No matter your industry, company size, the products or services you offer, or the audience you serve, there’s one thing I can assume with near absolute certainty: You want to appear on the first page of Google’s organic search results. And you’re likely dedicating at least some portion of your budget to an SEO content strategy that’ll help you get there.
With somewhere around 3.5 billion searches taking place per day, Google is the unofficial gateway to the internet, and therefore, the main path for building brand awareness. So it’s no wonder why every single digital marketer is concerned with search engine optimization. And while every year someone claims SEO is dying (or already dead), we can safely predict it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
In fact, SEO is more lively and active than ever before, thanks to constantly changing search algorithims—and failing to keep up with its evolution could ultimately hurt your ranking. Here are several tips to help you reach the top, and enjoy all the sweet organic traffic and brand recognition that comes with a page-one result.
A short decade ago, determining how to optimize for SEO often meant pumping out as much keyword-stuffed content as humanly possible—and, in the case of content farms, sacrificing quality in the process. As you may remember, search engine results pages (SERPs) were once flooded with senseless garbage, while its creators sat back and watched their search engine rankings soar.
Then came the reckoning.
In 2011, Google released its famous search results ranking algorithm update, Panda. The update served to dramatically lower the rankings for what the search engine called “thin sites,” those that provided little-to-no value for search engine users. Nearly overnight, content mill abusers saw their traffic dwindle to zero. And thus began many brands’ quest for better quality, human-focused content.
Today, Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and other search giants are dedicated to preserving search quality by consistently updating and reevaluating their algorithms. That’s because search engines (literally) have one job: To serve users the best and most relevant content, every time. In other words, there’s no way to “trick” the system, so don’t waste your time. Your audience’s experience is paramount, and your first priority should always be to create really good content.
That said, there are a few things you can do to amplify your already awesome content.
While search engines work the same way they always have by returning results for queries entered by its users, there are a few trends and developments that may alter the way people find your site.
RankBrain isn’t especially new, but it’s one of the more significant changes Google has made in the past few years and will impact your rankings in 2019. In short, this machine-learning system assesses how users interact with search results, and then assigns them a ranking.
For example, let’s say you search for “natural remedies for allergies” and click the best sounding result. You find the page’s content so captivating, you take the time to read every single word. Google recognizes your behavior, and automatically boosts that page’s ranking.
On the flipside, let’s say you click on another result that’s poorly written and unhelpful, causing you to immediately leave the page. Google notices that, too, and will adjust the page’s ranking accordingly.
You’ve almost certainly encountered Featured Snippets when searching Google: the handy little block that sits at the tip-top of SERPs, often stealing traffic from the No. 1 result. And you may have wondered, “How do I get there?”
Almost all Featured Snippets come from pages that rank on the first page for that particular query. So your first order of business should be to create excellent content addressing relevant long-tail keywords.
Next, make it easy for search engines to pull a snippet from your content by creating well-written, 40–60-word definitions or explanations of the keyword you’re addressing. For example, if you’re writing an article about hybrid cloud technology, you might include a subhead titled “What is hybrid cloud technology?” and write a helpful, concise explanation of that term.
The Google Featured Snippet also favors well-ordered lists and easy-to-read tables.
Image attribution: Raw Pixel
Voice search is expected to become a $40 billion channel by 2022, according to data from OC&C Strategy Consultants, a projection primarily driven by an uptick in smart speakers. But is optimizing for voice search any different than optimizing for good old-fashioned typed searches?
Technically, you need to be mindful of optimizing for both types of searches which, again, means creating high-quality content that’s useful, well-written, and easy to read. Strive to create content around common search queries relevant to your audience. For example, if you’re an insurance company, you might create an article titled “How much homeowners insurance coverage do I need?”
It’s also helpful to include the search phrase in the content—but only if you can do so without making your content sound awkward. An easy way to optimize your content for both voice and traditional searches is to create an FAQ section including helpful articles addressing your audience’s most common inquiries.
Developing an effective SEO content strategy requires you to be mindful of new trends and changes in technology, as well as a few essential, time-tested practices.
As user habits evolve and search engine algorithms become more sophisticated, continuing to follow these three best practices is even more critical.
Remember, search engines want to help users find the information most relevant to their query, and they’re willing to award higher rankings to high-quality pages that deliver information efficiently. In other words, don’t bury information in an attempt to keep people on your page longer, and don’t lead them on a wild goose chase through multiple layers of navigation to get answers. Simply write good content, and make it easy to find.
Also, keep in mind other user experience factors that have long influenced SEO, such as page load speed, mobile-responsiveness, and clean design.
“In 2019, there is no reason to neglect the small items that impact search engine rankings,” says Mike Murray, founder of Online Marketing Coach, in an article for the Content Marketing Institute. “Though they’ll never compare to the impact of content, content headers, and backlinks, they still get a lot of play.”
When it comes to your SEO content strategy this year, focus on creating exceptional content. (If I sound like a broken record, it’s because quality is superior to every other SEO tactic.) Additionally, ensure you’re developing content that thoroughly covers the subject at hand.
Image attribution: Lucas Sankey
For example, if you’re creating a blog post about how small businesses can protect themselves against cybercrime, you’d want to include the leading threats facing small businesses, common pitfalls, and a comprehensive list of best practices.
Additionally, while covering timely, newsworthy content is important, be sure you’re also publishing plenty of evergreen content (i.e., content that’s relevant year-round and unlikely to become dated.)
Google and other search engines still consider backlinks as one of the leading factors when determining how to rank a page. But those backlinks must be authentic, or you could be banished from top results for playing dirty.
In other words, never ever (ever) pay for backlinks. While purchasing links may seem like a quick and easy way to increase traffic to your site, it’ll almost certainly cost you dearly. Instead, invest time building legitimate backlinks by contributing to relevant publications, promoting your content via social media, and creating shareable, quotable content like research studies and infographics.
Determining how to optimize for SEO sometimes feels like trying to solve a complex mathematical equation without all the variables. But while search engine optimization can require some technical heavy lifting, it’s rarely as esoteric as it appears. By committing to quality and following these best practices, you’ll help boost your search ranking and increase your credibility in the eyes of search engines and, more importantly, your audience.
Featured image attribution: Mike Shots