Have you heard of Google Panda? No, it's not a mascot. In fact, Panda was a change made to Google's search results algorithm all the way back in 2011, with the goal of helping to eliminate low-quality sites from searches, while having higher-quality sites appear at the top of the search.
Ever heard of it? You’re not alone if you haven’t.
The fact is, Google and its peers in the search engine sector are consistently updating and refining their algorithms and web crawlers, helping redefine the ways in which users search the internet for e-commerce options and content – and how they find their way to your brand.
Whether that means factoring in mobile devices, updating search engine ranking pages (SERPs) with Knowledge Graphs and Featured Snippets, or taking aim against “blackhat” tactics like keyword stuffing, Google has long been a vital gatekeeper for businesses, either helping to guide internet users to your site – or send them into the arms of your competitors.
How do you help these eager searchers find their way to your website? What can you do to ensure customers are finding your website on Google searches? The answer is known as search engine optimization, or SEO.
Now more than ever, SEO is one of the most essential components of successful digital marketing for businesses of all sizes, across all industries. Indeed, in many ways, ensuring that your brand is visible on Google, Yahoo, and Bing results pages is the single most important thing you can do to get future customers to flock to your website.
So, how can you set up your company for SEO success? Here are the top five things to do in order to make friends with Panda, and really drive customers to your website…
1.) Create the "3 Cs": Credible, Compelling Content
When delving into the world of SEO, don't forget the basics. You can – and absolutely should – master on-page SEO techniques, brainstorm the perfect meta-description, and explore the ways in which you can improve your search results via social media avenues.
But, at the end of the day, here's the hard truth: The single most important thing is that you create content. If you’re not generating multimedia content for your audience to seek out and consume, then you’re not putting yourself in a position for SEO success.
Likewise, if your website content is boring, plagiarized, or otherwise devoid of value, customers won’t generate fresh leads or sales, or even really spend any time on your site - even if you somehow manage to bring them in (which is absolutely not a given, since Google tends to penalize sites with poor or half-baked content).
You see, when it is ranking your website, Google’s bots consider a wide array of factors, including user experience. The search giant’s tools analyze everything from user engagement to time spent on your website.
At the end of the day, humans matter more than machines (after all, web crawlers can’t buy your products for themselves… yet). You want content that will keep users clicking once they get there, and have them come back later for more, developing a sense of loyalty for your brand.
What's a highly successful and cost-effective way to do this? Blogging. Blogging establishes your company as an authoritative and informative resource, and has been shown to effectively increase your website's traffic over time. And you don’t need to limit yourself! Infographics, video content, interactive games… all of these are powerful tools when used in the right way!
2.) Avoid Bad Backlinks and Sponsored Links
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, it’s time to get a little more technical (don’t worry, we’ll keep the most boring geek speak to a minimum).
Broadly speaking, SEO comes down to two primary components – on-page and off-page. On-page SEO refers to the code used to build your web pages, the quality of your written content, and other creative elements that you control. Off-page SEO has to do with establishing your site’s credibility, based on how it connects to other sites across the web.
The key piece to the off-page SEO puzzle is known as backlinking – making sure that your content links to other sites, and that other, credible pages in turn link back to yours!
Links on your page to quality sources do, for the most part, bode well for Google picking up your page. But it’s important to be careful, as this isn’t always the case. Target links – links that bump you to a specific part of a page – tend to have less search engine potency than regular page links, for instance.
Even more important? Take care to avoid “sponsored” backlinks, either to or from your page. Buying up virtual real estate to direct users to your site, creating phony content to link back to your own pages, or generating spammy clicks will all actually do your brand more harm than good for SEO in the long run.
Bottom line? Don’t buy backlinks. On the surface, buying backlinks seems like a good way to get a head start. Google searches like links from trusted sources, and backlinks don't have that privilege. Additionally, Google is getting much better at spotting paid links - they have an entire team alone dedicated to spotting them.
If you get caught using paid links, Google can effectively blacklist your website by masking it from searches. In short? Don't do it. Stick to gradually generating legitimate, authentic links from other authoritative sites by way of social media and reputation management.
3.) Build a High-Performing Website
So you’re trying to guide new users to your website? Well, it helps to consider exactly how that site looks and feels – and, above all, ensuring that it’s highly functional.
Because Google judges your brand’s site based on both user experience and the “back end,” making sure that your website is in tip-top shape is crucial to your SEO success.
Be sure to consider your entire site, from the ground up. Things like broken links, slow load speeds, missing or broken images, a lack of compatibility with certain browsers will all stick out like a store thumb and hinder your chances of attaining a prime spot on a SERP.
Similarly, a poor navigation feature, ugly design, unresponsive forms, and frequent typos are all things that can frustrate your users, prompting them to abandon your site and take their interest elsewhere. It’s a vicious cycle – and one that we can condense down to a pretty simple formula:
Frustrated users = less time spent on your page = less search engine relevancy = less website traffic
Rinse and repeat – or break the cycle with quality web design and development now.
4.) Make Sure Your Site Works on Mobile Devices
Today, mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and “two-in-ones” aren’t the exception to the rule – they are the rule.
People are more on-the-go than ever, and we use our portable devices for everything and anything these days – including checking email, reading online reviews, using social media, making ecommerce purchases, and conducting searches.
As we suggested earlier, Google factors in mobile usability and design when it considers how your site should be ranked on SERPs. Quality design for mobile devices truly matters to both search engines and to your potential customers, which means that all of the factors we addressed before (load times, ease of navigation, form functionality, etc.) need to be taken into consideration not just for desktops, but for the mobile experience, as well.
Don’t let these little screens grow into a big problem!
5.) Remember That Simple Structures > Complicated Structures
By now, you’ve probably noticed the way we talk about Google’s algorithm and web crawlers, the tools it uses to evaluate and categorize sites. While we tend to think of these systems with reverence, and address them in hushed tones, they’re not necessarily that mysterious.
While no one outside of Google HQ understands everything about its ranking system, we know how Google’s bots work – and how you can cater your site for them.
Search engines "crawl" through your website using software colloquially called a "spider” or “crawler,” picking up whatever data and information they can snag along the “surface” of your site. Make their job easier!
If your structure is too complicated or deep, the search engine will stop trying to figure it out, and will miss the bigger picture, hurting your rankings. Simpler navigation will mean that the search engine “spider” doesn't have to work as hard, accelerating the process by which Google can assess and promote your site. And, on the user side, streamlining and organizing wherever you can will only create a better experience for your prospective customers.
How does your website fare when it comes to SEO? Not sure where to start? Have any more questions? Send us an e-mail or give us a call today! The Geek team is here to help with all of your web design and development, content creation, and social media needs!