Google updates its search result algorithm thousands of times every year, and for content marketers, keeping up with the ever-changing search engine optimization (SEO) standards can feel like a losing battle.
Though its tweaks are typically minor, some changes are a lot heftier. In just the past two years, Google rolled out nine significant updates, including several deemed “Broad Core Algorithm Updates.” And, while the search behemoth is traditionally tight-lipped about what each update entails, typically its goal is to evolve how its 200 SEO ranking factors—such as inbound versus outbound links—are scored in search results.
The impact of each update, in turn, depends on whether it’s applied to a relatively small number of web pages or rolled out more broadly across the larger internet.
Overwhelmed yet? Google and SEO experts maintain that there’s no need to be. Google’s primary intent isn’t to penalize pages; it’s to improve the web browsing experience for its users. “Think about it like this: Search engines are built to serve people,” writes Neil Patel, chief marketing officer and cofounder of NP Digital, a content marketing, SEO, and paid media agency, on his blog. “People change. Plain and simple. And as our behavior changes, technology evolves to keep up with our wants and needs. So, search engines have to change too,” explains Patel, whom Forbes has named as one of the world’s top 10 marketers.
While it’s important to stay up to date on the latest algorithms and ranking factors, the science of SEO comes down to one simple fact: creating strategic, well-written content that caters to readers’ needs is the best way to ensure high rankings.
KNOW THE BASICS
There are some best practices that every content creator must know when writing with SEO in mind—and many are fairly intuitive. Every piece of content should have a strong headline, or title tag, and meta description. Title tags are clickable headlines that appear in search results and are very important from an SEO perspective, while meta descriptions provide readers with a quick summary of the content. Length is critical for both of these elements: title tags should not exceed 60 characters and meta descriptions shouldn’t exceed 160.
And while Google urges content creators to avoid excessive keyword stuffing, the title and description should include keywords that accurately describe what’s on the page. The same goes for subheads—include them and use keywords so that readers can digest long content with ease, but don’t overdo it.
Site speed is another differentiator that Google considers when ranking results, and today, any site that takes longer than three seconds to load is in serious SEO trouble. Ensuring that any multimedia content is optimized for fast load time and performance is key. Consider reducing the resolution of images based on recommendations within your content management systems and use the right format for your needs. For example, JPEG images typically work fine, but graphics that contain text load better as PNGs.
Most content management tools also suggest entering alt-text, or simple descriptions, with images. Don’t leave this line blank—it allows Google to parse images for keywords and could improve ranking.
Once all multimedia content is optimized, test page performance with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It’ll reveal any potential pitfalls that remain so that they can be addressed.
Be sure to include plenty of relevant links in your content, but note the emphasis on relevant. “Prioritize quality over quantity in content and link-building strategy to get better, more sustainable results,” recommends Omkar Dharmapuri, information technology engineer at AI-powered content platform Techlurn.
Google won’t reward content that’s peppered with random links, so be strategic and drive readers to related internal content, reducing bounce rate and increasing engagement. Finally, eliminate barriers to smooth customer experience. That means doing away with intrusive pop-ups and minimizing empty-looking white space.
REMEMBER TO EAT
Once the headline, subheads, images, and links have been addressed, content marketers are still left with a massive mystery: how to make the rest of their content SEO-friendly.
Experts advise the “EAT” strategy. EAT stands for expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, and it’s now a search quality evaluator guideline endorsed by Google.
To establish expertise, content creators should opt for longer content, says Simonas Steponaitis, marketing manager at HostingWiki, a web hosting and WordPress resource center. “Research shows that the average length of the top 10 results is at about 1,500 words. This is because web pages with extensive, high-quality content enjoy more visibility. Long articles increase dwell time, telling Google that users are enjoying your content,” he says.
Posting often can also help establish expertise, says Mika Kujapelto, founder and CEO of Laptop Unboxed, a site that provides technology reviews. “Maintaining regular blog posts can help you rank higher on search engines, making it possible for potential customers to see your website on the first page on the search engine.”
Still, it’s important not to go overboard. “While you can utilize blog posts to write about essential updates, relevant topics to your industry, or other valuable content for your readers, it must be considerably executed to get the best results,” Kujapelto says.
Meanwhile, to vet for authoritativeness, Google is starting to prioritize content from highly respectable sources, says Colin Palfrey, chief marketing officer of Majesty Coffee, a provider of coffee brewing equipment. “It’s starting to pay more attention to authorship of articles to see if the person who writes a blog post has actual experience in the industry. Google now looks at that person’s holistic footprint online to determine their authority in the field.”