We recently touched on how 2017 could be a year full of turbulence for SEO and have since had questions as to the SEO basics that businesses should focus on.
Following is a simplified version of a presentation we regularly provide to management teams. It explains why SEO is so important and highlights the three key areas concerned businesses should attend to get the most from their website.
Why SEO? The Background
Information is being generated at an ever-increasing rate. The challenge is to avoid drowning in data and find the information we need.
Just four years ago in 2013 it was said that 90% of all the data in the world had been generated in the previous two years.
When Google started in 1998, it served 10,000 search queries per day. One year later, Google was already answering 3.5 million search queries daily.
While recent numbers are not available, estimates were that in 2016 there would be over 2 Trillion searches on Google alone. That’s an astounding 63,000 Searches per second or, 3,800,000 searches per minute. It’s the equivalent of the entire population of New Zealand conducting a search on Google every minute of every day for an entire year with no breaks, no sleep just continual searches…
What’s more, 80% of people rely on search engines as their primary way to navigate the web and 89% of search engine users do not go beyond the first page of search results. Just think about how you use Google and this shouldn’t be a surprise to you.
What are the three key areas of SEO and what should you be doing about it in 2017 to make Google love your website?
1. Technical SEO
(make it easy for the search engines)
Technical SEO is like the basic biomechanics of your body. If you want to run a marathon it will be pretty impossible to achieve that goal if you have broken bones, heart problems or a neurological condition stopping your brain communicating with the rest of your body.
There’s a long list of things you can do to improve the technical side of your website for SEO purposes, but most websites will benefit by concentrating on the following issues which we see frequently hurting websites today.
In what is likely to be the biggest disruptor to traditional SEO in 2017, Google has announced it is taking a “mobile first” approach to search rankings.
What does this mean for your business?
Up until recently, your desktop site has been the priority in determining how your website will be ranked in the Google search results. In 2016, Google began ranking your site differently for mobile than desktop searches. If your website was not deemed “mobile friendly” it could still rank well on desktop devices but other sites with better user experience on mobile devices were promoted above those that had issues for mobile.
This year Google is moving towards a mobile-first weighting: your overall rankings (mobile and desktop) will be based on how well your website performs on mobile devices.
If you have a separate mobile website (m.domainname.co.nz), you may see your website rankings and visits tanking. That’s because these mobile-specific sites usually have less content and inbound links than their desktop equivalent (www.domainname.co.nz). Fix it by making sure you don’t have a separate mobile site and instead ensure your main site uses responsive design.
Having a fast loading website is essential. While there are a number of technical ways to maximise site speed, reducing the size of images shown on your site is a relatively easy fix.
Images can have a huge impact on loading times. No matter if you are using a 2500×1500 pixels image but only showing it at 250×150 pixels size — the entire image will still have to be loaded. Scale the image to the size you want to show it. We recommend using tools like ImageOptim or websites like JPEGMini.
Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
A title tag is the main text that describes an online document. Title elements have long been considered one of the most important on-page SEO elements, and appear in three key places: browsers, search engine results pages, and external websites.
The meta description tag serves the function of advertising copy. It draws readers to a website from the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and is an extremely important part of search marketing. Crafting a readable, compelling description using important keywords can improve the click-through rate for a given webpage.
Be Mindful of Length
Search engines will truncate titles in search results that exceed a certain length. For Google, this length is usually between 50-60 characters, or 512 pixels wide. If the title is too long, engines will show an ellipsis (“…”) to indicate that a title tag has been cut off. That said, sticking to the requisite length is not a hard and fast rule. Longer titles often work better for social sharing, and many SEOs believe search engines may use the keywords in your title tag for ranking purposes, even if those keywords get cut off in search results. In the end, it’s usually better to write a great title that converts and get clicks than it is to obsess about length.
Place Important Keywords Close to the Front of the Title Tag
In our experience, the closer to the start of the title tag a keyword is, the more helpful it will be for ranking — and the more likely a user will be to click in search results.
Many websites include their brand name at the start of their title by default. Usually, we recommend that it’s better to append the brand name at the end of title tags instead. This is to ensure the keywords you’re wanting to rank for are close to the beginning of the title tag, as mentioned above. Having said that, there are times when it is appropriate to lead with the brand name — usually when a brand name is well known and frequently searched.
Consider Readability and Emotional Impact
Creating a compelling title tag will pull in more visits from the search results. It’s vital to think about the entire user experience when you’re creating your title tags, in addition to optimisation and keyword usage. The title tag is a new visitor’s first interaction with your brand when they find it in a search result: it should convey the most positive message possible. If many of the titles on display in the SERP are the same, consider “zigging when others zag” with your messaging while still having the primary keyword at the beginning.
XML sitemaps serve as a way to communicate directly with the search engines, alerting them to new or changed content very quickly and helping to ensure that the content is indexed faster.
Site Maps have become especially important in helping search engines confirm whether or not your site is the original publisher of content.
Following on from site maps, if Google is crawling your website and there are broken links, dead pages and 404 errors what sort of impression do you think that gives of your site and the potential user experience?
What you are really creating is a dead end that can stop spiders continuing through your site and indexing your content.
While there is a whole lot more to technical SEO, these things should give most companies plenty to work on for a start!
RULE #1 = Make sure your website is technically compliant with SEO best practice
Continuing the marathon-running analogy, content is the day-to day-training you put in. You can have all the right gear, and have a sound body (the technical SEO) but it is still up to you to get out there and put the time and effort into creating the base fitness required to achieve your goal.
The fundamental philosophy around content has not changed in years when it comes to best practice SEO. Write good quality informative, relevant, engaging content for people first.
Search engines and the algorithms that power them have become much more sophisticated. Don’t become obsessed with making sure the search term/keyword you want to rank for is included in your website copy. Think instead of the relevant topics and concepts, and related words and phrases that searchers are looking for.
Let’s say our page topic concerns January temperatures in Wellington.
Look at the titles, descriptions and URLs and you can see the search results are heavily-weighted towards “weather” not “temperature”. Google knows to associate similar topics with each other (temperature and weather) so there is no real need to continually repeat your target search terms in your content (“keyword stuffing”) .
In 2015 Google introduced “Rank Brain”, its AI (Artificial Intelligence) learning tool, as part of its algorithm. It’s role is in finding correlations and producing better search results, particularly for the millions of new searches every day that Google has not seen before. Google says Rank Brain is the third- most important signal in determining search results.
RULE#2: Create Relevant Content that is written For People First
Links to your website are like votes of confidence from other sources around the web.
Just like any recommendation, your level of trust in that vote of confidence will differ based on who provides it. Far more importance is placed on the quality of links to your website than the number of links.
While it shouldn’t need saying, you will most likely be penalised if you have a bunch of spammy irrelevant links to your site. So don’t join any link farms, link sharing groups or trust any SEO company that promises high volumes of links for X price to “guarantee” your site will go up in search rankings. You may see a short term lift but inevitably you will be penalised!
Good sources for links to your site include related industry bodies, government agencies, your suppliers, and the websites of local or regional newspapers.
RULE#3 Not All Links Are Equal — Focus on Quality Over Quantity
These are the three core components of SEO deserving your attention in 2017. But there is one golden rule that must be followed for any of the above to work:
The Golden Rule: Have a Clearly Defined Strategy!
- Know your market
- Understand your competitors
- Clearly define what your keyword strategy and content plan
- Know your website and preferably have it audited prior to defining your SEO strategy
- Treat your website as an employee of critical importance and invest in its continual improvement
You will then have a roadmap to success.