Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is the process of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website by improving its ranking and performance in search engine results. It can seem overwhelming and it is often overlooked but SEO is massively important. After all, if nobody can find your website what is the point of having one at all?
SEO today is a vast and confusing field, but I will do my best to simplify it. Everything I have mentioned in this article is written with future trends in mind, so everything will be relevant, if not more relevant, in 2019.
Before I get into it, it’s important to note that Google uses robots for just about everything (but that’s for another time); it would be impossible for humans to check every website update as it happens. As a result, nobody knows exactly how the rankings work (and if the folks at Google do, they never tell us) but from analysis of trends we can deduce most of it.
It’s key to understand that the main ways these algorithms determine rankings is by measuring the amount of time users spend on websites and the way in which they interact with them. Basically, if your visitors spend a lot of time on your website and they keep coming back to it, this indicates to Google that you have a high-quality site and it will therefore rank well. Bear this in mind whenever you’re thinking about SEO; we want to captivate our audience and keep them coming back.
It’s also worth mentioning that these algorithms are regularly updated so what’s important in 2020 may be different from what’s important in 2019. That’s why one of the key aspects of SEO is the ongoing studying required to keep up to date with all the changes.
Below I have outlined 14 points that are key to winning at SEO. I have tried to keep it easy to understand so hopefully they provide a great starting point to understanding Search Engine Optimization in 2018/2019.
If there is one thing you can take away from this article about SEO, it’s the importance of content. It is no secret that search engines like Google significantly reward sites that contain lots of high quality, relevant content.
Blogging is bigger than ever, and for good reason. Blogging is one of the most effective ways of adding great content to your website. Write articles that are interesting and useful to your target audience and you will see your rankings start to creep up. If you’re not already, consider getting yourself on a content management system (CMS) like WordPress; it makes blogging easy. Think content, content, content.
Over 50% of internet users are now using mobile devices, and this trend is on the rise. In June 2018 Google confirmed that they now index mobile sites before desktop sites. Basically, this means that Google rewards sites that have a mobile-friendly interface.
Combined with the fact that mobile users will be put off by websites that are difficult to interact with, this makes responsive design an absolute must. Furthermore, sites that are truly responsive and display all the same content regardless of screen size outperform the sites that have a mobile (m) version of their desktop site.
Page load times make a huge difference to a website. If like me you’re old enough to remember dial-up internet, you will remember how frustrating it was when a website took forever to load. In 2019 there’s no excuses, and websites must be fast otherwise most users will give up and leave your site (high bounce rate). What’s more, Google actively punishes slow websites so it’s important to ensure your site is properly optimized for load times.
Two of the biggest killers are high quality imagery and animations. We all love nice big pictures but it’s key to ensure the file size is small enough that they load quickly yet are large enough that they look nice; it’s a balancing act. Furthermore, although animations on websites may look flashy, they can come at a considerable cost to the performance of the site, so use them sparingly or not at all.
Google My Business is extremely important because on location searches these results usually show up at the top of the page. For example, if I search for “pizza near me” this is what shows up right at the top of the search results page:
By simply signing up to Google My Business, these local establishments are benefitting from it by being right at the top of the results page.
After signing up, it is important to try to get as many positive reviews as you can as this will help you rank above the other Businesses. People also trust reviews from Google a lot more than the ones on your website so a high rating here can result in a lot of conversions.
Google rewards sites that use HTTPS instead of just HTTP so if you don’t have an SSL certificate you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot. Furthermore, you’re going to struggle to be an authority on a subject if in the chrome address bar it says “not secure”; users want to know that the site they are using is safe. What’s more, SSL certificates are relatively cheap these days and they are easy to install (usually your hosting company will do it for you) so there really is no excuse.
Remember how I said that Google ranks you higher the longer your users spend on your site? Well people love watching videos and what’s more, videos can be quite long yet still captivating to your audience. Research (HubSpot) shows that 55% of people thoroughly consume videos whereas only 29% of people thoroughly consume blogs. This suggests that I need to make a video for this blog post!
Keywords are important words or phrases that relate to the content you are writing, and they are essentially how your website is going to be found. For example, if I had an artisan bakery in Sheffield (which I don’t) then one of my keywords would be “artisan bakery Sheffield” because this is what my potential clients would be searching for. I would need to make sure that this phrase is featured on several of my pages to make it clear to search engines that my website is relevant to people that are searching for “artisan bakery Sheffield”. I could then create new pages and articles to target other relevant keywords.
It is important to remember, however, that the quality of your content is paramount, so you cannot simply repeat these phrases without using it in context. Furthermore, Google actively punishes the overuse of keywords, so care here is needed.
Backlinks are simply links to your site from other websites. The quality and quantity of these links tell Google about the trustworthiness of your site. A link from another site essentially acts as a vote of confidence. In the past, it didn’t matter where these backlinks came from and people would set up fake websites and pay for backlinks (black hat SEO). Now, these types of links are mostly useless, and you can receive ranking penalties if you’re caught.
The quality of backlinks is more important than ever with Google rewarding sites that receive backlinks from high authority sites. For example, if you write an article about sourdough bread and The Guardian newspaper features it in an article, this will give you significant authority and Google will reward you with improved ranking.
There are a few methods for earning backlinks that I won’t go into here but suffice to say that if you have high quality content you will receive good backlinks anyway. It’s also important to remember that giving backlinks to high authority sites can also help your ranking but linking to your own content is better still (internal linking).
Meta descriptions are the little snippets that appear on the results page when you’re deciding what to click on:
They are not as important as they once were because Google used to use them for ranking purposes. Whilst this is no longer the case, they are still important because they effectively act as an advertisement for your website. You have 155 characters to play with so make your meta descriptions are as enticing as possible, so people click on your site and not the one beneath it.
I’m sure you’ve noticed many times that the first thing on the Google results page is a short snippet that looks something like this:
Often, it’s from Wikipedia and its usually a paragraph (82%) but it’s sometimes a list (11%) or a table (7%). If you can get one of your articles featured like this, it can do wonders for your site but it’s not easy. If your article is competing with the likes of Wikipedia, then it may be out of the question but if your article is somewhat of a niche, then it may be doable.
Featured snippets tend to answer a direct question and they tend to be around 45 words in length. Therefore, to optimize for featured snippets, you should first ask a question, then provide a short answer, then elaborate in the rest of the article.
More people than ever are using voice search and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of this trend slowing. In fact, Comscore has predicted that by 2020 50% of all searches will be made via voice. Optimizing for voice search may not be practical for a lot of websites but there is no doubt that it will play a vital role in the future of search engines.
Voice search answers tend to be very short, even shorter than featured snippets. In fact, the average length of a voice search answer is just 29 words. They are usually less formal and more conversational in nature due to the habits of speaking users.
Most “near me” searches are made via voice now and by having a Google My Business listing you give yourself a good chance of being featuring in these searches. This is another reason why Google My Business is so important.
Whilst social media doesn’t have a direct effect on SEO, it is a very important tool for creating an audience and gaining brand awareness. Likes and shares don’t actually effect search engine ranking, and shares don’t count as backlinks. However, the increased awareness of your content can improve the chances of gaining valuable backlinks. Furthermore, the use of social media can help to significantly increase traffic to your site.
Platforms such as Facebook can be seen as an effective way of promoting your content (both paid and unpaid, but that’s for another article). It is important to bear in mind that quality is still the most important factor in SEO, and this holds true for your social media audience. We should try to drive relevant traffic to our site as opposed to users who are not genuinely interested in our services.
Consumers have come to expect nice designs from all products these days and websites are no different. An outdated, ugly website doesn’t say anything about the quality of your company and its’ services. A well thought out design that encapsulates the ethos of the brand can instil a sense of confidence that entices the user to stay around.
Whilst it’s true that search engines don’t actively rank websites based on their design, if users leave your site quickly because of its poor design, this will have a terrible effect on your search engine performance. Furthermore, a good website design takes into consideration all the previously mentioned aspects of SEO, so it really cannot be underestimated.
Research and analysis is all too often overlooked but successful SEO requires a long-term strategy. Ranking algorithms are constantly changing and your competition is forever evolving.
To remain competitive in SEO you must perform regular keyword research and keyword tracking and you need to keep editing existing content and of course, adding new content.
There are so many facets to effective SEO but at the end of the day it all comes down to user experience (UX). The better the experience we provide to our users, the higher our website ranks. More than ever the focus is on quality content, and lots of it. We must ensure that our websites are fast, mobile responsive, informative, and interesting to our users. This guide was only meant to give an overview of SEO in 2018/2019 but stay tuned for future articles where I will go into more detail about each of the topics covered.
If you are having any problems with your website or if you have any questions, get in touch and I will do my best to help. Like always, if you think I’ve missed something out let me know. Thanks for reading.
Over and Out!
I am a freelance web developer and graphic designer from Doncaster in South Yorkshire. I work with a wide variety of clients, helping them to develop their brand and online presence.More About Me
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