Visibility is everything. When it comes to promoting a website, the best way to gain those sweet sets of eyes is to get your website to the top of Google’s search results.
The algorithms Google uses to organize its search engine result pages (SERPs) are evolving all the time, and Google’s goal is to serve the best, most accurate results to the user conducting the search. However, web pages still need to be easily accessible to Google’s crawler, the software that finds web pages and stores them in the Google index. The six best ways to improve your ranking on Google’s SERPs cater to both the human and artificial intelligences that determine what websites are worth visiting.
Back then, optimizing a page rank in search engine results meant including relevant keywords that users often search for. This was considered the best practice, indicating what information was present. While this is still true, Google doesn’t use keywords like a tagging system anymore.
Google understands content in terms of connections between entities. According to patents filed by Google, an entity is defined as a thing or concept that is unique and easily differentiated. That’s a vague, jargon-y way of saying that Google knows that people who perform searches are looking for specific, concrete answers. People go to Google for one of three reasons: to navigate to a specific website (like formkeep.com), to find information about a topic, or to find an item they want to purchase. The key to reaching the top of the result page is understanding not only the keywords that apply to your website’s content, but also why people are searching for that topic.
Google uses entities to determine what to put in the Knowledge Panel, the right-hand sidebar on a SERP page that contains facts like a celebrity’s age or a company’s address, and Featured Snippets, which are pieces of information that Google puts at the top of a SERP if a user’s question has a quick answer. Featured Snippets often come in the form of definitions, tables, or lists. If the quality and authority of your information is clear, Google might feature your web page.
Users recognize good content, Google understands that. It tracks what users do after they click a link on a SERP, including dwell time, which is how long a user spends on a website before returning to the result page. The best way to increase your dwell time is to create content that a user will want to spend time with, content that is useful, timely, and high-quality.
Good content gets shared organically, influencing search engine results more than any other factor. If a user shares your content on social media, that increases the number of eyeballs on your web page, but it can also increase how many people search for your website, which will improve your ranking in Google results.
Outbound links, inbound links, and backlinks
In addition to social media sharing, backlinks are a great way to generate attention and improve SEO. Backlinks happen when other websites link to your pages. Google’s ranking algorithm is partially based on the credibility of websites, so if other legitimate sites link back to yours, Google assumes you have a good reputation.
Outbound and inbound links also matter to Google. If you include a link to another web page (an outbound link) or a link to another page on your own website (an inbound link), that will help Google’s crawler understand the context of a page’s content and how it relates to other entities. Internal links also help users navigate between pages, which can keep them on your website for longer. Connecting related pages makes Google happy too, because Google increasingly relies on in-depth topics, rather than discrete keywords, to provide users with the information they’re looking for.
Outbound links can also be a good way to increase your backlinks. Once you’ve linked to another website, reach out and let the author know you’ve referenced their work. If you have high-quality content, that’s just good networking.
Multimedia elements like photos and videos can increase users’ dwell time, but they should be used sparingly. While images can break up large blocks of text and make reading easier, videos can increase your audience. Some people prefer to learn by reading, while others find it easier to get information from videos. Embedded videos can also increase the number of times your website appears on the SERP by getting you a spot in Google’s video carousel and the video results tab.
If you’re using images, make sure that you’re getting the most out of them. Filenames are a good way to include keywords and create context, but avoid long filenames stuffed with unnecessary keywords. Google’s crawler recognizes that behavior and assumes that means the content on the page isn’t as worthwhile. Using the “alt” attribute in HTML is another way to create context using images. This attribute is meant to provide alternative, descriptive text displayed when an image can’t load, but it also helps Google understand your images and helps people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies.
Interactive elements like contact forms or surveys, which can be easily constructed using a service like FormKeep, can both collect valuable information and increase the time that a user spends on a web page.
Page loading speed
Don’t start filling up web pages with images and videos just to increase dwell time, though. There’s also page loading speed to consider. 40% of visitors will leave a website within three seconds if the page hasn’t loaded yet, and few will return to that website in the future to give it another chance. What really matters is having the right balance of multimedia elements to create interest and serve users, without sacrificing speed.
FormKeep is a simple way to keep your page load times down. It’s a great way to take advantage of all the spam protection features and data integrations like Google Sheets, Slack or Active Campaign without having to load content from external services. Simply change the action url of the html of your form to point to formkeep.com and the data will get sent there when the user submits your form.
Since 2016, Google has used the mobile version of sites to rank search engine results even if a user is searching from a desktop, due to overall increased searches from mobile devices. Almost 60% of searches come from mobile devices, and users expect to be able to see all of a website’s features no matter what size screen they’re looking at. This includes comments sections as well as submission and contact forms. Make sure your forms are mobile-friendly and accessible via smartphones. It’s best to go for form builders that understand mobile adaptability.
Google, like most experts, recommends using responsive design in the basic HTML structure of a site to optimize its performance across devices. Google even has a site that will test the mobile-friendliness of any website, using its URL or code.
The future of SEO
Google’s search results ranking demands useful content, and that trend will only grow in the future. Last year, the company incorporated a neural network-based algorithm called Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding, or BERT, into its process for analyzing websites. This system helps Google understand the intent behind specific words used in searches, which means that Google can give users even more accurate results. For those creating content that must be indexed by Google, it means that authoritative, useful content is more important than ever.
Surveys of SEO specialists back this up: Many say that Google prioritizes quality, and users want easy access to easily-shared information. That means straightforward organization within web pages and fast loading speeds, but it also means that website operators should invest in building their sites’ brands and reputations in order to increase visibility. Above all, the user experience and ease of access should come first.