– Jill Whalen, Transformational Consultant at whatdidyoudowithjill.com
SEO strategies are constantly influx. This is the very nature of the practice; perpetual evolution.
In 2016, webmasters had to be in flow with updates like Penguin 4.0 while the Possum algorithm update shook up local search results.
Because of SEO’s dynamic and uncertain nature, business owners need to regularly brush up on the discipline’s latest best practices and most important ranking factors.
To help keep you up-to-date, here are the three most important ranking factors for your business to be focusing on right now.
Surprise! Content is still one of the most important ranking factors. This was confirmed by Andrey Lipattsev, Partner Development Manager at Google, in a Google Q&A session.
There is no revelation here. Content has topped the list of ranking factors for a long time. What has been evolving in this realm, however, is what Google looks for in great content.
There has been a shift away from keywords while greater emphasis has been placed on natural language and intent.
That doesn’t mean that keywords are dead. Keywords and their variants should still be included in the title of publications, meta descriptions, H1 tags, and in the body of the content. While the power of keywords is dwindling, they still need to be used.
When it comes to article length, there are no real guidelines here as Google has stated that, “. . . the amount of content necessary for the page to be satisfying depends on the topic and purpose of the page.”
This translates as: Don’t worry about length. Worry about comprehensiveness and satisfying the user’s intention.
Google’s RankBrain (which is part of the Hummingbird algorithm) is partially responsible for establishing which search results display high user satisfaction metrics.
This means that you should focus on seeking to meet the needs of searchers; this will often end up developing more comprehensive pieces, which will likely be lengthier and full of great keywords and variants.
2. Mobile-Friendly User Experiences
Again, no Earth-shattering news here. If you have been keeping up with SEO at all, you should know how important mobile-first everything is to Google.
This year, the search giant made of one the biggest and most monumental changes in the company’s history by announcing that it would shift its ranking focus toward mobile-first indexing. This means that your mobile site needs to be top-notch because this will soon take precedence over the desktop experience.
Because of Google’s aggressive push toward small-screen sovereignty, mobile optimization should be one of your company’s top priorities. This includes ensuring that your primary content is available and responsive on the mobile version of your site, serving structured markup across both desktop and mobile, as well as adhering to other guidelines Google expressed in its webmaster blog announcing the move to mobile-first indexing.
It’s critical that your brand prepares its online presence for the impending future that mobile will dominate. As of late 2016, Google noted that, “. . . 85 percent of all pages in the mobile search results now meet this criteria and show the mobile-friendly label.”
If your site isn’t one of them, make sure it is very soon.
It is important, however, that you don’t launch a mobile site for the sake of getting it out there. According to Google, if you release your mobile site before its finished, this could be harmful to your rankings.
3. Various Technical Elements
In addition to content and mobile-friendliness, there are numerous technical aspects to keep an eye on if you hope to rank well in the SERPs.
The first aspect to focus on is encryption. Various studies are still finding positive correlations between the use of HTTPS encryption and first page placement. While Google confirmed this as a ranking signal way back in 2014, those that have yet to adopt are being labeled as downright unsafe in Google Chrome. This label will have a significant impact on traffic.
The next component to be mindful of is your site’s anchor text. While exact-match anchors are still power players in influencing rankings, if they appear unnatural in any way, you run the risk of getting hit with a Penguin penalty. Always make sure that your anchors are organic, even if they aren’t an exact match.
The final element that I will touch on here is your site’s pop-ups and CTAs. As Google continues to emphasize the importance of mobile-friendliness, the company has been focused on providing a prime user experience. This means Google doesn’t take too kindly to intrusive pop-ups.
As of Jan. 10, Google has made it clear that, “…pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high.”
If your mobile site employs any elements that obscure content with an ad or CTA, be sure to remove that immediately or risk getting hit with a penalty. There are some exceptions to this rule, however, so visit the company’s blog to gain a deeper understanding.
SEO is always in motion, but great content is also always in style. While it can be hard to keep up with the SEO updates, making this a cornerstone to your marketing efforts is one of the smartest commitments you can make to your brand’s success.
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