Outperform the competition by addressing Google’s key factors in determining search results. Here are eight ‘white hat’ ways to do it.
Stuck in a cycle of optimizations that don’t move the needle?
This post reveals white hat techniques that can potentially double, triple, or even 10x your traffic from organic search.
The Google system for ranking websites incorporates a series of algorithms designed to give the “best” results.
These algorithms take into consideration many factors, including the words in a query, relevance, page usability, source expertise, geo-location, and settings.
Furthermore, the weighting of these factors is dependent on the nature of a query.
For current topics, freshness carries a lot of weight.
For a dictionary type definition, the page trust and authority play a larger role.
To ensure the algorithms are functioning as intended, Google employs an army of Quality Raters.
They follow strict guidelines developed by Google to ensure the algorithm output matches the standards established for Page Quality and Needs Met. These guidelines are a must-read for anyone serious about building a top-performing website.
According to Google, their search algorithm looks at five key factors in determining which results appear at the top of their search results:
Meaning of your query.
Relevance of webpages.
Quality of content.
Usability of webpages.
Context and settings.
By addressing these five factors, you will be putting yourself in a position to outperform the competition. Here are some specific tips on how to do it:
1. Mobile First
I first began promoting a “mobile-first” approach to SEO back in March of 2015, after dubbing Google’s pending mobile update “mobilegeddon.”
The name caught on, but on April 21, 2015, the update didn’t create as big an upheaval as expected at the time.
It did, however, put everyone on notice, that mobile was here and no longer “the future.” Those who did not heed the warning to go mobile later paid the price.
Today, Google is all-in on mobile.
If you aren’t certain as to whether your website meets the criteria for being mobile-friendly, log in to your Search Console account and view the Mobile Usability Report.
Google will report mobile issues there, so you can take the appropriate actions to come into compliance.
2. Claim Your Business Listing
Google Business Profile, formerly known as Google My Business, is a free business listing.
Business Profiles show up in Google Search, Google Maps, and Google Shopping. If your business has a physical location or travels to customers, you can create a Business Profile on Google.
Top 5 Google Business Profile Benefits
It’s FREE advertising – cheaper than paid search and faster than SEO.
Google Maps/3-Pack favors geographically relevant businesses.
An optimized profile makes a good first impression.
A good star rating builds trust and provides social proof.
The ability to check profile performance & gain insights.
As Google continues to improve its ability to deliver hyper-local results, it is critically important to have complete and accurate data in one’s Google Business Profile.
This continues to be an easy win, as many businesses have yet to even claim their listing.
3. Improve Your Page Experience
Google’s page experience is defined by a set of signals which are designed to measure how users react to a webpage. This measurement goes beyond basic information value.
It utilizes Core Web Vitals, a set of metrics that measure page loading performance, interactivity, and visual stability, as well as mobile-friendliness, HTTPS, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.
How Does Page Experience Affect Rankings?
In cases where several pages may satisfy the search criteria for relevance, page experience carries more weight.
A page that delivers sought-after information still trumps a page with less relevance, but a better page experience.
In short, page experience can be the SERP tiebreaker.
4. Focus On User Experience (UX)
Google has always encouraged webmasters to make their primary focus one of providing a good user experience.
As the algorithm gets “smarter,” websites that do so are positioned to benefit the most. A good user experience goes much deeper than writing clean code.
According to this study from the Oxford Journal, “The goal of UX design in business is to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty through the utility, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interaction with a product.”
For our purposes, your website is the product. The objective is to first determine a user’s intent, then develop a methodology for smooth navigation – a methodology that evokes a positive emotion and leads to an overall good experience.
Incorporating UX best practices is easy. The web is filled with templates and advice.
What separates the pros from the amateurs is A/B testing.
Each one of us has our own biases that will influence how a webpage is constructed.
By running a series of experiments, you will be able to quantify what is working, and what isn’t, and continue testing until you get it right.
5. Do Your Keyword Research
That’s right – keyword research is still important.
With Google providing less keyword data, third parties like Ahrefs and Semrush have developed their own keyword tools to fill the void.
However, the way that one goes about performing and using the results from keyword research has changed, thanks to RankBrain and BERT.
At its core, RankBrain is machine learning. This allows Google to put things in context rather than rely solely on strings of metadata. Google now understands language nuances like stemming, synonyms, and answers.
BERT is an acronym for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers.
The primary goal is to deliver better search results for longer and more conversational searches where prepositions like “for” and “to” affect the context of a query.
At the time of launch in October 2019, Google projected that BERT would impact 10% of all searches in the United States.
The new generation of keyword tools takes this into consideration by generating relevant data like Parent Topics, Keyword Groups, and Search Intent.
Armed with this information, users can develop contextually relevant content.
6. Have A Well-Rounded Content Marketing Plan
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 51% of all respondents report that it’s more difficult to capture the audience’s attention today than it was just a year ago.
Since content is one of the top Google ranking factors, it’s important to get it right. Once again, this presents a huge opportunity for those willing to invest the time to make that happen.
Everyone talks about creating “great content,” but what does that even mean?
It really comes down to having useful content, finding the right audience, and then reaching that audience.
This doesn’t have to be a difficult exercise. It boils down to having empathy with your prospects and customers. Ann Handley created the following formula to sum it up:
Useful x Enjoyable x Inspired = Innovative Content
Great content comes in many different forms. A well-rounded content marketing plan will include a combination of the following:
7. Pay Attention To On-Page Optimization
Did you know that Google publishes its own Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide? You do now.
Despite its name, this guide is a great resource for everyone looking to maximize their chances of appearing in Google search results.
The guide covers key on-page basics, including the best practices for optimizing:
Additional resources for improving on-page optimization:
Google Search Central Blog
Google Search Central Help Forum
Google Search Central Twitter
Google Search Central YouTube Channel
How Search Works
8. Link Building Supercharges All Other Efforts
The day may come when links are less important to rankings, but that day hasn’t arrived yet. The key is to get the right kinds of links.
Links that have relevance to your site. Links that require a human editorial review. The kinds of links that are earned.
My favorite approach to earning relevant links is to build a resource center. A resource center can work on just about any kind of website. In addition to attracting links, a good resource center helps to build trust and authority.
Learn about this approach and more by downloading Link Building for SEO: A Complete Guide.
The Bottom Line
Organic search is a game of inches. There is no single best way to dominate the SERPs. But it doesn’t need to be overwhelming.
If you just focus on the eight areas presented above, you can double, triple, or even 10x your traffic.