Where does your business appear on Google when potential customers search for your chosen keywords? If you’re not at the top – or near the top – it can be frustrating. There is plenty of evidence to show that very few users venture beyond the first page of results when they do a Google search. In fact, they’re more likely to refine their search than to move on to the next page.
Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can do to help your website rank on the first page in 2016. Here are the top five.
#1: Worry more about authority than keywords
It’s still important to use keywords in your web content, but the days when high keyword density was the key to ranking on Google are long gone. In fact, your keyword placement is not nearly as important as the overall authority of your site. Google’s algorithms are very sophisticated, and they no longer rely on keywords in a title or H1 tag to determine if a page is worth visiting. Rather, they focus on contextual meaning and look for expected words to rank pages.
For example, it used to be that if you wanted to rank for a keyword such as “Best Legal Services” you’d have to use that keyword three or four times in strategic places to have a chance of ranking. Now, if you talk about competent legal representation, Google can tell that your page is relevant to the keyword even if you don’t use it more than a couple of times in your article.
#2: Pay attention to bounce rates and the time spent on your page
Another surprising SEO development for 2016 has to do with an evaluation of whether your page is providing visitors with what they need. In addition to crawling your page for keywords and context, Google also pays attention to what people do after they leave your page as a way of determining if your page is an authoritative one or a waste of time.
For example, if a visitor searches one of your keywords and clicks on your page, Google looks at how long they stay. A visit of several minutes might indicate that a user is engaged with the content on your page and has found what they want. However, if they spend several minutes on your site, return to their list of search results via the dreaded back button, and click on another site instead, it’s a good sign that your site did not offer what they needed.
If you have a high bounce rate, a good way to improve your search ranking in 2016 is to make sure that your site provides the answers to the questions implied by your chosen keywords.
#3: Optimize your website for mobile users
In 2015, mobile searches on Google outpaced computer searches – and that trend is likely to continue. Google has placed a great deal of importance on mobile search as evidenced by their Mobilegeddon mobile-friendly update in early 2015. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, now is the time to get on board.
Fortunately, most businesses can switch to mobile-friendly or (ideally) mobile-adaptive sites with little trouble. Sometimes it’s as simple as switching the template you use for your site. For example, if you have a WordPress site, they have a huge library of templates available, many of which are mobile-adaptive. You may have to do some fine-tuning of your site to make a new template work, but it’s worth the work to get it done.
The beauty of mobile-adaptive sites is that they work by configuring to the specific mobile device being used. Mobile customers tend to be an impatient bunch, and they are unlikely to wait for a slow-loading page or scroll horizontally to read your content. If you take the time to optimize your site for mobile users, it can do more than anything else to improve your search ranking in 2016.
#4: Stay away from content that’s too short
It wasn’t that long ago that blog posts of 250 to 500 words were considered the norm. Short and snappy was the rule of the day, and the assumption that people wanted short content led to a glut of short articles that were light on value and meaning.
That has all changed. Truthfully, the trend toward lengthy web content has been happening for a while, but this year it has really become the rule rather than the exception. Research shows that web users are far more likely to engage with content that’s in the 1,000-1,500 word range than with short articles. Why? Because they want valuable information, and – with rare exception – it’s hard to convey that in just a few hundred words. Of course you can offer a top 10 list that’s only 500 words long, but you’re not going to be able to explain why items are on the list as well as you would if you wrote a longer article or blog post.
The reason that Google is placing so much emphasis on length is that they want to make sure they are sending people to pages designed for humans, not search algorithms. If you’re worried about publishing long content, remember that you can make it more readable by breaking it up with subheadings and images.
#5: Make sure the user experience is front and center
In a way, this last point is a summary of everything that has come before it. Each one of the above points comes back to one thing: user experience. Old-school SEO focused on tricking Google’s algorithms – to the point where many websites were far friendlier to computers than they were to human beings. More and more, Google is concerned about ensuring that their search results are leading users to sites that answer their questions. They want users to feel good about the search experience, something that’s unlikely to happen if they end up on a site that’s not mobile friendly, or is packed with keywords but contains no real value.
There are many things you can do to test the user experience on your site, including split-testing individual components on your page. However, the best thing you can do is to do what you can to answer key questions that are implied by your chosen keywords, and make sure that your site is easily viewable by any user, on any device.
Ranking on the first page of Google is always a challenge. Regardless of your niche, you will be facing some fierce competition. It might sound odd to say this, but the best way to rank is to forget about trying to rank. Don’t worry about algorithms and SEO tricks. Instead, focus on making your site a place where potential customers can find exactly what they need. If you do that, the search rank will follow.