You’re listening to a podcast and the host mentions a meditation technique you’re not familiar with. You’re listening to a mix on Spotify and you can’t remember the year Salt-N-Pepa released “Whatta Man.” Where is the closest Chipotle? Chances are, those queries will be counted in the 40,000 searches that Google processes per second. Determined to be the brand, platform, or influencer that answers your questions are the myriad websites that live on the internet. Who achieves the coveted position of top ranked response is a pursuit that businesses strive for daily.
Luckily, engines like Google — the sultan of the search — provide insight regarding the factors they use to rank results. Now that we’ve entered into the bronze anniversary of the 2000s (I Googled that), it’s that time again to brush up on the SEO factors that give your sites higher ranking.
1. Secure Access
In February of last year, Google announced via the Webmaster Security Blog that they would use their Chrome browser to continue warning users whether a website is secure or not through the use of HTTPS encryption. Across internet engagement, security is a top priority. With this announcement, Google put webmasters on further notice that the security of their sites would be one of the most important factors in determining where they’d place in the proverbial race for search engine supremacy.
Google’s Chrome browser along with Mozilla Firefox (and others) feature a security verification symbol that appears next to the URL in the address bar – the lock. To attain HTTPS status, you’ll need an SSL certificate installed on your server.
2. Page Speed
According to data collected by Pingdom, if it takes longer than 5 seconds for your web page to load, 38% of your visitors will abandon ship. As daily navigators of the world wide sea, we expect to find the answers to our inquiries virtually immediately. When we don’t, we simply move onto the next result.
According to the Bing Webmaster Guidelines, a slow page load time translates to a negative user experience. Therefore, faster load times equal higher satisfaction. A tool like the Pingdom Website Speed Test offers suggestions on improving your page performance.
3. Mobile Compatibility
Just last year mobile searches surpassed desktop at 52.2 percent. Now that more people access the web via their smartphones and tablets than on desktop computers, it’s essential that websites be optimized for viewing on mobile devices. It was 2015 when Google officially began including mobile compatibility as a ranking factor and last year, they began using mobile first indexing, meaning that Google will index websites based on their mobile version rather than the desktop.
Providing a satisfactory user experience will help your website rank higher. This makes sense because if your visitors can’t easily access the information they seek on your site, there’s a high likelihood that they’ll simply try another door.
Ease of navigation, relevance, and a layout that looks like it was designed in the years since dial-up access became obsolete. These elements all point toward a website that features high-quality content, which leads to higher ranking. (More on this later.)
Links equate to authority. When other credible and secure websites backlink to your site, it translates to Google that your site is to be trusted as a click-worthy resource. Backlinks are essential for generating organic results. It means that another webmaster, content manager, subject matter expert, blogger, etc. took the time to find, read, and vet your content and found it to be reliable enough to direct visitors away from their site and onto yours. On the flip side, when you include outbound links with your content, it shows that your content also includes generous inquiry to ensure that the information provided is backed up by relevant sources.
6. URL Slug
Although not the most important factor on this list, how you structure your URLs does help improve SEO rankings. First, a well organized slug (i.e. – domain.com/product/sub-category) makes it easier for Google to crawl your website. Additionally, you’ll improve the user experience for your customers, which often results in lowering your bounce rate. Google rewards websites that place an emphasis on the above components, so if you’re looking for another way to gain an advantage, a proper URL structure just might be the trick.
7. Numbered and Bulleted Lists
User friendliness is about more than just navigation; it’s about giving your readers content that they want to stick around and read. Readers prefer content that features:
- Organization (e.g. header tags)
- Gifs and Images
- Numbered and Unordered Lists
Even if your site features high-quality content, going a step further to ensure that your readers find it easily digestible is attractive to search engines. Simplicity is key — don’t make your visitors do too much work.
Another great benefit of those lists is that it gives Google a great portion of your page to pull out for use in a featured snippet. As a webmaster or SEO strategist, you’re aiming for the number one position, but the featured snippet is unmatched visibility.
8. Schema & Structured Data
Schema.org gives webmasters the ability to demonstrate to search engines how the content on the site is relevant for various queries. Essentially schema markup makes it easier for Google to interpret the content on your site. It provides HTML tags and other schemas that search engines use to create a hierarchy for search results. Moreover, structured data impacts the appearance of your site in results, giving you the possibility of even appearing in that featured snippet above the top result.
Extensible markup language is the jargonistic way of referring to your sitemap. When converted from nerd-speak, it’s what search engines reference when breaking down the architecture of your site. The sitemap makes it simple for search engines to crawl your site for indexing and that’s exactly what you want. Search engines collect phrases and other forms of data and makes them readily available when you perform a search. There are two types of sitemaps, the first being XML which users never see. XML is the structure that speaks to search engines. HTML sitemaps help your visitors navigate the site like a table of contents. For search ranking, Google likes structure. And the enhanced organization makes it that much easier for search engines to crawl your site
10. Breadcrumb Navigation
Just like that trail of Fritos dust you leave behind on your couch, breadcrumb navigation shows you where you are — and where you’ve been. It’s structured data that makes life a lot easier for people who visit your site. After clicking through a few menu options on your site instead of hitting the back button multiple times, they can just scroll up to the top of the page and click back to their previous page.
By now, you’ve probably noticed a theme braided throughout each of these factors, and that’s user experience. Google likes what their users like and if their users like your site, then Google will reward you with a higher ranking. Being selective about your breadcrumb names will also allow search engines to use the linked pages as search results, also leading to a higher ranking.
11. Meta Tags
Meta tags describe the content on your page and title tags specifically, act just as the name suggests — as a title for your page. In terms of SEO, the title tag reigns supreme in the meta tag pecking order because of its impact in creating organic results and traffic. As Google cracks down on keyword stuffing and other wordspam schemes, the title tag has become an ideal way to incorporate your keyword in a highly visible position.
Next is the meta description which acts as your second chance to grab the interest of people perusing their search engine results. It would also increase the authoritative presentation of your site in search results.
Lastly, alt tags act as additional information that you add to your images. Overtime as your pages live online, certain assets can disappear as files get deleted or updated. Inputting alt tags gives users — and search engines — more information about the objective of your content.
12. Authoritative Content
The quality of your content tends to prevail as a search engine ranking factor. In terms of structure, it’s all about achieving an optimal balance of length, keyword density, and appropriate asset integration. When it comes to quality, the content must come from an authoritative voice. Unless your page is devoted to opinion editorials, your content should be presented from a place of authority with ample research and proper editing.
Is your content relevant? Are your answers the most useful? Is it clear, concise, and straight to the point? Is it fun and engaging to read? The content that features the freshest take and that is the most compatible to the original search will win the ranking rewards.