By Shane Barker
When done right, SEO can help you improve SERP rankings, increase targeted traffic to your website, and drive more sales. But how do you create an effective SEO strategy that can help you achieve that kind of success? It’s way more complex than choosing a few keywords or fixing bugs on your website.
Google, the undisputed leader in the global search engine market, regularly makes changes to their search algorithms to improve user experience. Unfortunately, that makes it even more difficult for brands to ensure that they hold a decent rank in search results.
The bottom line is that, in order to rank on page one of Google, you need to optimize your website for these updates. In this post, I’ll discuss 12 of the most important pillars of SEO that can help you get the best results.
Understand your brand’s needs
You need an SEO strategy that aligns with the goals you want to achieve, the audience you target, and the competitors you want to beat. You also need to make sure that you’re well aware of the latest SEO trends.
While this might seem daunting, it isn’t. You just need to have a clear understanding of your brand’s primary goals. Better information can help you make more result-oriented decisions. To get a better understanding of your brand’s needs, determine:
- How are you performing in the SERPs now?
- Who is your target audience? What do they search for?
- Who are your competitors? What are they doing well?
It will help you come up with a focused, result-driven SEO strategy.
Perform an SEO audit
With a thorough SEO audit, you can check your website for its strengths and weaknesses. This includes checking:
- If your website has a good design – easy navigation, good user experience, readability, etc
- If there are any bugs that can impact crawling or site load speed
- If you’ve been hit with any penalties from Google
- If you’re performing well in SERPs for targeted keywords
- If the backlinks to your site are coming from high DA, trustworthy sites
- If your site’s content is optimized for conversions
Once you can identify the flaws in your current SEO strategy, you can uncover the best opportunities to improve performance and results. However, you need to prioritize issues that have greater impact your site’s SEO performance.
Optimize for Google’s RankBrain algorithm
Google announced RankBrain as the third most important ranking signalfor ranking in its search results.
RankBrain is an AI-powered processing algorithm that uses machine learning to filter through millions of search results. It helps Google deliver the most relevant search results that match users’ search queries.
RankBrain is smart enough to quickly devalue your content for keyword stuffing. In order to optimize your content for Google’s RankBrain algorithm, you need to create unique, genuine, and informative content that provides value to your target audience.
This algorithm also values user satisfaction. If a page has a number of social shares or comments, it can boost their rankings in search results. It closely monitors how users interact with your content by observing your organic click-through rate, bounce rate, and read time.
Find and target the right keywords
Keywords are words or phrases that people are searching for. They also help search engines like Google understand what your content is about. Getting your keywords right makes it easier for Google to list your content in response to related searches.
Previously, brands focused on stuffing their content with the most searchable keywords to push their content to the top in SERPs. But Google now uses smart algorithms that penalize sites for keyword stuffing. So you need to sprinkle your keywords in such a way that they sound natural.
When you perform keyword research, you need to find and prioritize keywords based on their relevance, demand, and competition.
Optimize your content with a mix of local keywords, branded keywords, long-tail keywords, and short-tail keywords. Try to choose the ones that have low competition yet high search volumes.
Apart from your content, you’ll need to include keywords in titles, meta descriptions, URLs, headings, alt texts, and social media posts.
Create great content
Great content lays the foundation of SEO. Google values high-quality content that answers user queries effectively and meets their content guidelines.
In a recent update on August 1, 2018, Google announced that their new algorithm would favor web pages that have a high level of Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T). Such pages are likely to rank better in SERPs.
This update primarily targeted the YMYL – Your Money Your Life niche. And punished several sites that provide advice on finances, health, or happiness, but had low E-A-T scores. As a result of this update, countless sites have recorded a drop in their rankings while others have moved up.
Google now considers E-A-T parameters for content, website, as well as the creator. So to meet Google’s new content and page quality guidelines, you need to create valuable content that reflects expertise and appropriate knowledge. At the same time, you also need to build credibility and trust.
People love to engage with interesting content and often share it in their circles. You should consider playing with a variety of content formats such as blog posts, infographics, GIFs, videos, and images.
Also, remember to never publish duplicate or plagiarized content as Google is quick to notice it and will punish you for it.
Boost your page speed
Google has always valued sites that load faster since a slow loading page creates a bad experience for users. Sites that deliver poor user experiences are likely to rank poorly in search results.
Now that Google has moved to a mobile-first indexing method, page speed is even more important. This is because mobile users often face limitations of unstable network connections and device configuration. They need pages that load faster and provide relevant information in no time.
Slow page speeds can have a negative impact on SEO. You need to choose the right host, optimize your images, reduce redirect chains, and avoid placing too many ads.
Make your site mobile-friendly
To better optimize search results for mobile users, Google has moved to mobile-first indexing. So you need to make sure that your website has a responsive design and it provides a good user experience to your mobile audience.
Your mobile site should include quality content with crawlable text, images, and videos. Make sure that all pages have their respective meta descriptions and structured URLs.
You need to optimize your site’s page speed to meet mobile internet connection limitations. You can also consider upgrading your web pages to AMP to boost performance and deliver a better user experience.
Build authoritative backlinks
Google lists authoritativeness and trustworthiness as the primary indicators of page quality.
So, if you want to rank well in SERPs, you need to make sure that your audience sees you as trustworthy and authoritative. And the best way to build authority and trust is through link building.
Backlinks continue to be one of the strongest indicators of authority on Google. But make sure that these links have a good link score or page rank.
You can’t afford to have low-quality backlinks in 2018. Make sure that relevant, trusted, and high DA websites in your niche link back to your site. They’ll help you improve your rankings and drive referral traffic to your site. Also, remove any low-quality toxic links that can be harming your site’s rankings.
Another important thing to note is the anchor text used in your backlinks. Previously, brands used to stuff the anchor text with a keyword to rank in search results. However, the Penguin Update 4.0 requires you to diversify your anchor texts and make them look more natural.
While there is no fixed rule on how frequently you should use which type of anchor text, here is a pie chart indicating average anchor texts used across various industries:
There are several tools that can help you check your backlinks for quality, so make sure to research them before starting your backlink strategy.
Install a SSL certificate
Google values online security. When you install a site-wide SSL certificate, it makes your website more secure for users. It also adds to the trustworthiness of your website, which Google now considers as a primary factor for determining page quality.
While every website should run on an HTTPS connection, it becomes even more important for sites that collect sensitive data. This includes collecting passwords, debit or credit card details, or other personal details.
If you have not made a move to HTTPS yet, this is the perfect time to do so.
Use schema markups
Schema markups are a powerful way to optimize your website for SERPs. It’s basically a code that you put on your website to help search engines provide more informative search results to users.
Schema markups can make your web pages appear more prominently in SERPs for all kinds of content. You can use data markup for articles, local businesses, restaurants, book reviews, events, and products.
In order to take advantage of schema markups, visit Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. Choose the type of data you want to markup, paste the page URL, and start tagging. Highlight important information by adding markup items.
Once you finish marking up, create HTML and add the created schema markup to your web page.
Use SEO-friendly URLs
In order to rank higher in search results, you should always use SEO-friendly URLs throughout your website.
One of the most important parts of a good URL is its readability. Your page URLs should be easy-to-read for humans. They should clearly tell people what content they can expect when they visit your link.
It is good to incorporate your target keyword in the URLs. However, don’t make your link look spammy with too many keywords. You shouldn’t maintain any duplicate links that lead to the same content. You can canonicalize them using “301 redirect” or “rel=canonical.”
You should keep your URLs short. A 50-60 characters URL is good enough. If you have URLs with more than 100 characters, you should consider rewriting them in a better way.
Use hyphens to separate words, not underscores. For example, “https://yourdomain.com/buy-leather-shoes” is the correct way to write your URL.
Even the most well-planned strategies can go haywire if you don’t measure their impact. In order to optimize your website for the best results, you need to monitor your performance consistently.
You can use platforms like Alexa or Pro Rank Tracker to get useful insights about your website’s performance. These platforms can help you track and monitor your site’s traffic, top-performing content, and competition.
While Google Analytics gives a complete picture of your site traffic, Alexa’s competitive analysis tells you a bit more about what you might be missing. Pro Rank Tracker allows you to track your website’s rankings in search results over time.
With detailed analytics, you can further optimize your site to improve results. You can solve issues as soon as they appear to minimize errors, cut down extra costs, and drive more sales.
This will help you teach Google what your business does in a better way to drive more traffic and sales.
In order to help your site rank higher in the SERPs, you need to implement a thoughtful approach in drafting your SEO strategy.
The best-performing SEO strategies are not just keyword-based. You need to consider all of these 12 pillars to beat your competitors and dominate search pages in your niche.
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