Online marketers who preach one mode of operation for all your search engine optimisation (SEO) goals are kidding themselves. Or more to the point, they are kidding you!
Taking your domain and elevating it to a healthy ranking score on Google is a science that is part exact, part creative and part keeping abreast of all the rapid changes that are occurring behind the scenes. Web owners and Google engineers are human after all and it is how each party reacts to an evolving landscape that ultimately shapes what we end up working with.
It is in this respect that it is best to avoid heavy textbooks on the subject or even sites that are out-dated by more than a year or two at most. What was a brilliant method back in 2015 could very well be old news today, having been surpassed by a superior activity or affected dramatically by a Google algorithm change.
There will be consistent techniques and fundamentals that might only encounter some cosmetic changes at best.
These will include:
- Varied consumer-driven content
- Inbound links
- On-Page and Off-Page combination strategy
Yet the central objective has to centre around the tangible benefits of engaging in SEO. Amid all the theories and quick-fire solutions that are sold as the ultimate fix for your business, the task has to carry a significant return on investment (ROI) to be worth the time, effort and financial commitment.
In that spirit, let us explore what are the best SEO practices that genuinely work for a 2018 operation.
Identify what isn’t working
It sounds simple enough, but you would be amazed at how many domains fail to apply their due diligence to engage in poor practice. Think of your website like a car – you would not rush to include a string of new toys and features to improve look and performance without fixing the leaks and crossed wires under the bonnet first, right?
A fantastic method to begin with is inserting your URL through a free software application tool like Google Analytics. This is a platform that can deduce a lot of information on your standing and performance, offering a rundown through custom reports, audience reports, a flow visualisation model, tracking of your stated goals and more.
From a practical standpoint, you can gauge just how efficient or otherwise your site is. This includes time spent on site by visitors, click-through and bounce rates, location of traffic and more data depending on your knowledge and desire to dig deep on the detail.
Taking a no holds barred approach to outline exactly where you sit in the pecking order of your niche allows you to set clear and defined goals, ultimately laying the SEO groundwork.
Your operation might be starting from scratch, in which case it is best advised to chose a domain host, insert your design and content and run a quick diagnostic to begin the process.
Prepare for Google’s crawlers to navigate
Structure is one facet of SEO that is considered necessary only for time spent by visitors on the site itself. Having clear and defined tabs that tells the user where to go and what content to engage with though goes far deeper than that.
The search engine will sort and categorise sites not based on their URL, brand name or complete website, but rather by their individual page. Known as SERPs or search engine results pages, little bots called crawlers are utilised to sift through the data and rank links based on their page score.
This places added significance to the notions of structure and navigation. Headings and sub-headings (H1, H2, H3) should be clearly marked and inclusive of keywords. Descriptions must be edgy and packed with juicy information to entice the reader. The content should be in-depth and paragraphed properly, and the inclusion of multimedia like a photo gallery, audio file or video will only help your cause.
Web designers and owners can fall into the trap of placing all of their great content on one tab, such as “Products” or “About Us” to make those viable entities. Yet it is a great means of enhancing your SEO standing to have a consistent and articulate theme that spreads the joy across each page.
Failing to implement this structure will confuse the issue for Google, and that directly results in a downgrade on their behalf. Tapping into a tool like XML Sitemap will ensure that the index process can run far smoother than it would otherwise, giving Google the ability to source your content and place you among your peers on merit.
Push the word boundaries
If navigation is important, then the ability to have enough content for Google to crawl through is another important facet. Researchers have discovered that pages containing upwards of 1500-2000 words will often trump those shorter posts that will only manage around the 300-800 word mark, leaving less potential to actually deliver keywords and in-depth talking points.
The trick then for programmers and web owners is obvious: how are you expected to deliver that amount of content on a topic that might not have the capacity for regular posts? If you are running a water company or run a gardening service, how are you meant to create different means of saying essentially the same thing?
A clever hack in this respect is to recycle some old content with new paragraphs and multimedia including videos, graphs, polls, images, PDF files and anything else that can update the old source. There might be a new product to add to the production line or a new service to be thrown into a package.
Don’t become a prisoner to keyword demands
There used to be a fairly simple equation for SEO marketers to execute. Should they have followed the prompts with their keywords to spread them around their site, then the rankings would look after themselves.
This included keywords across:
- Title tag
- Alt-Image text
Following this convention, most pool cleaner operators would have the phrase “pool equipment” littered across all 5 of those domains at any given time to flood the site with the appropriate markers.
What has suddenly been recognised is that it is not so much the keyword content that is the driving force behind rankings, but the context in which those keywords are used. So in this respect, it would be advised to use “pool equipment” in the H1 heading and URL, but perhaps it is best to utilise alternative keywords such as “cleaner,” “filter” and “service” across the other options.
Search engines like Google have become incredibly savvy when it comes to this type of subtlety, and they will punish sites that simply launch themselves into a keyword frenzy. By all means include them where necessary, but ensure that there is context and relevance to their use.
Building a top backlink profile
Facilitating a warehouse of backlinks from quality sources is the best mode of earning a strong position from Google rankers. There is no escaping this fact because the hyperlinks that are showcased from external sites act as a vote of confidence from peers who see your brand as an asset. It does say something when those companies are willing to send organic traffic your way, but that generosity does have a knock-on benefit for the linker.
This has been a balancing act of sorts because, much in the same vain as keywords, context matters more than just the amount of content. That is a rule that can be applied across the board really, yet it is more stark following the Penguin Google algorithm switch that forced anchor texts to be more relevant than simply flooding with a keyword for the sake of ranking points.
Should you have a healthy relationship with various brands from within your niche, then include them in the conversation through your content. An old technique that continues to age like a fine wine is the idea of hiring your services out as a professional writer on a topic. Head out and give your page a free promotion and in doing so, link that outlet to your domain.
By getting creative in that respect, you can gain organic backlink sources that improve your standing. Including backlinks from sites that will not reciprocate or have little relevance to you will only hurt your SEO health.
Focus on local mobile strategies
The future for SEO marketers is to have a domain that is geared towards local mobile users. Take anything from the last 5 years and see where the trend is going for yourself: Air Bnb, Uber, MenuLog – all of them are part of the shared economy where users are tapping into the power of their smartphone for immediate and efficient service.
With Australia now hosting more phone devices than people, it stands to reason that the app generation has a major search engine in Google that facilitates rankings based on this new cultural habit. It has reached the point now where optimisation should first be viewed through the mobile filter first, ensuring that the local searchers can find the service or brand they are on the lookout for.
Mobile users are far more likely to visit a store or make a purchase than their desktop and tablet counterparts, making it imperative that the more active local consumers are given the information in swift detail. Google’s 2015 Mobile Friendly Update made this facet a vital metric on the business priority list.
Analyse your smartphone performance now through the Mobile-Friendly Test on Google.
Contrary to the road rules, speed is a major asset to have on your side. Given our collective propensity to switch off or lose interest in something that is not delivered immediately, the window to grab the audience’s attention is dwindling.
This natural change has occurred through our reliance on technology and efficient web speed, but this macro alteration has some very important impacts on a micro SEO level.
By running your site through an application like Pingdom’s Website Speed Test, you can see if there are any features or hosting problems that are slowing down our loading speed. The common consensus among online marketers is that a delay of more than 2 seconds to upload a page will lose viewers.
It is a ruthless reality that must be accepted, embraced and acted upon.
Kieran is the Social Media Manager and SEO Expert at SEO Shark. He is an expert in Social Media, link building, PPC and of course SEO. In his time off work Kieran enjoys reading and playing rugby, as well as following all kinds of sports! You can read some more of his articles here.