As the search engines get cleverer, SEO continues to evolve to such an extent that the best practices today are often very different from the methods that worked only a few years ago. Ultimately, Google strives to provide more relevant, higher quality search results by prioritizing user experience, and your brand needs to do the same if it wants to keep up.
No longer is SEO just about keywords and link building. Gone are the days when digital marketers could get away with manipulating the search results to get on the first page of results. As a result, SEO has shifted from these tactics to creating an excellent user experience combined with quality, value-adding content. Following are five sustainable SEO techniques that go far beyond keyword optimization:
1 – Semantic Search
There was a time when search engine crawlers did little more than look out for certain key words and phrases in online content to determine its subject matter. Less experienced digital marketers and webmasters, often being stuck in the old ways, pay far too much attention to matching the keywords people type in the search engines to the content on their websites.
Semantic search promises to change the game enormously. In layman’s terms, a semantic search seeks to deliver meaningful results based on intent rather than keywords. In fact, some results might not even contain any of the keywords entered into the query. Ultimately, the emphasis is now on creating content for a clearly defined target audience, rather than focussing on supposedly high-value keywords.
2 – User Experience
The increasingly complex algorithms behind Google’s search engine crawlers aim to think and operate like a human user in order to deliver the best possible search results. In other words, just like human users, they seek websites that offer the best user experience in terms of cross-platform compatibility, website speed, ease of navigation and useful content.
Digital marketers need to be able to show that their website offers an excellent user experience. In other words, the better the user experience is, the more exposure you’ll receive in the search results. Visitors should be able to find any page on your website in a matter of a few seconds, and this means providing an on-site search function, intuitive navigational features and an XML sitemap.
3 – Content Positioning
Where and how you position your content and keywords is every bit as important as the words themselves. Every webpage consists of different parts, such as headers, footers sidebars and widgets, and the search engine crawlers work hard to determine which elements are the most important. For example, content in the main body of a webpage usually holds more weight than content in sidebars or footers.
With regards to content, your efforts should prioritize your human visitors rather than the search engines. Simply stuffing your chosen keywords multiple times throughout your text will only to be counterproductive in the longer term. As far as SEO is concerned, titles and headers are among the most important on-page elements, and they should always be relevant, benefit-driven and engaging.
4 – Mobile Compatibility
Google released a major update to its algorithms on April 21, 2015 which had a significant impact on search results on mobile devices. Although the update only impacted smartphone searches, it is important to remember that mobile Web traffic is already overtaking desktop traffic. As a result, you absolutely must have a mobile-friendly website if you want to rank in mobile search results.
If you want to see if your website satisfies Google’s definition of mobile-friendly, you can take the mobile-friendly test in Google Webmaster Tools. For further information, you can also peruse the mobile usability reports using the same tool. Ultimately, you’ll want to make sure your website’s listing in mobile search results features the new mobile-friendly tag below the listing.
5 – Content Authority
Particularly given the hugely competitive online marketplace, your brand’s goal must be to become a recognized leader in its niche. In other words, content authority is critical for both customer retention and your exposure in the search results. No one except for Google knows precisely how the search engine determines authority, but there are many signals that point to authoritative content.
Content authority is likely determined by factors such as social signals, off-site reviews, external links and various engagement metrics. For example, a website that has many links on low-quality and/or irrelevant websites will not look authoritative in Google’s eyes. On the other hand, a link on a relevant website that is already widely known and respected will reflect well on you as far as content authority is concerned.
As you can see from the above points, SEO in its traditional sense has largely disappeared, instead making way for user experience and value-adding content. In other words, good SEO is about having a clearly defined target audience and giving them what they want. It is no longer about littering your website with keywords and getting as many backlinks as possible.