"Rankings continue to matter more and more for SEO." What is the importance of Rankings in 2015 as far as you're concerned?
It is obvious that being easily found by searchers for information relevant to them if that information is being provided by a website owner and without good rankings on suitable keywords this task is made more difficult so it is vital to achieve good rankings as part of an overall strategy. However, rankings are only relevant provided that the displayed result is attractive and relevant to the searcher while the resulting landing page immediately informs the searcher that they have arrived at a particularly relevant site. Using analytics to understand how users navigate the site can identify weak points and allow adjustments (which can be tailored to different user profiles) is also vital. All these elements should be part of an overall SEO strategy.You should never get away from the fact that SEO has one primary aim which is to benefit both searcher and the website owner by the searcher obtaining what they need from the website. Unless that happens, rankings are worthless!
What are your favorite strategies to get your site or content ranked in the Google SERPs?
Nothing beats a well thought out SEO campaign plan which includes undertaking SEO fundamentals such as appropriate use of HTML attributes including the obvious tags and text copy to emphasise the keywords for every individual page. Use of the <Title> tag, alt tags (where appropriate), hierarchical tags etc should always be used. An attempt should be made to make sure that all pages have clear HTML at the top of page and scripts and other 'code bloat' for presentation purposes should be removed by use of external .js files and .css formating. Page hierarchy should be presented by use of appropriate internal page linking throughout the site for ease of spidering. Next should come a plan of how to build a site's overall 'reputation' on the web by a carefully thought out campaign using things such as press releases, social media and other methods to ensure that any developments (including the launch or relaunch of a website) from the client are picked up by as many authoritative sources as possible in order to receive 'citations' from known sites which would link to the target site in order to emphasise the authoritative nature of the subject for which rankings a re being sought.
What would you say are the 3 critical elements to be covered in an SEO site audit?
Keyword Research to assess page or site relevance to search engines and searchers. HTML layout and internal site design Link strategies (including social media activities)
What features do you think are missing in mainstream SEO tools? Are there any processes you'd love to see automated?
Having written many automated tools for SEO/SEM over the years (and sold one suite of programs which are now part of IBM's analytics portfolio) I think that there are tools out there that cover nearly all areas of SEO on the technical side. There is one area which is, however, of crucial importance which cannot be automated and that is getting a feel for how a searcher will react to a particular search engine listing or a website. An obvious example is the construction of a suitable <TITLE> tag which is vital for not only helping with rankings but attracting searchers to click on the result. This can mean different idioms for different types of searchers for a particular keyword and that can only be done through experience, analysing click through patterns, using knowledge of demographics etc., etc.