The nature of search engine optimization has changed dramatically in the last few years. Google is the largest search engine in the world and has shaped how many SEO professionals approach website optimization. There are many technical aspects of your website that need to be considered as you optimize Google in the hopes that large amounts of traffic can be found.
In this article we will go through several major technical SEO categories that will need your attention as you optimize your website.
The worlds of technical SEO optimization and content marketing are colliding. It used to be that technical SEO was confined to activities like H1 and title tags. While these are certainly still important, because Google does pay attention to them, they need to fit into an overall content strategy that will produce profitable rankings.
Many years ago the strategy was to build one page per keyword and then optimize the various technical components for that keyword. There was a fairly simple formula that would produce a large number of pages, each ranking and bringing traffic from that keyword.
In fact, Google analytics used to show the keyword that searchers used in those days. However that all changed when Google dropped keyword data from analytics and started to show the vast majority of traffic as “not provided.”
Over the last few years we’ve seen even more dramatic changes in on-site content strategies. Google has started to favor much longer form content and SEOs have picked up on this trend. If you look at any of the top-ranking content in Google, you will likely see at least 900 words per post for a position 1 ranking.
Great Value On Every Page
As you develop a content strategy, think in terms of clusters of keywords and the searcher intent behind those keywords. Try to design a page that will be extremely useful for a user that might come in on one of 50 different keywords. Keyword research tools are very helpful during this process as they will show what keyword variations are likely to be used together.
The notion of co-occurrence, often mislabeled as latent semantic indexing (LSI), is still alive and well in the Google algorithm according to most SEO experts. In very simple terms, this means that Google likes to see pages with many different keywords that have very similar meaning. This is a very natural way to use language, and is most helpful to users. Most of our brains think this way naturally so not too much attention will need to be paid to this. However, it is often helpful to peruse a list of keywords that are closely related before you start writing content as it primes the brain and activates different linguistic spaces.
No Thin content
Another major change in Google’s preferences relates to thin content. While it was very popular 10 years ago to have massive, often database-driven websites with thin content on most of the pages, this trend has shifted significantly.
Google now favors deep content that is very useful to users and has been actively discounting thin pages that are easy to create. For this reason you’ve seen many smaller websites with very deep content compete very successfully against very large websites with thin contact.
Practically speaking, this means that your ratio of content production to content promotion will probably need to shift. If you have been doing SEO for a while, you are probably in the habit of producing content very frequently and putting medium (or maybe small) amounts of promotional effort into that content.
Most SEO experts now recommend a ratio of 30% content production to 70% content promotion to be successful in the rankings. The 30% will pay attention to many of the on-site SEO tactics we are discussing this article. The 70% will be overwhelmingly devoted to getting backlinks, likes, and shares to your content.
Some aspects of technical SEO remain the same as they were 10 years ago. If you build a website that the spiders simply can’t crawl, you will have a hard time gleaning large amounts of traffic from the search engines.
Obviously all of your content needs to be crawlable, which means it’s also findable by human audiences. Many SEOs like to create multiple paths to content so that both humans and spiders discover the newest words on the website quickly.
Many people use WordPress, as well as strategic placement of widgets, to accomplish this. Standard widgets include archives, categories, posting history, and other code snippets that rapidly create links to the newest content on the site.
However, we’ve also seen a move towards less cluttered pages recently as increased competition has forced web designers to focus more on usability. It is typical in a highly ranked piece of content to see no sidebar at all. Many UX experts believe this makes for a cleaner, less cluttered experience for the user.
Following the latest UX thinking will keep your bounce rate – that is, the rate at which people leave a landing page on your site without engaging – as low as possible. Some believe Google is using bounce rates in their algorithms and favoring pages with lower bounce rates.
Even if Google is not able to access bounce rate data reliably, it is important that users want to stay on your website. Again, bring focus to creating an enjoyable experience.
Nothing frustrates users more than a slowly loading website. Take site speed very seriously and run your website through one of the many free testing tools available. It is amazing how many business owners will resist the relatively modest cost of high powered hosting solution and then find frustration with their marketing when the website is not meeting expectations. Spend the money for good hosting and test your load times frequently.
There used to be great debates about which navigation structures were the best for Google’s spiders. Most people agree you want a relatively simple navigation structure without too many levels.
Again, the rule of thumb seems to be that all content is available within three hops. Multiple paths, clean URLs, and a shallow navigation structure will help make this a reality for your website.
Security with SSL
Finally, there has been a big push over the last year toward SSL secured websites. A secure website with https in the URL gives users the peace of mind that you are who you say you are. Google has explicitly announced this as a ranking factor and nobody doubts that internet security concerns are rising and will continue to rise in the future.
Similar to hosting cost, it is surprising that business owners would resist this modest expense to ensure a secure experience for users. Don’t make this easy mistake.
The nature of technical SEO has changed dramatically as content marketing has become a much more important strategy. We are witnessing the merging of technical web development and user experience design thinking as more people strive for the top position in Google organic search results.
As you complete your technical SEO checklist, be sure that your content creation and keyword research thinking is modern. Design long-form pages that will use many keywords, but focus first on being valuable to the end user. Spend more time on content production but also recognize that if you are not willing to promote, you’re not likely to get results.
Lastly, make sure load time, security, navigation structure, and the other basic elements of on-site SEO are buttoned up. Your competition certainly has already done these things.