Search engines like Google, in their effort to deliver the most relevant results for their customers, have radically changed the way they rank web pages in recent years. Gone are the days when sites with mediocre content but loaded links and keywords were enough to generate decent rankings. Google’s algorithms have become increasingly sophisticated, with updates like Panda, which penalized sites with low quality content, and the more recent mobile-friendly update, which boosted rankings for sites optimized for smartphones and tablets.

The result is that merchants have to scramble like never before to ensure their sites and products are optimized for this new mobile-focused search landscape. The stakes in mastering this SEO 2.0 world have never been higher. With the rapid shift to toward mobile commerce underway, merchants can’t risk letting their sites become harder to find for billions of potential shoppers.

Shoppers armed with more powerful devices on faster mobile networks are embracing online shopping from their smartphones like never before – boosting their spending by 125 percent across all product categories last year, according to analysis of MarketLive’s 2014 Performance Index data. Year-over-year mobile usage surged by close to 50%, with fully 44% of all traffic to merchant sites and 25% of all revenues derived from mobile visits.

To ensure your site is as easy to find as possible for shoppers on the go, focus on these five best practices to win at SEO 2.0.

Boost mobile speed.

It should by now go without saying that if Google, which commands 68 percent of the search market, is looking favorably on sites optimized for mobile, you should be doing everything you can to make sure your site qualifies. Embracing responsive design principles, streamlining photos to improve upload speed, or simply ensuring pages are free of frustrating error messages are just a few important ways merchants can make sure sites are streamlined for mobile users and networks.

Luckily Google has provided a convenient tool, the Mobile-Friendly Test to diagnose any URL in about a minute, assessing in simple language whether the sites meets Google’s mobile usability expectations or has some work to do. Use it. But don’t just do it for Google … do it for your customers. When it comes to mobile shopping, consumers’ expectations are high, with 85% expecting mobile pages to load as fast or faster than a desktop site, according to Radware.

Grow your links.

Search engines place a high value on links to your web site from other popular and trusted sites. It’s one of the key metrics search algorithms use to separate wheat from the spam, so to speak. So merchants should strive to get other high-quality sites to link back to their site. It will not only improve search rankings but drive traffic.

One great way to generate links is to create original, useful or insightful content that will cause people to look upon your brand as a valuable resource in your industry, and thereby more likely to send people to it. Rich content such as how-to videos, in-depth gift guides, and customer reviews and ratings, when properly tagged, can all make a merchant’s site into a valuable web resource, driving up search rankings naturally. Wondering how a competitor gets such an enviable Google ranking? Check out their backlinks for potentially key intelligence about how they achieved such popularity.

Build a blog

Building an informative and entertaining company blog is another way to deepen your brand’s reputation as authoritative source of information important to your industry or interesting to your customers. The freer blog format allows for experimentation with less edgier, compelling content more likely to get picked up and spread throughout the social sphere.

Active women’s clothing company Title Nine is a good example of a company blog that goes behind the scenes for a look into the lives of its models and staff, and also provides space for inspirational stories from the popular brand’s passionate advocates.

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Tap into social networks

There is some debate about to what extent search engines use brand references or shares on social media sites to affect rankings. While evidence of direct impact is hard to come by, the indirect benefits in the form of brand engagement, personalization of search results on sites like Google + and increased traffic volumes are all undeniable.

There are several ways to use social to boost mobile engagement and SEO.

If a merchant’s main eCommerce site isn’t drawing in mobile traffic, brand outposts on social media and in third-party marketplaces may well earn the coveted “mobile-friendly” badge. Major players such as Facebook and eBay are mobile-optimized to the hilt, and can give merchants a leg-up in visibility with investment in marketplace listings, social sharing tools and fresh content on brand outposts.

Social media outposts have the added benefit of giving shoppers an opportunity to sound off on their product experiences, good or bad. Strong recommendations and customers testimonials can be capitalized on and promoted by merchants through Tweets, social shares and email campaigns.

Allowing mobile customers to sign in or check out of a site using Facebook, Google + or other social logins also has benefits, not the least of which is streamlining their experience of a merchant’s site. Benefits for the merchant include the opportunity to ask for access to profile and other customer data that can help merchants forge the personal connections that build brand loyalty.

About the Author:

Ken Burke is Founder and CEO of MarketLive, a leading eCommerce Software company enabling total commerce, Ken founded the company as Multimedia Live in 1995 with only $500 in start-up money, and under his guidance it has grown into a leading Total Commerce solution provider. Inspired by strategies and business methods from the cataloging and direct marketing world, Burke masterminded the creation of the MarketLive® Intelligent Selling® System, MarketLive’s enterprise-class e-commerce application designed to optimize all selling opportunities, build solid relationships with customers, and give merchants complete control over their online merchandising. A recognized e-commerce industry pioneer and visionary, Ken hosts frequent thought leadership events and is often quoted in Internet Retailer and other industry publications. A dynamic and popular speaker, he is a regular contributor at retail and direct marketing events. Ken is also the author of the book Intelligent Selling®: The Art & Science of Selling Online. He studied multimedia and the Internet at the University of Southern California, where he completed a BA in Marketing and earned honors as an MBA graduate in Venture Management and Entrepreneurship. For more information about MarketLive, please visit: www.marketlive.com and for more great content from Ken, please visit the MarketLive Blog-www.marketlive-blog.com