Even with ever-changing technology redefining many aspects of content strategy, SEO is still king. Today, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, and the top three Google search results rack up 75% of all clicks. Making sure your content ranks well is a marketing must.
For those new to the scene, SEO or search engine optimization is the practice of writing and altering content and code to improve site ranking in search engine results. To rank sites, search engines like Google and Bing crawl and index the web to deliver results to queries from users searching the internet.
Crushing SEO is just as much about understanding the search engine ranking system as it is knowing what customers are searching for. While there are a few evergreen SEO basics everyone should have in place, emerging technologies like voice and AI, and the growing importance of optimizing sites for mobile users might mean it’s time to take a second look at your SEO strategy.
Help your WordPress site outrank the competition with these tips and tricks:
Get some outside help
Before you get started, it’s important to complete an audit of your site to pinpoint where you are doing well and where there’s room for growth. Some tools to get the job done include:
- Website Grader: this award-winning free tool from HubSpot provides a general overview of what’s going well on your site from a marketing perspective.
- monitorbacklinks.com: a tool that rates the websites linking to your site and more.
- Market Goo: a free website report about how your site is doing in pivotal SEO areas like traffic received, mobile, etc.
- Moz: a paid SEO software and data tool that helps increase traffic, site visibility and ranking in search engine results.
Once you know where you stand and where need to improve, you can take the steps necessary to get better.
Installing a plugin for additional SEO help can also be a good way to improve your search engine rankings and become more visible online. There’s a myriad of SEO plugins to choose from, but the favorite by far for both fans and experts has to be Yoast, which you can install with the click of a few buttons.
Yoast helps manage content titles, meta descriptions, and can even create XML sitemaps to strengthen your SEO even further. While Yoast is not “auto-magic”—it does require some set-up and attention to detail—it’s an incredibly user-friendly tool used by SEO novices and veterans alike. If Yoast isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, though, there are nearly 1,000 other SEO plugins you can choose from in the WordPress Plugin Repository.
Tip: When searching for plugins of any kind, make sure and check for things like positive ratings, a high number of active installs, and the last time a plugin was updated.
Lay the foundation
While completing an SEO audit and installing a plugin are great places to start, at the end of the day, before even looking at more technical aspects of search engine optimization, good SEO originates from the basics—valuable content, a well-designed website, and security.
Know the search engine
First and foremost, search engines want to present users with the most accurate response to a query. How can they do that?
In the case of Google, they fly with Hummingbird, the nickname for their search results ranking algorithm. While Google has not officially released the details of its ranking system, SEO experts have estimated it to include more than 200 ranking factors.
Gaining even a basic understanding of the way search engine algorithms are likely finding and ranking content is a good exercise and something you can incorporate back into your own content strategy. If the search engines want accurate, timely content that’s well-sourced and well-linked, that’s what you should be striving to create.
Make sure your site is easy to navigate and find
Before it does anything else, the search engine must be able to crawl a page effectively and flag it as having the pertinent information to index. If not, even if your page provides the right content, it won’t be found. That’s where good sitemaps and picking the right keywords come in handy.
Just like people, search engines have to navigate a website. Although search engine results only display web pages, making the navigation of your site logical indicates a higher quality site. Moreover, Google even states that “Google Search uses breadcrumb markup in the body of a web page to categorize the information from the page in search results.”
Google recommends creating a navigation page for your users and an XML sitemap file for search engines. XML sitemaps allow a search engine to discover new and updated pages, however, it’s important to remember to block Google from crawling unnecessary pages so your ratio of crawled to indexed pages is high.
The second part of the puzzle, Keywords, are the phrases and words people use in search engine queries and they play an important role in bridging the gap between your content and search engine results.
Just because keywords serve a critical role in SEO doesn’t mean you should use them irresponsibly. “Keyword stuffing” can actually hurt your site ranking and as Google gets smarter about using context to judge what a piece of content is about, placing keywords strategically is more important than ever for strong SEO performance. If you are not doing so already, you should practice placing keywords unique to your content in:
Title tags, the body of your content, URL, H1 tags, meta descriptions, and alt attributes.
Keep it secure: HTTPS encryption
As mentioned above, Google rarely divulges any specific information about its ranking factors, but several years ago they announced that security does and will increasingly impact rankings.
While a strong overall security posture is always recommended for any website, one way to quickly improve site security for Google Search is to make sure it’s set up with HTTPS encryption.
HTTPS encryption is acquired through something called an SSL certificate, which helps authenticate websites and ensures hackers cannot see or intercept data your users share on your site. It’s an easy way to keep your content and users safe, and it can also help generate more organic traffic.
To add an SSL certification to your site, you’ll either need to purchase one or use a free option—the type of certification that’s right for you depends on the site it will be applied to. Once the certification has been acquired, it will need to be installed on your server and set up for your site or multiple sites.
Know your Search Engine Results Page (SERP)
In this day and age of growing personalization, no search engine results page (SERP) is the same. Google wants to keep users within its ecosystem for as long as possible and has come up with innovative ways of presenting information on search results pages to do just that. Research shows that today, 34% of search engine users don’t even click out of the SERP to the links presented.
For example, while shopping for something, you may be presented with a shopping feed at the top of your page with other AdWords-related searches below, however, if you search for the capital of Australia you receive a different SERP—two wildly different user experiences.
Getting in front of your desired audience via SEO hinges upon knowing what kind of search results your keywords will most likely create. Once you know the SERP, you can create content optimized for it.
Overall, any website, brand, or company that wants to increase organic traffic through SEO should develop customized SERP strategy for their specific industry, watch the evolution of it, and adjust accordingly.
Make it mobile friendly
Today, ensuring your site is mobile friendly is more important than ever. The stats speak for themselves: 71% of digital time is spent on mobile, 50% of Google searches on mobile and Gen Z are 2x more likely to shop on mobile compared to Millennials.
If the stats aren’t convincing enough, several years ago Google released an algorithm update that changed the way it ranked to favor mobile-friendly sites greatly impacting SEO. For the sake of SEO and user experience, having a mobile-friendly site and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) functionality ready is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. In 2019, WP Engine released Genesis 3.0, the latest version of the world’s most popular WordPress theme framework, which directly merged AMP functionality into the Genesis core, making it easier for developers to build AMP-compatible themes.
Think about the algorithms—Google Rank Brain and BERT
Rank Brain is an artificial intelligence technology that influences every search result Google generates, and in a nutshell, it allows Hummingbird to provide accurate search results to more complex queries. In short, it uses machine learning to constantly tweak ranking algorithms for specific keywords by taking into consideration user satisfaction.
As a result, a user’s post-click actions have become just as important as their pre-click actions. For example, one of the main things Rank Brain looks at is the click-through rate of your search results. Thus, if you prioritize useful, quality content that provides real value for readers (as evidenced by their willingness to click through your content and keep reading it) search engines will recognize that value and offer it in their results more often.
Also, in 2019, Google rolled out BERT, a neural network-based technique for natural language processing (NLP) pre-training. If the last sentence seems like tech gibberish, don’t worry. All you need to know is that BERT is Google’s largest search system change since Google Rank Brain, and it aims to help Google better understand the nuances of searches.
Roughly 10% of all queries have been impacted by this update. We suggest checking your site’s search engine traffic to determine if you’re part of the 10%. Try your best to pinpoint what caused the change, but there is no real way to “optimize” for BERT outside of the fundamentals—create good content that provides value for the reader and satisfies the parameters of the search query.
Plan for voice technologies
Voice technology is here and isn’t going anywhere. Even in the current, early days of voice, according to Google, 20% of mobile searches are already voice-driven and ComScore hypothesizes that by 2020 50% of all searches will be driven by voice.
What does that mean for your SEO strategy?
To make sure you stay ahead of the game or even in the game, it’s important to make your marketing efforts voice friendly. Create content that is optimized for conversational language and be sure to build in that language in other elements of your websites. For example, FAQ pages are great ways to incorporate conversational language into your website and simultaneously provide value to your readers.
While Google does hold the large majority of the search engine market, other search engines do exist and should be on your radar. Currently, the most popular voice speaker, Alexa, runs on Bing. As of 2019, 100 million people purchased Alexas, equating to potentially hundreds of millions of voice-driven queries through Bing. As voice search (and Alexa, along with other voice technologies) continues to rise in popularity it’s not a bad idea to understand the differences between Google and Bing and discover how to optimize your sites for both. Check out this helpful article for more information.
At the end of the day, providing your website visitors with a fast, reliable, and secure digital experience will benefit not only SEO rankings but your brand as a whole.
For a more in-depth and technical look at SEO practices, check out this blog post, and visit WP Engine to find out how our WordPress Digital Experience Platform can help you build fast, great-looking, SEO-friendly websites.