SEO is an ever-changing field that does not stop evolving. What has been considered the best practices in 2015 is not applicable anymore in 2018. In fact, we are not calling it search engine optimization anymore. We at Invisio Marketing, we’re referring to it as search experience optimization. With the number of updates, major and minor, it is very important to keep up to date with Google’s daily algorithms change . In 2016, we saw many enhancements to “Penguin 4.0” and “Possom” which presented a smarter, cleaner, and more semantic search experience. We have covered below the main SEO ranking factors in 2018 that made it to the list.
1. CONTENT IS STILL KING
High ranking content refers to in-depth content that covers a broad spectrum of its respective subject. Content must provide real value to the user and should incorporate engaging visual content to complement the written content.
Remember, Quality beats quantity every-time. Focus on value, not word count.
There is no clear rule of thumb regarding the optimal word count for an article, as it varies per subject. However, we do notice that relatively longer, more comprehensive content typically achieves higher rankings. A study by Neil Patel reveals a correlation between content length and top Google search positions.
Use Google’s semantic search to optimize keyword targeting in your articles. Semantic queries can be found by browsing the “related search” results at the bottom of the Google search results page.
For example, a search for “content marketing” reveals the following related searches. If you are writing an informational article on content marketing, you can use these semantic queries to get a better understanding of related keywords.
Backlinks remain one of the strongest ranking signals in Google’s search algorithm. The more links you have from multiple high-authority domains, the better your chances are to rank well for top keywords. Online marketers should pay close attention to their backlink profiles, especially given recent updates such as “Penguin 4.0”, which cleaned and filtered sites with low-quality backlink profiles.
2. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE & RANKBRAIN
Last year Google announced that RankBrain was their third most important ranking factor. But before we get into the details, let’s explain what RankBrain is.
RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google sort their search results. It keeps track of how users interact with Google’s search results and changes the ranking accordingly.
As stated by Jeff Dean “In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.” In 2018 RankBrain is becoming more and more important as Google updates its algorithm.
RankBrain focuses on 2 metrics:
- RankBrain and Dwell Time: Where dwell time is the simply the time you spend on a certain page after clicking the search result.
RankBrain tends to prioritize content that is considered more engaging. It needs to better understand and disambiguate content (check schema point below) and to analyze the user behaviors by looking at metrics such as the dwell time (this is really how much time the user is spending on your page).
There are also now interesting studies documenting the dwell time and the correlation with rankings (see for instance an industry report from Search Metrics).
Graphic: Search Engine Land
On average, for a top 10 Google result, the dwell time is 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
This is quite a lot of time if you compare it with the average time spent on a page and it’s clear that if a reader engages on a piece of content for so long, it’s most likely that he or she likes the page and finds it informative enough for that specific search intent.
- RankBrain & CTR: Which is also used in paid search marketing to determine the relevance of the content to the user intent (which by the way takes us back to the meta description – your 10 sec pitch).
For Ads, namely on Adwords, CTR – combined with bounce rate (see below) – indicates the quality and relevancy of the content.
When many users click on a page, above-average CTR for that query, the content gets boosted to the top.
3. MOBILE FIRST
Mobile first or site with AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) are yet another major ranking factor. On November 4, 2016, Google announced mobile-first indexing. This means that a website’s compatibility with mobile now directly affects its search rankings. In the past, web designers built desktop versions first, then mobile. Today, with mobile usage surpassing desktop, websites should prioritize mobile versions to provide a better user experience.
Google’s mobile-first approach is already changing up search results, especially when it comes to local results – users now receive results that better target their current location. We did notice, however, that there is a growing indication of Geolocation actively affecting the local search queries on desktop as well.
4. PAGE SPEED
With a mobile-first indexing approach from Google, page speed has become more crucial than ever. Websites with slow page speed will have a harder time ranking at top results. Google’s goal with these updates is to provide its users with search results that include sites that provide the best user experience.
5. SECURE WEBSITE
Whether you’re running an online shop or a simple blog, Google has confirmed that a secured website will actually rank higher. In fact, Google has announced on its Search Console that it will identify a site as not secure. If you have not done that yet, we strongly recommend moving your domain to HTTPS.
6. SCHEMA CODE
Although a study by Brian Dean of backlinko.com showed that schema didn’t affect the ranking, yet, we believe that giving the user a better online experience would help you get better CTR.
Schema markup code helps search engines get a better understanding of specific texts such as addresses, phone numbers, recipes, reviews and more.
Particularly for local businesses, implementing a site-wide schema code can be highly beneficial. For example, it is important to make sure you tell Google where your business is located by implementing a correct schema code.
Example of a business address schema code:
Make sure your data markup adheres to Google guidelines.
6. BRAND POWER AND SOCIAL SIGNALS
Branded searches provide a strong signal to Google’s search algorithm. The more traffic a website gets from branded searches, the more it will be recognized by the algorithm. Additionally, we have noticed that social signals from Facebook, Reddit, Quora, Pinterest and other social sites also correlate with search rankings. This is not to say that a strong online social presence alone can drive organic traffic. Sites that combine brand power and social signals with efforts across all other SEO channels can achieve greater search visibility.
7. DOMAIN POWER
In the past, exact-match domains were a sure-fire way to boost organic search visibility. While not as foolproof as before, domains still have influence. With Google’s smarter algorithm, we do still see two major verticals of domain power:
- Exact-match domains still carry a lot of weight – As an example, for the search “cars”, we would expect to find popular car-related brands at top search results (Ford, BMW, Top Gear, etc.). Instead, we get an exact match, “cars.com”.
- Domain seniority – Domain age is another major ranking factor. New domains have a harder time ranking for top keywords, while domains with an extended track record seem to hold top positions for longer.
How long does it take to rank in top positions? Check out this awesome article by AHrefs.com.
8. URL Structure
Make sure to have your website structure as shallow as possible for 3 reasons:
1- First, a short URL like invisiomarketing.com/my-post is easier for Google to understand than invisiomarketing.com/1/12/2016/blog/category/here-is-my-blog-title
2- Second, it makes the URL easier to read, thus users would understand better what is really behind that URL without even clicking it. It will help them take the decision to click on your link.
3- Third, long URLs usually means linking to pages that are several clicks away from the homepage. And since authority is lost as it flows through pages, it is better to make the path shorter.
Don’t forget to add images to your pages. Below is a graph by Brian Dean again that shows the correlation between have at least 1 image and ranking.
10. LOWER BOUNCE RATE
Do your best to lower your bouncing rate as much as possible as it was found that it strongly affects ranking. There is no specific announcement that bounce rate is directly related to higher ranking, but we believe that it is a byproduct of good content, website structure, UI/UX, i.e. user experience.
There are many tactics that address this issue if you’d like to read more about it, you can check Neil Patel’s blog post here.
It is not only about SEO anymore, many factors will contribute to the ranking of websites. We believe it will take a complete marketing strategy rather than just SEO in 2017 to get your business visible. That means that SEO have to work hand in hand with content marketing to create great content. Integration with social media is essential to get traction for the content. Recent Google updates are paving the way for sites with quality content that provides real value for users. Google is also getting much better at measuring how users interact with your content. Understanding these 7 valuable parameters could make or break your Online Marketing strategy.