The Google algorithm incorporates hundreds, if not thousands, of signals when determining where pages rank for a search. Knowing which factors carry the most weight and optimizing accordingly can be the difference between success and failure. This post will concentrate on areas that, in my experience, deliver positive results and a big return on investment.
I first started promoting a “mobile first” approach to SEO back in March of 2015, when I dubbed Google’s pending mobile update “Mobilegeddon”. The name caught on, but the April 21, 2015, update didn’t create as big an upheaval as expected. It did, however, put everyone on notice, that mobile was here and no longer “the future”. Those who did not heed the warning to go mobile will soon be paying the price.
Google is now doubling down on mobile, giving notice that “pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.” In other words, the Google index is going mobile first and if you don’t have a mobile-friendly page, then you will likely take a hit in the SERPs. That’s especially true for websites using intrusive interstitial ads. If you aren’t certain as to whether your website meets the criteria for being mobile friendly, log in to your Search Console account and view the Mobile Usability Report. Google will report mobile issues there, so you can take the appropriate action.
On a related note, keep close tabs on Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). This open source initiative relies on AMP HTML, which promises “instant” loading—a real benefit on mobile devices. Google has been pushing this hard, but early reviews are mixed. Unless you have a news site, I’m not ready to recommend jumping on the AMP bandwagon just yet.
Mobile is Local – Claim Your Business Listing
Mobile search and local search are inextricably intertwined. Per The Mobile Playbook, 20% of ALL searches have local intent. Of smartphone users:
- 94% search for location information
- 51% visited a store
- 48% called a store
- 29% made a purchase
As Google continues to improve its ability to deliver hyper-local results, it is critically important to have complete and accurate data in one’s Google My Business profile. This continues to be an easy win, as less than half of all businesses have claimed their business listing.
Focus on User Experience (UX)
Google has always encouraged webmasters to make their primary focus one of providing a good user experience. As the algorithm gets “smarter”, websites that do so are positioned to benefit the most. A good user experience goes much deeper than writing clean code.
According to this study from the Oxford Journal, “The goal of UX design in business is to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.” For our purposes, your website is the product. The objective is to first determine a user’s intent, then develop a methodology for smooth navigation—a methodology that evokes a positive emotion and leads to an overall good experience.
Incorporating UX best practices is easy. The web is filled with templates and advice. What separates the pros from the amateurs is A/B testing. Each one of us has our own biases that will influence how a web page is constructed. By running a series of experiments, you will be able to quantify what is working, what isn’t, and continue testing until you get it right.
That’s right—keyword research is still important. With Google providing less KW data all the time, two of the largest SEO tool providers, Moz and Ahrefs, have developed and improved KW tools hoping to fill the void. However, the way one goes about performing and using the results from KW research has changed, thanks to RankBrain.
At its core, RankBrain is machine learning. This allows Google to put things in context rather than rely solely on strings of metadata. Google now understands language nuances like stemming, synonyms, and answers.
The new generation of keyword tools takes this into consideration by creating things like Parent Topics and Keyword Groups. Armed with this information, users can develop content that incorporates a series of contextually relevant phrases. Just be smart about it and avoid the temptation to stuff every variation of a phrase found in a KW batch onto a page.
Have a Content Marketing Plan That’s Better Than Your Competitors
According to The Content Marketing Institute’s 2015 B2C study, only 37% of respondents believe they are effective at content marketing. Since content is one of the top two Google ranking factors, it’s pretty important to get it right. Once again, this presents a huge opportunity for those willing to invest the time to make that happen.
Everyone talks about creating “great content”, but what does that even mean? It really comes down to having useful content, finding the right audience, and then reaching that audience. This doesn’t have to be a difficult exercise. It boils down to having empathy with your prospects and customers. Ann Handley created the following formula to sum it up:
Useful x Enjoyable x Inspired = Innovative Content
Keep in mind “conversational” search queries. As of July 2015, over 30% of all searches returned rich answers. Many of these answers were in response to “who, what, when, where, why, and how” queries. While it’s great to appear in position 0 and garner the traffic associated with it, the benefit is usually short lived. The churn rate for rich answers exceeds 55%.
More importantly, I suspect the conversational search/rich answers technology is being applied to voice search. Voice is the fastest growing type of search; 55% of teens and 41% of adults already use voice search daily. As devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home gain market share, I would expect the pace of voice search to grow exponentially.
Editor Note: Here are 10 FREE content marketing tools that you may find useful in developing your own epic content plan.
Use Schema for a Competitive Edge
In 2014 (the most recent data available), Searchmetrics reported that over a third of Google search results incorporated Rich Snippets supported by Schema, but only 0.3% of websites were making use of the Google-approved Schema tool. I suspect that percentage has improved over that past couple of years, but the opportunity to use Schema as a competitive edge is still huge.
Schema, found at Schema.org, is a collection of different HTML tags that can be added to a Web page. These tags create an enhanced description that appears in search results (commonly known as rich snippets). Schema is commonly used to create Rich Snippets for Organizations, Events, Music, People, Products, Recipes, Review Ratings, and Videos.
Primary Benefits Derived from Using Schema
- Rich snippets can be helpful to users and make search results stand out.
- Schema makes it easier for search engines to understand a page.
- Microdata can improve click-through rates.
The day may come when links are less important to rankings, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. If you ignore one of the top two ranking factors, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. The key is to get the right kinds of links. Links that have relevance to your site. Links that require a human editorial review. The kinds of links that are earned.
My favorite approach to earning relevant links is to build a resource center. A resource center can work on just about any kind of website. In addition to attracting links, a good resource center helps to build trust and authority. Read my step by step plan for developing a resource center that attracts links and boosts rankings here on SEJ.
The bottom line is you don’t have to manage thousands or even 200 ranking signals in order to significantly increase organic traffic. Just focus on the areas mentioned above. If you do, it’s entirely possible to double, triple, or even 10X the traffic coming to your website in 2017.