image of the author of a particular article, blog post in the SERPs. For more details on implementation, check out this post from Yoast.

Video Embeds: This allows you to show a thumbnail of a video on a particular page in the SERPs, again this is great for CTR:

e. Usability/CRO:

Usability will play an ever important role in your strategy for 2012. The purpose of usability testing is to have people either remotely or within a room, interact with your site and provide feedback on it. This allows you to see how users are using your site and where there may be opportunities to improve performance e.g. get more people to sign up to a form, download a PDF, purchase a product. Gab from SEOROI produced an amazing beginners guide on remote usability testing which is really worth a read.

Panda Warning: Focusing on your page structure, usability of site and reducing ads above the fold are things you need to address in a post Panda world, so allocating budget/resources to usability testing is definitely a good move in 2012.

Site Speed: Another big addition in 2011 was the addition of search speed as a ranking signal. You can use tools like Google Page Speed and WebPageTest.

Google Bot Executing Ajax/Js: Around the start of November, Matt Cutts announced Google had the ability to execute some Ajax/JS and was now indexing Facebook comments. Mike Kings post over on SEOMoz on how Googlebot is a headless browser is a great follow on from this and signals Google can read page structure.

Local Search

Earlier in the year I attended Think with Google in Dublin. The 3 overriding themes of that event were Mobile, Local, Social. This is where businesses should focus resources over the next 5 years. In the SERPs local search is here to stay and dominates the organic results for local specific searches. In some cases it does even when a user has not used a local specific search. Here is a nice round up of the top 10 factors that influence local search. These were:

  1. Physical Address in City of Search
  2. Manually Owner-verified Place Page
  3. Proper Category Associations
  4. Volume of Traditional Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
  5. Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address
  6. PageRank / Authority of Website Homepage / Highest Ranked Page
  7. Quality of Inbound Links to Website(
  8. Crawlable Phone Number Matching Place Page Phone Number
  9. Local Area Code on Place Page
  10. City, State in Places Landing Page Title

Content Marketing

Great content marketing is the process of creating remarkable content that people will link to and share (via social channels). It’s about creating content that maps against different personas, helps funnel people towards a specific goal and helps increase your share of voice around a specific topic. Maybe that’s not the exact definition of it, but it describes some of the work I have done this year around content :). Companies like Radian6, Hubspot and Marketo have used content to drastically grow their companies, in the case of Marketo, they are the 2nd fastest growing software as a service company of all time, so they must be doing something right.

a. Developing Content/Buyer Personas

Developing content/buying personas helps you to get a clear picture of who your content is targeting and what they need at each stage of the buying process. This year I was involved in a project where we created content personas for early stage prospects and it provided a lot of useful data. Hubspot have a great article on how to easily create remarkable content with marketing personas. For me, this was one of the most important points from that article:

People, experienced marketers included, tend to jump into content creation from their own perspective

This is true of most people, we write from our own perspective, using our own terminology, instead of thinking about what our prospects need. Hubspot provide some great questions to help get you started on persona development:

  • Who are your typical buyers? It’s common for there to be several, but challenge yourself to narrow down on one the first time around. You can build out secondary personas later.
  • What are their typical demographics?
  • What are their key motivators in life, at work, or at play?
  • What are their biggest challenges and obstacles to success, at work or at play?
  • How do they consume information today?
  • Who influences their decisions?

Over on the Content Marketing Institute they also provided a great template for building a buyer persona. Your content’s job isn’t just to attract prospects to your site, it needs to provide them with the right type of content at each stage of the buying cycle, something I touched on in this article under Content Matrix. Just to repost here the best inforgraphic from last year, Eloquao’s content matrix:


b. Creating Valuable Content / Linkable Assets

Content Marketing is also one of the best ways to generate a lot of high quality links and social signals to your site. With Google using social signals to help them rank content, producing an asset that is widely shared can have a positive impact on your rankings. Also, having more eyeballs on your content should also increase your link count. Linkable assets should be:

– Evergreen content

– Provide a lot of value to your readers

– Targeting your persona group (for a great post on how to use personas for your linkable assets, check out this post from Justin Briggs).

The Content Marketing Institute provided a great check list for creating valuable content here that is really applicable to creating linkable assets. Two of the best examples of this in 2011 were:

A Noob Guide to Online Marketing (post of 2011 for me)

SEO Guide to Viral Link Bait and Infographics

Eurozone Debt: Who owes what to whom (for a full list of interactive infographics check out this post from Richard Baxter)

c. Freshness Update

Google’s Freshness update affects the way Google serves up results for certain searches. In cases where Google deems relevant it will show what it feels are fresher results impacting about 35% of searches. For companies in certain markets, this means producing high value content on a regular basis. Something else to keep in mind is what Tim over at SEOWizz calls FreshRank. That relates to the power of acquiring links on a regular basis (Fresh Links), which the above section on Linkable Assets can really help with.

Panda Warning: Google’s Panda update meant sites with low quality content had their traffic wiped out over night. The panda update wasn’t a page level penalty, it was at the site level, this meant if your site had enough low quality content to tip it over the edge, the whole site would suffer. For 2012 it’s important to have unique content on your site, try produce content that adds value and remove low quality content if applicable.

Link Building

After the JC Penny outing at the start of 2011, I am sure a lot of the bigger brands had a look at what their agencies were doing and changed strategy towards content marketing/linkable assets (I am sure a lot didn’t as well). The problem with that is, you can have a site that attracts a lot of high quality links from reputable sites but it get’s outranked by a site with spammy links but one which has a better anchor text spread. This was something Will Reynolds talked about at Distilleds LinkLove during his presentation. Until this changes I don’t see a huge amount of change in how small to medium sized companies approach link building in 2012:

– Guest Blog Posts (use sites like MyBlogGuest)

– PR Releases

– Niche/Local Directories

– Article Marketing

– High Value Blog Networks (for building links to links)

Doing smart things with competitors 404

– Doing Competitor Backlink Analysis to try replicate their links

of course this could go on and on, but in general I personally (and I am probably in the minority) don’t feel there have been massive changes in 2011 around this kind of link building except for:

Panda Warning: The results from large content syndication campaigns for link building have been dramatically affected by the Google panda update. Things like spinning articles and submitting to 100s of directories or relying on blog networks or doing large link wheels based on a single article have and will continue to be impacted as those sites get hit by the panda.

Special Mentions

I also need to give a quick mention to a couple of other changes that could really impact your strategy for 2012.

a. Google Analytics

Google have continued to make Google Analytics the best tool in the world (I am slightly biased). They added:

Google Analytics Multi Funnel Channel allowing you to track a complete transaction

Performance Tab so you can optimise page speed

Real Time Analytics so you can track what’s going on in your site in real time

b. Bad Google

Google also made one of the most frustrating changes in 2012, hiding keyword data for people who are logged into Google and visit your site. When first released it was estimated to be affecting between 7% to 14% of searches. Unfortunately for sites I have access to, this is far higher and you would expect to grow if the popularity of Google + keeps growing. This could be a really big hurdle to overcome in 2012 as we struggle to identify what keywords are bringing in the right kind of prospects.


So that’s my shortish round up of 2011. I can’t wait to see what 2012 brings and hope the above provides a little help as you begin to map out your strategy for the new year.

About Kieran Flanagan

Online Marketer who implements both inbound and paid strategies to help companies grow internationally. Lover of content marketing, SEO, analytics, CRO and strategy. A highly motivated marketing geek high on data crack.