Having recently got first page and some number 1 slots on Google for a variety of keywords (in at least 4 languages), I thought I’d jot down a few notes:
Content is King.
Google and other search engines want to direct their users to the best content available, that’s their job, that’s the value they provide to their audience. So to achieve long term ranking, provide the best content possible.
Producing the most interesting content in the world on your subject is not trivial and will not automatically shoot your website to top position, but without it, other marketing efforts may not achieve good results.
A few tips on content:
- Pictures are almost essential to attract attention. Label them so search engines can also index them.
- Videos are even better
- Tag and label everything:
- use appropriate filenames for your media before uploading
- use appropriate links and slugs – which of these is likely to be more useful as a link?
– the second one is “my interesting article” in chinese and url-encoded just to show what happens with ‘special’ characters in links: a human-readable link is better and also likely to be indexable by search engines
- Avoid changing links: search engines don’t want to send visitors to dead links – if you change the link, assume you have lost all your link ranking, and where feasible set up a redirection from the old link to the new link.
- Text: there are various tools that can help here: the popular Yoast tools help with keyword and content analysis even including the Flesch Reading Ease test and other tips on use of grammar for easy reading.
It’s very easy to publish something at the wrong link or missing the featured image or hashtags etc resulting in a substandard social media publication and potentially SEO expensive corrections to links.
So as a guide, enforce a review stage in the publication workflow and always check before publication:
- Title – A short phrase containing main keyword, for search engines and links
- Permalink/Slug – a **short** understandable [indexable] version of the title without chinese or special characters.
- Category – make sure your posts are categorised: the primary category may be part of the url and categories may also be used as a #hashtag for social networks
- Tags – used as link/pages within the site and also #hashtag for social networks, please use existing tags where possible and be careful about creating too many duplicates as these lose their usefulness if they don’t link items together
- Featured Image – most publications and shares will take the featured image from the page, make sure it has one.
- Image captions/titles/alt – search engines index images now as well, so help them by adding appropriate texts – as well as helping screen readers etc as good practice.
- Excerpt/snippet – check the article summary snippet makes sense and edit it if not. This will be used by search engines and some social media: in fact why not make the first sentence of your article also a good summary. This helps both the reader and the search engine, and really its just annoying if the excerpt doesn’t match up with the article.
Correct metadata on your page allows search engines and social media tools to easily locate and index relevant information such as author, date, title, product information. Luckily tools like WordPress and WooCommerce do this for you, and Google webmasters tools reports on schema objects found and any problems:
The Google Structured Data testing tool analyses any page to show further detail of all the markup found on the page and any issues.
Facebook uses tags in the header rather than markup in the body – see opengraph documentation – numerous tools are available including Yoast to help output this for you. To test the results use Facebook Sharing debugger and related links.
Point of attention:
- Custom themes may change the markup or produce invalid markup so need special testing.
- Custom post or product type extensions may need both markup and opengraph added.
Focus your efforts
Prioritise optimization efforts, use the 80-20 rule and consider what are the key points which will give the maximum benefit:
- Google has about 77% market share globally, so unless you are specifically targeting China or Russia or other market where Google and Facebook are not dominant, you should focus on Google and Facebook. If you are targeting China, get specialist help.
- The same applies for performance optimization (below) – it’s a never ending task with diminishing returns, make sure the basics are done first.
One of the classic ways to get more visibility is link sharing. Google originally worked primarily from calculating the popularity of a site based on the number of links to that site and this is still a main factor.
A few tips here:
- Repost content from your site, especially to Pinterest and Google-owned sites such as Google Plus itself, Blogger, YouTube – Google at least appears to give more ranking to it’s own sites..
- Participate in communities and grow your own: if the communities are hosted on your site or at least mention your site in your staff profiles etc, that all helps
- Share yourself: publish to own brand social media accounts – several tools do to this the simplest using RSS: check your RSS feeds are useful and consider customizing them to ensure images and hashtags can be included.
- Google webmasters tools and your own server logs can help you analyze what is linking to you. Bear in mind that links from Facebook, Wikipedia etc are not counted.
Advertising and Paid SEO
There are various forms of advertising and paid SEO, some of them above board and others frankly cheating. Observations:
- unless your content is good enough to attract interest and a high conversion rate, advertising outlay is unlikely to attract a return. Well targeted adverts may cost up to 0.5USD per click which can add up quickly.
- adverts are not always well targeted, and even if targeted may still appear in odd and even unsavoury contexts.
- when paying for advertising or articles on someone else’s site consider the effect of the additional level of indirection on the compound conversion rate: they may have millions of followers on Twitter, but if 0.1% of those click through to their site and 1% of those click through to your site, and 1% of those actually buy something then the effective conversion rate may be 0.1%*1%*1% or 1 conversion per 10 million twitter followers…
- Don’t cheat. Yes there are lots of agencies offering to sell you followers, placements, reviews etc and these may help in the short term but also risk damaging your reputation (and reputation with Google) in the long term: Google is looking for good content that is genuinely shared and algorithms are continually tweaked to remove or penalize sites that copy content or otherwise attempt to game the system.
The business leader is the image of the company or can be. Think Richard Branson or Jeff Weiner’s astonishingly active commentary on LinkedIn.
Encourage your leaders to take the lead in representing and promoting their company through their own image: this is virtually free publicity.
Google now factors mobile usability into search results ranking. Tips for this:
- Update your software: most modern frameworks (including wordpress/woocommerce) have built-in mobile usability but if you have old software or an old/custom design you should check this.
You may also consider a separate mobile or Google AMP version of the site: however as software compatibility improves and mobile screen resolution and bandwidth increases a separate site may be unnecessary cost.
- Google Webmaster tools includes a Mobile usability report which lists any problems detected
- Size of pages is a factor: mobiles may have reduced network bandwidth, so if your page has large hi-res images and videos it’s unlikely to be ranked highly for mobile use.
- Speed of response is also a factor as per next section.
Google doesn’t want to recommend sites that hang when people try to visit them, so website performance is now a factor in SEO ranking.
Target ½ second page download time when everything is running smoothly, that way when real world problems occur an real world average of say 1second can be maintained.
There are lots of different tools for testing and reporting on website performance issues – gtmetrix is a good example – just be aware that technical results can be very comprehensive and detailed and what actually matters is real and user perceived performance. A good indicator can be seen in the Crawl Stats from Google Search Console:
In this example cached pages are served up in 0.5s, uncached pages around 1s, or more during problem periods.
The biggest simple impacts on performance are:
- Caching: complete page output caching allows dynamic pages to be served as static files which gives the most dramatic increase in both performance and scalability. For WordPress that might mean using WP Super Cache or equivalent.
[Caching may not always be on, there are times you need to clear the cache for updates etc, so speed up dynamic pages too with additional caching, faster servers, more memory for database cache, code optimization etc, all this should be done too but using static pages will give the most immediate cost-benefit.]
- http2: not a complete solution by itself, but http2 does make a big difference.
- PHP7: if you are using php, be sure to use PHP7.
- CDN: use a Content Distribution Network to offload requests from the server, such as Cloudflare, with reservations.