If there’s one limiting thought that prevents business owners from dipping their toes in the SEO pool, it’s the fact that Google is whim to change its algorithm every day, and 500-600 times a year.
That's a lot, and it's entirely understandable why you're flummoxed by SEO.
If Google changes its algorithm every day, how are you supposed to keep up? Doesn't this mean that SEO theory and tactics are turned on their head every 24 hours, rendering your SEO strategy kaput?
Here's some good news: this isn’t the case. When we say Google changes its algorithm, we use the word ‘change’ perhaps somewhat as an exaggeration. Google doesn’t entirely transform its algorithm beyond recognition – it’s merely tweaked to improve accuracy and ensure the most relevant results are at the top.
SEO theory, regardless of the algorithm, stays the same: its Google’s goal to serve up the most valuable and useful content.
It’s not Google’s goal that changes…it’s the tactics we use to boost our SEO that DO change.
So why all the complex changes?
Google’s getting smarter, and it’s getting harder to outsmart Google.
As I’ve mentioned before in this post on how Google works, Google uses machine learning to mimic the human brain, and there’s no signs of this stopping.
So which SEO tactics are relevant in 2018?
To understand which tactics will help boost your Google ranking in 2018, we need to understand what gets you on Google’s radar.
These are called ranking signals, and there are over 200 of them.
But not all ranking signals are created equal.
In my new ebook, The Art and Science of SEO, I write about a hierarchy of ranking signals, from top-level priority to low-level priority. And in this post, I’m going to get into greater detail about high priority ranking signals.
Top ranking signals for 2018 explained
To repeat an entirely obvious fact: mobiles are fairly popular and the world spends an exceedingly and unhealthy amount of time dissociating into their screens.
As of December 15, 31% of my website visitors are browsing on their mobiles.
For another of my clients, their mobile users account for 42% of their website traffic.
And for one of my other websites, 60% of users are reading content on their smart phones.
Mobile is here, mobile is sticking around, and if your website isn’t loading quickly on mobile, users are likely bouncing away. And if you have a high bounce-rate, that’s a huge tip-off that your website’s content isn’t fulfilling a user’s need (or, that your website might not be loading due to a technical issue).
How to optimise for mobile:
- Use Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
These are a stripped-down form of HTML that simplifies your website, ensuring it downloads at lightening speed. This means that mobile users will see a lightweight version of your website, but desktop users will see the full website.
If you run your website on Squarespace, you can easily enable AMP blog posts by reading this step-by-step guide.
For WordPress users, you can download a plugin that converts your desktop pages to AMPs.
- Compress images for faster loading times.
To do this, I use Photoshop’s ‘Save for Web’ option.
- Leverage browser caching.
Caching is a tech word for ‘storage’. When a person visits my website for the first time, their browser has to download everything (HMTL, JS, CSS, images, content), and this can take a while. If you leverage browser caching, you use a special code that tells a user’s browser to essentially store your files, eliminating the need to load your website every time it’s visited.
This code can be added to your .htaccess file, which you can find on your web host.
- Optimise buttons for smaller screens, allowing users to easily click through to other website pages.
- Use legible fonts to make reading easier.
- Use headings that structure your content logically, making it easier to scan.
- Ensure pop-up boxes fit to screen size.
When you enter a search query into Google, you’ll see a page like the one below.
A page title tells Google and searchers what your particular page is about.
How to optimise:
- Create useful page titles.
Ensure that your page title answers a user’s query. Make sure you use your target keywords in your page title, and keep your page title to 55 characters maximum.
Google appreciates clean code and flawless tech, as it helps Google to ‘crawl’ your website, and understand its content better. When we talk about ‘clean code’, we’re talking about a website’s code that’s easy to read, and easy to change.
When we talk about ‘crawling’, we’re referring to Google’s ability to make sense of this code. You want to ensure that your website’s code is crawler friendly, so that Google can index your website faster.
How to optimise:
- Clean up broken links.
Broken links are dead ends, and stop a crawler from doing its job.
- Use a robots.txt file.
These are what crawlers look at first. You can use your robots.txt file to tell Google ‘yes! Please come scan my website’ or ‘Nope. Don’t come over here’. Remember: the robots.txt file is publically available, and anyone can see it. Don’t use it to hide information, but to keep user data private. For example, if you had a membership-only forum, you’d ensure your robots.txt file specified that you don’t want this forum indexed.
You can learn more about creating your Robots.txt file by reading this article from Google.
- Keep your URLs to 50-60 characters.
URLs that contain a variety of parameters – like underscores, question marks, etc – are hard for Google’s crawler to read. On top of that, long, confusing URLs are also hard for humans to read. It's even been reported that shorter, easy-to-read URLs get more shares on social media.
- Learn to code at your own risk.
For more complex websites, hire a professional. It can often be a lot more costly to clean up code than to start from scratch.
Backlinks are external links from other domains, and hands down one of THE TOP 5 ranking signals. Backlinks are like votes of confidence, signalling to Google that other people like your content and find you worthy of telling their readers about. The more backlinks you have on high quality domains, the higher your Google ranking will be.
How to optimise:
- Join high quality directories.
Should you pay for your backlinks? Occasionally. Let me explain: it makes no sense to pay to join a business directory that doesn’t feature a legitimate, engaged audience. These skeleton directories serve no purpose, other than to raise revenue.
That’s why it’s valuable to join high quality, legitimate directories that feature a built-in community and offer a service to its members. Small businesses can take advantage of member hubs like Soar collective, It’s the Now, The Cool Wow, Business Chicks, ROOOAR, Girl Bosses AU, and so many more. I’m personally a member of a few of these, because I appreciate networking with their members, like their articles, and attend their events. These member hubs are highly active, and paying a small fee is well worth the backlink. Not to mention, the occasional access to VIP resources.
- Guest posting ISN'T dead.
Back in 2014, Google engineer Matt Cutts said: “if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop”. I’m not being contradictory: what Cutts is referring to here is abusive guest posting, where you post articles on content farms that receive little to no engagement.
To quote Matt Cutts again:
The objective is not to make your links appear natural; the objective is that your links are natural.
For example, what if you wrote an article for Huffington Post? Or Smart Company? Or Forbes? These websites have a high level of Domain Authority (see below). When a website has a lot of Domain Authority, it passes on credibility to other websites it links to. We call this ‘link juice’, and link juice boosts Google rankings.
- Be a credible, quotable source.
Sign up to Source Bottle, a major resource for journalists seeking experts for articles. In exchange for your expertise, ask for a DoFollow link to boost your backlink profile.
Developed by SEO gurus at MOZ, Domain Authority (DA) measures the potential of a domain to rank in the SERPs. It takes into account domain age (years registered), popularity (based off backlinks and social media traffic), and size (how many pages your website has).
DA is ranked on a scale of 1-100, and is best used as a comparative metric. This means you don’t necessarily need to aim for a rank of 100, but look at your score in comparison to your competitors. For example, if your top competitor in the SERPs has a DA score of 36, and yours is 32, you’re not too far behind in the race.
How to optimise:
- Increase your website’s popularity by building a backlink profile.
Ensure your links are natural, and featured on other websites with a similar or higher DA.
- Increase your website’s size with high quality content, but only if this serves a user’s need.
Ask yourself if more information is needed to help a user complete a purchase, or if more content is required to fully empower your readers to reach a certain goal.
- Do you offer multiple services? Break up lengthy page content by creating separate pages for each service, like I’ve done with my copywriting services.
- Create a blog post that’s gotten a lot of engagement? Create a follow-up post!
- Don’t have a blog yet? Create one! Content marketing and blogging is one of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise on a particular subject, not to mention, drive users further down the sales funnel.
Like DA, Page Authority (PA) is a score developed by MOZ that predicts how well a particular page on a domain will rank. Its score is calculated in the same way that DA is.
The question is: which page do you want to have the highest authority on your website?
For some, it’s advisable to prioritise a home page. For others, it useful to boost the PA of more helpful pages, like blog posts that answer a search query.
How to optimise:
- As with DA, the best way to influence PA is by building its link profile.
- Link to your own pages without your website. This tells Google you’re proud of your site content, and you want to send users to it.
When we talk about local SEO, we’re referring to location-specific searches for users. For example, if I’m based in Melbourne and researching small business grants, Google will display grants and assistance from the Australian government website, business.gov.au. This is because the final suffix in the URL - .gov.au – is one of the strongest ways to show search engines and users that this site’s particular content is targeted towards a particular region.
It’s why my domain ranks high in the SERPs for Melbourne copywriter for Australian users, rather than Floridians (yes, there’s a Melbourne in Florida!)
How to optimise:
- You’ll need to purchase what we call a country code Top Level Domain, or a ccTLD. These include .com.au, .fr, .co.uk, .com.eu. etc.
ccTLDs are generally more expensive than top level domains (.com, .co, .org and .net), but they’re well worth the SEO boost.
SEO tactics are ever-evolving as Google becom es increasingly sophisticated. And along with this complexity comes a slew of new high-powered tools to help us understand how our websites are impacted.
Need help understanding your SEO?
A website audit helps you understand all the interweaving components of your digital home, and how to optimise them for the SERPs. I use a combination of industry standard tools, such MOZ, SEMRush, Google Analytics and Google Search Console to get a 360 degree view of your entire website.