"Rankings continue to matter more and more for SEO." What is the importance of Rankings in 2015 as far as you're concerned?
I think that depends largely on you starting point for that statement. If I go to Google on a US IP number and type in Pizza but I have not yet pressed Return, Google (on a desktop) is assuming I want Pizza Hut So Pizza Hut not only dominates that Serp, it is the ONLY result, in many different forms Knowledge chart, Local listings, In ste links, Google Maps all appear above the fold. Other results do not. So in that instance, it does not make any difference where you rank in the traditional SERPs. If the user then hits return, though, the serps are returned and Pizza Hit is much less dominant. But dominatiing a phrase before the user hits return has to be a powerful brand builder, even if you are not number 1 after the search is completed by the user. I think Google works on many fronts to discourage the industry from getting too hung up on the rankings of individual keywords. This does not make ranking unimportant of course they are but they seem to me to be increasingly hard to define and measure, because it is too difficult to replicate a serp across different environments.
What are your favorite strategies to get your site or content ranked in the Google SERPs?
My favourite tacttic is first to make something (not just some words) unique, then to tell influential people about my new product launch (and the planned launch URL) before everyone else, so that influential and reputable people (in my industry) break the story, not me. To be honest, if a third party site ranks for my new functionality, but is only talking about me, that is often better than my own page ranking, because it is a recommendation of my product rather than me just spouting my mouth off. If my product is unique enough, then it really is then up to the search engines to find out I am the true owner of the concept, which they will eventually realize when all roads lead to Rome.
What would you say are the 3 critical elements to be covered in an SEO site audit?
Link Profile analysis, Technical (server side) audit and on-page content.
What features do you think are missing in mainstream SEO tools? Are there any processes you'd love to see automated?
The main missing element is categorization of content and evaluation/scoring of content within a vertical. If you are selling lemonade, you better get links, citations and likes from people influential in the soft drinks industry. The offline analogy if you are a rock musician, would you rather the Queen of England publicly says she likes your music or the editor of Kerrang magazine? To me, the latter is a better citation. If Search Engines havent figured that out as well, then I would be amazed, because there is signifcant reseach to say that categorization improves search result quality, reduces latency and reduces spam.