Back in the days of old, before Panda, Penguin, and now Hummingbird, Google’s PageRank formula sifted through and served up relevant, quality content to its users helping them find what they needed quickly and efficiently. As the web has grown, and websites have become a better marketing tool than ever, the space has become competitive and black hat practices for ranking cropped up. Almighty Google developed guidelines to stop black hat SEO hackers in their tracks, enter the Penguin update.
A notable item about this post is that while the strategies mentioned here are relevant for all search engines, Google truly sets the standard for SEO rules, guidelines, and best practices. Google has always made its primary focus to serve up the most relevant and high-quality content it can for its users. The easier you make it for search engines to crawl your website and blog pages, the more likely you are to appear (hopefully at the top) in search results.
UNWRAPPING THE PRESUMED BLACK BOX
Google understands that for its user base to continue growing; it needs to keep guidelines fairly simple. While “simple” makes it sound like a walk in the park to get your website to rank #1, understand that there are a few components that not everyone can do. These are:
- A technical element associated with the front end of websites
- Content creation and distribution
- Link building
- Off-page SEO
We’ll touch on these three components and the ranking factors within each throughout this article.
TECHNICAL FACTORS OF PAGE ONE RANKINGS
Your site’s accessibility both to Google and its assumed users is pretty important (not groundbreaking). Accessibility allows search engines to crawl your website to what it’s about using hits like metadata, titles, h1, and h2 tags. Your site is most accessible when it has no page errors like 404 or 502’s.
An XTML sitemap is a crucial element for ranking. This sitemap is like an address book for Google’s bots. It allows bots to crawl your site’s pages, understand what they’re all about, and rank them in a hierarchy. A sitemap is something every site has, but not everyone knows what to do with it. This sitemap must be submitted to the Google Search Console for your pages to be indexed. Use Google’s Webmaster Tools to check your site for a number of factors. If you’d like to see how many pages Google is currently indexing, type “site:yourwebsitename.com.”
Page speed is a substantial contributing factor in high bounce rates. Think about it, if your site takes more than three seconds to load, your lead is as good as gone. Large images that are not optimized for the web may be slowing your site down. If your visitor has waited around long enough for your page to load, they had better have a great experience! Site architecture also contributes to ranking. Navigational buttons and global navigation that is clean and easy for users and bots to understand are key. Adding your social profile icons to your site above the fold is another best practice.
While we are all used to seeing URL’s that are longer than the browser bar on a 24-inch desktop, that doesn’t mean those URLs are optimized. Tracking URLs are important and a necessary part of well-attributed marketing campaigns, however, URLs should be written to describe the page to both visitors and search engines. URLs should be concise, readable, and keyword rich.
Well Written URLs Should:
- Use hyphens to separate words and ease readability.
- Avoid parameters if possible. If the URL needs parameters, limit to two or less.
- Be generally as short as possible. Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox have difficulty loading pages with lengthy URLs.
INTERESTING CONTENT THAT SOLVES YOUR USER’S PROBLEMS
Content is king in the world of SEO. Quality content on a website is an absolute must, and its benefit is twofold; it solves the problems or answers the questions of your users, and it provides search engines plenty of information to index and understand how your content supports your website, increasing relevancy. Content can be an article, image, video or any other graphic representation of your site. Google’s algorithms are so advanced that they can identify and reward original, fresh and high-quality content while penalizing duplicated or spammy content. Websites that can capitalize on the ranking factors outlined here are sure to succeed in rankings. The more high-quality content produced, the more traffic it will attract from Google.
Guidelines for High-Quality Content:
Make it your priority to ensure that every piece of content on your website follow these guidelines:
- Is the content valuable to its audience? This is obviously somewhat subjective, but you can approximate the answer with metrics such as bounce rate and time spent on the page.
- Does the content contain targeted keywords? Make sure these keywords appear in the first few paragraphs.
- Does the content appear to be spammy, like keyword stuffing? Using targeted keywords in your content is important, however, you don’t want to overdo it and be penalized by search engines.
- Does the content appear organized and professional? Maintain credibility by copyediting to check for spelling and grammatical errors.
- Is the content easy to read? Break up long-form copy with subheadings and by bolding prominent text. Using tools such as Flesch Reading Ease or Fog Index can help to quantify the readability of the content.
Metadata–data about the data of your data. Wait, what?
Clear and organized metadata is a significant factor in well-optimized SEO content. Metadata is used by search engines to understand a summary of what your site, its pages, and what its content is about. Metadata summarizes information like create dates, file size, and image or video media to classify and categorize it, helping search engines to uncover it from a very crowded (and convoluted, if you’re not using best practices for SEO) space. There are three main components to metadata; title tags, meta tags, and meta descriptions. Each title tag, meta tag, and meta description should be unique to the content it’s being created for. The content you’ve spent hours researching, crafting, and distributing throughout the web is unique so its metadata should be too. Duplicating metadata would be like painting every house in a new subdivision the same color. While the houses each have their own address, visitors may have difficulty finding the right house, as they all look the same. Make it easy for search engines by differentiating your content and its metadata to rank well.
BABY GOT BACK(LINKS)
Backlinking is not a new strategy. In fact, webmasters have been using this approach for years. Recently, however, it’s become more difficult. Why you ask? Relevancy. Google no longer rewards websites for having just any old backlink. Nowadays, your backlinkers should have a clearly defined purpose, with supporting content related to your link’s topic, for linking back to you. Google doesn’t want a website selling dog collars to be linking to an article about gardening trends for no reason at all. Now if the topic was “How to keep your dog out of your garden” then there might be a relevant reason to link there. The thing about building high-quality backlinks is, it takes time… Fortunately, you can combat that time consumption by getting the most you can get out of each backlink. To do this, you’ll need:
- A technically optimized website
- Good site architecture
- High-quality, original content
The great news about building your backlink profile is that you can bolster your efforts by using internal links and expanding your digital footprint through social media. Inbound links are now a significant factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. The basic idea behind internal links is that you can use your own content to help your other content rank. This boosts not only ranking but also traffic.
Social engagement and branding now make up a more substantial portion of Google’s ranking factors. Use social media channels as a content distributor for your content hub (your website). Doing this will increase the number of links to your site, and as that content gets interacted with on social media, your digital footprint spreads. This, in turn, helps to increase brand awareness.
While SEO may seem ominous, it’s really not. And while not everyone can’t be an SEO expert, everyone can understand the basic principles behind what makes a website rank better. Remember these three white hat SEO components that create page one rankings–technical site optimization, unique content, and relevant backlinks. Make it easy for Google and Google will make it easy for you.