Are you focusing on the right things to boost your website’s position in the search rankings? Constants like on-page SEO, user experience, and your backlink profile still play big roles. But the introduction of RankBrain, growth of voice search, and the ubiquitousness of mobile search add important elements to an effective SEO strategy.
So, what matters this year? Here’s a list of some of the most important SEO ranking factors for 2017:
- Meta Tags
- On-Page SEO
- Keyword Relevance & Intent
- Mobile Friendliness
- Backlink Profile
- Robots Directive, Crawl Efficiency & Search Indexation
- Site Speed
- Broken Links
- Content Efficiency
- Image Optimization
- Local Citation and Tagging
- Language Markup
- HTTP Status Codes
- Near Ranking Opportunities
Meta tags refer to code that describe the content on a web page. But you don’t see meta tags on the web page itself. Some of the most important meta tags for SEO are:
- Title tag: This is the title of your page as far as the search engine is concerned, but it doesn’t appear on the web page itself. It appears at the top of the browser and may appear in the search results as the title of the page.
- Meta description: This is a short summary of the page, generally between 150 and 160 characters. It may appear in the search results under the title tag. Without a meta description indicated, search engines may pull other text from the page to display in the search results. Including a meta description tag lets you choose what to display.
On-page SEO refers to rank factors present on each page. Among the most important is the content itself. Your content should be focused and serve a purpose. It should be useful to the user, and something that other websites want to link to – that’ll help drive backlinks. Aim for authentic, quality content every time.
The Hummingbird update and later the introduction of RankBrain furthered the importance of creating good content. Google now better understands the intention of users’ search queries, and can decipher more effectively whether your content meets those intentions. And Google’s use of Answer Boxes now further underlines the importance of creating quality, user-friendly content; if Google deems your content worthy, it will feature it in a coveted Answer Box on the search results page, which could help drive more traffic.
Other important on-page SEO factors include:
- On-page linking – Link to relevant pages on your own site (internal links), as well as on external sites (external links). Use relevant anchor text and only link to internal pages or other websites that help further the user’s understanding of the topic.
- Heading tags – Use the H1 tag for the title at the top of the page (not the title tag that appears at the top of the browser), and use H2 tags for any sub-headers in your content. You can further organize your content with H3 tags that appear within sections headed by an H2 tag.
- Media optimization – Media makes the page more attractive and engaging. Effective on-page media can have a multi-prong effect: it keeps users from bouncing off your site, keeps users on the page longer, and makes your page more attractive to other websites that may link back to your page.
- Alt attribute: This is a short description of an image, provided to describe images to visually-impaired visitors. But search engines may use the alt attribute as a ranking signal as well.
- Word count – Thin content may not do as well as longer, more detailed content. There is no magic number, but do your best to create robust, helpful content.
On-page SEO also refers to meta tags discussed above, mobile-friendliness discussed below, and keyword use also discussed below.
Keyword Relevance and Intent
Every once in a while somebody will proclaim that keywords are dead. They’re not. By keyword relevance we mean, how important to users are the keywords you are targeting? Are the keywords you are targeting matching the intentions and expectations of users who find your website?
If your website is not relevant to users’ intentions and expectations, they will leave your website, increasing your bounce rate and hurting your rankings. Target keywords that bring the right traffic to your website – that is, traffic you want from users who want your content.
Google now places more importance on your mobile site than your desktop site when determining your position in search results. That is to say, it considers how your mobile site stacks up before it looks at your desktop site. Here are just a few things to consider when making your website mobile-friendly:
- Your website should provide good user experience on mobile devices. You can test mobile-friendliness using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
- Remove or modify any pop-ups or chat windows, called interstitials, that appear on your website’s mobile version. Interstitials that obstruct content when viewing your website on mobile devices can hurt your ranking.
- Test and monitor your website’s speed on mobile devices. You can test it on Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Which websites are linking to yours? This is your backlink profile. A robust backlink profile improves your website’s authority and is good for SEO. But not all backlinks are created equally. A backlink profile rife with spammy links from questionable websites might hold your website back.
Be mindful when building backlinks to your website. Seek backlinks from authoritative, trustworthy websites. Avoid the urge to trade or purchase bad links just to get your backlink numbers up. Remember, you are going to quantity and quality. Not just quantity.
Robots Directive, Crawl Efficiency & Search Indexation
The robots.txt file gives search engines instructions via directives. Among the directives is the Disallow directive, which tells the search engine which pages it should not crawl and index.
Why would website owners want Google not to index some parts of the website? When Google crawls a website, it will only crawl so many pages. This is called its “crawl budget.” The robots.txt file may instruct Google to avoid certain parts of the website, so the crawl budget gets used more efficiently.
For example, Google will crawl all blog posts in the blog, and if the blog contains categories, it will crawl every one of those pages again in the category directory, unless instructed otherwise. That is redundant and wastes the crawl budget. Instructing Google not to crawl the category directory – or blog tag pages, pagination pages (e.g., Page 2, Page 3, etc.) improves crawl efficiency.
How fast your website loads is a key ranking factor for Google. Slow websites take a hit in the rankings, while sites that load quickly can get a boost. Mobile site speed is now more important to Google than desktop site speed. Test your speed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
Are you linking to URLs that no longer exist or that have moved? Broken links are those that link to nonexistent pages. This is usually referred to as a 404 error.
Broken links to or from your website can hurt your rankings. Here are some tips for fixing them:
- Use a tool like Google Webmaster Tools to identify broken links to or from your website.
- Fix broken links by creating 301 redirects from the old URL to the new one.
- Submit a request through Search Console that Google redirects from the old URL to the new one.
Does your content meet the user’s expectations and needs? Is your page aesthetically appealing? How is the page’s user experience? These are all things that affect content efficiency; that is, is the content engaging?
Are users bouncing off the site immediately, or are they staying on the page and engaging with your content? Too many “short clicks” – users land on your page and then go right back to the search results to get their answer – can hurt your SEO rankings. Create content and a user experience conducive to “long clicks” – users who stay on your site and engage with your content.
Give every image on the page an alt attribute. An alt attribute is essentially a short description of the image. Google cannot see images, so it relies on alt attributes to tell it what the image is. The alt attribute should be descriptive of the image and not keyword-stuffed, but if possible, use a relevant keyword to describe the image. Make the image file name descriptive too.
Image optimization may also mean dropping unnecessary images from the page. Web pages that contain a lot of images take a long time to load, which can bring down your website speed, thus hurting your search engine rankings. If you have too many images, cut out any that are not necessary.
Local Citation and Tagging
Your name, address, and phone number (NAP) should be consistent everywhere on the Internet. Do a quick Google search of your business to see how Google understands your address, and then mirror that on your site and on any other websites that mention your NAP (local citations).
Even seemingly minor details matter. If Google sees your address as 123 Main Street Apt. 6, but you write it on your website as 123 Main Street #6, that is inconsistent. Use the same symbols and abbreviations as Google. And watch for different spellings of cities like Ft. Lauderdale vs. Fort Lauderdale; this should be consistent too.
You can also use the Address and Telephone tags in your site’s code to tell Google exactly how to display your address.
Schema markup refers to code that you add to your pages that help search engines better understand the pages. For example, you can add language markup to your page so it displays a star rating, potentially making your page more eye-catching on the search results pages. Here are a few other things you can use schema markup to tell the search engines:
- Full business name
- Phone number
- Site navigation
HTTP Status Codes
Review the redirection codes, error codes, and other HTTP status codes on the website. This can help you identify larger problems with broken links, redirections, and more. Further, too many HTTP requests may slow down the website, adversely affecting rankings. If you have a lot of redirects and broken links compared to healthy pages, fix them.
Near Ranking Opportunities
Identify the keywords for which your site is on pages two or three of the Google search results, and then focus your attention on improving those pages to catapult it to the first page. How do you move from the second to first page? Give attention to the other ranking factors on this list, such as on-page SEO, to get your site moving up the search results.
How does your website stack up? Are you banging your head against the wall trying to figure out why, despite your best efforts, your website just isn’t getting traffic or converting visitors?
Your website may be lagging behind in one or more of the ranking factors listed above.Get a free SEO audit by clicking here. Our SEO specialists will go through your website with a fine tooth comb to identify problems that could be holding your website back. We will then create a personalized plan to boost your website on the search pages and convert users into clients or customers.