As a Corporate Member of Calderdale’s Overgate Hospice, we seized the opportunity to be a guest speaker at their quarterly Corporate Members’ networking lunch in March and impart some of our SEO and Content Marketing wisdom.
Our Director and Web Developer Phil Hatfield took to the stage first at the glamorous venue of Bertie’s in Elland and provided a crowd of over 40 local business owners with an overview of the core pillars of SEO in 2019, introducing the audience to common Google Website Ranking Factors, Google’s RankBrain and what needs to happen before organisations like yours gear up for the future of Online Search – think Voice Search, Video and Featured Snippets! Our Social Media Coordinator and Copywriter Jayna Patel then took the floor to discuss insights about blogging, backlinking and the importance of keyword research.
Although SEO covers all search engines, including Bing and Yahoo, according to LifeWire Google remains THE most popular search engine, to the extent that ‘Googling it’ is a verb – now you don’t hear ‘Binging it’ or ‘Yahooing it’, do you? That’s why our presentation primarily focused on Google, though the tips were applicable to most search engines.
The Importance of Google Analytics
Phil began by asking the audience: What is the Purpose of Your Website? Is it to sell? Inform? Raise your business’ brand awareness? All three?! After all, if you don’t know your goal you’ll never know if you’ve been successful or not!
One of Phil’s favourite sayings is:
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
How do you know your website ranking isn’t brilliant already?
One way to find out is to (if you’re using Google Chrome), click on the three dots in the top right-hand corner of your internet browser and select the ‘New Incognito Window’ option from the drop-down menu. This will enable you to input keywords (search terms or phrases) into Google that you think you should be appearing in the coveted top 10 ranking spots for and see where your website comes up in search results for the given keyword.
Why go Incognito? If you were to conduct a search for keywords using your normal internet browser, the results may be skewed as your browser may have ‘cached’ (stored) your previous searches. Carrying out your website ranking check in incognito ensures the search engine treats you as a brand-new user.
A Goldmine of Website Stats
If you want to get a bit more technical, Google Analytics is a free tool available to all Web Masters (a fancy word for people who maintain websites) to give you a wealth of data about your website ranking. It also provides interesting insights and information on website speed, how many visitors your website has had in a given period, where those visitors come from, for example from ‘organic search’ (finding your website through search engines) or via ‘Referrals’ (in other words, clicking on a link to your website that was featured on another website).
Google Analytics and how to use and set up the platform is more than worthy of its own blog post but we’d strongly recommend using it and checking out this handy guide for more information.
Common Google Ranking Factors
As well as knowing how well your website currently ranks it also pays to know what influences your website ranking otherwise you can’t hope to boost your rankings! According to Backlinko, Google’s algorithm takes into consideration over 200 factors that determine whether or not it places a website in a favourable position in results. 200! However, the common ones are:
- Quick to Load
- A Valid SSL Certificate
- Quality Backlinks (more on this in Part 2 of this guide)
- High-Quality Content (we’ll also look at this more in Part 2)
- Dwell Time/Bounce Rate
It used to be that if your website was mobile responsive (adapted to being viewed on a variety of screens, such as a tablet or mobile phone) that it was a winner. When website developers build a website, they create a mobile version and a desktop version. As of March 26th 2018, Google announced it would use the mobile version of a webpage for indexing and ranking, to better serve their users (60% of Google Searches are now done on mobile with 3.5 billion people having a smartphone worldwide) and help them find what they’re searching for. So, the mobile version of your website needs to be the bees’ knees!
Quick to Load
Site Speed can greatly impact the User Experience your website offers visitors. As Yoast explains, people expect websites to load in less than three seconds before they think about abandoning them altogether!
A Valid SSL Certificate
Now an industry standard, an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) also improves the User Experience of your website for visitors as it makes them feel safe in the knowledge that they are on a trustworthy website. Why? Because a valid SSL Certificate provides the green ‘padlock’ next to your website URL in the web address bar at the top of your internet browser!
To find out more about SSL certificates check out this blog post.
Dwell Time/Bounce Rate
Remember earlier when we mentioned that it’s always best to have a goal in mind for your website? Well no matter if your goal is to sell products via your website or raise your brand awareness, you want website visitors to spend a lot of time on your webpage (Dwell Time) and visit more than one webpage!
Bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your website after visiting only one page. The lower the Bounce Rate the better. SearchMetrics found that the average Dwell Rime for sites that appeared in the top 10 Google Search results was 3 minutes and 10 seconds, whilst the average Bounce Rate for websites on the first page of Search Results was 46%. That means you should aim to capture visitors’ attention and keep them on your site with engaging content (read Part 2 of this Guide for more info about content!)
The Future of Search is Here!
You don’t need us to tell you that, as digital platforms and technology evolve, business must adapt or risk being left behind. But what changing trends in SEO do businesses need to meet the demands of in 2019?
Have you noticed the ‘answer’ summaries in boxes separated from the rest of the results at the top when you ask Google a question? Those are Featured Snippets! With the rise of Featured Snippets, being in position 0 is better than your website ranking number 1 in search results these days!
Whether it’s asking Siri on your iPhone where the nearest mechanic is, enquiring what the latest news headlines are using Amazon’s Alexa or quizzing Google Assistant about what the weather or traffic is due to be like, hands-free searching is on the rise. In fact, it is often claimed that by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be carried out without a screen.
We all know what a video is, but did you know 90% of internet users watch videos online and 51% of people use the internet to watch vlogs? Blog posts that feature a video are likely to secure three times as many inbound links to the blog post from other websites than posts without video!
In fact, according to VPN Geeks, in 2019 and beyond we can expect to see a 30% increase in Google searches with the suffix “video”.
Brightcove also estimate that your business can expect to see on average a 157% increase in organic traffic from search engines and 105% increase in the time visitors spend on their website IF they have a video marketing strategy.
(It’s also worth noting that video is hugely popular on social media, with BroadbandSearch revealing that Facebook’s 1.4 billion daily active users view a staggering 8 billion videos each day, whilst people watch an impressive 5 billion videos each day over on YouTube. What we’re saying is, the brilliant videos that you publish for your website can be easily repurposed for and successful on social media!)
Note: If you’re wondering how to make a ‘brilliant’ video, check out ‘BreadnBeyond’s guide, ‘Create Audience Engagement to Get More Conversions with Videos’ which is brimming with actionable tips on how to make interesting videos that hold your viewers’ attention and the different ways to measure audience engagement. That way you know how to monitor and measure the success of your video, making improvements where necessary when it comes to your next video.
So how do you gear your website for voice search optimisation and gain Featured Snippets? Well, it starts with the basics.
Ask yourself this, which search result would you click on first if you were searching for ‘petrol lawnmower services Huddersfield?’
- Result 1 might entice you to click on it due to it being the first result to appear. This type of result is known as a ‘Maps pack’ type of result. To rank in this type of search result we’d encourage you to verify your business address on Google and make sure your Google My Business profile is fully completed. Read more about the ‘Maps Pack’.
- Result 2 might attract some clicks as it is the first ‘normal’ looking result to appear. This is a directory listing. Directory listings make great backlinks (links to your website) and the more high-quality backlinks from credible websites, the better chances you have of increasing your website ranking. For example, a hotel or restaurant would want to have a profile on TripAdvisor, whereas a local business would do well to have a listing on Yell.com (you can contact the directories directly to request a listing).
- Result 3 is the first legitimate looking business that appears in a ‘normal’ looking search result so might gain clicks.
- Result 4, although ranking lower, might grab people’s attention as it uses the word ‘FREE’ in capital letters in the ‘Meta Description’ – the important two lines of text under the linked search result title that summarises what the webpage is about.
Note how the keywords ‘lawnmower’ and ‘Huddersfield’ from the search term we used (‘petrol lawnmower services Huddersfield’) appear in the Meta Description under result 2. Notice too how Google has also picked up plural and singular versions of the words we searched for (‘lawnmowers’ and ‘service’)? Synonyms and exact matches of the keywords you search for will appear in bold in the Meta Descriptions of search results showing Google’s algorithm’s effort to display the most relevant results.
How Do You Tell Google Your Search Result is Relevant to People’s Queries?
It’s good SEO practice to include the keyword (can be a singular term or a phrase) that you wish to rank for in your Meta Description, Title Tag, Image Alt-Tag, website URL and H1 Tag. These are SEO basics.
If you have a CMS (Content Managed System) such as WordPress, you can install ‘plug-ins’ which have specific functions to improve your website’s operation. For instance, you can install Yoast SEO Plug-in for WordPress and, once the plug-in is set up on your website, influencing the text that appears in your Title Tag and Meta Description is as simple as filling out a field on an online form. Yoast is also fab at giving you tips and tricks to further optimise your webpage or post for a given keyword so you can take action!
Likewise, with WordPress, you can easily add Image Alt-tags (keywords that describe what your image is) to your images in your Media Library and determine what your URL is.
- For your Title Tag you have a maximum of 60 characters
- For your Meta Description you have a maximum of 150 characters (with spaces)
- For your URL you have no more than 75 characters
If you don’t have a Content Managed System (CMS), influencing things like your Meta Description for each website falls to HTML- coding! Often, the responsibility for on-page optimisation would then lie with an experienced website developer/SEO professional.
The above elements are basic on-page optimisation, which is still relevant but no longer enough in 2019. This is especially the case if you wish to rank for Voice Search and Featured Snippets.
An Enticing Search Result Pleases RankBrain…Whatever That Is!
Google now uses a machine-based learning system called RankBrain to help it sort search results out. At its simplest RankBrain examines how people interact with search results and ranks them accordingly.
RankBrain focuses on:
- The percentage of people that click on your search result (Click-Through Rate) – which is why it helps if your Meta Description and Title tag are customised and use enticing language.
- How long people spend on your webpage (Dwell Time) – which is why you need compelling content on your website to make sure website visitors stick around!
How to Get Your Website to Rank for A Featured Snippet…
First, you have to identify which keywords you rank on the first page of search results for already (and you carry out the SEO on-page optimisation basics such as including the keyword in your Title tag and Meta Description as we discussed above to do this). Focus on the keywords your website is a winner for already.
Next, you have to find keywords that have a Featured Snippet Opportunity. A website we use quite often (though it is a paid for service) is SEMRush.com. In their Position Tracking area, there is a Featured Snippets tab, and within that, there is an Opportunities section, which shows you keywords that your website doesn’t rank for in the Featured Snippet. You can read more about finding Featured Snippet Opportunities.
After doing the initial research you’re ready to create “Snippet Bait”. On your webpage or blog post aim to create around 40-60 words of text that is specifically intended to rank in the Featured Snippet spot. Often it can be a clear and concise answer to a question.
How to Get Your Website to Rank in Voice Search
For your website to rank for a given keyword in Voice Search it helps enormously if you rank in the top 3 search results already. Your website having a Featured Snippet for the keyword you wish to rank for in Voice Search also goes a long way as it means the Google algorithm already has a convenient little snippet of information ready to dish out to users.
It is also best practice to format your blog posts and website content in question and answer styles as people tend to ask their devices direct questions such as:
“Alexa, What Does SEO Mean?”
Congratulations, you have reached the end of Part 1 of our Guide to Improving your Website Ranking in 2019! Why not check out Part 2 to increase your website ranking knowledge?