If you speak to any of us ‘old hats’, you’d hear us say, search engine optimization (SEO) used to be all about Google.
Back then it was simply about the number of keywords used on your web pages, combined with the keywords in links that pointed to your website.
That was SEO ten years ago.
The more keywords you had on your page and the more ‘anchor text’ backlinks you had – the better you ranked. This worked incredibly well!
There was a problem though…
It was so easy to rank websites back then, anyone could do it. Worse still, any website could rank on page one. It wouldn’t matter how good the website was, or the level of quality the content offered.
Google had a problem with this.
Poor quality websites were ranking well. Since Google is in the business of staying in business – they needed to ensure their search results pages only offered the best content for its users.
As a result, Google changed how they rated and ranked websites on the Internet . They changed their algorithm.
This changed how SEO was performed.
Ranking on page one was no longer a simple undertaking.
Retrospectively, when you analyse the history of Google’s algorithm changes, it is easy to see their underlying direction.
It’s all centred around delivering the BEST possible user experience for their users.
There is no doubt that the technology behind Google has advanced considerably since those good old days. This also means that SEO has had to evolve, and not be so “Keyword” focused.
The direction of SEO had changed.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a discipline and methodology that technically combines your content with user intent as they search online for the best solution to their problem.
While users STILL search using keywords – Google is now clever enough to decipher the ‘intent’ behind each search, and deliver content to suit.
Search engine optimization (SEO) today is focused heavily on delivering a positive user experience.
Nonetheless, SEO still requires a systematic and strategic process in order for you to improve the ranking of your website.
While many SEO practices are primarily focused toward the user, others are carefully designed to speak to the search engines to convince them that your website is worthy of a page one position.
Let’s take a deeper dive into modern day SEO.
If you want to improve where your website ranks you need to focus on these three key areas.
1. Website Structure
How your website is structured is one of the most important aspects not only in SEO, but in providing a great user experience.
SEO begins with your website!
Your site should not only be easy to navigate, but it also must be fast to load, plus be responsive across all devices.
Try using the Google insights tool. https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/ This will give you a good heads-up on how your site is performing.
Along with site speed, the overall usability of your site also matters.
Although the look and feel of the website is highly subjective, there are a few design components that make a site easy to navigate, search engine friendly, professional, usable, and trustworthy.
The primary goal of the structure should ideally be toward guiding your users to the information they are looking for, in the fastest way possible.
At the same time, it should be easy for the search engines to crawl, and provide them with the necessary signals to understand what your site is all about, and convince them that it’s technically of a high-quality standard.
Your homepage is where you should promote your brand, show off your best content, and establish the unique identity of your site.
• Logo: have a clearly designed logo that distinguishes your brand from your competition. You can always hire a logo designer to do the work for you if you cannot create your own logo. Be sure to create a favourite icon (favicon) to give your site a more professional look.
• Show off your best content: this advice has been suggested many times by Google, and it’s very important for SEO. Choose 3 to 4 pages or posts of your website that you deem best and link to them from the home page. Ideally, these are the pages or posts you would want to rank well in Google.
• Purpose of your Site: what’s the primary purpose of your website? This purpose should be clearly visible on the homepage. For example, if you’re selling a book, it should be visible above the fold. Similarly, if you are trying to build a subscriber list, then your Call To Action (CTA) should also be above the fold
• Main menu: your website should have a clearly seen and easy to use main menu. Be sure to include in the main menu links to important pages and categories.
Essential Pages for SEO
The following pages, although quite self-explanatory, must be present on your site. These ‘utility’ pages are there to establish your credibility, and more importantly a way for your visitors to not only learn more about you, but also how to contact you.
• About Us Page: a well-designed “about us” page helps to improve the trustworthiness and credibility of a site. Some of the items to include in the page include a welcome message, your philosophy, mission, vision, goals, your advertising policies, and your team.
• Contact: this includes the physical address, email address, and phone number to contact your business.
• Disclaimer: this is quite important for niche businesses like health-related products.
As mentioned, not only are these pages sought out by your visitors, Google is also looking to ensure they are present.
The URL format is essential to the overall navigation experience of your website. Here are some best SEO practices for your URL structure:
• The URLs should be as simple as possible, and easy to understand for both users and search engines.
• Avoid using lengthy URLs and including unnecessary information
• Use hyphens to separate the words in a URL
• Use wording that describe what’s in the page, and avoid keyword stuffing.
The navigation of your site should be in such a way that a novice visitor can find the information they’re looking for in an easy and fast way without any guesswork.
• Have related information grouped together into categories and subcategories
• Plan the navigation structure of your site before you build the website so that you’re aware of where each page resides
• Give your users a way to access the various categories from the main menu and the homepage.
• Ensure you have breadcrumbs in place for all the internal pages, so that the users can go backwards step-by-step.
• Help the user find exactly what they want by providing them with related content. For instance, show ‘related products’ when the user is viewing a product, or show ‘related articles’ at the end of each article.
Responsiveness and Speed
A huge number of searches are being performed on mobile devices. In fact, mobile has already surpassed desktop in terms of the number of searches performed on each platform.
As such, having a non-responsive site can be detrimental to your rankings. Google has made it clear that they are moving toward a search index that favours mobile friendly sites.
Here are the SEO benefits of a responsive website:
• You only need to publish content once, thereby avoiding the risk of duplicate content issues.
• Since you’re offering your mobile users an optimized version of your site, you’re more likely to rank higher.
• All SEO efforts you put into the desktop version will automatically be applied into the mobile version
• Google recommends that a responsive website is the best practice.
The first step towards a mobile-friendly website is to make sure it’s AMP compatible.
Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is the new technology embraced by Google to ensure they display super-fast mobile friendly web pages.
Furthermore, Google is investing so much into making the web faster than ever for everyone.
As a result, they officially added loading speeds as a ranking factor, to not only ensure a faster experience for its users, but also to ‘force’ webmasters into taking speed into account when creating websites.
Once your foundation (your website) is solid, you need to start concentrating on delivering a positive user experience.
Provide high quality content for your users
Actually, a website with original, high-quality content will do better in the long run with or without SEO.
A website with bad content will not survive in the long run, even if it has been technically optimized for SEO.
Keep in mind that whenever people search on the search engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing), they’re looking for answers. Good content should have this in mind, and answer their questions the best way possible.
To know if your content is useful, you can easy check the analytics of your website, especially the time visitors spend on a page or post.
If the content is good, the user will stay longer on the page/post. The amount of social media shares is another way to gauge how useful the content is.
So what is ‘good content?’
• Original content: images, text, articles, infographics, presentations, videos, etc. should be original. No coping or rewriting already existing articles.
• Useful: avoid publishing content just for the sake of it. Before you hit the publish button, ensure that what you put up will add value to your audience and your website.
• Published on your website first: even if it’s your own content, it’s not good for your website if it’s already published elsewhere.
• Well researched: neither the users nor the search engines want to read quickly prepared posts.
• Includes text: if you have non-text content, try to have text accompanying it. For instance, if you post images and videos on your website, add text descriptions to each of them as well. Try to describe in words what the content is all about.
Quality vs. Quantity
This depends on the topic you’re tackling, so there’s really no word-count that can fit all instances.
However, it’s better to put up a short quality post, than a long, unfriendly article just for the sake of having a higher word count. Short content can be very useful, and still rank well.
Creating good content
• Ensure that the content delivers on what the title promised. If your title was, “6 Ways to Lose 15 Pounds of Fat” make sure the post offers accurate ways the user can follow to achieve the result.
• Read through your text to eliminate any grammar and spelling mistakes.
• Provide useful links to relevant sources, and to other pages on your site.
• Include references to studies and established research to assure the user that what you posted is correct.
If people online really like a website, or a piece of content from a website, what do they do?
They share it don’t they?
We all like to be the ones who found something cool, and we rush to tell our friends about it. We do this either via social media or on any other web property that we control.
Google knows this is how we behave online, and it is a key way they determine the worthiness of the content on your website.
So when it comes to SEO, your content needs to be linked to and/or shared.
High-quality content is more likely to have links and references from other websites. It will also have a high number of mentions on social media, and bookmarked or shared among many users and communities with similar interests.
Search engines take these aspects into account when ranking websites, since it gives them a good indication of how its users perceive a given website.
This is one of the most effective and popular methods for SEO.
Link building ideally tries to gather as many “votes” as possible for your website.
For instance, when someone likes an article and uses it as a reference for their site/blog, it tells the search engines that the article/page has good information.
Initially, link building was an easy way to manipulate the search engines into ranking a website higher, and many spammers took advantage of this by creating link networks.
This led to the creation of black hat SEO, which includes strategies like blog directories, comment links, forum signatures, shared content directories, article directories, and link exchange schemes.
Over time, Google has become more intelligent in identifying these techniques, and any attempt to use any of them puts you at a risk of receiving a penalty.
So, is this still a useful practice?
• Quality over quantity: it no longer matters how many links point to your site, the important thing is where the links are coming from. This means that a link from say Matt Cutts (former head of the quality team at Google) blog has more weight than a link from a normal blog.
• Natural links: these are exactly what the name suggests – This is when a blogger or website owner likes content from another blog/website, and naturally adds a link to that blog/post.
The best way to attract natural links is to create and publish link-worthy content that compels other people to link to.
• Guest posting: this is a valid way of getting links back to your site, as long as you don’t overdo it, or do it just for the links. Guest posting should focus more on establishing your brand authority and expertise. The side benefit of this, is that it will help your ranking.
If you really think about it, social media is a form of link building. Keep in mind that all the links you receive from social media are “no-follow” but they’re still valuable.
In fact, social media mentions are considered important ranking factors in SEO.
Almost everyone has a social media profile these days. So, aside from getting social with your customers and having fun, your social media profiles can help to boost your SEO efforts as well.
More people can find your business profile, meaning more people can connect with you and check out your website.
A well-defined social media profile is an indispensable tool for customer engagement. And while your activity on social media won’t necessarily count as backlinks to help you rank higher, the buzz you create will produce more customers, create more awareness, and bring new visitors to your site – NATURALLY.
SEO has evolved substantially, and it will continue to evolve. Focus on the tactics that matter – that is by providing your users with the best experience possible.
SEO is not as easy as it once was.
But by focusing on delivering an outstanding user experience to your target market, you are not only helping your potential customers through their buying cycle, you are also contributing to positive ranking signals for your website.