Back in the good old days if you were blogging and using a focus keyword that was 90% of the battle, but now it’s more like 10%.
What changed? A lot.
Google got smarter, their success as a search engine depends on the quality of results they return for any given question so you can bet they’re paying close attention to the quality of your website when it comes to determining how to rank it.
Website optimization can be an intimidating subject. We’ve covered a lot of the SEO basics on our site however, we have not talked too much about how to structure your website to make it stand out as Google and other search engines analyze it. Here’s our complete guide on website optimization to ensure your content is recognized and ranked by Google.
If you rely on blogging as a core component of your marketing strategy or are just starting out, these tips will be helpful to you.
Ranking factors for your website
Before diving into content-specific optimization, we will start by going over some general Google ranking factors for your entire site. These are broad strokes that Google cares about when it comes to determining whether your website is high quality or should be banished to the 10th page of search results.
These factors may sound obvious, but everyone can use a reminder of the basic facts before going into more technical aspects of site optimization.
Make sure your site is well-structured
Google cares a lot about the accessibility and architecture of your website. What do we mean by accessibility?
- Having a sitemap
- Having a robots.txt
- Ensuring your site is structured clearly and has a hierarchy for pages and blog posts
This all sounds super technical but don’t worry! If you are using a standard website builder like WordPress, HubSpot, SquareSpace or Wix then these are all provided for you out of the box.
In terms of architecture, creating a clean website with organized subcategories will help Google understand who you are and the topics you want to cover in your blog. Here’s a helpful graphic from Google’s support page on a good site architecture for a website that sells baseball cards:
The navigation of a website is important in helping your site visitors quickly find the content they want – but it also helps search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important.
Make sure your site is fast
Google rewards websites that improve user’s experiences on the web. Slow-loading websites lead to frustration, but if you site is faster than your competitors it makes for a better experience, and therefore better rank.
Google even officially announced that as of 2021 page experience is going to be a ranking factor.
However, you might be wondering how can I tell the speed of my website? Google has a free tool PageSpeed Insights that allows you to enter any URL from your site to see how well it loads and what you can do to improve it. Some of the suggestions can be pretty technical though and are something you’d want your web developer to implement as a heads up.
Monitor inbound links
Inbound links, also called backlinks, are all hyperlinks that direct users to your page from elsewhere on the internet.
This ranking factor is important for site optimization because the more websites link to your content, the more Google is going to realize that people trust your content and expertise on a topic. One way to strengthen your inbound links is to talk to customers or business partners in your area of knowledge to link to each other.
Make sure you are an authority
We’ve written on the EAT principle before – EAT is an acronym for ‘Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness’ and it matters a great deal when it comes to your rank.
Google also values the authority of your voice on topics. Remember their job is to show the best content to answer the questions that get typed into your search box.
If you blog repeatedly about one topic – and create quality content on your blog – Google will see that you are an expert on it. The more frequently you blog on a topic, the greater your SERP ranking will be.
Technical ranking factors for your content
Technical ranking factors are the hidden elements of your pages that Google really cares about. Things like titles, meta descriptions, and more that clue Google into what your content is about and where it should rank.
Write unique and descriptive page titles
The title may be one of the most critical ranking factors for each of your pages. It tells your site visitors, and Google, what your content is all about and it is also what someone sees when your article appears in a Google search.
A well-crafted and clear title is critical to how well the content is understood and ranks as a result.
Google search results allow for 60 characters, so a good SEO title will aim to be under 60 characters otherwise it gets cut off. Yes you can change things up with a more flashy/eye-catching title to rack up those social shares, but a best practice to fall back on is 60 characters of fewer. A balance between brevity but eye-catching is an important goal to set for your team.
It’s also important to think about the keyword your content is focused on. What are the current ranking sites for that keyword? How do they use it in the page title? These are important questions to answer as you optimize your content and try to rank as well as stand out from the rest of the pack.
Write engaging and unique meta descriptions
The meta description appears under your article’s URL in a search engines result page.
Many website platforms allow you to set a meta description/preview text for your content. This brief text summarizes the contents of your article. Typically, your meta description will also include your keyword to optimize your site for peak performance.
Your meta description should contain a valuable insight from your post that entices the reader to click on your article. Meta descriptions can assist with your click-through rate and the perception of the quality of your entire website. A meta description is typically less than 155 characters as this is the max character count that Google shows in search results before cutting it off.
Leverage structured data
Structured data is code that you can add to your sites’ pages to describe your content to search engines, so they can better understand what’s on your pages. Google analyzes millions upon millions of pages each day, primarily looking at the actual text of the page though structured data is also extremely helpful.
Structured data is also helpful in influencing what actually shows in the Google search result for your page – things like reviews, prices, operating hours, dates of an event, anything that are relevant:
For example, if you’ve got an online store and mark up an individual product page, this helps Google understand that the page features a bike, its price, and customer reviews.
Keep your URLs simple
Ever see a url that ends in 102008.html or something weird? Don’t do that.
Keep your URLs as simple and human-readable as possible. This goes ensures your site is easy to navigate for visitors, as well as Google.
If you have a blog with a series of posts, make the URL something simple like the /title-of-your-post rather than a series of numbers or characters. The URL is displayed in search results so having something that is easy to read and understand goes a long way towards encouraging potential visitors to click through to your site rather than pass it by.
Include image alt text for accessibility
You should always use images in your content, a thing most people forget though is setting alt text for their images.
Image alt text is a way for Google to crawl an image on your post in the same way that Google crawls the text of the post itself. Alt text is a bit of text that appears if the image fails to load, or for screen readers to relay to a site visitor (such as if your visitor is visually impaired). It goes a long way towards accessibility as well as telling Google what the content of the image is.
Ranking factors to ensure content quality
Site optimization isn’t all technical though, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when reviewing or creating content.
It used to be that 300-500 words was enough to rank, but we’re starting to see that this simply isn’t the case anymore.
Google has said that word count is not a ranking factor, as a higher word count does not intrinsically mean that the content is better than other content that already ranks. That said, studies have shown that longer content performs better as longer content leads to more links, and more links do impact your ranking.
Writing blog posts ranging from 800-1000 words or more shows other people that you have a lot of valuable insights to make on a topic – and as a result Google will notice that. Obviously, you will want to think of a blog topic that is not too brief that you can discuss it in less than 800 words but not long enough that you will lose the interest of the reader or require an eBook to cover the topic adequately.
Use headings to break up text
Beyond word count, content quality also has to do with the structure of your post.
Returning to what we discussed before about website architecture, a blog post should contain one h1 heading, usually reserved for the title of the post, as well as h2 headings to break up content into sections. The last thing people want to read is a massive wall of text. Break up your content so that site visitors stick around rather than bounce off your site to read something else.
Structuring your website in this way allows your website to be crawled more easily and provides a service to your audience. By breaking up the flow of your written text, your audience will digest and remember the information.
Beyond headers, you could also consider using bullet points, numbered lists, images and links to other articles related to the topic.
Use a focus keyword, but not too much
It’s important to have a focus keyword in mind but remember to avoid a trap known as “keyword stuffing.”
Using a keyword repeatedly in the post, i.e. greater than 3% of the time, will work against your goal of optimizing your site for Google. However, this fact does not mean that keyword research is unimportant. On the contrary, keyword research is one of the most important components of SEO. Selecting the right keyword is valuable because it is what you expect someone to be searching for when they look for your latest blog post.
While keyword research is a topic unto itself, one last tip regarding keyword research is to consider your intent behind using a certain keyword. For example, beyond simply predicting what your audience might search for when they look for your blog post think about the ways in which a keyword unlocks the potential to discuss more aspects of the word itself.
Avoiding keyword stuffing can be achieved if your topic is broad enough that you can discuss its various components. For example, this article described site optimization but as you can see this topic is broad enough that we must discuss it in its entirety!
Start improving your rank today
As you can see optimizing your site for Google can be a laborious process with many important steps to remember.
Devoting energy to this effort is worth it if you want to become an industry leader and start outranking your competitors. If you’re still intimidated though don’t worry – download our free ebook, The Ultimate Guide to SEO for a complete walkthrough of some SEO basics and how to start improving your rank.