There is no doubt that SEO is a continually changing beast, and one where the old practices can often not work so effectively anymore. However saying that, there are really only 4 things that can affect a sites rankings
- Technical SEO
- Social Media
To make things worse, Google does not tell you all the ‘signals’ that is uses to decide what to rank first. It is said there are some 200 of these, but NO ONE knows all of them, and even if they did, Google keeps changing them and their ‘weighting’.
Google and the SEO Arms Race
In the early days, the number of factors (signals) used was quite low, and thus it was fairly easy to manipulate the ranking of a page. The main one of these was LINKS, this being the source of Google’s Page Rank. In those heady days, it was said to be possible to rank a blank page for a term, just using the power of links.
The power of links was still powerful in the days of the US president W Bush, and it is suggested that a so called ‘Google Bomb’ was used by his detractors to get the term ‘miserable failure’ linked with a page about Bush on the White House website. Here it is said that this term brought up the WhiteHouse site in the number 1 position on Google. Now this could well be just another myth, but it fits in with the logic of the day.
It was this sort of behaviour, together with the way SEO experts started to manipulate other items, such as keyword density and Header tags that made Google decide to change how they ranked sites. Thus in 2015, it introduced ‘Semantic SEO’, this just being a more holistic way of ranking a website and it’s pages.
This in effect meant that no single factor could dominate the others and thus website owners had to attend to ‘everything’ on their website, especially the content (where they had to make it really worth reading) if they wanted to score well.
I do not propose to consider myself an SEO Guru, but do have a problem with those that are so rated. The problem is that they simply do not agree with each other on most subjects, and even when they do, their answers to a direct question are often ‘woolly’ and unclear. Saying that, they do come up with a whole host of interesting information, you just have to listen and pick the bits that seem to be true (at least in your own mind).
So What Can You Do
There are 4 areas that you can improve on a site.
It has been said for many years that ‘Content is King’ and that the only way of getting Google to rank a page is to make it a really good read, providing information, entertainment or just something that people want. This means that short, duplicate or thin content is out as it will do nothing to help, and may just reduce the overall ‘Quality’ score of the website as a whole.
The latter is important, as even though each page ‘fights its own battle’ for a rank, if the site as a whole is deemed to be of poor quality (see the Technical SEO section for more on this) it will drag the page down (a good analogy is that if the page was a race horse, a bad site would cause more lead weights to be put in the horses saddle, thus handicapping it in the race.)
So, if you want to impress Google, you have to continually create content that is a good read, is of a ‘reasonable length’ (there is no exact figure here, but I always suggest 500 words as minimum) and uses as many ‘related words’ (to the main target keyphrase for that page) as it can.
Now you cannot rely just on using on the ‘right sort’ of words (we have software that will analyse the words used on the top pages for a term, but this is only an ‘aide memoir’). What you have to do is to create content that matches the ‘user intent’ behind the search query you want to rank for.
This is what Google’s Rankbrain is all about. The results it gives are far from perfect, but it is constantly gaining knowledge (and using us as rats in the maze in the learning process) and this is something that you just have to take into consideration in SEO today.
Also, must never stuff the page with keywords (this is one of those old tactics that does not work anymore) or over use the Header tags, although again, their power has been reduced over the year.
There is another thing that content can do, and that is to create ‘User Interaction’, something that Google ‘love to see’. It is, however difficult to get people to comment on the items that you post or talk about, unless it is something really interesting or topical being discussed. However, if you can come up with content that will get some reaction from your readers, this can help.
There is more to content than just words too. Pictures and video are vital to any page that really wants to be considered favourably.
As mentioned in previous posts, the power of links has been declining over the years, BUT saying that, I have seen again and again that links are ESSENTIAL if a site (page) needs to be ranked. For me, it is all about logic.
We know that Google uses a computer rule set to work out which page is best, and we also know that it does use links, so it makes sense that links are needed. To confirm this, you only have to look at the many sites that have good content, but because they have too few links, simply don’t get the ranks that they deserve.
What has changed however is the way that Google ‘looks’ at links. The first and most important thing to bear in mind is that having too many links that use the ‘money phrases’ (the terms you want the site to be found for) in their anchor text will cause Google to down rank the page.
The same goes for having links from a narrow list of sites, because Google likes to see what it terms as a ‘natural linking structure’, which in turn means links from many different domains, all using a variety of anchor text phrases.
However, that is not the end of the matter, as besides just looking at where the links come from (domains that are more relevant being more highly regarded than the others) and the anchor text they use, today Google also looks at the domain that link to the domains that are pointing to your site. This has led to a change in the way that links are built, as now it is necessary not only to build links to a site, but also to build links to those links, this being termed ‘Power Linking’. All of which adds to the costs.
Internal links are a very effective way of pointing both users and the Search Engines to the best page on your site on a particular topic and should be used in the content of your pages wherever it is logical so to do.
You can also use Canonical Tags for this, but this is normally just there for the Search Engines when you have lots of pages about the same thing and want them to just look at one.
Links are however not just a one way thing, and some SEO Gurus also suggest that linking OUT to other interesting and relevant sites from a page is also necessary.
This has become a hot topic lately, as Google are now placing even more emphasis on the speed of a site, because more people are accessing the web from mobile devices (these having a lower bandwidth and thus need a site to be as fast as possible). This is what is behind the ‘Mobile First Index’, Google now assessing sites as to how well they look and work on mobile devices, considering those that do as being better than those that don’t.
This means that you have to have a Fast site and one that is Useable on the smaller screens found on smartphones and tablets.
There is also the matter of using Structured data markup HTML, although in my experience, it is hard to get most web designers to use it. There are firm SEO benefits, as if you have an appropriate site (some areas do not fit in well with the use of Rich Snippets) then using a markup system like JSon can get you some interesting very high profile listings on the Search Engines.
Before we go on, we have to say that in the past, Google has said that it does not take into account Social Signals when deciding what to rank. In the end you have to either decide to ignore this statement (and some of the research in to how Social Media does positively affects SEO) and use Social Media, or just not bother.
If you believe that Social Media will help with your SEO you need to bear a few things in mind.
- Getting mentions (so called signals) for a URL can boost its rankings
- You should also get these signals for those URL’s that are linking to your site
- You can get mentions by either ‘buying them’ (but please just use reputable sources) or that you can ‘earn’ them by creating the great content we mentioned above and ‘spreading the word’ about it using your own Social Media channels.
The ‘old SEO methods’ are not dead, just not as powerful as they were. However they are still very much needed as Google is still using them in the ‘mix’.
So, don’t forget to optimise your pages, or to create those links (and social signals), BUT DO bear in mind what your users want and require and write your content accordingly.