When it comes to search engine optimization, it’s important for content creators and bloggers to understand all the different factors that search engines consider in order to attract maximum organic traffic from Google.
In this guide, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about getting search traffic to your website so you can grow your business through SEO.
You have to realize that as the Internet continues to evolve, Google has also matured significantly. The sheer amount of data Google has at its disposal is staggering. Add artificial intelligence and machine learning to that mix, and the fact is that Google has now gotten so smart it terrifies some people.
As a marketer, Google’s evolution presents a lot of opportunities for you to find new ways of tapping into the organic traffic from one of the world’s most popular search engines.
But first, you have to learn how the search giant does things now.
So here’s an overview of everything you’ll need if you’re going to optimize your blog the right way. This includes the different ranking factors as well as a lot of tools and resources that are necessary to help you on your quest.
Ready? Let’s do this!
Important Changes in SEO
Nothing stays the same for long in this game. If you’re still using old tactics such as purposely going out to build links, worrying about the density of keywords in your posts, or fussing over do-follow links, and so on, then you’re wasting your time.
All these things might have worked effectively a few years ago, but now, because of marketers and SEO firms all over the world, those tactics are virtually dead. Thanks to all the people who spent time gaming the system, the search engines have grown up and evolved. They are now wise to idiotic things that some marketers try in order to rank their content.
In addition to that, Google and other search engines are always on the lookout for ways to create a better user experience.
The reason for this is simple. Whenever search results fully serve the needs of a searcher, that person is likely to continue to use the search engine. So it’s in Google’s best interest to surface only the best stuff that is totally relevant to what the searcher is looking for.
So if you’re still using means of gaming the system, then you’re Google’s enemy.
Traditional SEO is dead.
It’s got limited workability and is no longer effective. There’s no longer a need to waste all your time (or pay an SEO firm) to build backlinks for your site laced with keywords.
Yes, keywords do still matter. But they have to be natural. Anything that the search engine thinks is unnatural will cost you in terms of your website’s ranking. Backlinks still matter, too. In fact, they are still one of the most important ranking factors for Google.
However, any backlinking efforts that leave unnatural link patterns will be detected by Google from miles away – and again, that’ll cost you.
For instance, if you have a bunch of low-quality backlinks, all with the same few keyword phrases in the links, it appears unnatural. Google knows that it’s not the way regular people do things. But when it sees natural backlinks to your site from high-quality websites, you can be sure that will greatly enhance your SEO.
To further understand how search engine optimization is different today, it helps to gain an understanding of how Google’s algorithms have evolved.
Google Is Now Smarter Than Ever!
Google’s mission has always been simple: They aim to deliver exactly what the end-user is searching for. At its essence, this was based around keywords inside the content. Users would type words in the search box, then Google would find content that had those words.
This was pretty elementary in the beginning, and the results were not very good since computers couldn’t interpret what the words that were entered meant. All the computer could achieve was direct matching and to look to different external ranking factors for signs that the content was good.
Because of that, backlinks then became a major external ranking factor.
Google would gain a pretty good idea of what that piece of content was about and how great it was by looking at how many links were going to the content – and also the keywords used within those links.
The problem with this is that marketers quickly learned ways of gaming the system.
They began to stuff keywords into their content and started engineering backlinks. Some marketers would even hire companies simply for the purpose of spamming the web with tons of backlinks in order to rank higher in the search engines.
Fed up with this nonsense, Google developed newer, smarter algorithms with animal-themed names like Hummingbird, Penguin, Panda, and so on.
The majority of Google’s algorithm changes are simply incremental updates.
However, every so often, they release a massive one that really impacts the way things work. Their most recent creation, RankBrain, brings machine learning to the world of search. As you’ve already deduced, this means that now Google is very good at surfacing only the best and most relevant content that will be of the most use to the end-user.
Keywords Are Dead: Long Live User Satisfaction and Engagement
Signs of content quality are found across the board in various signals that have to do with user satisfaction and engagement. Google wants to know if users are actually engaging with and interacting with content.
It’s the same in the email marketing world. If your subscribers don’t engage with the emails you send, your deliverability rates will drop, and this means you will probably wind up in their spam folder. It’s vital to get your subscribers to open your emails and engage. That is, they need to scroll through them, click on them, reply to them, etc.
These are essentially all the things you do if you got an email from someone you know and trust.
As far as your blog posts are concerned, the story is exactly the same:
The secret to ranking success is engagement.
Google is out there checking for different signals pointing to how happy users are with the search results shown to them. And Google is also reacting to that information in real-time.
For instance, if it seems that one result is satisfying users a lot more than a second one, then Google will ensure that the former outranks the latter in the results pages. Thanks to its machine learning, Google is able to adapt on the fly.
But how is Google able to tell that users are happy with a particular result (I hear you ask)?
The answer is simple. Google looks at different behaviors which are indicative of the user’s satisfaction.
- Click-through rates from the search results to the actual page
- The length of time the user spends on the page
- The page’s bounce rate
- If the user pogo-sticks through the results (that is, if they quickly back out and then visit another website, quickly bounce out again, and so on)
There are, of course, many other factors that Google considers. However, the important thing to understand here is that all of these things affect your SEO and your rankings in the search engines.
This means that if you still exclusively focus on long-tail keywords and backlinks, you’re going to miss the boat. SEO is no longer just about keywords and links, or any of the other mechanical things – these days it’s about optimizing your content for humans.
UXO, The New SEO
User experience optimization (UXO) is now your best bet for improving your blog’s SEO. You need to cater to real flesh-and-blood humans as opposed to trying to please the bots.
- Do visitors read your content?
- Do they click on it?
- Are they engaging with it?
- Do readers find your posts useful?
If you are spewing posts out of an article spinner, don’t expect people to engage with them. These days, most people simply press the back button when confronted with low-quality content. If your articles are stuffed with keywords and not much else, they’re not likely to be very helpful to readers and you can bet that as soon as they determine that your article sucks, they’ll be gone – probably for good.
So, to anticipate your next question:
Keyword Research Is Still Relevant
Although keywords still (and always will) make up the fundamental determiner of the topic of any piece of content, today there is no need to get as nitty-gritty as people used to where keywords are concerned.
Long-tail keywords were the name of the game in old-school SEO, but now Google is getting smarter. While long-tail keywords still work to some degree, with the implementation of RankBrain, their importance is dwindling because now Google knows that even though you say one thing a thousand different ways, you’re still talking about the exact same thing.
So, for instance, you could optimize a post on your blog for: ‘Content marketing’ or you could optimize it for the long tail version: ‘How to do content marketing’. In either case, Google now realizes that it’s just two versions of the same keyword phrases and it will show you more or less the same results for both searches.
Google is now smart enough to understand user intent.
Why is this important to you?
You need to understand this so that you can stop wasting your time creating tons of different pages, each targeting a specific long-tail keyword. That’s not to say you shouldn’t target long-tail keywords, because you absolutely should include them in your content. However, this shouldn’t be your only strategy for SEO without taking other factors into consideration.
A comprehensive strategy will allow you to optimize your long-tail phrases for ‘rich snippets’, ‘people also ask’ sections and more.
But now, with Google’s evolution, you can target medium-tail keywords and get results that are just as effective, if not more. These middle-of-the-pack terms get a lot more search volume than the average long-tail keywords do. Also, they aren’t insanely competitive, either.
As I said before, Google is now scary smart and the search engine is able to fill in all the gaps for lots of your long-tail keywords. What this means is that RankBrain will rank you automatically for a bunch of keyword phrases similar to the medium-tail one without you having to bother doing it specifically.
The bottom line, according to a study that Ahrefs did, it seems that the average number-one-ranking page also ranks in the top 10 for almost 1000 other relevant keyword phrases!
So, you stand the best chance of getting ranked high if you optimize your content around one strong medium-tail keyword.
RankBrain will do the rest for you and rank you for all the other smaller keywords. But of course, stuffing your keyword a bunch of times within your content won’t help you rank better – your content has to be truly EPIC.
But how exactly do the search engines know if your content is epic?
They look at the following:
Google’s 7 User Engagement Signals
Listed below are the seven signals that Google uses in order to determine user engagement for any piece of content.
Remember Google’s mission?
To provide only THE BEST experience for the end-user. And to do that, Google needs to present the highest quality content right at the top of their search results. So you can see how, although in the past keyword relevancy was all the rage, now it’s about a lot more than just that.
This is how Google tells if people ‘dig’ your content:
- Click-through rate
- Time on page and bounce rate
- Scroll depth
- Article’s social shares
- Natural backlinks
- Site speed
Now let’s go into a bit more detail about each of these signals…
1. Click-Through Rate
Run a simple search on Google.com, and then hover over the link of any of the results. You will notice that the link doesn’t point directly to the website. This is because Google is actually running outgoing traffic via its own tracker. This is how they keep tabs on what people click on.
So, if the title or description that is seen in the SERPs makes users want to click through to the page, then that site gets a higher click-through rate from those search results. What this means for you is that you need to optimize your listings for click-throughs in the same way you would optimize your email subject line.
How do you do this?
Well first, you want to optimize your blog post’s headline.
Do this not just on the blog post itself, but also on the headline as it looks on Google. Although it’s beyond the scope of this guide to dive deep into how to optimize your blog post headlines (there are many posts on my blog talking about this), here are a few quickies:
- Put emotion into your headlines to make them more interesting. Use words such as juicy, crazy, awesome, seductive, fabulous, powerful, attention-grabbing, outrageous, insane, disturbing, slick, seriously, mind-blowing, delicious, successful, useful, valuable, shocking, terrible, alarming, brilliant, fascinating…
- Use promise words in your headlines, such as effective, study, case study, that will, examples, new, proven…
- Use parentheses or brackets at the end of your headline. According to a study done by HubSpot, headlines with brackets at the end that clarify the post’s contents get almost 40% more clicks than ones that don’t.
- Use Numbers. This isn’t just about list posts, but specifically using numbers in your blog post headlines helps to get more attention because it makes the results a lot more realistic.
Also, optimize your description because this essentially works as a sub-headline. It also helps to convince people to click through to your article from the search results.
Anytime you’re trying to sell someone on something, the same ideas apply – you need to make it emotional. Convince them why they need to click on YOUR particular results as opposed to the one next to yours.
It’s also a great idea to insert some proven keywords within the description. In addition to the main target keyword, you can also include some related keywords.
An easy way for you to take control of this process is by using the Yoast SEO plug-in, which gives you a little preview of what your page will look like on Google. If you want to create star ratings for your blog posts, you can use a WordPress plug-in like ‘KK Star Ratings’.
PRO TIP: If you really want to start seeing great results with your posts, it pays to start thinking of the Google listings within the SERPs in the same way you view your email subject lines or the headline on your landing pages.
Take time to tweak it and sell people on clicking YOUR result over any of the others on the page. Your click-through rate gives Google a solid signal that users prefer your content, and you will be swiftly rewarded with higher rankings.
2. Time on Page and Bounce Rate
Basically, you need to increase the time people spend on your page while reducing the bounce rate. The longer visitors stay on a page, the more Google knows they are engaged. Also, when people click to other places on your site (as opposed to immediately bouncing off) it shows Google that your content is useful to those visitors.
Most people are using Google Analytics, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that Google is using all that information to find out exactly what’s going on with all our websites. Not only that – but as I stated above, Google tracks the clicks off of the SERPs.
This means that whenever someone clicks through to a page on your site, but they return within just a few seconds to Google’s results page, the search engine takes it as a sign that your content did not resonate with that person.
I’m sure you’ve done it a few times yourself. When you’re looking for something, you conduct a search on Google, click on a page, check it out, and if it doesn’t rock your world in the first few seconds, you’re out in a flash. You go back to Google and check out other results – am I right?
This is what marketers call ‘pogo-sticking’. And it’s one of the things you need to watch out for because it seriously impacts your rankings.
One of the ways to combat low time spent on your pages and high bounce rates is by including infographics, videos, and other types of media on your pages that will cause people to hang around and study them.
Also, huge resource posts (such as this one) are great for reducing bounce rate because they typically have lots of images and videos in them which cause people to scroll down further, and therefore hang around the pages much longer.
Oh, and of course, the content is wildly interesting so…
3. Scroll Depth
It just so happens that a lot of the tactics that you can use to increase time spent on-page and to reduce your bounce rates are the same ones that work for increasing scroll depth. Scroll depth simply measures how far down your page someone scrolls.
Tools like CrazyEgg will show you how far down people are scrolling your web pages. With that information, you’ll be able to determine what you can do to improve that metric. For instance, adding infographics obviously works, and if you already know where people tend to click off the page, you can add an infographic or some interesting images in that section to allow people to continue scrolling further.
You can also use teasers at the start of each of your blog posts hinting at what’s below in order to entice people to go all the way down.
- Use compelling sub-headlines
- Break up your content into chunks
- Use a great hook introduction
- Don’t hide the content below the fold
- Create huge resource posts that make people want to scroll down
- Use teasers at the top of your blog post
- Use plenty of interesting, attractive, high-quality images
- Use infographics where people have to scroll to view the whole image
A simple way you can leverage to automate your efforts to increase your scroll depth is by installing a WordPress plug-in called ‘Smooth Scroll Page Up/Down Buttons‘.
4. Articles Social Shares
Obviously, whenever a post gets a lot of shares on social media, it’s a direct signal of quality content. I mean, think about it. People don’t usually share content if they think it sucks, do they? So, this is one of the criteria of modern blog search engine optimization:
You need to acquire more social shares.
The best way of getting a lot of social shares is simply to create great content. There is no doubt about it, great content will always inspire readers to share it. I’m sure by now you see the theme that’s consistent here:
Lackluster, lazy content will never rank!
In addition to creating high-quality content for your blog, here are some more specific ways to help you increase social shares:
- Used Tweetables throughout your blog posts.
- Create infographics to go along with your posts. These are very popular for Pinterest sharing.
- Present a CTA to all commenters asking them to share your post. Plug-ins like Thrive comments make it extremely easy to do this.
- Present valuable content upgrades where readers have to share your posts in order to unlock access.
- Run paid ads to amplify your post on social media and gather more organic shares.
5. Natural Backlinks
While paid traffic is the way to go, paid links, link exchanges, etc. are all a ‘no-no’. Do not go for anything that will result in unnatural backlinks. In fact, if you simply do everything else stated in this article, you can rest assured the backlinks will take care of themselves.
If you do your job well, people will be eager to link to you, just as long as your content is relevant. But for those who want to go that extra mile, you can employ a variety of strategies to get natural backlinks, such as:
- Guess blogging where you get your name, business, and you link in front of new audiences.
- Article marketing on real communities (as opposed to just article directories like EzineArticles).
- Video marketing where you add a link in your video description on video-sharing sites like Vimeo and YouTube.
- …and so on.
6. Site Speed
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but the speed of your website, as well as the server that it’s on, both have a massive impact on your SEO. This is because your website speed makes up a huge chunk of your user experience.
If your server has a slow response time, this increases your bounce rate while reducing the time spent onpage.
These days, people just don’t have the patience to sit there waiting for your website to load. They’d rather click the ‘back’ button and find another, faster-loading site. There are free services online like Pingdom which allow you to test the speed of your site.
Alternatively, you can go directly to the big kahuna, PageSpeed Insights where Google can test your site and let you know if there’s room for improvement.
- Choose a Different Web Host: I usually recommend SiteGround for most new bloggers and there are a lot of reasons why (simply read my SiteGround review to find out more). However, the main reason is their server performance, which means your website will be super fast.
- CDN (Content Delivery Network): If you’re using a web host that doesn’t have a built-in CDN, then you may have to use a third-party like MaxCDN.
- Clean Code: If you have a professionally designed theme such as the ones from Genesis or Thrive Themes, then you’re probably okay. If not, you may need to hire a web developer who will clean up the code on your website. If you’re operating with inefficient or bloated HTML/CSS, it can add unnecessary bulk that slows down your website. There are certain plug-ins that you can use to compress some of your website’s assets and make your site a whole lot faster, such as Autoptimize and Better WordPress Minify.
- Reduce Plug-Ins: The number of plug-ins that you have can contribute to slowing down your website. Each plug-in you activate adds bulk, so your first step is to deactivate and remove all the plug-ins that you don’t really need. You can also consider adding relevant plug-in profiles that control where on your blog plug-ins are needed and where they are not.
- Optimize All Images on Your Blog: Images add a lot to the downloadable size of your website. They are bulky and contain an additional payload which doesn’t serve a purpose on how well those images are displayed on your website. This means that removing that payload is going to reduce your image’s file size, therefore increasing the speed that each page loads on your site.
- Use W3 Total Cache: This plug-in is an absolute must-have unless your web host does all this stuff for you. So if you’re with WP Engine or SiteGround, you likely don’t need this plug-in. But if not, get it right now because it will have a massive impact on the speed of your website.
This is self-explanatory. And yes, readability matters. Google obviously knows proper grammar and spelling, and it uses this as a sign to determine the readability of any piece of content. Google also knows that the majority of people won’t engage with the type of content that is full of grammar and spelling mistakes.
That’s why readability is another important factor that you need to consider. Luckily, if you’re using a plugin like Yoast SEO from WordPress, you will be able to determine the readability of your post before you hit publish.
However, don’t think that this means you have to become a grammar nut.
On the contrary – people just want effective communication. So forget all those stupid rules from your high
school English class. Don’t talk like someone trying to make ‘first contact’ from Mars… Determine the most effective way to talk to your audience and stick with that.
For instance, if you’re talking to a bunch of seven-year-old Disney movie lovers, your grammar obviously has to be different than when you’re speaking to 65-year-old investors who want to know more about bitcoin.
The point here is that you need to avoid typos and silly grammar issues in your posts that could possibly impede effective communication.
And that’s it!
You now have all the information you need to optimize your blog posts for search. So get started right now and start reaping the benefits of all your search engine optimization efforts.