In 2017, Google formally announced several major updates to how it ranks websites in search results, and many other search algorithm changes happened behind the scenes. Each year, Google makes 500-600 algorithm updates, according to Moz. As a result of Google’s updates – and searchers’ changing behaviors and preferences – best practices for website SEO, or search engine optimization, have changed, as well.
Here are five SEO tips to help you improve your website’s search-engine ranking in 2018:
1. Go easy on the ads.
In 2017, Google made it clear that aggressive advertising isn’t a welcome part of the user-friendly experience it is trying to create for searchers. The “Fred” algorithm update in March, although not the only 2017 update to penalize websites employing aggressive advertising and other forms of monetization, penalized aggressive advertisers even more, according to G-Squared Interactive: “Many sites that were aggressively monetizing content at the expense of users got hit hard,” GSQi said.
Another formal update last year focused on mobile searchers’ experiences, penalizing websites that display interstitial ads – pop-ups that come between users and the content they’re trying to view – to mobile users. According to Google, “pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as high” post-update. To avoid advertising-related penalties, ensure that a giant pop-up ad or form to sign up for your list isn’t the first thing your website visitors see, whether they are visiting your website via a PC or via mobile.
2. Don’t depend on meta descriptions.
Google more than doubled the length of snippets – the text that appears underneath your website’s URL on search engine results pages (SERPs) – in 2017, according to publisher consulting firm Mequoda. These snippets, generated from each page’s meta descriptions, are key to convincing searchers to visit your website after they find you on a Google search.
Despite their importance to click-through rates, meta descriptions no longer have a direct impact on search engine rankings, according to Mequoda. In the past, unscrupulous marketers have stuffed meta descriptions with keywords not relevant to their websites to trick search engines into ranking them more highly. In response, Google has downplayed the role of meta descriptions in rankings, favoring instead the copy on the pages themselves. The same thing happened with the “meta keywords” tag years ago. Google’s algorithm will continually adapt to penalize SEO “cheaters,” so if you want to rank high on SERPs in 2018, don’t rely on keyword-packed meta descriptions or other variations of SEO trickery. Instead, find out what your potential customers are searching for, and fill your pages with content they’ll want to read. This will allow relevant keywords to appear naturally.
3. Pay attention to site speed.
Google has been penalizing slow-loading websites for years, and they added a new penalty along these lines just last week. According to Google, this so-called “Speed Update” will target the slowest-loading pages as accessed by mobile users. While loading speed is only one factor considered by Google’s algorithm, slow-loading pages can also increase your bounce rate (the percentage of people who leave your website without visiting more than one page). Since a high bounce rate can negatively impact your Google ranking, long load times can end up hurting your ranking in more ways than one.
Google has stated that for e-commerce sites, pages should load in less than two seconds. If that’s not feasible, though, Google recommends that you simply aim to have pages load “as fast as you reasonably can.” To evaluate how quickly a page will load, use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool, which points out problems and offers suggestions on how to fix them. In some cases, it may be as simple as compressing the largest images on your site, or upgrading your website hosting plan to a dedicated server. (If you’re paying less than $75/month for hosting, you’re probably on a shared server. This means you’re sharing resources with other websites, which could slow speeds.)
4. Start thinking about voice search.
A research study funded by Google found that more than half of U.S. teens and 41 percent of adults use voice search daily. Google also revealed that more than 20 percent of mobile queries in 2016 were voice searches. Google takes this searcher behavior into account when ranking results. According to Search Engine Journal, “There’s strong evidence that voice search optimization is intricately connected to Google’s featured snippets, which occupy the coveted ‘position zero’ in SERPs. In other words, if voice search optimization isn’t already part of your SEO strategy, it’s time to fix that.”
In addition to optimizing for mobile and creating content that answers users’ most common questions, SEJ recommends creating content that answers questions “clearly and concisely.” Put into practice, this may mean creating a page with a common searcher question as the title, a short answer in the first paragraph, and more detail in the following paragraphs and sections.
5. Get access to a decent keyword research tool.
Google’s free Keyword Planner tool (part of its AdWords platform) was once the go-to resource for marketers looking to conduct free keyword research. In 2016, though, Google made it impossible for Keyword Planner users to find the highest-volume phrase for a given keyword when Google began averaging search volumes of similar phrases and displaying them as being the same. They have since also started displaying volumes in terms of broad ranges – such as “10k to 100k” – making Keyword Planner’s data “wildly unreliable,” according to a 2018 article by Moz.
The solution? Get your keyword information from a paid keyword research tool. Wordtracker, SEM Rush and Keyword Explorer are all good choices and come with free trials. SEO-savvy marketing firms, including 3 Aspens Media, also provide insights from premium keyword tools as part of their marketing and content creation services.