We’re working with a client right now that has a new business, new brand, new domain, and a new ecommerce website in a highly competitive industry. If you understand how consumers and search engines operate, you understand that this is not an easy mountain to climb. Brands and domains with a long history of authority on certain keywords have a much easier time maintaining and even growing their organic ranking.
Understanding SEO in 2022
One of the key conversations that I have with companies when I describe search engine optimization (SEO) today is how dramatically the industry has changed. The goal of every search engine result is to provide a list of resources on a search engine result page (SERP) that will be optimal for the search engine user.
Decades ago, algorithms were simple. Search results were based on links… accumulate the most links for your domain or page and your page ranked well. Of course, over time, the industry gamed this system. Some SEO companies even programmatically built out link farms to artificially increase the search engine visibility of their paying clients.
Search engines had to adapt… they had sites and pages that were ranking that were irrelevant to the search engine user. The best pages weren’t ranking, it was the companies with the deepest pockets or the most advanced backlinking strategies. In other words, the quality of the search engine results was declining… rapidly.
Search engine algorithms responded and a series of changes shook the industry to its foundation. At the time, I was advising my clients to abandon these schemes. One company that was going public even hired me to do a forensic audit of the backlinks produced through their SEO consultant’s outreach program. Within weeks, I was able to track down link farms that the consultant was producing (against search engine terms of services) and putting the domain at great risk of getting buried in search, a primary source of their traffic. The consultants were fired, we disavowed the links, and we saved the company from getting in any trouble.
It’s bizarre to me that any SEO agency believes that they’re somehow more intelligent than the hundreds of data scientists and quality engineers that work full time at Google (or other search engines). Here’s the basic foundation of Google’s organic ranking algorithm:
A top-ranking page in a Google search result got ranked there by being the best resource for search engine user, not by gaming some back-linking algorithm.
Top Google Ranking Factors for 2022
Where SEO consultants from years ago could focus on-site with the technical aspects of a website and off-site with backlinks, today’s ability to rank requires a full understanding of your search engine user and the user experience that you provide them when they select your site from the search engine results. This infographic from Red Website Design does a fantastic job of incorporating the top ranking factors via Search Engine Journal into these key factors:
- Publishing high-quality content – When we work in evaluating and developing a content library for our cleints, we work on producing the best content in comparison to competing sites. That means we do a ton of research to produce a comprehensive, well-constructed page that gives our visitors everything they need – including interactive, textual, audio, video, and visual content.
- Make your site Mobile-First – If you dig deeper into your analytics, you’ll find that mobile users are often a primary source of organic search engine traffic. I am in front of my desktop hours per day working… but even I’m an active mobile search engine user as I’m out in town, watching a TV show, or just sitting my morning coffee in bed.
- Improve Your User Experience – Too many companies want a refresh of their site without adequate research on whether or not they need it. Some of the best ranking sites have simple page structure, typical navigation elements, and basic layouts. A different experience isn’t necessarily a better experience… pay attention to the design trends and your user’s needs.
- Site Architecture – A basic web page today has far more elements that are visible to search engines than a decades ago. HTML has progressed and has primary and secondary elements, article types, navigation elements, etc. While a dead simple web page may rank well, site architecture is one of the easiest things to optimize on a site. I liken it to rolling out the red carpet… why not do it?
- Core Web Vitals – Core Web Vitals are a critical baseline of real-world, user-centered metrics that quantify key aspects of the user experience of a website. While great content may rank well in search engines, great content that exceeds expectations across the metrics of Core Web Vitals will be hard to knock out of top ranking results.
- Secure Websites – Most websites are interactive, meaning that you submit data as well as receive content from them… like a simple registration form. A secure site is denoted by an HTTPS connection with a valid secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate that shows that all data sent between your visitor and the site is encrypted so that it can’t be easily captured by hackers and other network snooping devices. A secure website is a must nowadays, no exceptions.
- Optimize Page Speed – Modern content managment systems are data-base driven platforms that look-up, retrieve, and present your content to users. There are a ton of factors that impact your page speed – all of which that can be optimized. Users that visit a fast web page tend to not bounce and exit… so search engines pay close attention to page speed (Core Web Vitals focuses quite a bit on your site’s performance).
- On-Page Optimization – The way your page is organized, constructed, and presented to a search engine crawler assists the search engine in understanding what the content is and what keywords it should be indexed for. This can include your title tags, headings, bolded terms, emphasized content, meta data, rich snippets, etc.
- Metadata – Meta deta is information invisible to the visual user of a web page but that’s structured in a way that can be easily consumed by a search engine crawler. The vast majority of content management platforms and ecommerce platforms have optional meta data fields that you should absolutely take advantage of to better get your content indexed correctly.
- Schema – Schema is a means of structuring and presenting data within your site that search engines can easily consume. A product page on an e-commerce page, for example, can have price information, descriptions, inventory counts, and other information that search engines will display in highly optimized rich snippets in search engine result pages.
- Internal Linking – The hierarchy of your site and navigation is representative of the importance of the content on your site. They should be optimized both for your user and to present to search engines which pages are most critical to your content and user experience.
- Relevant and Authoritive Backlinks – Links to your site from external sites are still critical to ranking, but should be very carefully strategized if you wish to accelerate your ranking. Blogger outreach, for example, could offer relevant sites in your industry that have great ranking with content that incorporates a link to your page or domain. However, it should be earned with great content… not pushed through spamming, trades, or paid linking schemes. A great way of producing highly relevant and authoritive backlinks is by producing a great YouTube channel that’s optimized. A great way of earning links is to produce and share a fantastic infographic… like Red Website Design did below.
- Local Search – If your site is representative of a local service, incorporating local indicators like area codes, addresses, landmarks, city names, etc. for search engines to better index your content for local search. As well, your business should incorporate Google Business and other trusted directories. Google Business will ensure visibility in the associated map (also known as the map pack), other directories will validate the accuracy of your local business.
Whew… that’s quite a bit. And it provides quite a bit of insight into why a pure search technology consultant simply isn’t enough. Today’s organic search ranking requires a balance of content strategist, technologist, analyst, digital marketer, public relations specialist, web architect… and everything in between. Not to mention how you’re going to engage with visitors when they arrive – from data capture, measurement, marketing communications, digital journeys, etc.