In many ways, organic search rankings are the lifeblood of the online business world.
As SEO specialists know all too well, Google is famously quiet about what goes into their search ranking algorithms, which they update all the time. When a new update is released, search enthusiasts are quick to make assumptions about how to tweak their SEO strategies to please the all-powerful Google bots.
From time-to-time, experts behind the scenes at Google drop huge hints about the indications of an update – “prioritize this, disregard that.”
However, regardless of what the brass at Google thinks or does, there are a handful of SEO tasks you should still be paying attention to. Here are the seven big ones.
1. Optimizing image alt text
Image alt text has long been a valuable component in SEO. Over the past few years, there have been increasing talks about Google using machine learning to understand what an image is and what it’s all about – which was the primary function of image alt text.
So does this mean that including alt text is a waste of time?
No. Definitely not.
Regardless of what the newer, AI-fueled procedures for image recognition, you aren’t going to lose anything by including good image alt texts on your website. Keep in mind, machine learning is a relatively new concept. While image alt text might be entirely obsolete in the next five to ten years (maybe sooner), optimizing your images the “old fashioned way” is a good idea to play it safe.
2. Prioritizing authority of content
Content “authority” has been this ambiguous component of SEO since the beginning. Obviously, Google wants to present users with the most credible and authoritative content based on their search queries.
Following the August 2018 Medic Core update, it was more or less clear that organizations in Your Money Your Life industries needed to be prioritizing the E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness) of their content. However, in this recent March update, it seemed like a lot of the details surrounding this concept were redacted (this is speculation, of course).
People were left with the question, “Should we still focus on building authority with our content? If so, how much?”
Plain and simple, you should ALWAYS be working to create authoritative content, always!
This comes down to the basics of creating insightful, reliable content. Make it easy for the average user to consume, reference credible data/information to support your claims, provide clear takeaways and so on. These common strategies of creating authoritative content have been true since the beginning of the internet.
In a recent episode of The Marketing Microscope (hosted by my company), we heard Rand Fishkin’s hot take on the matter.
3. Creating longer content
John Mueller has publically said that word count itself is not a ranking factor.
“Some pages have a lot of words that say nothing, word count is not indicative of quality.”
With this in mind, Google will not necessarily rank your content based on word count alone. Short form content has the same ranking potential as long form.
But does this mean you should only aim to create shorter content?
The most important thing about creating content is that it provides the best possible information based on certain queries, and more importantly, user intent. Maybe you can do this in 500 words; maybe it takes 5,000. Ultimately, it’s up to you to use your best judgment as a site owner.
According to the recent content research case study by Backlinko, “Long-form content gets an average of 77.2% more links than short articles. Therefore, long-form content appears to be ideal for backlink acquisition.” This leads to improved organic search results too.
Keep in mind, content pieces with higher word counts have greater potential to target more relevant queries and get to the root of search intent. So, that being said, you are often better off creating longer content. Eliminate the fluff and ensure you are answering pressing questions with meaningful and credible insight.
4. Considering AMP
To reference John Mueller again, he went on record a couple of years ago saying that AMP is not a ranking factor.
These days (regardless of how it impacts rankings), AMP has become an absolute necessity given the rising number of mobile searches.
One of Google’s big updates of 2018 was the mobile-first index roll-out. Since then, it has been rumored that AMP impacts rankings in some form or another.
So, are AMP pages worth it?
The rate of adoption is skyrocketing right now. Nearly 31 million domains adopted AMP within the past year. SEO is moving away from desktop computers and onto the small screen. The longer you avoid implementing AMP, the further behind you will slide.
5. Targeting LSI keywords, but not for ranking
Latent Semantic Indexing keywords do not directly impact your search rankings. However, taking your time to meticulously choose LSI keywords can help in covering necessary information related to the keywords and phrases you originally targeted. In turn, this will help you get rankings for those relevant search terms and avoid keyword stuffing penalties.
If you are not using LSI keywords, it will be harder for Google to pinpoint the SEO correlations and overlap between the content on your website. So, instead of trying to use the same keywords and phrases repeatedly throughout your content, incorporating LSI keywords is critical for helping Google bots understand your messaging and its relevance to user intent.
The goal is to incorporate them in a natural, conversational way. If used properly, LSI keywords will help website visitors find the answers they need as well as help Google better understand your content.
6. Keywords in the domain name are marginal for ranking
The days of exact match domains working SEO magic are long gone.
These days, the URL of a domain plays a marginal role in Google’s ranking factors. According to Google:
“You want the answer, not billions of webpages, so Google ranking systems sort through hundreds of billions of webpages in our Search index to give you useful and relevant results in a fraction of a second.”
Now, this doesn’t always mean that using keywords in your domain is a terrible thing. Exact match domains can potentially play a role in how your webpage ranks. But it is dicey.
The key is to tailor the domain around user intent. For example, let’s Google “lawyer marketing.”
Most of the top listings include this term in the domain name.
The user intent behind this query is fairly straightforward: lawyers looking for marketing services. With this in mind, including this focused keyword can likely help a niche website or service provider rank for this particular request.
So, in some instances, incorporating keywords into your domain name can provide clues as to what your site is all about, as well as guide users to the answers they need.
Now, this will definitely not work for every domain.
Let’s Google the term “muffler replacement.”
Notice that there is no keyword matching in any of the top domains listed. For queries like this, Google has determined that searchers are often looking for resources like directories, guides and DIY instructions. Therefore, using these keywords in a domain wouldn’t do much good.
Keep in mind, if you choose to try this, you must be VERY careful about it. Google cracked down on the exact match domain practice when people started abusing it.
Google has said that HTTPS is a lightweight ranking factor. John Mueller even confirmed this back in January.
Even though you don’t technically need HTTPS to be indexed by Google, this DOES NOT mean you shouldn’t get an SSL certificate!
When you land on a website, Google very clearly indicates whether or not it’s secure. The blaring red symbol and the “Not Secure” label can cause people to leave your site immediately – especially if you take any personal information like names, addresses, credit card info, etc.
Do yourself and your visitors a solid and make sure your site is secure – no matter how it impacts Google rankings.
Obviously, you want to put yourself in the best position to rank well on Google. But, it’s important to keep in mind that maintaining a good online presence goes beyond search rankings.
No matter what Google says thinks or does, there are many SEO-related tasks you shouldn’t overlook. Some are simply wise to do because they don’t affect you negatively, and some are just ideal for the greater good.
7 SEO best practices you should be doing regardless of what Google says