With 53% of website traffic attributed to organic search and nearly 30% of searchers clicking on the first organic search result, effective SEO is critical. “Marketers need to be more competitive than ever,” said Will Chou, senior digital marketing growth specialist at WebMechanix, a digital marketing agency based in Columbia, MD. Optimizing your website is no longer simply about metadata and keyword strategy; instead, marketers need to focus on the entire user experience, from content to technical performance to design.
User Experience Focus
“Google is trying to see if a page meets a user’s need,” explained Chou. “It’s not about trying to game the system by adding tons of keywords and links. Think about what users are looking for and build each page to meet those needs.” Chou emphasized that Google’s new ranking algorithm is content-driven. “It’s more about quality of content than ever before.”
Chou noted that Google has become “more advanced in interpreting keywords. It’s more about the natural implications of text,” with Google now penalizing sites that use the same keywords and phrases repeatedly. Known as keyword stuffing, this practice can negatively affect your users’ experience and results in a lower ranking. Websites should create content with a focus on interest and value to the user. Keywords should be used but in context. It should not sound unnatural to the reader.
Interactive content has traditionally been a boost to a site’s ranking, but Chou emphasized that the SEO benefit depends on how users respond: “Are they getting their questions answered or are they just clicking off?” Quizzes, calculators, interactive maps and infographics need to engage the user by providing value.
“Links are still a huge player,” said Chou, but he emphasized quality: websites with recognition in your industry. External links (from another site to yours) can improve your ranking as long as the site linking to yours is credible and relevant to your business. Creating high-quality, trustworthy content is key: the more valuable your content, the more your peers will want to link to it.
With users concentrating on the first few results, Chou advised that ranking on the first page, ideally in first or second position, should be the goal. To accomplish this, he recommended targeting long-tail keywords – phrases of at least 3 words that are more specific to what your user is searching. Generally, long-tail keywords have lower search volume than short-tail keywords but result in higher conversion rates due to less competition. While short-tail keywords may help with brand recognition, they may not lead to a final sale or conversion. “Use keywords that target your desired customers,” said Chou.
Core Web Vitals
In 2021, Google will incorporate Core Web Vitals – site performance metrics tied to user experience – into its algorithm. Page loading speed, interactivity (how long it takes a page to be ready for a user to click) and visual stability (content should not shift during loading) will be graded and help determine rankings. Google has not yet announced when it will officially begin using these factors to rank sites and plans to give six months’ notice of the change, but organizations should begin preparing. Google now includes information on Core Web Vitals as part of its Search Console reports, so organizations can see how their site performs according to the new criteria and make any necessary adjustments.
To score well in these areas, Chou recommended clean, readable pages – white background, not more than one pop-up or slide-in box per page – with a clean design and easy-to-read fonts (18-point is a good size). Websites should also be mobile-friendly (Google offers a test) and provide secure data transmission via HTTPS.
Interested in learning more about search trends? Check out our post, “Alexa, What are the Trends in Voice Search Marketing?”