As a small business owner, you continue to try to keep pace with the changing Google algorhythm landscape. Not long ago, ranking your website on page one of Google’s search engine results pages (SERP) was all about keywords (the more keywords, the better) and links – lots of links. it’s a bit trickier today. But, with the right tools and some smart thinking, you can make your way to the top of SERP 1.
Moving the needle
In Tim Soulo’s intensive Ahref’s Blog article “On Page SEO: A (2M Keyword) Data Driven Analysis,” this writer dives deep into the search engine results page (SERP) world.
First and foremost, if you are obsessing about exact keyword matches, you can let that go a little bit. Google is now sophisticated enough to understand synonyms (and overall relevance of the page) without needing exact words. It doesn’t’ mean you stop trying, of course, but it implies it may be beneficial to look at the bigger picture. As an example, this author states that after looking at successful ranked pages, that correlation is not causation. While correlations clearly show common traits (i.e. page load speed, content length, https usage, outgoing links to quality sites) of well-ranking pages, it does not necessarily mean that they rank well because of these traits.
So, what influences ranking? Let’s start with the initial focus of this article, keywords. The information is divided by separate keyword category, highlighted below.
Keyword in domain name: Even though Google rolled out an update that was meant to decrease the value of EMDs (Exact Match Domains) in 2012, this article says it still appears that EMDs are still being used but argues it’s not as strong a ranking signal.
Keyword in URL: Experts say this is a small ranking factor. However, what is effective are descriptive URLs in your online conversations, shedding light on what the page is about before people click on the link. Not only will this kind of link automatically contain your target keyword as part of the anchor text, Google will also highlight the searchable keyword in the URL of the search snippet.
Keyword in title: According to this article, the majority of pages that rank on the front page of Google don’t have exact match keywords in their “Title” tags, which may imply Google is devaluing this. While you can use keywords in your title, it’s more important to come up with the most intriguing and relevant title that can increase the odds of a click.
Keyword in the beginning of the title: This appears to have very small significance in ranking factors.
Keyword in meta description: Have you ever wondered if you should you fill in the “meta description” tag for every page on your website? While it’s recommended, it doesn’t appear to be critical. Not only do the majority of Google’s Top 10 ranked pages not have meta descriptions, but it also looks like Google will omit your meta description and pull a short excerpt from the content of your page that appears to be the most relevant to a user’s search query.
Keyword in headline (H1 tag): While 85% of pages that rank in Google’s Top 10 don’t have the keyword in their H1 tags, the author argues that this may be attributed to the fact that many web developers are not familiar with this, and in fact, keywords in your headline are beneficial. The right headline boosts the “scanability” of your page, helping people understand that they are in the right place. The author insists that this is important, even if the keyword in your H1 tag is not necessarily a strong ranking factor.
Keyword in subheading (H2 tag): Since this is not a significant ranking factor, write your subheads for the readers, not the SERP.
Keyword in content AND keyword in the first 100 words of a page: Again, it’s crucial to focus on the bigger picture and audience needs instead of specific exact keywords.
Keyword in image “alt” tag: While it’s helpful to provide descriptions on your alt tags, bombarding the tags with keywords is very unlikely to impact your ranking.
General SEO Factors
This article also explores various SEO factors (independent from the keyword) that are important to consider for ranking, summarized briefly below.
Age of page: Yes, this matters. Simply, it’s difficult to get new pages on the first pages of Google’s SERP. If you are looking to grow your organic search traffic, first take a look at your old site pages that already rank for a bunch of keywords, and do some content updating and build some new links.
Using HTTPS: While “https” is unlikely to boost your rankings, it will help build your credibility and make your consumers feel safe online.
Page load speed: Last year there were rumblings that Google might have stopped considering page speed as a ranking factor, and while it does appear it plays a small part in ranking, your top goal is that your site should be optimized and fast enough for the user experience above all else.
Content length: While data shows that there is a relatively high correlation of content length in connection to Google ranking, you cannot lose sight of the golden rule here. Value, not length, should always be your only priority with content creation.
URL length: While it may not influence your ranking, shorter URLS make your overall user experience better.
Linking out to authority sites: While there does appear to be a correlation between this and ranking, the author says that it still is relatively insignificant to changing your position.
Broken links: This is a no brainer. Users can’t stand broken links, so make sure they aren’t on your site.
Social shares: While it’s almost impossible to prove that the number of social shares has any influence on rankings, it could be a nice ranking factor. However, be wary that these can be easy to fake.
Relevance: Relevance beats backlinks any day. Make your content relevant!
Never Lose Sight of The User Experience
A common thread that ran throughout these categories was quite simple. Your website should ultimately be designed for your user, not Google SERP. If your site is solely designed to rank well but is not usable for your target audience, what’s the point? Make sure your website pages are relevant and effortless to navigate.
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