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Are you looking to increase your search traffic in 2018? Have you been using the same old tried and tested SEO techniques for the last few years, with little or no results? We’ve put together a list of strategies that will impact SEO in a big way this year. If you’re serious about improving search ranking and need some immediate advice, then read on.

  1. Reduce page load time

Have you ever clicked on a website link and experienced an annoying wait while the page loads? Even though businesses are opting for quirky load pages, having to wait until you can access a website can be really frustrating. Most often people close the tab and move on, thus directly affecting the bounce rate. This has a negative impact on website user engagement, and in turn search engine ranking.

So, before you decide to work on the content or overall ‘look and feel’ of your website, ensure that your website has passed a speed test successfully. According to Kissmetrics, 47 percent of visitors expect a website to load in less than 2 seconds, and 40 percent of visitors will leave the website if the page does not load within 3 seconds.

Google has created an easy fix to assess and solve page load speed issues with the PageSpeed insights tool. This tool enables you to efficiently assess how fast your pages load and provides tips on how to improve. You can also see an overview of page loading times within Google Analytics in the Behavior > Site Speed report.

  1. Optimize for RankBrain

Google Algorithm updates can create havoc for SEO specialists and each time the search giant chooses to upgrade its algorithm, you’ll find marketers scrambling to figure out how to stay ahead of the game. However, the fact remains that Google updates cannot be ignored.

Google announced that the RankBrain algorithm is their third most important ranking factor. Simply speaking, RankBrain is a Machine Learning system that helps Google sort their queries. While this might sound complicated, it isn’t. Basically, what it does is it evaluates how users interact with search results and ranks them accordingly.

For example, let’s say you search for “Tips to improve lead generation” in Google.

The #3 result looks very interesting. So, you quickly click on it. And when you land on the page…you’re thrilled! It’s one of the best articles about lead generation you have ever read. So, you continue reading right to the end.

RankBrain notices this and likely gives that #3 result a rankings boost.

Let’s consider a different scenario.

You do the same search but this time you click on #2 and the content is completely irrelevant. So, you immediately leave the page and click on a different search result. RankBrain notices this as well and if more people bounce off #2, Google will reduce the ranking for that page.

The RankBrain algorithm focuses on two things:

  1. How long someone spends on your page (Dwell Time)
  2. The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate)
  3. Improve Internal Linking Structure

If you want to boost website engagement and ensure increased rankings, create a good internal linking structure. One aspect of this involves using relevant anchor texts to link to other related content on your website. It also involves recommending relevant content to users in the middle of a post in the form of a ‘Read Similar Posts’ button. These tactics will help to reduce the bounce rate and increase page views, both relevant stats for website user engagement.

  1. Mobile Friendliness

According to Google:

  • More people search on mobile phones than computers.
  • People are five times more likely to leave a site if it isn’t mobile-friendly.
  • Over half of mobile users will leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load.

There is no doubt that mobile responsiveness is key for improved user experience and in turn improved rankings. Although mobile optimization has been around for a while now, the usual method employed by website developers is to create a website for desktop and then optimize it for mobile. While this is a totally advisable way to create websites, very often what works on desktop doesn’t necessarily translate well to mobile.

So, what does this mean for your website? You will have to go the extra mile to create fully mobile-focused websites, this will ensure the most optimized experience for users, improve rankings and ultimately increase conversions. Search Console by Google provides a mobile usability report that details problems on a page-by-page level.

Search Console focuses on the following mobile usability factors: Flash usage, Viewport not configured, Fixed-width viewport, Content not sized to viewport, Small font size, Touch elements too close. Read more about how these factors are assessed here. These technical elements are key factors that Google reports on to webmasters. To ensure that your site is graded well by Google on usability, your site must be optimized to remove these issues.

  1. Meta Descriptions

The meta description is a short paragraph of text that is placed in the HTML of a webpage. If you are using WordPress, then you will be able to easily insert the meta description via the Yoast Plugin. The primary purpose of the meta description is to provide a snippet of information to readers, as it is the first thing they see about your article or web page.  The meta description appears under your page’s URL in the search results. Here is a complete checklist to write the perfect meta description:

  • Make sure your most important keywords for the web page are at the beginning of the meta description
  • Ensure the description is easily readable and sounds ‘human’
  • Make the description as appealing as possible
  • Length:  Recently, Google made changes to the length of search results snippets: 160 characters have been increased to 320. This means you can finally take the opportunity to lengthen meta descriptions and include more relevant information in the snippet.
  • Ensure the meta description matches the content on the page to avoid a Google penalty

Meta Descriptions are crucial in getting clicks from users and click through rates play a vital role in search engine optimization. Creating high-quality meta descriptions will ensure that users don’t search for other websites, but click through to yours. The more users click on your website, the better your search engine rankings.

  1. Use Keywords That Matter

Keyword research, selection and optimization is one of the most important aspects of SEO, if not the most important of all. There are several factors to consider when deciding your keyword strategy.

Keyword Popularity – The more people that search for a keyword, the more popular it is and the more traffic it will drive to your website. However, it’s not as simple as choosing the most popular keywords and optimizing for them. Popular keywords are the hardest to rank for. This is where competitive keywords play an important role. Since it is difficult to compete with major brands that are ranking well for popular keywords, the trick is to focus on a set of less competitive keywords that are more specific to your niche.

Keyword Relevance – We cannot emphasise enough the importance of keyword relevance. If you want searchers to not only click on your website URL but remain on your website and ultimately convert, the keywords have to be relevant to your products and services.

Keyword Intent – Understanding what your searches are looking for and how, is key in optimizing for the right keywords.

Avoid penalties – If you want to avoid a penalty from Google make sure never to hide keywords. Similarly, keyword stuffing is a big no-no if you are serious about improving your ranking.

  1. Optimize the Images on your website

Optimizing the images on your website is extremely valuable for SEO. Search engine bots cannot identify the content of an image; they rely on accompanying text to comprehend what topic the image relates to. Here is an image optimization checklist:

  • Create captions for your images.
  • Create descriptive, keyword-focused file names. Image file names alert Google and other search engine crawlers about the subject matter of the image.
  • Pay attention to alt tags. They provide Google with useful information about the content of the image. Google uses this information to help determine the best image to return for a user’s query.
  • Store all of your images in one place by creating an image site map. It increases the likelihood that the images will be displayed in search results.
  1. Use Long Tail Keywords in Your SEO Strategy

Long Tail Keywords have been referred to as the Holy Grail of SEO. People usually search the internet using long tail keywords, so when you optimize for such keywords you are increasing your chances of being found on search engines. Additionally, in 2016, Google increased the length of titles and descriptions, meaning that you can now use longer keywords that are more relevant to a particular niche, with more ease. Perhaps one of the most important reasons to start optimizing for long tail keywords is Google’s 2017 Hummingbird update, which adjusted search algorithms to match exact phrasing more often and to deepen their understanding of context.

  1. Update and Republish Old Blog Posts

A lot of businesses don’t realise the power of their blogs and the impact this content has on SEO. Even articles that were written and published years ago have a lot of value as users could easily land on a blog that is relevant to their search query. However, it is important to ensure the content your users access is fresh and currently relevant.

By updating and reposting old blog posts you are leveraging the value of your older, high-performing posts and continuing to drive traffic to your website. Also, the truth is it is simpler and sometimes more efficient to update and republish an old post rather than start a new one from scratch. But, remember it is still essential to continue publishing new, original and relevant content on your site. When selecting which posts to republish keep this checklist in mind:

  • Check your blog analytics and amount of traffic to posts
  • Check the social shares a post has received since this factors into search engine rankings
  • Select posts that have keywords you are trying to currently rank for
  1. Conduct a Local SEO Audit

Finally, one of the most important things to consider when you are trying to improve your search engine ranking is to conduct a complete SEO audit of your website. You can either select one of the many online tools available and conduct the audit yourself, or partner with a SEO specialist or agency, who will be able to interpret the results and help you to take actions.

An audit is extremely valuable as it helps you to identify what is working on your website, what needs improvement and also provides suggestions on how to make important changes. A detailed SEO audit will most likely be several pages long and provide a comprehensive analysis of your site, including information on internal linking structures, site map, anchor text, citations and technical elements, like hosting, server metrics, caching and down time. It will also assess images, meta data, page-speed, crawlability and several other essential factors. Knowing which areas to focus on is the first step towards a successful SEO strategy, this is why a SEO audit is so crucial.

If you need help with planning your SEO strategy for 2018, get in touch with us and we will point you in the right direction.