It might seem like the SEO landscape is constantly changing with sporadic updates from search engines which give business owners the impression that it’s difficult to keep up. I often hear SEO described as a ‘dark art’, but the reality is, SEO has never been easier. The fact remains if you do the right things in the right order, these updates shouldn’t affect your SEO performance.
So, what are these best SEO principles and which should you be focusing on in 2023?
- Optimise Your Website
It’s pointless carrying out typical SEO work in the form of content or links if your website doesn’t meet search engine requirements. Making sure your website loads quickly, is responsive and is free of technical errors such as broken pages is vital, because these form part of the user experience criteria for search engines.
For example, core web vitals were introduced in 2021 as part of Googles broader Page Experience Update. They provide Google with information about the user experience on each web page based on three key metrics:
- The speed at which the webpage loads
- How the page responds to interaction with the visitor
- The time needed for the page to become stable
So, page load time doesn’t just impact user experience, it’s a ranking factor and can affect your SEO. Additionally, if a page loads too slowly, users are unlikely to stick around, increasing your bounce rate. Large files such as images can impact speed and reducing the size of specific elements of your site can help. The person that maintains your website should be able to help.
There’s many different factors that affect the optimisation score of your website, far too many to cover here, but if you want to find out more then take a look at our onsite SEO guide.
- Write Quality Original Content
Google still evaluates content based on their EAT algorithm rolled out in 2018, which looks at three factors – Expertise, Authority and Trust. These measures are within Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Therefore, it’s important to offer quality content that is original, comprehensive, and has a long shelf life.
Create content that people will find interesting and useful and will want to share amongst their peers. Original content shows the audience that you’re a thought leader in your marketplace and encourages them to build a relationship with you. What’s more, search engine algorithms are designed to detect unique content. Those who practice good SEO and publish trustworthy original content are likely to see an increase in traffic.
Ideally, your content should be comprehensive, and therefore answer everything a user might want to know about that topic. Comprehensive page content helps show search engines that you’re an authority.
Finally, evergreen content has long-term value, which will continue to be relevant and generate traffic over a long period. Consider topics that will bring long-term value to your readers without needing significant updates, avoiding seasonal, topical, or time-sensitive stories.
- Target Relevant Keywords
The reality is, if you want to start writing quality content, you should have a good idea of what your targets keywords are. If you know how to use keywords effectively, you can develop content that attracts more people to your website. Keyword research is still the foundation of any good SEO strategy, and we don’t see this changing any time soon.
The first step is to identify the primary and secondary keywords for your webpages. Understanding what customers are searching for is key, a great way to do this is to look at what keywords your competitors are ranking for by carrying out some searches yourself on search engines.
Your primary keyword is the main focus of your content. You need to pick one primary keyword per page, and some closely related variations. These should be relevant to the subject of the page as well as your company’s products and services. Your primary keyword should be included in the page title, description and usually within the URL. The person that maintains your website should be able to make these updates for you.
These days Google takes a more local first approach when ranking search results. Therefore, local keywords are also critical if you’re a service business operating in a specific geographical area.
Geo-targeted keywords simply involve adding local placenames, towns or cities to the keywords you already use, and directing users to a location specific landing page.
- Format Your Content
In recent years Google has placed AI at the heart of its value proposition. With the influence of AI, its search engine is now better able to pinpoint what users are seeking and which results will best fulfil their search intent. It’s more important in 2023 than ever before to understand search intent and make sure you’re answering the search queries your audience is asking.
One way to do this is to target featured snippets, known as position 0. Featured snippets are highly sought after and appear at the top of the search results page on Google (before the organic listings). They’re designed to answer a user’s question without requiring them to leave the page. They’re highly visible, helpful, and likely to attract organic traffic since they appear before numbered results.
To win one, you need to optimise your content to target them. To get an idea of how to edit your content, look at what type of content is currently featured and how it’s formatted.
In the past year there has been a sharp increase in the use of applications like Google Now, Cortana, and Siri to perform queries in search engines. This means that people are now asking more direct questions, which places even more emphasis on answering user-specific questions instead of generalising.
Make sure your content both asks and answers the target question in the snippet as clearly and concisely as possible. Studies show that a piece of content that also asks a question is more likely to win a featured snippet1.
Having said all of this, its mindful to be aware of zero click searches, whereby the user gets the information without clicking through to a website. I’ll write more about this in the coming weeks.
- Optimise Your Page Title and Meta Description
An oldie but still a goodie when it comes to SEO.
In the last few years, Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) have become dominated by adverts, featured snippets and place listings, making it harder to be seen, even if you’re position 1 organically.
Your page title and meta description might be the first thing your audience ever sees and is important in determining whether the user clicks on your page. Whilst this is not a ranking factor, a good meta description will improve click-through-rate (which is a direct ranking factor!).
That’s a lot of power for so few words, so make sure they’re impactful. Here are a few tips to remember:
- Keep your page title between 50 and 60 characters (approx. 560 pixels)
- Keep your meta description under 155 characters (approx. 1,000 pixels)
- Include your target keyword
- Communicate what your page is about and what makes it unique
- Make sure your title and meta description are unique for every page
- Use Short, Descriptive URLs
Improving your URL structure can significantly impact your on-page SEO with relatively little effort. A clean URL can help search engines understand your page and gives you a more user-friendly appearance in the results.
An effective URL should:
- Be easy to understand
- Include your primary keyword
- Be short – shorter URLs (under 70 characters) are preferable
Last year Google Search Central released a video titled ‘Do URL structure changes affect SEO?’. In the video they explained that it can take a few months for Google to recognise a URL change and changes should be made cautiously to avoid drops or spikes in traffic. Always ensure old URLs are redirected to new ones and monitor the performance of pages before and after.
- Generate High Authority Backlinks
As we all know, the golden age of high-volume link building has been over for some time. Whilst links are still a critical ranking factor, as has been the case for many years, it’s more about quality over quantity. The best way to think about a link is like a recommendation, the higher the authority of the website giving the link, the more likely search engines like Google will believe your content must be of importance. This is because your content is being linked to by a website that it knows and trusts already.
There’s lots of different ways you can generate links, far too many to cover here, but rest assured backlinks will still play a massive part in the success of SEO campaigns for years to come.
To learn more about how SEO can help your business grow, download our free guide ‘Everything You Need to Know About SEO for Small to Medium Sized Businesses.’ or contact firstname.lastname@example.org