SEO Tips for 2017
It’s 2017 and the way we search has changed a lot over the past decade, so let’s take a look at some best practices that will help us move up the search results pages. I talked a little about the benefits of starting with content in an earlier post, but I’m going to double-down here because in the realm of search engine optimization, content isn’t just beneficial, it’s imperative. Gone are the days of mindlessly stuffing your H1 tags and content with keywords you want Google to see to “prove” your topic, and long gone are the days of depending on meta keywords (many sites have stopped using them altogether) to get yourself found. Outside of our web design bubble, I still see writers and so-called SEO “experts” telling people to stuff those keywords, but with the algorithm Google uses now it can kill your site’s ranking.
That’s the Way the Site Bounces
Years ago, Google would crawl your site and “read” what was there in an attempt to discern what your site was about. So if you mentioned “goldfish” a bunch of times, odds are your site had something to do with goldfish. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? It worked great until Joe Webmaster figured out that if he “stuffed” his page with “goldfish” more than his competing goldfish enthusiasts, he could rank higher than their pages even if they were more relevant! This led to things like people copying and pasting “goldfish” at the bottom of the page with the text being the same color as the background so it was “invisible”. Yeah, it was shady. So the people of Google put their heads together and realized they needed to take control away from webmasters and give it to the users. In other words, my goldfish site shouldn’t rank higher than yours just because I said so (or because I knew more black hat tactics). It should rank higher because it’s more interesting.
Enter “bounce rate.” Let’s say you Google “goldfish,” and my site comes up first so you click. You get to my goldfish site, and you realize that frankly, it sucks. I’ve repeated relevant words over and over but to a human, it’s barely readable and you think my page is just plain ugly. So you hit the back button and return to Google’s search page. You just bounced away from my site, and Google took notice. You essentially voted against my site being relevant to what you were searching, and my bounce rate gets higher (bad for me) while my page rank got lower. Now let’s say you go to my competitor Melanie’s goldfish page, and you’re blown away. There are cool goldfish photos and stuff you actually want to read. You’re engaged, so you stay. Google noticed this behavior as well and her bounce rate goes down. Melanie’s page ranking went up.
The lesson here is that your goal should be to engage your users. Sure you’ll want to use words relevant to your site’s topic, but not at the cost of readability. And don’t think that throwing in a paragraph of bland keyword-filled text at the end of your pages in a smaller font is going to help. It’ll only turn off your visitors and hurt you. Bounce rate is one of Google’s two main criteria in ranking your page. Next we’ll talk about the other one.
Not All Links Are Created Equal
Just like with keywords, webmasters knew having links pointing back to their sites from other sites (called “backlinks”) was a major factor in Google ranking. So naturally they went around rabidly commenting in forums or on blog posts, adding their URLs. And it worked for a little while. Linking to your site will definitely help and you should do it. If your site’s interesting you might get some curious new users and Google does indeed like to see natural incoming links (as always if you get spammy, you’ll be penalized). But not all links to your site are created equal. As you know, Google’s algorithm ranks pages, but in turn the links from those pages carry different weights. So if your site is mentioned on a page of a major news network or a relevant, high-ranking site, it means a whole lot more than your posting the link in a forum or your buddy mentioning you in his blog that gets only a few visitors a year.
So how do you get those links? We come full circle back to content. If you write valuable content that people want to share, not only will you get more backlinks, but it’s more likely it’ll get mentioned on pages that rank high. You’re hedging your bets, but also getting valuable backlinks from others. If you write boring content that reads like a Terms & Conditions page and is stuffed with keywords, no one will want to read it, never mind share it. No one ever shared a page with friends because it did a great job repeating keywords. Forget trying to please robots, because even the robots want you to please human beings. People want something valuable, and when you give it to them, you make them happy and the search engines will notice and reward you for it.
Just One More Thing
The last thing I’ll mention should be “old hat” now that we’re in 2017, but make sure your site is mobile-ready, or as I prefer to say, device-agnostic. I hope you’re not still serving up your desktop site onto tiny phone screens, but are you providing the same experience to your users across all devices? If I’m waiting in line and I fire up your site on my iPhone is it still loading quickly or is it taking forever because it depends on my having a lightning-fast connection? Be critical of your site and ask these questions. Test it on as many devices as you can lay your hands on, or ask friends to do so. Google dings you for not having a responsive, mobile-friendly site but you’ll feel a double-hit if people think your site is ugly on their phones or takes too long to load.
Keep these basics in mind and instead of looking to outsmart search engines, aim to delight your users. Keep them scrolling and you’ll be climbing up the search results page in no time. If you’d like some help with this or anything relating to your website project, feel free to drop us a line and let’s keep making great sites!