For many business owners, appeasing the Google Gods can appear something of a mystery... what are they really looking for in a website to award them that coveted 1st Page Ranking? The good news is that a/ it isn't a mystery at all and b/ it isn't hard to understand - regardless of all the jargon.
Google has 200 ranking factors that its algorithm uses to analyse and rank your website. Here are just 9 we think are important to improve the visibility of your website.
Site Speed In Google's 2018 update Site Speed became a real focus as it wanted to give the increasing mobile web users a better online experience when browsing on mobile data networks. Whilst it is still a key metric on your site's health and will impact your user's experience (long load time/slow websites are a high ranking factor in bounce rates), Google is now saying it is only looking to 'downgrade the slowest websites, rather than prioritise the fastest'. It is still worth monitoring your site's PageSpeed here - and ironing out any issues as basic website housekeeping.
Your domain history is a bit like your dating history. It is volatile, short-term, non-committal? Whilst Google says it doesn't matter how historic your website is anymore - the length of your domain registration, how many owners it has had etc all paints a picture on the stability of your business. Also worth noting that if you have a country specific extension - e.g. .fr, .ie, .it it may help your ranking in that country but will limit your global visibility. Always go for .com if you can. A side note, where your server is located can also factor in the territory you rank for, so try and keep it in the country you are trying to target.
Meta Titles, Descriptions and the keywords they contain were once the be-all and end-all of SEO but not anymore; that said - titles that start with your keyword still fair better than those that just contain it within the text, and well-written meta titles and descriptions will HUGELY impact your clickthrough rate which in itself is a key Google ranking factor. What you don't want is 'pogosticking' - where someone clicks on your link, doesn't find what they were hoping for and goes straight back to Google to click on another link. This is a sure-fire signal to Google you are not delivering on your metadata content.
Consider your meta title and description as a compelling store front for your product or service and ensure they clearly and comprehensively convey the contents of that page - if that is all a customer reads, how can you entice them to click through to your website?
ADDED EXTRA: Don't forget your URLS and ALT TXT! Many people forget to optimise their URLs when working on their SEO - we often see 'copy-blue-skirt' as the URL string when the product is actually a green skirt. In SERPS (search engine result pages) the URL is the first bit of data customers see in a result snippet so make sure it clearly states the contents of the page, too.
When you upload images to your website the filename will be used as your Alt Txt be default (how Google 'reads' images) - so if it is 'IMG0121.jpg' it tells Google little about the contents of your media. Ensure you are updating all your image Alt Text fields with descriptive keywords to enable Google to rank them effectively.
Backlinks and Outbound Links
High DA (Domain Authority) websites linking to your website is one of the strongest signals to Google that your site is to be trusted. Work to get a diverse range of backlinks (other people's websites that link directly to yours) as Google have said that multiple backlinks from the same website have limited efficacy. This is where the impact of PR can have a huge effect on your SEO - big news websites mentioning your brand will not only send you long-term traffic, but are juicy backlinks when it comes to Google ranking, too.
Try and include high DA outbound links in your copy too where relevant - always link to the homepage of the website if you can to avoid broken links if a particular product or article gets removed - or if you are linking to a specific item, keep on top of your broken links (see below).
As part of your SEO housekeeping ensure you are cleaning up any broken links in your site as Google sees this as a 'clean house' and well maintained site.
Perhaps one of the key metrics Google is looking for is Dwell Time. How long people are spending on your site. Arguably this is a by-product of our next point below, but other factors to consider when looking to improve how long people spend on your site are: site speed - users will soon leave if they get frustrated with a slow site; internal linking - you want to encourage users to go down a rabbit hole and visit as many pages as possible (pages/session is another Google ranking metric). Video content is another brilliant way to keep people on your site. No, Google can't 'read' a video in the same way it can written content, but it is far easier to keep a user on your site for 3-4 minutes watching a video, than it is to read a blog - which will signal to Google that people are enjoying spending time on your website.
Content is still King when it comes to Google ranking and it always will be. Google wants to send its users to websites that can deliver. By demonstrating authority and expert knowledge it is reassuring Google to send its users somewhere they are going to find the answers to their questions (the key objective of a Search Engine!). When writing your blogs try and keep them about a singular topic and create in-depth, valuable content. Why? It will keep users on your website longer (see above point) and it is more likely to be shared (which will drive you more traffic).
Imagine Google is your English teacher. It will rank a page for readability, structure, spelling and grammar. Again, this links back to user experience (UX). Is your content going to be useful, engaging and easy to understand by the reader?
Another tip is to encourage commenting on your blog - again, this signals to Google that people are enjoying and engaging with the content you create.
Following on from Metatagging above, H Tagging is more than just a way of styling your subheadings and paragraphs. Google has said it helps them to 'index and understand the structure of your content'. Use H tagging to show hierarchy and break up chunks of long-form text into readable paragraphs.
With over half of searches made on a mobile, Google has been focussed for a while on prioritising 'mobile friendly' websites. Ensuring your site is 'mobile first' in its UX design will give you the best chance of users sticking around on their mobile and engaging with your website and crucially, coming back again - which leads to our last point:
Direct and Repeat Traffic
The volume of direct traffic you receive is another key indicator to Google that people are bookmarking you, sharing links with each other and independently visiting your website without a 3rd party (social media, referrals etc). If you have a high ratio of repeat:new users, it also shows Google that someone has visited you once, had a good experience and come back again.
Remember E-A-T - Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness. Ensure your site is giving out reliable, trustworthy signals - that it is regularly updated and all your housekeeping is in order. Also demonstrate your authority and expertise on your given industry and encourage others to link to your site to prove to Google you know what you're talking about!
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