When you’ve been advising clients on search engine optimization (SEO) for more than 20 years, you hear a lot of theories, misinformation and questionable advice about what it takes to improve a site’s visibility on Google and other search engines. Everyone wants to be number one, but the reality is, there’s no one-size-fits-all, set it and forget solution.
Search engines change their algorithms frequently – Google makes minor adjustments to their search results formula 500 to 600 times per year – so even the best-optimized sites will see fluctuations in their rankings over time. It’s impossible to keep up with every minor change, so what’s an overworked webmaster to do? Focus on the basics. In this article, we’re going to provide a quick overview of the four types of ranking criteria that have the most impact on search engine results.
1. On-Site Factors
On-site factors, unsurprisingly, encompass the keywords and content on a site itself. While they only account for about 20% of a site’s search ranking, they are the easiest factors to control and change so they’re a great place to start.
- Rather than trying to optimize your entire site for a long list of keyword phrases, focus on one or two phrases per site page.
- In addition to page content, include keywords in descriptive internal links, page titles and subtitles, URLs, and image alt tags.
- Add new content to your site regularly (blogs are great for this).
- Add unique meta descriptions for each page. Meta descriptions are part of the page code rather than visible content, but they determine the descriptive text that will appear in search results. Good meta descriptions make a huge difference in click-through rate!
2 & 3. Off-Site Factors and Local Factors
Another intuitive name here—off-site factors are factors external to the site, and are measured primarily by the quality and quantity of links back to your site from other sites. You’re not looking for endorsements from random strangers here. Google wants to see logical connections form other sites with similar content or a similar audience, so it’s best to build relationships with people and businesses who have a legitimate reason to link to your site and share your content. The challenge in building inbound links is greater, but the payoff is bigger—off-site factors, combined with local factors, constitute 60% of a site’s ranking status.
Here are some ideas for generating quality inbound links:
- Contribute to relevant blogs, sites, or publications. Write articles, leave comments, share on social media. Establish expertise.
- Ask for links! Find relevant sites, or ask that links be included in speaker or author bios.
- Create content people want to share.
- Be active on social media channels that are best for the site’s target audience. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google are best for SEO, if the target audience uses those. For visual-focused content, Pinterest is practically a search engine in and of itself.
For businesses with a fixed service area (think retail locations, or non-profits that serve a specific geographic market, for example), Google looks at an additional set of factors to determine map-based search results. The single most important factor is a complete and accurate Google My Business page. Be sure it’s outfitted with a complete profile, a lengthy and unique business description, appropriate categories, local phone and address, high-quality photos, hours of operation, and real reviews from real clients.
Here are some additional tactics to improve local rankings:
- Ask for online reviews! Google My Business and Facebook reviews are good across the board, and Yelp reviews are used for Apple Maps. The better the reviews, the better the site appears in the search results. Do be sure that review sources are relevant for the target audience, though, and don’t try to shortcut by faking reviews. Google does not take kindly to trickery!
- If you have more than one physical location, create a separate page on your site for each one with a clear address and phone number, and include some content about each branch or office.
- Add content to your site that connects it to the community. Blog posts about your company’s involvement in community causes or events are a simple place to start
- The same offsite tactics we mentioned earlier can be used to cultivate inbound links from local sites.
- Add listings to online directories, especially those that are top sources in the local area. Use Moz to find which citations to target.
4. Technical Factors
The design and speed of the site are very important! Technical factors, including page load time and mobile friendliness, constitute the final 20% of a site’s ranking status.
To improve technical factors:
- Make the site responsive. No, do not create a mobile version of the site, but have a fully responsive design, where the same site functions on desktop and mobile, adapting to the size of the screen. Google is extremely concerned with mobile searches and meeting the current standards in this area is of the utmost importance.
- Make the site fast. These days, a loading time of two seconds is barely acceptable. Half a second is ideal. Use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix to test the site’s loading speed and get recommendations for improvement.
If you need help with a new, responsive site design, contact A.M. Design Group!