We all know that Google has over 200 ranking factors that determine your website’s place in search results. Even as you scramble to figure out how to best optimize your business website, a new round of updates can roll out and change the algorithm significantly.
Keeping up with the latest trends and developments in search engine optimization is a challenge. And for a business owner with only so much time to do anything along the lines of marketing and promotion, knowing which areas to prioritize for SEO is a big help.
SEO Tribunal has done an outstanding job of compiling a bunch of interesting stats, facts, and figures on search engine optimization today, but a few that you really need to know are:
- 58% of searches now come from mobile
- 50% of all searches will be voice searches by 2020
- 46% of all Google searches are local
- Nearly 80% of users ignore paid ads in search results
Remember that, in the end, all Google wants is for us to deliver the best possible search experience for its users. Subject matter experts and authorities are now more highly regarded, and earning trust is now a key consideration.
With this in mind, we’ve identified nine key areas for you to prioritize as you make adjustments and revisions to your SEO strategy.
The User Experience
We’d like to call it “housekeeping”; thinking of it as putting your house in order before inviting guests to come visit.
Keep in mind that Google (as well as other search engines) want only the very best user experience possible for users so they’ll keep coming back whenever they need information or answers.
Just over the last couple years, user experience (UX) has been given more importance by Google. With the rise of the “mobile-first” index, and the steady upward trend of voice search, two of the most important factors that impact ranking are page speed and SSL security.
Key Area #1: Page Speed
The average speed of a top-ranking site is just under 2 seconds (1900 ms). Every second slower than this incurs an exponential likelihood of visitors bouncing out to visit another site down the list (because no one wants a slow-loading site).
Checking how quickly your website loads can be as simple as using a free service as Pingdom tools or Google’s own PageSpeed Insights.
Among other action items you can take to make sure your site loads quickly, only use a reputable web hosting company, optimize your images, and minimize HTTP requests on your site.
For more additional information on how to speed up your WordPress site, visit this handy guide by Online Media Masters.
Key Area #2: SSL Security
Google has been putting a higher priority on sites that have proper SSL credentials– meaning the site has an “https://” prefix rather than the standard “http://”. The extra ‘s’ indicates a secure website, which translates to better data handling, protection, and ultimately, trust.
27% of the top 10 search results use “https://”, and we only see this number going up as more websites are making the switch.
Getting an SSL certificate for your site can be as simple as contacting your hosting provider for assistance, or visiting a site like SSLforfree.com.
Content is (Still) King
Key Area #3: Content Quality
Longer & informative content tends to rank higher in Google’s search results. In fact, the average Google first page result contains 1,800 words.
While Google loves fresh content (and therefore, loves blogs in general), it loves comprehensive content more. Gone are the days of 300- to 400-word posts published daily. At a time when all sorts of topics have already been covered, coming up with longer, 2000-word pieces that are useful, informative, easy-to-read, market-relevant is the new standard.
You should revisit your blog and get rid of redundant and outdated pieces of content. Fold what you can into showcase pieces, and keep adding or updating as needed.
It’s OK to publish at a lower frequency (i.e. once a week, or once a month) as long as you have higher quality content.
Key Area #4: LSI Keywords
LSI stands for “latent semantic indexing”, and this helps Google determine the actual purpose and value of your content. By finding phrases and language commonly associated with your chosen topic, the search algorithm can figure out just how comprehensive your piece is.
It’s these LSI keywords– longer, multi-worded phrases that are more conversational in structure– that form the basis of how keyword research is done today. In a way, these words and phrases will naturally flow within your article as you’re writing a genuinely helpful, informative, and market-relevant post.
A good number of online tools can help you uncover these LSI keywords, such as UberSuggest, Keywords Everywhere, and AnswerThePublic. These can help you figure out exactly what people are entering into search so you can include
Key Area #5: Images/Illustrations
97% of page-1 results have at least one image on their page. Images not only help draw in visitors, but they also help in breaking up your content to make it easier to read.
There’s really no need to go overboard on the images– use what you need to drive your point across. That said, consider using infographics, screenshots, charts, and other visual aids to help make your content easier to understand.
Don’t forget to properly tag and label your images and illustrations while you’re at it– these help your online visibility as well.
Google has grown so sophisticated that it now “knows” how users interact with search results, and can adjust the rankings based on these behavior patterns.
You might have the most amazing, most comprehensive content associated with your chosen keyword, but if no one is reading your article, Google is going to pick up on that pattern and bump you down a couple of spots.
Ultimately, it’s how users respond to your content that dictates relevance. It’s these behavioral signals– click-through rate, dwell time, and bounce rate– that you have to pay special attention to.
Key Area #6: Click-through rate (CTR)
A number of industry experts confirm that higher CTRs lead to higher rankings. This implies that among a number of search results displayed, a user chose your site, clicked on the link, and browsed through your content.
To improve your organic CTR, one of the best things you can do is to spend more time making your post title (your headline) and your meta description really stand out. These two details appear on search results, so think of them as mini-pitches to hook users in to pick your site over everybody else’s.
Key Area #7: Dwell Time
More time spent on the site was seen to have a positive impact on your ranking. A longer dwell time typically translates to a visitor finding your content valuable enough to stick around and go through it all.
Although just having comprehensive enough content on your chosen subject allows for more time spent on-site, you can improve dwell time further via a number of ways.
Optimizing your initial introduction (to hook readers further in), having video and/or audio content, linking to other related pages on your site, and engaging with visitor comments all help to bring up your dwell time.
Key Area #8: Bounce Rate
Google measures how often visitors to your site clicked your link on the search results, took a quick look at your content, and hit the “back” button to go look for another site.
Simply put: a high bounce rate is bad for business. The bounce rate of a rank-1 website is nearly 8.7% lower than one of a website at position 10.
The overall (poor) user experience and (low-quality) content can certainly affect your bounce rate. “First impressions last”, as they always say. So pay attention to your overall design and layout as these can seriously impact your bounce rate. Having pop-up ads or way too many advertisements will likely turn off most visitors as well.
Make your page more appealing to readers by using subheaders to organize content, plenty of white space to allow your content to stand out, and highlight key takeaways with boldface so visitors can quickly skim for answers.
Backlinks are very important to Google, and you can say that it was the idea of backlinks that set the search engine apart from all the others way back when they first started.
Backlinks are considered as citations, votes of confidence, or acknowledgements of your usefulness and expertise even, which is given a great deal of weight when it comes to calculating your ranking.
Because of Google’s numerous algorithm adjustments to date, ranking high by means of inbound links is a lot more challenging. Essentially, you can’t buy them, and your backlinks have to come from high-quality websites within your space– so not just any link will do. You can only earn these valuable backlinks through an earnest outreach campaign.
Key Area #9: Backlink Profile
Getting backlinks might be tough, but it is very much worth it. Inbound links are what separates the very best from the rest. A rank-1 website has nearly six times more links than a site at rank 10.
In order to get links, you’re going to have to get out there and aggressively promote your awesome content, essentially peddling it around to others within your industry.
Having high-quality articles is just a start, and now you have to reach out to other bloggers and influencers within your space to consider linking to or sharing your content. Getting featured in podcasts, getting media coverage (by being a resource person), and networking within your industry all help towards getting more highly-coveted inbound links to your site.
A comprehensive guide to getting more of these high-quality links can be found on Backlinko.
Just these last couple of years, Google has further reinforced the idea that the search experience is all about quality: more useful and thoroughly-written articles, high-quality links, and a shift towards delivering results for a more mobile-centric market.
These trends in search engine optimization (and digital marketing in general) profoundly change the way we develop content and strategies to help bring in higher-quality traffic, and with it, better business through quality conversions and sales.
Google has a ton of ranking factors, but prioritizing in these key areas can help you get that much-needed edge to stand out in an increasingly competitive market.