This post originally appeared on Single Grain, a growth marketing agency focused on scaling customer acquisition.
In today’s rapidly shifting world, SEO techniques can change on a dime—and the worst part is that you might not even know it. Hacks that could have won you a front-page result as recently as 2016 are not only obsolete now, but they may even hurt your website’s rankings.
That’s why you need to stay on top of the ball. We spoke with Jacob Warwick, Director of Communications at Skedulo, and Jesse Teske, SEO Manager at YLighting, to get their expert thoughts on the most current SEO tactics in 2017.
Read on for some 9 info-packed tips and techniques to help you get the most out of your SEO game in 2017—and improve your traffic and conversions.
Simply put, engagement is the ability to hold a user’s attention. In SEO terms, it is a measure of the amount of time spent on a page.
Although Google hasn’t officially declared it, there is evidence to suggest that this search engine giant does reward sites with strong user engagement with higher page ranking.
Research from SimilarWeb found a positive correlation between engagement metrics and search rankings and a study of 1 million search results by Backlinko found a similar correlation between bounce rate and rankings.
Google’s reasoning is that if a user spends more time on a page, it’s probably because she found the page useful. And since Google only wants to deliver the best possible results to its users, it will push sites with strong engagement up in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
So how can you improve your site’s engagement? Here are five tactics you can use with your existing content:
Good formatting can instantly improve your page’s readability. This, in turn, can improve your engagement rate. According to an eye-tracking study by Nielsen, the following three formatting tactics can help increase your content readability:
Here’s an example of poor formatting:
Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions that draw large crowds of people every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places were Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge (86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).
Here’s an example of the same paragraph, but with good formatting (which improved usability by 124%):
In 1996, six of the most-visited places in Nebraska were:
A “bucket brigade” is a copywriting technique designed to keep capture a reader’s interest and keep them on your page. It essentially involves breaking an idea into multiple sentences, using a trigger word or phrase (as simple as Look: or as lengthy as The secret to great copywriting is this:) and then ending the sentence with a colon.
Look at this example from Backlinko:
Including professional, high-quality images (photos, graphs) throughout your content is an easy yet powerful way to increase engagement. For one, images help you show an idea, not just tell it (a picture tells a thousand words, right?). Secondly, images help you break content into different sections. And finally, people just like pretty pictures.
For example, take a look at how Growth Everywhere uses images to clearly illustrate the step-by-step content in How To Do A Content Cleanup (And Grow Your Organic Traffic):
On Single Grain, charts and screenshots are frequently used to divide up content into separate sections, like this example from The Ultimate Guide to Mobile Advertising:
If you went to journalism school, you know all about the inverted pyramid style of writing:
This method means giving away the most valuable information at the top of the article, and following it up with less important information. If readers tend to scan and rarely make it to the bottom of an article, it makes sense to give them what they want as soon as they land on the page.
Writing well, delivering value, and proper formatting only go so far. Another key part of engagement is lowering your bounce rate, which is the percentage of visitors who land on your website and leave without interacting further. Bounce rates can be raised by a number of factors, from incorrect implementation to poorly designed landing pages.
More often than not, however, high bounce rates result from poor usability and an awkward user experience (UX). While these problems vary from site to site, they are very easily remedied with several popular online tools, such as:
For instance, heat maps are colorful representations of where users have clicked on your site, while scrollmaps show you just how far down the page your users scroll before leaving. With this data, it’s possible to figure out what your best design features (or flaws) are, and correct them accordingly. Here’s an example of a heatmap that shows you where visitors clicked:
In A/B testing, multiple versions of a web page are randomly shown to users, compared against a control page (generally the existing website), and then analyzed for effect. The biggest advantage of a proper A/B testing process is that marketers can understand how even the tiniest changes can positively affect their website, such as moving the buy button to the left or changing its color from red to blue.
Take a look at the sample A/B test below from 5 Important Landing Page Elements You Should be A/B Testing:
In this test, hygiene company L’Axelle is trying out different headlines, pitting a comfort-oriented headline against an action-oriented one. The change is subtle, but it’s there.
It’s clear that A/B testing is an integral part of both the copywriting and the UX design process. The genius of Optimizely is that it massively simplifies something that would otherwise require a team of dedicated, experienced UX designers and researchers to carry out.
But perhaps the biggest draw of Optimize is that it seamlessly integrates with Google Analytics, allowing marketers to further leverage their existing resources. With Optimize, marketers can use existing Analytics metrics as a starting point, which allows them to rely on a familiar interface as they move on to deeper and more complicated experiments.
Here’s a shot of the Google Optimize user screen. Notice that it gives recommendations and suggestions for the optimal interface.
Pro Plan subscribers, however, have the option of receiving the help of UX professionals who will conduct research, analyze user behavior, and measure and benchmark. In this form, User Testing.com offers customers the benefits of an in-house UX team at a fraction of the cost.
With its conversational tone and engaging manner, Krug’s work gets readers into the habit of critically examining and rethinking everything about their websites, including even the tiniest details, like misplaced buttons or unwieldy site maps.
There’s also strong evidence that click-through rates will influence your website’s Google search ranking, though this is difficult to confirm given the company’s secrecy surrounding their algorithms. Either way, improving CTR is absolutely a good investment for the long-term health of your business.
Luckily, there are programs like Google Search Console and Tableau, which allow marketers to identify critical keywords which are performing (or underperforming) for their position, understand why and, most importantly, quickly visualize the terms and pages to target. With these programs, marketers can turn around underperforming terms by rewriting titles and descriptions, thereby increasing CTR and drumming up traffic.
Learn More: 10 Google Search Console Hacks to Boost SEO
A recent study by Backlinko concluded that the longer the content, the higher the likelihood of it ranking at the top of the SERPs.
However, writing 2,000+ words for every blog post is not for everyone; it’s an intensive, time-consuming process. Instead, it’s much easier to take a page from 1,200 words to 2,000 words than to go from 0 words to 2,000 words.
Existing content already has authority and an established readership. So rather than writing something entirely from scratch, it’s much simpler to find a post of yours that is already doing well on Google, refresh it with updated information and extra content, and rely on existing signals to make it rank for terms.
Here’s how you do it. First, under “Search Traffic” in Google Search Console, click on “Search Analytics.”
On this page, check “Position” and select “Pages”:
Try to find pages that are ranking between positions 11-30 on Google. These are ideal candidates for additional content that can increase their rankings.
55% of all keyword searches on Google return at least one video and 82% of those videos are from YouTube. YouTube is also the second most popular search engine with more than 3 billion searches per month, surpassing Bing and Yahoo combined.
Focusing on YouTube SEO will push your website onto the first page on Google and get you traffic from YouTube as well.
The result? Twice the traffic with the same content.
Learn More: The Complete Guide to Youtube SEO
Here is how you can improve your YouTube SEO (after creating your videos, of course):
The filename, the title, the description—all these elements affect your rankings.
Here’s a great example:
Another tactic is to use your keywords at the start of the title, then add a sub-header after a colon to drive clicks. Here’s an example:
At the very least, your title should have 5+ words and include a broad target keyword. This will not only help you rank in SERPs but also get you more clicks on YouTube.
Learn More: 20 Ways to Grow Your SEO Rankings
It can be as short as this example from Growth Everywhere:
Or as long as this example from James Stafford:
This tells Google—as well as your readers—exactly what your video is about. Since most of your competitors aren’t doing it, it will also help you rank way faster.
Like content, longer videos tend to do better in YouTube search.
Try it yourself: type in a popular keyword or topic and see what shows up at the top of the page. For example, here’s what you’ll see when you type in “wordpress”:
Or when you search for “photography tips”:
Try to make your videos at least 5 minutes long. As with written content, longer videos tend to get the most traction.
A better video thumbnail won’t necessarily help with your SEO, but like a great headline, it will help you get more clicks. This means that you can often earn more views than higher ranked results, all thanks to your choice of thumbnail.
A strong thumbnail should tell viewers exactly what the video is about. Try to use a compelling image along with a title card. Here’s an example:
Back in 2010, Google announced that it would be using site speed as a ranking factor and since then, Google has consistently emphasized the importance of site speed.
Recently, it launched another tool called Think with Google to help gauge how responsive (or mobile-friendly) a site is, which includes speed as a parameter.
Clearly, Google wants your website to load faster than it is right now. But how fast?
Unfortunately, the exact definition of “site speed” is open to speculation. According to the surveys done by Akamai and Gomez, nearly half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. If the site fails to launch in 3 seconds, there is a good chance they’ll abandon it.
You should work on your site’s speed not only to work your way up Google’s rankings, but also to increase conversions. For instance, one survey found that nearly 79% of web shoppers who have trouble with website performance won’t return to the site to buy again.
While improving site speed is a pretty big topic, check out this HubSpot article to improve page load times.
Images are usually the largest components on any site (in terms of file size). By compressing them, you can often cut down page size by 30-40%.
A quick way to do this is to use Kraken.io. This tool automatically compresses all images uploaded to your WordPress blog. It also has an API to make image compression for non-WordPress sites easier.
Caching is the mechanism for temporarily storing web data such as HTML pages and images in order to reduce bandwidth usage.
For non-WordPress sites, browser caching is a little trickier. One quick way to do it is to change your .htaccess file. Follow the instructions here to learn how to do this.
A CDN is a network of servers based throughout the globe. When visitors access your website, they are delivered the site from a server that is as close to their physical location as possible, thereby improving site speed.
Using a CDN is a easy fix to instantly improve site speed and will have an immediate impact on site performance.
Google is evolving and so is its algorithm. Its objective now is to understand the intention of the users: what users expect, what they are looking for, and more specifically, what search results would best help answer their query.
Plus, for an increasingly large number of queries (19.45% to be exact), Google shows “rich results” that include the best answer at the top of the results:
In 2017, don’t expect your website to end up on the first page of Google simply by creating keyword-focused content. Tom Anthony from Moz concludes, “We need to stop looking at keywords and starting looking at queries.”
In short, you must consider what your users are looking for rather than coming up with different ways that users can phrase a search query. Here are two things in particular you should consider:
What kind of content you’ll create will depend on your audience. The better you know them—their location, age, and likes—the better the content you’ll create (and the better your SEO).
For example, suppose your keyword tool shows that “android” has a lot of search volume. People searching for it could fall into several categories:
Without knowing your target audience, you might end up creating content for all these topics, which would win you neither readers nor good rankings. By building a detailed buyer persona, you’ll be better able to zero in on topics that matter to your readers.
Instead of focusing on standalone keywords, organize all your content into different “themes.”
For example, if you run a website about WordPress, you might have three types of readers:
To target each of these types of readers, you can organize your content into different themes that cover multiple topics, such as:
This is far more reader-friendly than simply creating content for specific keywords.
At the same time—keywords still matter. Organizing content thematically is very important, but it’s a mistake to ignore keywords entirely, given that they serve as signposts to Google’s spiders, signaling topics and giving hints as to the nature of the content on the website.
Still, the keyword aspect of SEO is becoming increasingly difficult with Google Adwords hiding volume data.
Luckily, there are a number of tricks and tools that can help marketers find topics and volume data. Google itself is a good way to get related search ideas. Just type “sushi restaurants in San Francisco” into the search bar of Google Chrome and you’ll be presented with carousels of related images at the bottom of the page, such as the names of specific restaurants or dishes to order.
This is a strong hint for developers to include these topics in their content, or to create pages to leverage these related images.
Read on for some extremely useful tools that can help you find and optimize keywords:
Interestingly, SEMRush also allows users to use a competitive positioning map, where they can see overall website traffic and keywords: Title Boxing boasts 120.9k in search traffic and 15.3k in keywords, far outpacing their closest competitors.
When considering which keyword tools to use, look for something that allows you to monitor a high volume of keywords broken down by relevant themes. Additionally, the best tools must ensure that you can track all your competitors, from large corporations to small, up-and-coming firms.
As always, go for quality and not quantity. It’s better to get 10 conversions from 100 visitors than it is to get 10 conversions from 1,000 visitors. Rather than casting a too-wide net, focus on keywords and topics that are within your niche, ones that you can optimize for and be the authority on. Fill in these gaps and establish yourself as an expert in this smaller field before tackling larger and broader keywords where the competition is much fiercer.
Despite what you might have heard, building backlinks is still crucial for good rankings.
As per Moz, a site’s backlink profile is still the most reliable indicator of its eventual rankings. Another Moz study shows that without backlinks, it is nearly impossible to rank well, even if you have great content.
What has changed is the way you must build backlinks if you want good results. Low-quality links that are easily spammed—blog comments, paid links, etc.—don’t seem to work anymore and can actively harm your site.
A critical part of SEO is reporting and analytics, which are indispensable to improving marketing strategies. By setting up an analytics platform to track both micro and macro events, you can understand your customer’s journey from your sales and marketing funnel.
For instance, what content really appealed to your customer? What part of the website had the most UX issues? Which page was the least (or most) visited, and why?
Having the ability to tie online data back to offline data to get a full 360 view of how your content and marketing is performing.
One great tool to help you do this is Google Datastudio, which helps you aggregate data from multiple sources (rankings, traffic, conversion data) into a single interface. You can even share your data internally or with clients. Most importantly, these metrics can help you determine the effectiveness of your SEO strategy, and whether you need to pivot or change tactics.
Along those lines, always be on the lookout to see what your competitors are doing, and how well it’s working. What techniques are they using? How have they changed their approach? What mistakes have they learned from?
One great tool to see how your competition has changed is Wayback Machine, which allows marketers to access petabytes of archived web pages. By sifting through Wayback Machine’s extensive database, you can track the evolution of your competitor’s brand and web presence, taking note of factors such as changes in UX design or differences in copy from one web version to the next.
Still, you shouldn’t implement something just because your competitor is doing it, whether that’s designing a website a certain way or using specific copy or images. This is especially true for larger websites like Amazon, which have much more leeway with search engines. Thanks to their numerous, highly skilled staff, they can test small changes and measure results with a high degree of accuracy.
If used correctly, Wayback Machine has some interesting lessons to offer any company. Take a look at these two screencaps of Title Boxing. The top picture is a screencap of Title’s homepage from Wayback Machine, circa 2007, while the bottom one is a screencap from 2016.
The differences are pretty clear. In 2007, the web layout was much more cluttered and crowded, with small, hard-to-navigate sidebars squeezing some small, insignificant-looking pictures in the middle advertising daily specials.
In 2016, however, the user experience is much more streamlined. Visitors are greeted with a clear, easy-to-use sidebar at the top, labeled with categories like “Gloves,” “Punching Bags,” and many more. A large, sliding image in the center replaces the tiny, hard-to-notice ads from 2007, allowing buyers to see exactly what is on sale. The new website is almost minimalist, doing away with the previous confused, slightly chaotic format.
Clearly, Title has come a long way when it comes to UX, testing their changes and eventually settling on this new, simpler design. Still, it’s very likely that plenty of testing, design and redesign was put into this process, which is clear when you track their changes through Wayback Machine.
Be strategic about your changes, test them thoroughly, and examine how your competitors’ websites have evolved with Wayback Machine.
SEO and content tips aside, it’s absolutely essential to have a solid website, without worrying about any technical issues that may arise. With that being said, here are some tips and techniques to help you ensure that your website is up to par.
First off, do yourself a favor and switch to HTTPS, the most commonly used, securest version of the old http web protocol. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP.
It’s a best practice that will help your website boost its SEO presence, stay secure, and make it harder for malicious parties to break in and take advantage of your website.
Granted, transitioning to HTTPS is easier said than done, and requires a multi-step process. When the Atlantic, a highly-regarded, well-established media organization, decided to move to HTTPS in early 2016, the transition was complex. First, content had to be scanned individually, then ported over and checked for compatibility. The process was repeated with ads, and once compatibility and security were ensured, the website slowly went live in order to guard against traffic loss and unforeseen errors.
If you’re a smaller organization, your process will likely be less painstaking or time consuming. All the same, moving to HTTPS is a necessity in a world of cybersecurity threats and heightened SEO and SEM requirements.
AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, began as a Google-backed open initiative to allow publishers to easily create responsive, mobile-optimized content.
Envisioned as a way to quickly render content on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, AMP combines three components:
Since AMP was only incorporated into the search giant’s results in February 2016, the format itself is still fairly new. For those of you who use WordPress, AMP should be much easier to implement than a home-grown CMS from scratch.
To ensure that Google is crawling your preferred pages and not pages that don’t appear in its index, turn to crawl programs like Deep Crawl or Botify. These SEO crawler programs are similar to Google’s own crawlers and will give you an overview of how your page will perform in SEO rankings.
To help Google understand your data or to show your website smartcards and voice searches, you need to ensure that your semantic markups are correct. Semantic markups are essentially HTML tags which can help emphasize key information on your website.
For instance, a heading tag (H1) can help a crawler understand precisely what your content is about. If you tag “Five Holiday Destinations in Eastern Europe” with a H1, then a crawler will know to sort your blog post under relevant categories, such as holidays or Eastern European travel. In short, edit your semantic markups so that they reflect your data and information as accurately as possible.
Nothing will sink your website faster in search rankings than a 404 error, when a search engine can’t find the desired web page and leads to a dead end. It’s in your interest to fix these broken or missing pages and re-engage your users as soon as you can.
Whatever platform you use, be it Google Analytics or Oracle, take a look at the number of pageviews for your 404 page. Then add URL as a secondary dimension and fix the biggest offenders first. This way, you can boost UX and regain any inbound links from those pages.
To make your job easier, there are a number of web browser and WordPress plugins that you can use. We’ve listed a few of them below, along with a brief description of their capabilities and common uses.
In the digital era, it’s easy to forget that people still visit physical shops and establishments. True, they may use online resources to research, but plenty of commerce is still conducted in real life. If you have a brick-and-mortar business, you can’t neglect local SEO and listings if you want to stay profitable.
As powerful as search engines like Google or Bing are, they still can’t be everywhere at once, and have to rely on additional information from local, on-the-ground sources, which gather, aggregate, and submit relevant data for area businesses. These aggregators will do much of the legwork, pulling information from physical directories (like Yellow Pages) or scanning business registrations.
In a nutshell, bigger search engines will rely on these data aggregators to fill in the gaps of the existing information already in their databases, and will also cross-check to make sure that the facts are up-to-date. Problems arise, however, when aggregators collect out-of-date data, leading a search engine like Google or Bing to list the wrong information, like an old address for your business or a disconnected phone number.
Learn More: How to Do a Comprehensive Local SEO Audit
That’s why it’s critical to ensure that your physical contact information is as current as possible.
The first step is to identify any obsolete information that may be out there. Because Google is the largest search engine, start with Google My Business, its free-to-use listing service, and update your data accordingly. Be sure to list important details like extra locations, the latest opening hours, and what forms of payment are acceptable.
Then, use a local directory management service, which carries out the painstaking, tedious work of scanning countless local directories, interacting with data aggregators, and correcting any old information. The best of these are Moz Local and Yext, which can help you avoid any glaring inconsistencies that can hurt your revenue stream, or even worse, trick Google’s algorithms into thinking that you’re a different business entirely.
Learn More: 10 Free Local SEO Tools for Small Businesses
Next, use your directory management service to hit at least four of the major data aggregator services. While these companies do vary by location, some of the bigger names are Infogroup, Acxiom, and Localeze, all of which provide information on millions of business listings to larger search engines.
From that point on, local search listings should be accurately and automatically updated by your management service.
Carrying out technical SEO for local search engines is a similar process.
You may be questioning the point of optimizing for local search engines, especially given Google’s unquestioned dominance of the search landscape. Even so, local search engines are still extremely useful. After all, if you’re a physical, brick-and-mortar establishment, you will benefit greatly from having in-store visits.
Learn More: How to Get More Reviews for Your Local Business
If you’re a digital business, local searches are still important. One study shows that consumers are 36% more likely to begin with local search engines, rather than general search sources like Google. Even if they’re looking for a digital marketing agency rather than a hardware store, if you don’t optimize for local search results, your business could lose potential customers.
Here are some useful terms and techniques to ensure that you optimize your business for local searches:
First, understand that schema markup is one of the most powerful, least used parts of SEO today. Schema are basically brief snippets of data that can give extra information to search users and search engines. Best of all, schema markups don’t require extra coding, and can be inserted through Schema.org, a rare collaboration between Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
In the case of the example below, the schema gives extra information about showtimes at the following venue:
As you can see, schema is a game-changer: you can make your site more visible in Google and quickly add brief, useful data for the benefit of users.
Ultimately, SEO is rapidly changing from one year to the next—even from one month to the next. Business owners and marketers have to adapt quickly, but it’s still possible to give your business website the edge on your competition.
Just remember to focus on solid content creation and copywriting fundamentals, engage your viewers deeply, and stay abreast of technical trends like backlinks, SEO health, site speed, and schema.
If all this seems overwhelming—take a deep breath. Taking the effort to understand even the basics of SEO will help your site gain higher click-through rates, engagement, and of course, rankings. In 2017, a little bit of reading and tinkering on your own can still go a very long way.