SEO in 2013 – Your Survival Guide

As 2012 came to its conclusion, many people were left asking themselves a gloomy question. Is the end near? While the majority did not take Mayan prophecy literally, the underlying question was one that has been eating away at mankind for centuries. How long will the world as we know it last? In a universe that is ever changing, you will always find yourself up against uncontrollable variables. In this way, the universe is a lot like SEO.

One is forced to either evolve or die. You can accept change or let it kill you. In the last few years, the world of online marketing has witnessed many dramatic shifts that drastically altered the future of SEO. Each algorithm update released by Google brings with it another death nail for lazy Internet marketers. Old school SEO gold such as article marketing, automated blog commenting, and exact match anchor text now have the potential to be toxic to search engine traffic. Despite all the chaos, SEO is still alive and well. One must always be aware, pro-active, and able to adapt. Below is a guide to SERP survival in 2013

No-Follow backlinks aren’t the enemy

For years, no-follow backlinks have been viewed with disdain by many inside the SEO community. While failing to pass PageRank, all the latest research indicates no-follow backlinks have an undeniable positive impact on SERP positioning. While this may sound controversial to many, keep in mind that a site comprised of 100% do-follow backlinks appears blatantly un-natural. While the majority of inbound links should be do-follow, it’s essential to have a healthy amount of no-follow backlinks for the sake of looking natural to the all seeing eyes of Google.

Google’s AuthorRank

PageRank used to be the standard for measuring the quality of a site, but has now been weakened considerably due to recent algorithm changes. A new factor used for determining the quality of content will soon be implemented by Google. It is Known as AuthorRank, and it will give Google the ability to rank content based on the popularity and credibility of the author that created it. Authorship is established by linking online content to a Google+ account. Google will decide AuthorRank based on various factors, such as the number of Google+ circles an author is in, the popularity of an author’s content, and levels of social engagement. If one does not start building AuthorRank soon, very nasty consequences may occur once it is fully implemented.

Heavy on the content, light on the linking

Several trends involving on-site SEO are showing an increased effect on SERP positioning. Too many Adsense blocks, especially above the fold, will now have a negative effect on SEO. Sites with extensive advertisement in the first 720 pixels of a page seem to have a very difficult time ranking. Coupled with the latest blow to exact match domains, Google continues to aggressively de-value sites it views as being overly commercial.

Over-linking is another major on-page SEO issue that has had a significant impact on search results. Google wants a page to have value of its own, instead of simply being a place to re-direct traffic. A general rule of thumb is to have one outbound link for every 250 words. A page should have between 400 and 3,000 words of quality, relevant content. If search engines cannot find a good portion of your text in the dictionary, a severe penalty is in your near future. The power of good on-site SEO and contextual, quality content will continue to increase in 2013.

Don’t be slick with anchor text variations

Research is consistent: your money keyword must never rise above 33% of your total anchor text profile. Do not simply string words next to your money keyword and assume penguin won’t penalize you for it. This will still damage your search rankings and leave you vulnerable to a manual penalty from a Google employee. Be as diverse as possible when selecting the anchor text you want to use. Ideally you want to select two or three secondary keywords that are niche relevant, and that also have the potential to bring qualified traffic to your site. The rest of your anchor text should consist of your domain name and occasional generic phrases such as “click here.”

Social noise

Replacing links with social signals is speculated to be the dream of many search engine companies. However, even Google’s Matt Cutts admits that it will be some time before the state of search is such that social noise will carry greater weight than inbound links (more Matt Cutts insights from SMX). Still, the power of social media is expected to rise over the coming years, and it is wise to get ahead of the curve. Google’s algorithm does take social media into account, and a site with lots of social noise is unlikely to raise any suspicion for having large numbers of backlinks. Besides the benefits to search rankings, social media marketing has the potential to rival even Google in terms of generating traffic. SEO in 2013 boils down to diverse linking, quality on-page SEO, and generating ample amounts of social media buzz. SEO is far from dead; it has just become more complex.

Over to you…

What would you add to this survival guide?  Share your wisdom…

About Omar Kattan
Omar is MD & Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.


  1. […] our SEO survival guide published earlier this year, and Matt Cutts’ 9 tips to surviving the summer of 2013,   […]

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