Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a peculiar animal, always changing, always evolving, always elusive. Everyone wants to know the magic formula to getting their site ranked on Google’s first page for their particular keyword or business niche. A Google search of the title chosen for this article generated over 117,000,000 results. SEO managers and aficionados often profess to have a love-hate relationship with SEO similar to Joan Jett’s popular problem with her lover (“I hate myself for loving you…”). SEO is confusing, addicting, and absolutely vital to driving business to your website.
Let’s face it here at the beginning: we will never reach perfection in our SEO. It is virtually impossible to know all the factors that affect a site’s ranking and traffic behavior. Knowing this allows us to adjust our aim from perfection to shortening our “distance from perfect.” That is a great term coined by Ian Lurie, CEO at Portent, an internet marketing agency. We cannot ascertain with any degree of accuracy the “magic bullet” for every aspect of SEO, but we can determine how distant or close our site is from the ideals that search algorithms strive to find.
In spite of some naysayers’ spin on this topic, content is still king regarding SEO rankings. Even Google has affirmed that the number one SEO ranking factor is content. And why not? Content is the currency of the online marketing realm. When you provide quality, relevant content of great value to users, they return to your site again and again, and Google takes notice. Therefore, pay attention to producing top-notch content that users will pause to read, watch, and act upon, something they cannot find elsewhere on the web. Always write to benefit consumers, not to please Google.
Keyword research and usage is a key element of producing great content that is also searchable and ranks high enough to be found and used by consumers. When writing to a particular topic, research what keywords and key phrases are used most by top-ranking pages on similar topics. Use words and phrases that consumers use most when searching for a particular topic. While your topic may be ‘melanoma’, consumers may be searching for ‘ways to avoid skin cancer’ or other, simpler phrases.
Search engines also love new, or fresh, content. Sites with regular updates stand a much better chance of achieving high rankings than those with only occasional or sporadic updates. This doesn’t mean that daily updates gain higher rankings, but it does mean that providing fresh content on a regular basis is a plus. Also, content that relates to events or topics that are suddenly very popular can enjoy a boost because of something Google terms Query Deserved Freshness (QDF). When something happens that garners lots of searches, and your site produces content relevant to that topic, Google will boost that content ranking so searchers can find it.
Google has also affirmed that links to your site from other sites are a top factor that affects rankings. However, quality is also a factor here. It’s not just a matter of having lots of links pointing to your site, but who is pointing to your site. For example, 1000 links to your site from 5 sites is not the same as 1000 links from 1000 sites. Also, 25 links from reputable, high-ranking sites and/or sites in your particular niche count more than 1000 links from questionable sites or blogs.
The words within a link – link text or “anchor text” – are also important. This is how search engines determine how one website describes another. Accurate descriptions of your site and its content within incoming links is a factor that counts toward higher rankings. For instance, if your site is about pools and spas, an incoming link with the text ‘water’ is not as helpful as one reading ‘swimming pools’ or other relevant words. Very often, you cannot control the words others use when linking to your site, but when those opportunities arise, capitalize on them by suggesting accurate text.
Quality backlinks take time to obtain. Don’t be tempted to use spamming software or linkbaiting campaigns to generate lots of links in a short amount of time. Search engines detect these kinds of tactics and penalize those sites accordingly. Top sites that share top content gain top-quality backlinks.
This is not another new algorithm that Google uses to determine site rankings, but a machine-learning artificial intelligence that Google has been using to process a “very large fraction” of search results each day. Basically, RankBrain uses AI to translate searches into mathematical data the computer can understand, so that Google algorithms can filter and produce results that are better-tailored to the user’s search. This improves the overall search process, but especially for never-before-seen search queries. In short, RankBrain is mainly used to interpret the searches users submit to find pages that may not have the exact words contained in the original search query.
Google admits to having hundreds of ranking signals that factor into a site’s overall ranking in search results, and these can have literally thousands of variations. With content and backlinks being established as the top two, top analysts are claiming that RankBrain is now the number three ranking factor. If so, in addition to great content that contains accurate and popular keywords, and large numbers of quality backlinks, your site pages should also be optimized with related secondary keywords that can help Google (or RankBrain) connect users to your content.
So, does this mean there is now a RankBrain score for webpages? According to a great write-up concerning RankBrain at Search Engine Land, it is likely that RankBrain is helping Google classify pages based on content and quality in a better and more usable fashion. Basically, it uses artificial intelligence to learn how to better summarize pages in order for Google to help users find them when using long-tail or complicated searches. According to the article linked above, Google is only admitting there is a ranking component involved, and nothing more.
Getting to the Top
To summarize, getting to the first page of Google searches for keywords relating to your business requires consistent refinements. There is no magic bullet, no secret formula, and no single expert who holds the key. Anyone can achieve top rankings by consistently producing quality content that causes users to link back to their site, and by using simple and popular keywords and phrases in their content to help searchers find it.
It is important to remember that there are hundreds of other ranking factors that Google and other search engines consider. There are technical aspects such as page loading speed and image labels that have a bearing on rankings. Page titles and descriptions are important. Making it easy for users to share your pages makes a difference. Getting to the first page of Google is a process containing numerous interconnecting factors. Consistent refinements over time will eventually see your pages ranked at the top where most searchers look.