Getting to Know the Changing Face of SEO
Did Google purchase SnapChat while I wasn’t looking? I only ask because it seems like best practices in search engine optimization (SEO) change every 10 seconds or so. To stay atop the Page 1 search-ranking mountain you’ve worked so hard to climb, your SEO strategy needs to be as fluid as mercury at room temperature. Outdated SEO strategies result in lower search rankings, less website traffic, and lower ROI.
Sadly, SEO strategies get outdated quickly. Here are two factors that weigh heavily on the rise and fall of your website’s search rankings:
Algorithm updates: In a never-ending quest to deliver the most relevant content in response to search queries (yes, that’s a good thing), Google changes the criteria its search engine uses to rank websites. Tactics like keyword stuffing that once delivered big SEO payoffs are no longer effective. Google’s algorithm is starting to resemble sci-fi artificial intelligence in its ability to sniff out black hat schemes, which now draw penalties in SEO rankings.
Increased competition: More companies are realizing the value of SEO, and the race for prize keywords is more heated than ever. Out-maneuvering your competitors in the organic search ranking game requires an approach that optimizes every factor Google’s algorithm takes into account.
Of course, every tweak to Google’s Almighty Algorithm has the potential to mess with your ranking success. It’s a good idea to stay plugged in with experts or authoritative resources (searchengineland.com is a good one) that monitor these changes. Most of the algorithm tweaks Google makes (numbering in the hundreds each year) are minor. But…every once in a while…a significant change to the algorithm creates a great disturbance in The Force.
Going Mo’ Mobile
Google announced a significant “mobile friendly” change to its algorithm that took effect on April 21st. Mobile-friendly usability factors and app indexing will factor into mobile search results more heavily than ever before. It’s estimated that 50% of all Google searches are now done on mobile devices, so this change will likely impact more websites than the previous two tectonic algorithm shifts (codenamed Panda and Penguin).
The big takeaway? If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, virtually all of the traffic to your site from mobile devices is at risk. If you just gulped…you’re not alone. It’s worth noting that the 50% mobile search figure is rising faster than a speeding bullet.
Now’s the time to streamline your website’s responsive design and craft your content so it behaves, in the immortal words of Bruce Lee, like water. “You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.”
Tweaks In The Content Kingdom
Changes to Google’s search algorithms continue to reinforce the “Content is King” adage, but in more nuanced ways. Placing as many keywords as you can on your home page – and repeating them as often as possible – won’t buy you the same kind of SEO juice that it once did. In fact, if you’re not careful, Google might interpret this as an attempt to game the system (which, in all honesty, is what you’re trying to do) and penalize you.
Crafting informative and engaging content for your website (blogs, articles, embedded video, social media, etc.) not only increases your favor with search engines – it also connects with your target audience and (bonus) increases the likelihood other authorities will discover and share your content, which scores points with Google’s robo-judges.
Here are a few less-obvious, but no less important, tips for boosting your site’s SEO and maintaining a comfortable Page 1 search-ranking orbit:
Post an XML sitemap. These serve a critical SEO function by providing search engine crawlers with a roadmap of the preferred routes through your website. It’s your way of telling the indexing bots, “Please focus on these URLs in particular.” Whether the search engines actually accept these suggestions depends on a variety of factors, but XML sitemaps are like neon signs that grab a search engine’s attention.
Make your words count. It’s always a good idea to design your website for your audience, rather than for search engines. But before you start going “wicked cool” with a minimalist, flashy photo gallery home page, remember this: words matter. They’re the primary drivers of your SEO indexing. Make sure your Page 1 headers are closely aligned with the keywords you prize the most. Ditto your body copy. There should be at least 150 words on your home page – 300 words is a good number to shoot for…it lets you be informative, without being wordy.
Make your photos pop. A picture may not be worth 1,000 words to the data-munching spiders that crawl your site…but there are tweaks you can make to help your index score pop. Optimizing your image sizes will significantly decrease page load times, which is becoming more important given Google’s increased emphasis on mobile-friendly functionality.
Make sure you assign “alt text” tags to every image as well (it helps search engines “see” your photos), and place keywords in the alt text whenever possible. Finally, give your photos file names with keywords you want the images to rank for – that will help with SEO as well.
Home page helpers. It’s become fashionable to create single-page websites with cool parallax design features that let users access all of the content simply by scrolling. But what you gain in style points with your users, you lose in index points with search engines. Single-page layouts reduce the number of internal links and H1/H2 headers on your site…two factors that boost indexing scores. Be cool with caution.
Make social sharing easy. External links leading back to your website is one of the primary factors Google uses to gauge your relevance. The more sites that lead back to yours, the more relevant you’re assumed to be. Securing these back links isn’t easy – relationship building takes time and effort. One of the easiest ways to get your name out there – and get traffic flowing in your direction from external sources – is through the viral magic of social media.
Make it easy for people to “Like” and “Share” your website’s content. Place those buttons in a conspicuous place on the home page. If people who visit your site like your content and choose to share it on Facebook, Pinterest, etc., it’ll boost the relevancy that Google assigns to your website.
Key on plural keywords. When you’re deciding what keywords to emphasize in your SEO strategy, consider optimizing the plural versions of the words and phrases (unicorns vs. unicorn). The singular part of the word will be covered by default. This tip alone will reduce your keyword “cat herding” in half, which more than justifies the time you’ve spent reading this article. Or so my editor hopes.
Op/ed column submitted by Ann Nygren, President of Key Consulting Software. KCS is an IT consulting company focused on gaming and hospitality applications ranging from Agilysys (LMS/Stratton Warren/Infogenesis), Infinium (AM, AR, FA, GL, HR, IR, PA, PL, PY), Bally’s (CMS, CMP, ACSC & SDS), and interfaces with Ariba, Aristocrat, iCims, IGT and Micros to Transitioning properties during purchase, sales, or merging of properties. KCS provides IT Departments with assistance in installation & upgrades, customization, interfacing and creation of unique client-specific software. Ann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.