"Rankings continue to matter more and more for SEO." What is the importance of Rankings in 2015 as far as you're concerned?
As Google gets better and better at pushing the best results to page 1, it becomes more important to BE ON page 1, as users have less of a need to look at the results from pages 2 onwards.
What's really critical when you're looking at rankings these days, however, is not the absolute position number, but to get an overall look at the landscape of the results for your important terms:is there a local 7-pack showing?Are the organic results a mix of national and local universal?What results are getting click-through-enhancing rich snippets, such as ratings stars? Is Google throwing a Knowledge Graph result up top, which might capture the majority of clicks (or answer the user's question without needing a click)?
What are your favorite strategies to get your site or content ranked in the Google SERPs?
Panda optimization--hands down, this is the most underutilized and powerful technique for getting pages to rank...often against pages with many times the link profile strength.Far too many people think of Panda as merely looking at ads above the fold, or as a penalty for duplicate or thin content.The overall goal of Panda has always been to show pages in the search results that users will be happier with:better quality content, richer content, more useful/unique content.Google is rapidly improving their ability to detect the originality of content (e.g. images that appear only on your site and perhaps a few others, as opposed to stock photos, or hotel image library photos that might appear on hundreds of sites), to gauge the overall value of the content on the page (e.g. is there a map?A video?Big, original photos or just thumbnails?A lengthy, original editorial on the topic, or the same block of text that might come from a manufacturer's product feed?), to calculate the percent of the screen real estate that's content versus navigation, template, whitespace, forms, etc.I've had success at ranking some of my travel site pages above pages from big brand-name sites with 1000 to 5000 TIMES the backlinking domains using this approach.
What would you say are the 3 critical elements to be covered in an SEO site audit?
In terms of finding catastrophic issues, I'd say the most important are:
What features do you think are missing in mainstream SEO tools? Are there any processes you'd love to see automated?
crawlability:are all your pages that are important search targets crawlable by Google (and the content on them, i.e. stylesheets aren't being blocked by robots.txt, preventing Google from being able to render the pages properly)
page speed/mobile usability:not only do these factors affect ranking, but also they affect conversion/bounce rates tremendously
schema.org markup:Google is paying way more attention to trying to understand what entities a page is about, so that it can, for example, know whether a page titled "Rolling Stone" is about the magazine or the rock band.