We have spent much time discussing what the differences are between some of the terminologies used in the SEO world – with terms such as Backlinks, Inbound-this and Outbound-that. This is all well and good because a thorough understanding is helpful. However, we are missing a comprehensive guide to help the unwitting webmasters among us achieve the ranking results they want. So let us do that in this article, let us lay out a short’n’sweet checklist to tick off when getting your website ready for Search Engine stardom.
Firstly, what is a SERP?
SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page – the literal page that a Search Engine spits out when a user searches something. To users this is basic and has no extra value. To you, our dear webmaster, this is the stage upon which only champions stand.
Why does ranking matter?
The web pages that appear on the results page of a search, are those that stand the greatest chance of having a user visit them, which means that they stand the highest chance of selling their products, or gaining a new customer. This has been the dynamic for many years. Search Engines like Google realised a few things:
- There is massive value in Search results – as everyone wants to appear in the results of a relevant search
- In order to be relevant as a Search Engine, they need to have criteria that decides who gets ranking and who does not – otherwise they have no purpose.
With these ideas, Google implemented semi-secret rules called Ranking Factors – benchmarks that all accumulate as a score that decides how highly a website is ranked for its particular niche.
To-Do list for Ranking
Below is a checklist of things to get done on your website to ensure it has the best chance of ranking well. It is worth keeping in mind that these rules change often and that this may no longer be relevant in the years to come.
1. A Healthy URL
Depending on which one you choose to use, has a significant bearing on your ranking. One thing that people don’t always realise is that the domain extension you choose is supposed to be in line with the type of website you are running. In other words a .com is only supposed to be used by Commercial sites, those who are trying to sell something or represent a business.
Besides the Domain Extension, the way your breadcrumbs [www.example.com/page/childpage/subpage] are organised sheds light on how well organised your website’s pages are i.e. how easy a user will find navigating through it. We wrote a whole article on how your URL affects your ranking if you’d like to find out more.
2. Page Loading Speed
Another article of ours had a look at why the speed at which your site loads is considered a ranking factor. In short, Search Engines have determined that any webmaster who is serious about their website is likely to their money where their interest lies. Mainly, they will spend the extra money necessary to get a quality server from a reputable provider.
If a Search Engine’s Spider tries to load a website and it takes too long to respond, the Spider will register that as low quality hosting. Besides the Page Load Speed there is another reason your pages may not be loading quickly, your Content.
3. Optimised Content
In the interest of a heightened user experience, Search Engines place a lot of value on how well a website’s content has been optimised. What ‘optimised’ means in this case is as follows; content that has been made as small as possible while retaining detail. This quality to size ratio is worth keeping in mind, as it will have a direct impact, not only on the Page Load Speed, but on the site’s Bounce Rate.
With microwaves and fridges becoming connected to the internet, more and more devices than ever before need to be able to adequately display content. A website needs to be able to cater to those viewing it on everything from desktop computers with 4K displays, all the way down to mobile phones with 200px x 400px displays. This is another thing that will influence your Bounce Rate and overall user experience metrics.
5. Authority and Age of URL
The age of the domain you are using is also considered as highly important. In the minds of Search Engines, if a website was created for dishonest purposes, it would not have been around for long enough. Especially if coupled with quality hosting solutions, a website that has been active for more than three years will be considered to be very relevant.
6. InPage SEO
Unfortunately, not all SEO efforts can be instantaneous fixes – some require consistency above everything else. This is the case with in-page SEO consistency is a must. What this require is that all your content be formatted in the correct ways. This means that headings be made the correct size according to their importance e.g. most important are larger (h1) and least important smaller (h6) and all other text paragraph (p).
Moreover, all pages have their keywords in the page name, in headings – but be careful to not overdo it. Essentially, Search Engines want their Spider to have an easy time of evaluating a site, its content, its relevance etc. Another practice they put great value on is the use of ALT text, which is used to describe the content of non-text elements like image.
This helps users who rely on screen readers discern what the image contains. Additionally, this results in more accurate image search results for the Search Engines.
7. Bounce Rate etc.
This metric is one of the oldest and most accurate. A ‘bounce’ is measured as a user who lands on your website and leaves without visiting any of the other pages. The reason a high Bounce Rate is considered a bad indicator is because Search Engines believe that this is a sign that Users have not found the website interesting enough to look at any of its other pages.
This is one of the reasons that most Pages and Blog Posts (including this one) contain multiple links that direct the User to other, relevant content. The reason that this is still a reliable metric is because the opposite is very likely to be a positive user experience.
8. Links and Backlinks
The scrutiny continues with a look into the Links and Backlinks that a website makes use of. We have looked into these in a number of articles from Internal vs. External Backlinks, to Your Backlinks Cocktail and more. In short, Links and Backlinks have been increasing in relevance to Search Engines because of how they can be interpreted.
Basically, the reputation of websites that link to your website (and your own site’s reputation) and vice versa, has a direct impact on how each performs in terms of SEO. Those with a good reputation that link to another site will positively influence the other site’s SEO performance, but if the other site’s reputation is too negative, this will negatively influence the SEO score of the site linking to it.
This is a very condensed explanation, so further reading is encouraged. What Search Engines want to see is that webmasters become very selective about whom they link to and about whom they allow to link to them.
9. Social Media
It was bound to have an effect at some point. Social Media now actually has an influence on how your website performs SEO-wise. Although Google has said that it does not officially recognise Social Media as a ranking factor, this does not mean that it has no effect. For now, the fact that your content gets shared all over Social Media leads to more organic traffic, which in and of itself is a very positive thing.
10. Business Information
Google specifically, has made a much bigger push to have local search information be more accurate than ever before. This has come to a point where accurate business information in other facets of Google’s products has become one of the top ranking factors in 2018.
In other words, if your business can easily be found on Google Maps, with accurate and valuable contact information, this means that potential customers will be able to get in touch easier, and the Search Engine has managed to provide the correct information.
It seems that the dominant impression that we can draw from all of these ranking factors is that Search Engines have one core fear that lies at the center of all of what they do – if they do not supply the user with accurate information, they cease to be valuable. Think about it, if you as a user search for something and don’t find it, you immediately question whether the Search Engine is doing its job.
The way they get people to play along is that they have come to understand what users value, and create rules that will result in what the users want. Best of all, they reward you with good results if you follow the rules! Best play long, then.