Modern SEO is not what it used to be back in 2000 or even in 2007. During only five or six recent years there were significant shifts in how Google treats websites, their content and links. Just take a look back at the most notable algorithm updates:
- Panda in 2011. Google started punishing websites for poor content;
- Page Layout in 2012. Poor designs and bad UX websites experience lowering in rankings;
- Penguin in 2012. One of the most serious updates that penalize websites with “bad” and “spammy” backlinks;
- Mobile Friendly in 2015. Google takes a closer look at the responsiveness of websites.
These and a few minor updates led to changes in SEO approach. Most SEO tricks we are accustomed to, don’t work today. So, it’s time to rethink our SEO tactics and start paying attention to those aspects that help websites rank higher today.
Analyzing Google Algorithm updates mentioned above, one can see that the main focus points that should help a website to rank higher are:
- Content relevance and quality;
- Number of backlinks;
- Website UX and overall performance.
Google today is focused on providing users with the best experience and the most relevant content. So there is no point in following traditional guidelines of putting your main keyword in strategic places and checking how many times it is used across the text. This is very true while you try to increase your domain authority too. You should just “write for the people” who are your target audience and hope that Google will appreciate your efforts and place you on the first page in SERP. Well, there are some more things you can do and some more efforts you can apply to get higher.
Check and unblock your bottlenecks
According to the above said, there are three main spheres on your blog you should check out. Let’s start.
Website content quality
It may sound easy and obvious. But in fact most bloggers still think that putting target keyword in title, META-description, URL, scattering it across the text is the content optimization Google awaits from them. It could have worked if we had still lived in 2007. But today all those factor play so minor part in optimisation that you may even discard them all. Modern approach to content requires the content to be relevant to user’s search, provide value to users, be well-researched and visually attractive.
What you should do:
- Set your value. Make your message, benefits of website and content clear for users. Most of modern users are from generation Y (or Millennials). You have so little time to grab and keep their attention. Mobile devices also limit your opportunities due to tiny space on the screen. So make your message to have clear CTA and place it above the fold (especially for mobile version).
- Make navigation intuitive. Users take no interest of how complex your blog structure is and how many subcategories it has. They like to move the website smoothly and easily find what they need.
- Make the text and media accessible. Not only in terms of the font size (and not just for mobile version), but in general. Check out how your text is perceived, is the spacing between the symbols and lines is enough. How the color of the text looks on various backgrounds.
- Revise your top-ranking pages in terms of their content relevance, keywords, structure and other SEO-sensitive stuff, and try to imitate their beneficial components in other articles. Don’t chase over long-form content. As Moz’s Rand Fishkin has said that “long-form content doesn’t equal good content.” Try to make the text interesting, not long since the number of words doesn’t make your content shine in SERPs.
- Do keyword research for the topic you choose. In modern SEO, you don’t have to stick to one keyword. Try to optimize your article for multiple keywords. Choose a “parent topic” keyword, check out and choose a number of semantically-related keywords that may be used across the text.
- Watch your content to be relevant to your target audience. Don’t chase over top keywords. Ahrefs has a special metric – Keyword Difficulty – to help users to see how hard it can be ranking in Top for a particular keyword. Try to satisfy specific requests that users may type into a search field by choosing long-tail keywords with lower KD index.
- Don’t waste your time on YOAST plugin suggestions about optimization. They have little to do with modern SEO. You don’t have to move your target keyword to the beginning of a title or in the first paragraph of your copy.
Backlinking to your website
Another vital point that Google themselves claim ranking factor is backlinks. More and more research proves that the number of backlinks to your website’s content boost its rankings and may take an article or the entire website to the first page of SERP.
These backlink powers attracted many bloggers to the Dark Side of the Force and many of them turned to “blackhat SEO”. Thus, Google issued its Penguin algorithm update that started fighting those “spammy” backlinks. You should pay a close attention to the quality of backlinks your website gets. When their number grows, you may get a penalty from Google and a recovery may take a lot of time and efforts.
So, to improve and keep your website’s backlinks profile up and running, you should focus on two main activities:
- Removing “spammy” backlinks;
- Growing the number of quality backlinks.
- Don’t wait for the penalty to hit you. You can check your website with a backlink checking tool you like in advance and create a list of those “spammy” links. They usually come from websites with low Domain Authority or Domain Rating, or whatever the tool calls it. Here’s how I do it with Ahrefs tool for backlinks:
- Drop your website’s URL into a Site Explorer;
- Choose the Backlinks option;
- Sort out the list of backlinks starting from the domains with the lowest (or “not attested”) DR;
- Check out their backlinks to your website – usually they contain an anchor text that doesn’t correlate with your link;
- Create a .txt file and place there all those backlinks that look “bad”;
- Submit this file to Google Webmasters Tools for disavow.
- Earning backlinks is a constant process. It can be done in many ways:
- Write a nice and catchy outreach email and send it to bloggers who have recently posted similar articles, or write on similar topics.
- Guest posting. Search for websites that accept guest contributions and write a good post for them.
- You can leave a valuable comment under a blog post.
- Answer on forums, etc.
Website UX and performance
Most improvements in this section concern website speed and mobile experience improvements. Other technical aspects may include various issues related to HTTPS transfers, cache etc.
- Google has made its Mobile Friendly update a part of its ranking algorithm, and announced that starting from January 2017 it will be closely examining all the websites in terms of their responsiveness and friendliness to mobile device users. Thus, it’s better to check website pages in Google’s Mobile Friendly Test to find out are there any issues in mobile pages loading speed, page structure etc.
Responsive websites should be also avoiding standalone interstitials or frustrating elements like pop-ups that clutter the mobile device screen and force users to watch advertisements before starting using the website.
The Bottom Line
Modern SEO may seem harder to do than that “good-old” optimization from the early 2000s. Google puts a lot efforts to help users finding the best content and makes it harder for brands to push their content higher. But it’s not impossible to get to the Top of SERP, if you also put some effort into your keyword research, content writing, backlinks earning and overall website improvements.