We live in an age where information can be found instantaneously with a simple search in Google, Bing, or any of the other search engines. This abundance of information would be overwhelming and require an enormous amount of time to sift through if it weren’t for the help of the search engines we take for granted every day. We place high expectations on these search engines to deliver the most relevant search results in the fastest amount of time! This is why it’s critical for your website to be optimized for SEO if you want to show up high in the SERP (search engine results page). This article will show you how to give your website the best chance at ranking high in the SERP so you can get more organic traffic to your website. Let’s get started!
What is SEO?
SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, is the term online marketers use to describe the process of making your website relevant to search engines. The primary goal of most search engines is to provide their users with the most relevant content for a given search query. This also means that if a website’s content isn’t seen as relevant to the search engines they won’t display to its’ end users, or will make it harder to find. This is why search engines like Google are so popular -- because they only deliver the most relevant search results quickly. For the rest of this article I’ll be using Google as our main example.
Why is SEO important?
If you want a stream of free organic traffic to your website, leveraging the search engines to drive relevant traffic to your site may be a very effective solution. Of course there are many factors that will play a role in the success of SEO for your website, as there is most likely a plethora of details search engines will evaluate before giving your content a score. With that said, let’s cover some of the fundamental factors that are most important to keep in mind if you want the best chance of seeing your SEO efforts pay off!
What factors make content rank higher in the search engines?
While the following list doesn't cover everything, it covers the most important points you should keep in mind.
Relevant content is one of the most important factors of ranking well in Google. Making your content highly relevant to a given query is what will give your website the greatest chance of showing up in the SERP. This one factor will always remain important no matter what else changes in the Google algorithm, as Google’s stated goal is to only display the content it deems relevant to its end users. (Don’t be surprised if I use the term “relevant” a lot, as it is pretty important!)
Having high quality content not only makes you look good in Google's eyes, but more importantly, it makes your readers happy and more engaged with your content. This usually results in a lower bounce rate and CTR (click through rate). These are both factors that Google uses to determine how relevant (there it is again) your content is to its’ users.
Creating a great user experience on your website is also very important to Google. Things like how easy it is for visitors to navigate around your site or find the content they’re looking for are both factors.
Over the years Google has placed a higher value on fast sites over slow ones. This is due to the increasing emphasis Google places on the user experience. Generally speaking, a site which loads in 3.5 seconds or less is fine; every half-second more than that, however, may incur a loss of credibility with Google. The importance of fast websites has even motivated Google to introduce AMP (accelerated mobile pages), which provides a method of building mobile web pages so they load faster.
The level of authority Google places on your content is an important factor for relevance as well. Backlinks to your website from another website Google sees as an authority can transfer some of that authority back to you -- that’s why it’s very important to create the kind of content that others will find helpful and be more likely to share on their own website. This will signal to Google that you may also have some authority on that topic, giving your website a better chance at ranking high in the SERP.
This may be a little too technical for some, but there’s no getting around the fact that the metadata in your code plays a factor in Google's algorithm as well. Metadata such as the title lets Google better understand what your content is about and plays a factor in the algorithm while the page’s meta description helps visitors determine whether they should click on your page in the SERP, and is primarily for the visitors' experience only. I go into more detail in my article about the list of meta tags you need on your website if you would like to learn more in this area.
In recent years Google has taken steps to reward websites which provide better security for their users and penalize the websites which don’t use good security protocols. There is a correlation between using the secure HTTPS protocol and getting ranked higher in Google. Google even confirmed back in 2014 that websites with the secure HTTPS encryption will rank better than similar websites that use the HTTP protocol.
Creating internal links from page to page in your website helps Google discover more of your content and build a clearer understanding of your website’s internal content structure. This helps Google index more of your pages, and gives you more authority on a given subject. Submitting a sitemap is another great way to show Google the structure of your websites pages and how they relate to one another, increasing the chances that your content will be indexed by Google.
According to Google, more than half of all query searches now come from mobile devices! This has understandably made mobile-first website design more important to Google. Having a good presence on both desktop and mobile devices is now practically a necessity if you don’t want to get penalized by Google in the rankings. This means creating a mobile-friendly website experience that Google deems acceptable.
Google doesn’t naturally understand they way humans communicate, but it does a pretty good job at it. There are, however, vocabularies that will help it better understand the different parts of your content so that it can make the best use of it. Some of vocabularies that can help with this are: Microdata, schema, RDFa, and JSON-LD.
One area some may tend to overlook in SEO is that of images, but they can be optimized as well! Image tags in HTML allow us to add an “alt” attribute that helps the search engines better understand what the image is a picture of, and whether it's relevant. When "alt" tags are added, the images also become searchable in Google images, adding a potential boost in traffic!
Using keywords in the URL can be a minor ranking factor that search engines use to determine the relevance of your page for a given search query, however, regardless of the effect directly on ranking, it provides a more human-readable idea of what the page is about which is always good for both the user and the bot.
Optimizing your content for SEO can be a bit challenging.... I get it! There are so many little details to get right, and lots of factors that Google uses to determine where your website should rank on search result pages. But hopefully this brief guide helps you understand how you can begin to rank your website in Google. Of course it takes time, but by working at it consistently and creating the kind of content Google wants, you will be positioning yourself to get the results you want!