Follow these SEO best practices to boost page rankings and drive site traffic today.
Today, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine — it’s no wonder that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plays a central role in any robust content marketing strategy.
While marketers are wont to say that SEO is neither an art nor a science, but some combination of the two, it is possible to develop a set of fairly reliable SEO best practices based upon what is known about search engine indexing and ranking. Since nearly 9 in 10 online searches occur on Google, it will be useful to focus on the king of search.
Google’s web crawling software follows links from one page to another across the internet, indexing the pages based on a great number of factors, including coherence, content, keywords, and more.
When a user enters a query, the search engine’s algorithms identify relevant web pages from the index, which are then ranked based on over 200 unique factors including the degree to which keywords match the verbatim query, the age of the content, and authority of the domain. Results are displayed in accordance with estimated relevance.
Given that most people won’t look past the first page of results — in fact, the top-ranked result on any given search is estimated to receive 33% of the traffic associated with the given search — for most websites, creating content that ranks highly on Google is incredibly important from a business perspective. The best way to get there is through a careful, SEO-focused strategy. The following guidelines can position a web page for higher long-term rankings and increased traffic.
1. Use Keywords Strategically
While it’s a myth that SEO is all about keyword use, keywords do play an important role in how web pages are ranked to best match given queries. Google determines the keywords of a page based on analyses of headings, subheadings, the metadescriptions, URL, and even the file names of images and embedded media. As such, the strategic use of keywords in those spaces (and others) favor higher search result rankings and enable Google to index the page more accurately.
However, it is possible to go too far when it comes to using keywords. Keyword stuffing — the practice of cramming as many keywords in as many variations as possible into a web page in the hopes of artificially boosting the ranking of a page — can actually be detrimental to overall performance.
In addition to significantly harming the reading experience for users, keyword stuffing can also hurt a page’s ranking. This is because search engines have learned to detect artificial stuffing. Crawlers now identify suspiciously high uses of certain words and phrases in articles and rank them lower than articles that may have fewer instances of the keyword but more relevant context surrounding keywords. This underscores the point that the meaningful use of keywords — rather than simply the excessive use of keywords — is more likely to improve a page’s ranking.
While it’s easy to focus on raw numbers when considering keywords, a strong SEO strategy evaluates the bigger picture. The value of keywords is found not merely in volume, but in real relevance. Marketers or writers must consider keywords that are relevant not only to the given web page, article, or landing page, but to the product or service being promoted, the industry at large, and the searcher’s intent.
Furthermore, it’s wise to consider which industry keywords are best (for example, does a given industry prefer the term “recruiting” or “hiring”?). It’s best to use both short, more general keywords and longer phrases with which one can more precisely target the intent of a query.
2. Consider What Viewers Will See
Of course, it’s important to consider not only what will not only stand out in Google’s indexing, but also what will grab users’ eye and make them want to visit a page if it appears in their results.
In Google’s search display, each result includes both the headline and a short description of up to approximately 155 characters called a metadescription. Within that metadescription, Google determines which words it considers to be the most semantically relevant to the verbatim search and bolds those words.
While it’s important to ensure that a metadescription contains valuable keywords, the surrounding context may also influence users’ decisions to click or not to click on the page — meaning the headline, metadescription, and even the URL should also be relevant and intriguing. Content and metadata should be relevant to the people searching for it, not just a search engine.
3. Keep Link Popularity in Mind
One of the key elements of SEO is link popularity. Link popularity is determined by how many other web pages of high quality link to the page in question. Essentially, link popularity is a question of how many backlinks connect to a given page and how many backlinks the creator of that page includes in it. A 2018 study of a billion web pages found a significant correlation between organic web traffic and “referring domains,” or backlinks.
Web crawlers see these links and view them as an indication that there is valuable content on the website housing the page. The importance of the links cannot be underestimated. In fact, links are one of the top three factors in determining search rankings in Google. Of the 91% of online content that gets no real traffic from Google, the majority has few to no backlinks that connect to it.
While backlinks are clearly extremely important, it is also critical to keep in mind that not all backlinks are equally valuable.
The more popular or authoritative the website that links to an external web page, the greater the impact that link will have on the ranking of the external page. If, for instance, the Harvard Business Review links a web page about best hiring practices, the owner of the best hiring practices page is likely to see an increase in ranking more than if four or five less authoritative blogs linked to the same article.
Be wary of random backlinks, though — unnatural linking (from bad websites seeking to spam a link onto other websites’ blog comments or similar suspicious activity) can harm a page’s rankings if Google detects it.
A strong SEO strategy takes into account the many elements at play in search engine rankings and leverage these insights to create not merely keyword-packed pages, but content that is relevant, insightful, and speaks to target audiences authentically. While these — and other — SEO best practices position web pages for better search performance, nothing beats well-written, well-researched, and informative content.