Some things haven’t changed, and the old SEO faithfuls, such as good meta data and keyword research, still need your attention. But SEO is changing, and there are some new ways of making yourself seen – and some bad practices to leave behind.
Side note: it’s a really good idea to stay up-to-date with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to stay in the know about what search engines might be after.
So, what are search engines looking for?
For some time, backlinks have been a key consideration for search engines. They’re extremely important if you want to rank well. Put simply, a backlink is a link to your website that comes from a site that isn’t yours. As search engines see it, it’s a recommendation that your website is valuable.
It’s all very well recommending yourself and claiming that you’re an expert, but what’s even more effective is when someone else says it (in this instance, when someone else’s website shares a link to yours). Take us as an example. If Design Week linked to our website in one of their articles, Google would push us up in the search ranking, because Design Week are experts in their field, with loads of evidence and reasons to be trusted. A search engine will see this and think, “So Nixon must be good. Let’s boost them up”.
Getting cited by other websites doesn’t always have to come in the form of links. It’s possible for Google to pick up on another website just through keywords in their content. For example, if one of our clients wrote a blog post that said, “Nixon Design are branding experts” (note to clients: please do feel free to do so), this would push us up Google’s ‘trustworthiness’ scale when it picks out ‘Nixon Design’ and ‘branding experts’ in the same sentence.
Search engines still value meta data. It’s really important to have a unique meta title and description for each individual page on your website. It needs to be truly indicative of what’s on the page, and it needs to be sprinkled with the right keywords. Speaking of which…
Keyword stuffing does not fly
Search engines are becoming more and more intelligent, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get away with keyword stuffing. By all means, meta data and content should contain well-researched keywords (we use the Google Ads Keyword Planner, but there are several options out there), but you should always be writing for the user first. You should never warp your content awkwardly around keywords so that you can cram as many in as possible. If you do, you’ll be penalised, and it’s then really difficult to climb back up in the rankings.
Matching search intent requires a little thought about what your potential customers will be looking for when they stumble upon you. For example, if you sell products, most of the time providing as much detail as possible is good, e.g. three- or four-word phrases that are specific to what someone is looking to buy (these are known as long-tail keywords). For example, if someone is searching for ‘blue baseball cap with adjustable strap’ and you sell those, they’re likely to land on you and more likely to buy, as they already have a clear idea of what they’re after. If they’re only searching for ‘baseball cap’, you’re up against far greater competition.
If you’re more of a website that offers information or advice, match the search intent by including questions, e.g. if you’re a travel blog, consider naming one of your articles ‘What are the cheapest places to stay in Europe?’. Your potential audience will be searching for this, and you’ll be matching their search intent.
So, that’s the basics covered. In this second half, we’ll look at how SEO has advanced recently, and what search engines are really keeping an eye out for now.
User experience is key to impressing search engines
Improving user experience on your website isn’t just useful for your website visitors – search engines also place importance on it.
If your content comes in long blocks of text, without any subheadings, images or white space to break it up, your SEO will suffer.
Optimising page speed
Like people, search engines hate it when pages take ages to load. It’s just another thing that will bring you down in their estimations. Make quick loading times a priority with careful coding, correctly sized images, and so on.
Purge your pop-ups
Another pet peeve that we humans share with search engines: pop-ups. For a while, Google has penalised websites for pop-ups, but only the intrusive ones (can’t see the content until it’s gone, hard to click out of, easy to accidentally click on…).
You can spend all the time you like researching algorithms, fine-tuning your meta data and building a super-speedy website. But if your content doesn’t deliver on what you’ve ‘promised’ in your SEO, search engines won’t look favourably upon you. Your SEO should be telling search engines that your webpage is better than your competitors, so that it can appear above them in the search rankings – but this means that it genuinely has to be better. It’s not just about the meta title and description – the content affects your rankings just as much.
Things to avoid in your content:
- Spelling and grammatical errors.
- Duplicate pages (sometimes with slight differences in keywords).
- Content clearly written for search rankings, instead of being useful for the reader.
- Obvious information that lacks insight.
Things to include:
- Interesting and original ideas.
- Bullet points, white space or any other methods that break up content and make it easy to read.
Google knows when you’ve written something that doesn’t offer any useful information for the reader. It’s also wise to the facts when an online shop is doing dodgy dealings. And this is where E-A-T comes in.
E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness
They’ve always been part of the SEO guidelines, but just recently expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) have surged in importance. They’re now the main things that you need to be focusing on in order to achieve good SEO. This will help your website to weather any updates in what search engines are looking for.
Really, this isn’t surprising, because search engines are designed to put the results that people want the most right in front of them. If they didn’t, the internet would be quite a frustrating and pointless place. Let’s look at a few details to do with E-A-T.
‘Your Money or Your Life’ (YMYL) is an umbrella term for any website that’s taking payments for a product or service, or offering expertise on something important (healthcare or finance). Search engines watch these really closely, because it’s especially important that users are directed to a place they can trust in these circumstances.
On other sites (that don’t count as YMYL), E-A-T is still vital for SEO (phew, that’s a lot of acronyms). For example, Google will investigate the authors of online articles to figure out whether they’re enough of an expert to provide something useful to the reader. If you have an article written by someone who is just making a start in their career, they might not yet have the online authority to make the search engine trust them, i.e. other websites sharing information about their achievements/knowledge. It would be better to post work by an author that has written for other companies, or appeared in interviews or on podcasts. This way, their name will come up more with associations with their area of expertise, and Google will push up their article in the rankings.
Google will access as much information about your website. Make sure you have all these things to show your E-A-T:
- Thorough ‘About’ page.
- A contact page that’s easy to find.
- References and external links to sources.
- Author bylines on every article.
- Information about who made the website.
Some other things to keep in mind as the world of SEO is changing:
Over half of all search queries now come from mobile devices, and around 20% of queries made from mobiles are now voice-based – and this is only going to increase thanks to the likes of Alexa and Siri. Think about how this will change the way people will search. For example, they’ll be posing actual questions a lot more, instead of just typing in the keywords. Search intent will stay the same, but methods of searching will change.
Search engines love videos, which are growing and growing in terms of online traffic (more info on this in our Video marketing article). If you’re writing a text-based blog post, you could perhaps embed a video in there for users to watch. And if you’re making a video yourself, you could break it up into ‘sections’. This could potentially mean that Google picks out little parts to go into featured snippets.
Have you ever noticed that when you type a question into Google, a little box comes up at the top with an answer, above all of the various links to websites? These are called featured snippets – and they’re a really effective way to drive traffic to your website. You can either invest some money into sponsored snippets, or include ‘snippet bait’ within your content (40-60 word chunks that would be perfect for a featured snippet) for a search engine to sniff out and use.
Search engines are just like us
Search engines are constantly working on their methods for SEO, and this can be overwhelming to keep up with. But the things that will never lose value in SEO are content and user experience. If you can create a something great for your users, showing your expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness, it’s increasingly likely that it’ll do well with search engines. Ultimately, what users like, search engines also like.
Our team is well equipped to tackle SEO, from user experience expertise to creating the all-important content. Get in touch if you’d like some help.