If you’ve stumbled across this page, you’ve probably been mulling over your page rankings and disappointed with the result. Maybe you’ve been having a bad month. Maybe a bad year. Whatever it is, you know how important it is that your website ranks well. In this day and age, your business depends on it.
At LinkNow Media, we work day in and day out at helping our clients navigate the complicated world of search engine optimization or SEO. While we’d love to do this work for you, we’re okay with sharing some basic principles of what it is we do if you’re looking to go the DIY route.
These nine SEO strategies won’t work overnight. We won’t lie: building a brand online takes time, dedication, and energy. If you’re looking for an easy and quick fix, we have some bad news: it can’t be done. At least not within the world of white hat SEO. If you want to build a web presence and avoid, you need to play by the rules. And that means focusing on this eight totally legit and above-board strategies:
1. Content (Still King!)
Yep, that’s right. ‘Content is King’ might be a bit of an industry buzz phrase, but since Google’s Hummingbird update back in 2010, Google and other search engines have prioritized the value of the content on your site more than pretty much any other metric.
That doesn’t mean that all the other SEO strategies below are irrelevant. But remember that Google is in the business of making users trust Google as their go-to search engine. So they don’t want search queries from their users directed to sites that are full of repetitive or plagiarized text, keyword stuffing, or broken links.
Writing good content is hard. I would know. I do it every day. At least, I try to write good content. It’s not always the easiest job. Sometimes the words flow a little more smoothly than others.
But the fact is, if you want to rank well, you need to show up at the desk and write content for your site.
We’ll go into what makes a good piece of content below, but know that Google has the tools to analyze the semantics of your text. It’s not enough to set your H1 tag as one topic and then spend 500 words plugging your eBook.
Search engines will actively look for associated words and phrases that commonly occur with ‘definitive’ texts on the subject. If you’re writing about sparrows, your site better have the word ‘bird’ on there somewhere.
So what’s the secret to producing great and compelling content? Keyword research helps. So does spending time on the Internet reading content other people have produced. Like any art form, you need to have an understanding of the medium you’re working in.
If you’re an entrepreneur or run your own small business, your job is a little easier. You already have a subject you’re an authority on. You work in that industry every day. Now, you just need to make it so that other people want to hear about it.
And then you go to work and write the thing—or pay someone else to. Progress is slow, but as the months go by, your search rankings rise as you cover more and more ground with your content.
But that isn’t all. The next big SEO strategy? You need to figure out why your users are searching for you.
2. User Intent
User intent wasn’t something that anyone on the Internet use to consider, except maybe some savvy marketers. It wasn’t the focus of the search world like it is now.
So what changed?
Artificial intelligence. Or, the beginnings of AI, anyhow.
Simply put, search engines have more sophisticated algorithms capable of performing billions and billions of operations at a time. And, as Google’s experiments in AI have proven, this process can actually learn.
I’m not a tech whiz. But I know that since neural-network-learning was integrated into tech, the search has gotten a lot smarter. I type quickly when I’m searching on my phone. I make mistakes. And guess what? Google knows exactly what I’m searching for anyway.
If you use voice search, you know a lot about user intent without even knowing it. Conversational or long-tail queries like, Hey, Google! Where can I buy detergent closest to my house? would have turned out zero relevant results ten years ago.
But now? My Google Assistant knows where I live and it knows I’m probably wondering where I can find the nearest pharmacy or supermarket. That’s a huge advance in technology that has changed the way people use the Internet—but the funny thing is, most people don’t even realize the change has happened.
If you’re one of these people, you need to take a look at why people visit your site and what they visit it for. If you own a storefront that consistently ranks highly for ‘convenience store Tampa Bay hours’, it seems likely that a lot of your customers are local to you and interested in figuring out if they can duck over for a package of Cheetos before tucking in for the night.
But if you’re a convenience store in Tampa Bay that’s consistently ranking for ‘how to open a convenience store’, you may want to take a look at the content you have on your site. It doesn’t sound like you’re attracting the right audience.
So what does that mean for the average small business owner?
Well, if people are coming to your website to learn, they’re not ready to buy yet, so don’t push a sale on them. If they’re looking to visit in-person by looking up your address or your hours, don’t redirect them to your blog. If they are ready to convert, then make sure they can find what they need quickly. It’s that simple. But how do you know if you’re doing the job properly?
Well, Google does. They measure the bounce rate. If a client comes to your website for a term you’re maybe not particularly authoritative on—for this blog, for example, we aren’t likely to rank highly on the search term ‘student loan debt forgiveness’—they’re probably not going to stay long.
And if search engines keep redirecting users to websites they don’t find very useful, that doesn’t just affect the site; it affects users’ perceptions of the search engine. So Google, Bing, and even DuckDuckGo are really interested in knowing exactly how long you stay on a given page—and, most crucially, if you click through to another link to continue reading.
That’s what users do when they find a site that’s relevant to what they searched for. It’s what I do when I’m intrigued by a piece of good content on a site or a blog. And it’s a good indicator that Google should trust your site as an authority on whatever subject it referred you for in the first place.
More text has been devoted to the subject of links and backlinks than any other topic in the history of SEO, I’d reckon.
And it’s easy to see why. Links are the scaffolding the Internet is built upon. Backlinks to your site from other reputable sites let search engines know that your website has good, quality content. You’ve written an article that explains or informs or entertains, and others have seen it fit to share that with the world.
There’s no denying that links are a powerful SEO strategy. One of the most important. But the thing is—and why Hummingbird’s shift to user intent and semantic analysis is so big for search in general—it’s that most link-generating schemes are kind of shady. Anyone promising hundreds of thousands of links fast is up to something.
Sure, helpfully monitoring other webmasters’ sites and fixing their broken links for them might pay off. It’s not a guaranteed strategy, but it doesn’t cost you much time in the long run.
But generating those links organically? By writing compelling content that people actually wanna read? It’s possible. But it’s going to take work. A lot of work. If you’re a small business owner, you might wonder whether you have time for it all. (Listen: there’s a reason that being an SEO is a full-time career.)
The other way to build links in a way that work is to have a network of trusted industry partners. That’s how we do it here. It’s not as fast as some link-building schemes out there, but it works—and it’s not suddenly going to be invalidated by a single algorithm change.
5. User Experience
As you can see, the search engine’s approach has drastically changed as technology has improved. And where we see this most is in search engines’ prioritizing user experience over other metrics when determining a given site’s page ranks.
If you have broken links, spammy popups, or a ton of 404s on your site, odds are it’s not going to be super fun for a given person to use. So they then bounce, and quickly. Google notices that. And they adjust your rank accordingly.
The other big factor that goes under this umbrella? Loading speed. Mobile isn’t only the future of search, it’s also the present of search. And if your site is slow to load on a smartphone (it takes longer than about seven seconds to load on a standard Wi-Fi connection) odds are your potential customer has already gone back to the SERPs to find the next result.
Search engines are invested in promoting sites that create good experiences for visitors because some of that feel-good magic (or subtle pleasantries of ‘meets expectations) gets passed onto the search engine by default. It’s looking good by association.
It’s 2018, after all. Why aren’t you using responsive design or AMP yet?
6. Headers and Title Tags
Okay, the jury hasn’t quite come back in the room yet. It’s not as important as it used to be, but I’m going to bold it for emphasis regardless: the H1 and title tags of your page should match the subject you’re trying to rank for.
Clickbait can work. It does. But it works on media that has massive reach. Clickbait works with sites with existing audiences. Buzzfeed and Vice can do clickbait. Millions of people will visit their homepage daily already.
Clickbait headlines will notwork for your small-town electrician’s business.
If you’re trying to rank as a low-voltage electrician, that should probably be the H1 for your main page.
Again, things have changed and this isn’t as important as it used to be, but it’s still relevant. And requires very little work on your end.
Google doesn’t only want good content—it wants fresh content. I’m going to save the history of Google’s Caffeine algorithm for another day, but know this: search engines prioritize new stuff. An article on the best lawnmowers in the world written in 2007 is probably not something the average searcher wants to find. After all, that info isn’t relevant anymore.
But before 2010? This wasn’t taken into account at all. Isn’t that wild?
This doesn’t mean you need to completely overhaul your site every single year. But updating old pages, or revisiting subjects that did well with new information that’s come to light since is a solid strategy.
Security is important for your clients. And if you’re not using SSL (hint: if your site has http:// instead of https:// before the URL, it’s not secure), you should be.
Data breaches and online privacy are more important than ever. People trust the Internet with all sorts of crazy information. So even if you’re an electrician, signal to your potential customers that you take protecting their security seriously. Because search engines will rank you higher if you do.
If you don’t know dollars from doughnuts when it comes to SEO, maybe give the experts at LinkNow Media a call. Not only do we craft compelling content all day, but we build beautiful websites for our clients too—all with SSL and mobile-ready responsive design. Want to learn more? Call us today!