The Changing Landscape of Search Ranking (and How You Can Adapt)

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Google’s evaluation of websites has changed. Whereas in the past the search engine relied on static indicators such as backlinks and keyword usage, nowadays it’s more focused on relevant content that addresses search intent and creates a great user experience. And these factors are in a constant state of flux.

Good SEO also addresses technical factors such as security (HTTPS encryption), structured elements (e.g., bullet points) internal link structure, mobile-friendly formatting and intuitive page architecture.

 Which SEO tactics don’t (and do) work?

Writing 300 words centered around one highly-searched keyword isn’t going to cut it anymore. Neither will dropping in a bunch of backlinks, no matter how highly ranked or relevant they are.

On the other hand, long-form content that spans 1,500+ words is gaining traction, especially for desktop websites. Longer URLS that directly address a search query are clear winners when it comes to getting top ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs). And for ecommerce pages and websites, having HTTPS encryption is no longer an option.

So, which 10 ranking factors should you focus on when generating and improving your web pages?

1. Determine your target audience.

You can’t incorporate the right content into your website until you have identified your target audience. This can be accomplished using at least two (free) tools: Google Analytics and Facebook Insights.

Within Google Analytics, you can access your audience demographics and see how your website visitors segment on the basis of geographic location, first time/return visitors and age. In the Interests tab, you can also learn what your audience is into, whether that be travel, movies photography, etc. This information helps you determine what kind of content you should create and post to your website and blog.

Facebook Insights, which are available for its Pages, does not provide as much information as Google Analytics but still segments your audience by age and social activities such as sharing a post or commenting.

2. Create and post long-form content.

According to data posted by SearchMetrics, long-form content has increased on pages ranked in the top 10 results of both desktop and mobile SERPs. Pages containing 1,200+ words were most commonly found in the top 10 mobile search results, and for desktop content that amount was 1,600+ words.

Of course, even long-form content will not rank well if it lacks relevance. Therefore, when creating any content for your web pages, you must assess whether the material will address user search intent. This can be derived from looking at audience metrics, as described in the first ranking factor.

3. Include relevant keywords in URLs.

URLs that are being highly ranked in the SERPs are not necessarily short and concise; in fact, the average length of a top-performing URL has grown longer. Why? Because successful URLs include relevant keywords in their titles. Quite often, these keywords are of the long-tail niche variety.

If you have already created URLs for your website or blog, you might consider remodeling them and then placing all your previously published content into those remodels. It takes a bit of work, but it can provide a huge payoff in terms of traffic and conversions.

4. Create structured content.

Despite the prevalence of instructional articles and even entire writing classes focused on how to properly format online content, it is incredible that a significant portion of blog posts, web pages and storefronts still feature block content that is not broken up into topic areas, lists or even paragraphs.

Online audiences typically only stay on a page for 3 minutes. In those 3 minutes, readers want to quickly scan and understand the nature of the page, its products, and any call-to-action (CTA) messages. This doesn’t happen when a page isn’t formatted correctly for its content.

Solve potential page formatting issues in your own content by looking it over on a mobile device and on a desktop. Can you easily figure out how the content flows on the page? Are additional paragraphs necessary? Would headers or bullet points help chunk up the content? For a good explanation of how to chunk your content, click here.

5. Reduce video content.

Video content used to be touted as a way to engage visitors and transform bland, text-only pages into dynamic rich-media resources.

Unfortunately, such rich-media often poses issues for mobile device rendering. Even on desktop computers, rich-media wonderlands slow down page load times and result in crashes.

A better solution for posting videos is to create a playlist at the bottom of a web page that serves 3-6 videos within a dedicated component. Alternately, visitors can be directed to a YouTube page.

6. Don’t sweat the backlinks.

Backlinks were once touted as the holy grail of SEO. In fact, software platforms were created with the specific goal of finding and inserting relevant backlinks into web pages to produce “link juice.” Private blog networks also popped up and attempted to utilize backlinks as a way of propping up their rank in the SERPs.

However, recent data from SearchMetrics show that the positive correlation between backlinks and top 10 ranking websites in the SERPs is only at 0.18 at best. That means that, while backlinks still contribute to good SEO, they aren’t as critical as before.

7. Social signals still matter.

Moz reported that websites and web pages that were mentioned on and engaged with social platforms such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest were also found to hold top rank positions in the Google SERPs. This was particularly true for sites that had high mentions, comments and likes through Facebook.

In spite of the fact that Google’s own Matt Cutts and John Mueller state that social signals do not influence site rankings, the data posted by Moz indicate, at the very least, that good content is still good content, and therefore more likely to be shared and engaged with on social platforms.

8. Create and use CTAs.

Top ranking URLs in the SERPs contain CTAs that are clicked on at least one-third of the time, according to SearchMetrics’ data. Having an interactive element on a web page doesn’t automatically improve its rankings, but it does offer the publisher a chance to collect vital information about the audience such as their emails, exact geographic locations and interests. Such information can then be used to tailor content specific to the audience.

You can incorporate and take advantage of CTAs by offering gated content such as white papers, product reviews, case studies, etc. In exchange for these resources, you might wish to collect user names, emails, and other information like personal hobbies, personal challenges, or shopping interests.

9. Get/stay mobile-friendly.

Google has noted several times that URLs that are not mobile-friendly will lose out on rank in the SERPs. This was evidenced during the so-called “Mobilegeddon” in April of 2015, when the search engine released its mobile-friendly ranking algorithm. Sites that weren’t particularly mobile-friendly were downgraded in ranking.

If you haven’t yet made your website mobile-friendly, there’s no time to lose. Lickily, Duda offers free formatting platforms that will help your site display well on most mobile platforms. For a small yearly fee, you can also remove Duda’s ads from your page displays.

10. Limit adspace and ads.

Top ranking SERP websites and URLs also have the lowest level of advertising, including PPC and banner ads. Obviously, not only do these elements slow down page load times, they also annoy site visitors.

When considering your advertising strategy, pare down your ads by their profit factor. If an Amazon affiliate ad only gets you 4% per sale, it may not be worth the hassle of displaying on your home page or other high level URLs. Negotiate better profit-sharing deals with your merchants and/or ask for smaller and less obtrusive ads.

SEO and your website

As the SEO and ranking landscape changes, webmasters must adapt to those changes if they wish to maintain their rank or improve it.  While some factors don’t figure as much in the grand scheme of SERP placement, there have been others that have grown in prominence. Keeping ahead of these changes- and implementing them- offers your website a fighting chance at top ranking.

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