The only constant in life is change.
Sorry, that was supposed to read: The only constant in SEO is change. Fixed it.
Search engines usually play the biggest role in determining how much organic traffic is getting to your website, so if you’re frustrated at how often they update their algorithms, you’re not alone.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused about what matters most when trying to rank high on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). With SEO best practices constantly changing, you’ve got to evolve with them, or your website traffic could suffer.
Don’t worry! We’re not going to let the search engines ghost you like that; we’re here to break down the biggest areas to focus on to level up your SEO game.
Updated to align with the Core Web Vitals Updates that rolled out throughout 2021, we’ll cover the key changes you should make right now to improve your organic SEO performance.
What is the Single Most Important Website Ranking Factor?
Seemingly countless updates and algorithm rollouts have (obviously) led to confusion on what to prioritize.
Here’s a trick: anytime you feel like you’re drowning in lengthy technical explanations that only sorta make sense, refer to Google’s own John Mueller. He has famously stated that the most important thing Google looks at when ranking a website is summed up with a single word: Awesomeness.
Okay, that’s not super helpful on its own, so we’re here to break it down into the most important factors. Each of the following tips cover key components Google considers essential to achieving awesomeness.
Let’s dive in.
Review, Update, and Upgrade Your Technical SEO
SEO is no longer just about providing answers to questions; now it’s about providing the best, most relevant answers, along with a great user experience.
When responding to a user’s query, search engines aim to offer that user a list of sites most likely to provide the answers they seek. And, if a search engine sends a user your way (by ranking you at or near the top of a SERP), that user better get the answers they seek and have a great experience when they arrive at your website.
Why Does Technical SEO Matter?
The factors that fall under technical SEO are important signals that tell a search engine what your site offers to its valued customer, aka the person who chose their search engine over a competitor.
Think of it this way:
- When Searching Sally conducts a search on Google, Google responds with a ranked list of recommended links, and Sally is most likely to click on one of the top links.
- By placing those links at the top of the SERP, Google is implying trust in those websites to solve Sally’s problem or answer her question – in a user-friendly way.
- If Sally doesn’t get the information she wants from Google’s recommended links, she might just exit Google and head on over to Bing.
Ouch – bad news for Google. That’s why they’re constantly rolling out new updates to their algorithms - they want to be at the forefront of detecting awesomeness. That’s the key to keeping their customers happy.
So, how does Google determine which sites to rank for which searches? Technical SEO plays a huge role. Search engines crawl your website and pay particular attention to signals that help them determine your site’s overall quality and authority.
Basically, technical SEO factors are a big part of helping search engines decide whether or not your website will provide Searching Sally with both an answer to her question and a great user experience.
These are ten of the biggest technical SEO factors you should review, and then update, fix, or add as needed:
- Meta tags & meta descriptions.
- txt & site crawl errors.
- Canonical descriptions.
- Schema markup.
- Internal, incoming, and outgoing Links.
- Page load speeds.
- URL length and health.
- Efficient navigation.
- Responsiveness – on all sizes and platforms.
- Overall visual stability.
Address these things first to lay a solid foundation for your content to perform well. They make a bigger impact than you might have previously thought.
Many SEO experts claim that improving just your technical SEO alone will automatically improve your organic SEO rankings. That’s a powerful claim, but one that also illustrates how important this aspect is.
Where to Begin?
Start with a detailed scan of your website. Several software programs offer varying levels of detailed scans and tips for improvements.
If you’re new to monitoring your site’s technical performance, though, you might consider starting with a basic, free version. Google offers its own scans you can use for free, and we have a basic, free Website Grader on our site you can use as a good starting point. Once you get your results, talk with your webmaster, or consult with a digital marketing team to determine the best next steps for making necessary improvements.
Biggest takeaway here: By whatever means necessary, make your technical SEO a priority. It’s the foundation of a solid SEO strategy.
Next up? Evaluating and re-mapping your content.
Do a Better Content Audit to Adapt to Modern Content Best Practices
Updating your technical SEO can go a long way towards improving your rankings, but if you have a ton of content clutter on your site it’s still gonna drag you down.
First, understand how content has changed.
For many years, content marketers generally operated on a “quantity over quality” strategy, treating content as a numbers game (“the more content I have out there, the more people I’m likely to reach”).
That strategy did deliver results- when the internet was full of content gaps just waiting to be filled.
In the late nineties and early aughts the internet was still relatively new, so content was spotty and random. People could conduct searches, but search engines didn’t always have great sources to provide as answers.
Of course it made sense that flooding the internet with content made it easy to rank for something. Early search engine iterations did view content-heavy websites as experts, so that broad content strategy paid off.
Now we’re looking at algorithms that have flipped the switch into a “quality over quantity” rulebook.
How do I adapt to the new content rulebook?
As we’ve seen now for more than a decade, content has exploded (seriously, who isn’t flooding the internet with content?). Both search engine users and the search engines themselves have become much smarter and more sophisticated.
The content voids have been filled – mostly overfilled – so your strategy needs to switch from filling in gaps to offering the best of what exists.
People don’t just want content – they want really, really good content, and they expect a good user experience.
Good content is informative, trustworthy, and comprehensive enough that you don’t have to click around a bunch of different links to get a solid answer to your query (that’s all directly related to the user experience, too, btw).
Perform a Better Content Audit
A content audit gives you a critical look at the existing content on your site. It’s how you pull together the important analytics that allow you to really gauge how different pieces are performing.
Most basic content audit templates list existing content in a spreadsheet form with columns for date published, total views, bounce rate, etc. These are all important, but don’t stop there. You’re better than that.
Perform a better content audit that includes notes on copy, keywords, categories, topics, subtopics, etc. You’ll actually save more time in the long run, because you’ll get a better grasp on the big picture when re-mapping and repurposing old content.
Identify Content That’s Dragging You Down
Review your notes & analytics and look out for three categories of content you should flag for immediate removal:
- Redundant content.
- Content that fails to deliver.
- Irrelevant content.
Redundant content is hurting you.
When you have multiple pages or blogs on your website similarly covering the same subject matter, search engines aren’t even sure which of those pages to send someone to.
If the same question can be comprehensively answered on multiple pages of your site, that’s a sign that it’s time to consolidate those separate pages into one great resource. Then, when someone asks that question the next time, the search engine is much more likely to point that person your way.
As an added note, the average page count for a top SERP link on Google is in the 1500-2000 range, or longer for more extensive topics. So, don’t be afraid of building out a single page with a lot of great info. Dump those short, low-value articles and create a real resource for your site visitors!
Content that doesn’t perform is just added clutter
Look at high bounce rates to identify pages that obviously aren’t capturing a visitor’s interest. Look at overall traffic for content that no one is going to anyway. If it’s not driving traffic and it’s not holding interest, either get rid of it completely, revise and improve it, or combine it with something else.
Content that doesn’t perform can drag down your overall site authority and Google’s general perception of your awesomeness.
If it’s not relevant to your brand, it likely doesn’t belong on your website.
If you’ve got content on your site that doesn’t offer value to your typical page visitor, it’s probably time to dump it. For example, if you have a blog about a product or service you don’t offer, search engines are going to question your authority on that topic and that content likely won’t perform well anyway (which then brings you back to getting rid of low-performing content).
Relevance is a big part of the SEO game, so keep that in mind as you build out your new and improved strategy.
Embrace Topic Clusters
Updating your content plan is all about getting organized and following the rule of quality over quantity.
We already discussed getting rid of dead weight content and organizing similar topics together. This is the basis of your new strategy.
From Clutter to Clusters
Consider this sample scenario:
Gardener Gary has owned a plant store for years and started blogging early on to establish himself as an expert in the field of horticulture. It worked! Posting monthly blogs for years expanded his audience, and his series of tips for the healing power of aloe plants used to be particularly popular.
In recent years, though, traffic has started dropping off, and Gary isn’t dominating SERPs anymore. Uh-oh. What happened? And what should Gary do to gain back authority and SEO strength?
Upgrade That Content Strategy with Topic Clusters!
Gary’s scattered, disorganized content is dragging him down!
If you’ve got a similarly outdated strategy, it’s time to change your content map and embrace topic clusters!
Here’s an example of how Gary could benefit from a new plan:
- Gary has several blogs about the healing power of several different plants and decides to build a pillar page called “Plants with Healing Properties.”
- He’ll consolidate his many aloe blogs into one blog about that plant’s specific healing properties and link it to the pillar page as a sub-topic.
- Then he’ll repeat the process of combining his many blogs about lavender, ginger, chamomile, etc.
This way, people interested in learning about the healing power of plants can find a great resource that answers that question, and efficiently links to related articles for further reading on the topic. Likewise, if someone searches specifically for aloe’s healing powers, they can be directed to that one page to get all the info they need on that subtopic.
Whether you’re reorganizing existing content or building out a brand-new plan, topic clusters offer the framework for an SEO-friendly strategy.
One more thing: Revisit and update your content regularly. Relevance also means timeliness, so updating and republishing content with new information is another way to boost performance.
Get More Out of Your Keyword Research
Your content strategy should be anchored in connecting with your buyer persona – aka, the person most likely to buy from you. It should answer the questions and address the problems your ideal customer is likely to have.
Keyword Research Can Help Uncover the Real Questions Customers Are Asking
Keyword research is about more than just, well, researching keywords. Don’t just focus on individual keywords and their respective values; let the research turn up related searches.
Using SEO tools like SEM Rush or MOZ can give you insights into the top of funnel queries people are asking in searches related to the keywords you’ve entered.
Over 60% of searches are top of funnel queries!
Too many marketers go right for the keywords aimed at converting towards the bottom of the funnel. That means a savvy marketer like yourself should identify easy opportunities!
You could dominate more at the top of the funnel by researching the questions you should be answering (but might currently be ignoring).
Build out related sub-topics
Your keyword research should go hand-in-hand with building your topic clusters.
In addition to mining valuable queries, look for related keywords that would support your main topics. Consider two things:
- Do you limit your keywords to the terms your company uses internally? Many marketers miss the mark by forgetting that their potential customers might have different ways of talking about their product or service. Consider related terms and synonyms that might broaden your reach.
- Are there related topics you could cover that would provide more value to your primary topic? Digging into the related searches can help uncover sub-topics you might not have considered.
Key takeaway: Get a handle on the real searches people are conducting and make your content genuine, relevant, and informative.
After you’ve identified those broader search opportunities, you can circle back to focusing on the more specific terms you want to rank for.
Make sure the keywords accurately fit the content.
- Avoid adding keywords that might tempt you with a high volume and low difficulty rank if they don’t really fit the topic. That’s a form of clickbait, and those smarty-pants search engines will dock you for it.
- Avoid over-using keywords, also known as keyword-stuffing. It’s annoying for the reader and definitely detracts from awesomeness.
- Rule of thumb: Let keywords guide you but write for the reader. If the keyword doesn’t sound right, don’t use it.
Final tip on keywords: Search engines are smarter with every algorithm; they’re great at matching intent. That means, exact keyword matching isn’t as necessary as it was even a few years ago, so focusing less on individual keywords and more on the overall quality and relevancy of the content goes a long way.
Details That Lead to Awesomeness
The overall user experience is what drives your website’s success.
Your navigation and overall functionality (remember all those technical SEO details!) are important factors, but the actual content on the page is what gets noticed the most.
The technical side of SEO is like the entire supporting cast of a show, and the content is the lead role. Neglect either one and it just doesn’t work, but together – magic!
Remember: Content is More Than the Written Word
Think about all the ways you can make your page look great and deliver an awesome user experience. Start by recognizing how most people consume content now.
Skimmers Are Taking Over the World!
Seriously, more and more people admit to skimming articles instead of reading them in-depth. They often want just the highlights, so make it easy for them to pick out the most important takeaways.
Simply put, write for the skimmers. Consider how readable your content is. How’s the formatting? How’s the layout? Is it easy to get the gist? Try these tips:
- Use bullet-points to simplify concepts.
- Add numbered lists when appropriate.
- Highlight important sections.
- Add sidebars with relevant, additional info.
You should also look at the amount of white space on the page – the right balance can make a big difference.
Add Final Touches to Pull it All Together.
Pages with rich media content are rewarded by Google and help your ranking.
Infographics and images play a big role in helping to break up long-form text that could otherwise feel overwhelming. They can also convey meaning that words sometimes can’t – especially for the skimmers!
Embedding relevant video and/or audio files is another way to give your page visitor a more immersive experience. The key word is experience – the better it is, the better your rankings.
Two quick tips:
- Don’t overload a page with large files – it can slow your page load speeds.
- Add keyworded alt-text to images for an SEO boost.
Before you click that “publish” button, take another look with a critical eye. Do the visuals match the written content? Is the page easy to skim while offering plenty of robust content for readers who want the full experience? If so, you’ve achieved awesomeness, and you’re ready to go!
Yes, algorithms change constantly, but if you stay focused on offering a great user experience, you’ll be ahead of the SEO curveballs that will continue heading your way.
Now that you’ve achieved awesomeness, focus on keeping it that way. Monitor your site performance regularly, keep your technical SEO updated, and remember to keep your content timely and relevant.