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Following the major cold snap in February, spring is now well on the way in terms of SEO. Appropriately enough, the hot topics for the month of March are AMP, backlinks and Bing.

1) Google liberates stories format from confines of an app

The popular information and entertainment format of “Stories” is breaking new ground. Originally invented by Snapchat and quickly pounced on by Facebook and Instagram once it proved successful, the handy multimedia gallery has since been confined to the closed systems of smartphone apps and social media worlds. Google now has plans to liberate stories from captivity. The search engine has developed a stories format for the stripped-back Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) HTML protocol, which it presented at this year’s AMP Conference in Amsterdam. The aim is to combine the narrative options of the stories format with the technological benefits of AMP, such as fast loading times and optimum display on all platforms and devices. The new format supports videos, images, GIF animations and links. Publishers including CNN, Hearst, and Mashable supplied three sample stories on the “open” internet as part of an initial showcase. Fast loading times and platform independent user experiences are two key ranking factors for search engines, so it is worth news publishers and content producers taking a closer look at the options afforded by AMP stories. In addition, it has previously often been shown that the Mountain View search engine sometimes prioritises its preferred technologies in its search results. For instance, this is what happened with the markup for structured data. It remains to be seen whether the introduction of the stories format will accelerate the spread of AMP technology. Despite the benefits, there are also limitations in terms of the feature set and the implementation of tracking.

2) Old school? You must be joking: SEO success with backlinks

Optimising a website to increase its organic reach to the right target group is a complex undertaking. The explosion in the number of ranking factors and signals across a range of new platforms, and the expansion of the search function to include new interfaces such as voice and image, means that SEO managers are spoilt for choice when selecting the correct approach for a project design. So it’s time to remember the origins of our craft and consider a good old-fashioned backlink campaign. In an article for the Search Engine Land blog, US columnist Andrew Dennis explains that the use of brand mentions and shrewd competitor research can substantially boost reach, even for completely new domains. Dennis quotes the example of an offline brand with a relatively small digital marketing footprint. Despite this, the brand manages to attract a high level of attention in relation to news and blogs in its niche industry. Dennis states that this initial position applies to many companies in the cybersecurity, STEM education, payment, fitness and hotel industries, in particular start-ups. The first tactic was to generate brand mentions, i.e. unlinked mentions of the brand on third-party websites in the most positive context possible. By involving the right managers, a large number of brand mentions were obtained through the PR and HR departments, as well as industry associations, press interviews and charitable work. The second tactic involved analysis of the most successful competitors’ backlink profiles, whose key link sources were automatically relevant for the company wishing to make improvements. According to the author, it did not take much effort to identify a large number of portals and directories where backlinks could be acquired, including those not featuring expensive content. The effort put into link analysis and developing brand mentions resulted in a total of 64 new links and a 43% increase in organic traffic over a six-month period. This example in itself is nothing out of the ordinary, but illustrates how relatively simple results can be achieved in our trend-driven SEO world by applying classic analysis and common sense.

3) Bing in favour of a balanced argument

We have become so accustomed to using search engines to help us in almost every aspect of life that it is high time we started to question viewpoints supplied by a machine (in this case the search engine). Following on from Amazon’s announcement of plans to give personal assistant Alexa her own opinions (as reported here), Microsoft has now added a new feature to its search engine Bing – the multi-perspective answer. This may initially sound incredibly academic, but actually makes perfect sense on closer inspection. For example, asking whether a hot yoga session is good for the body will result in contradictory responses, as will many other queries. Bing now lists and compares the pros and cons in a neat box on the search results page, similar to the Featured Snippet Box on Google. According to Microsoft, the viewpoints are selected via a self-learning neural network that uses reputable content from trusted, high-quality websites. The company states that another requirement for a place in the response box is the indexability of the content on the original site, where it must be displayed prominently and clearly. Early examples of multi-perspective answers from the USA relate primarily to health and nutrition issues. However, Microsoft has announced plans to roll out the feature in the UK initially and then to other markets, as well as expanding it to cover other topics.