Wanting to up your SEO game in 2017? The SEO hacks listed here are universal enough that most domains would benefit from implementing some or all of them.
You’ll just need to ask yourself how to use these tactics in a way that supports your 2017 marketing strategy. Once you know what to do—and most importantly, why you’re doing it and what you hope to accomplish—you can dive right in.
Some of these tactics may lead you to change your processes; others will require a developer. Some may mean a chat with your designer; others are simple enough that anyone could implement them—so simple, in fact, that you may wonder, “Why bother?”
Well, with around 200 ranking factors used by Google, search engine optimization is, at its core, a collection of small adjustments. The SEO hacks offered here represent our top 7 recommendations for small adjustments to make in 2017.
Table of contents:
- Optimize for on-site engagement
- Pay attention to page speed
- Use Schema markup strategically
- Review your keyword strategy
- Develop internal linking standards (and stick to them, consistently)
- Content distribution is king
- Add paid content promotion to your marketing budget
#1 Optimize for on-site engagement
SEO experts have long suspected that “pogo-sticking” (clicking on a search result and instantly going back to the search results page) and other user engagement metrics influence rankings. But, Google, true to form, has been evasive on the topic. We have, however, received a recent hint.
At SMX 2016, Paul Haahr let it slip that Google uses engagement metrics in their “live experiments” to help them return the best search results to users.
It makes sense that the search engine would look to user behavior as a way to ensure they are satisfying user intent. And, some have even speculated that collecting more user data was the driving reason behind the company developing Chrome.
So, if Google is checking out your bounce rate and time-on-page metrics, maybe you should too.
What’s at stake?
By paying attention to user engagement metrics and taking steps to improve them, you could, eventually, see increased rankings. But, before that happens, users are spending more time on your site, which means that you’re providing them with value and becoming a trusted resource. Isn’t that what all brands want?
Sujan Patel, co-founder of WebProfits, reports their average time on page increased and their bounce rate decreased significantly just from adding a table of contents with anchor links to the top of their blog posts. (See their guide to Snapchat marketing post for an example).
How to optimize for on-site engagement:
To get you started, we offer the following SEO hacks for increasing user engagement.
- Add a table of contents with anchor links to blog posts.
- Add embedded video and interactive elements to your content whenever possible. If users have something to do on your site, they stay longer.
- Be sure that links to external sites open in a new tab or window. This means that if a user clicks on a link, they don’t automatically leave your site.
- Be sure that internal links, open in the same window. This will ensure that things like session numbers and time on page, etc are accurate in Google Analytics.
#2 Pay attention to page speed
We live in a mobile-first world (and Google is now a mobile-first index). In mobile, page speed can make or break you.
According to recent data from Google, “40% of consumers will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. And 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they’re less likely to purchase from the same site again.”
So, your customers are paying attention to page speed and site performance. Guess you should too.
What’s at stake?
If consumers “bounce” because of slow page speed and don’t return if they’re dissatisfied with site performance, your bottom line is at stake if you continue to ignore page speed.
Better user experience, including quick page loading, can translate into more conversions (sales, leads, etc.). As a matter of fact, Google found that reducing the number of images on the page not only improved page speed but had a positive effect on conversion.
How to improve page speed:
- Run Google’s page speed test.
- Look for images that aren’t optimized for web. (Here’s an advanced guide for optimizing images).
- Reduce the number of elements on the page in order to reduce the overall size of the page (you may need a developer or designer to help with this).
#3 Use Schema markup
Searches that result in10 blue links on a Google search results page (SERP) now only account for 3% of results pages. This will continue to decline as Google adds more and more features to the SERP. That means fewer opportunities to be found in organic results.
Schema is a kind of code that you can add to different elements on web pages that help search engines understand your content better. For instance, you probably have your logo in the header of your website. You can wrap that image in code (not visible to the user but readable by the search engines) that identifies that image as your company’s logo. This would enable Google to display your logo next to information about your company on the search results page.
Google currently has 18 different types of SERPs. Using schema markup can help you appear in different types of SERPs. For instance, if you’re a news publisher, you can add schema (a.k.a. metadata) to your articles that will help search engines recognize that content as news and display that content as part of the “In the news” carousel in the SERP.
What’s at stake?
Simply put, schema has the potential to get you more real estate in the SERP. Many of the SERP features that result from schema markup increase CTR. So, while schema markup doesn’t influence your rankings, it can have a positive effect on your organic traffic.
Depending on your industry and business type, more or less schema options will be available to you. Like most things, you’ll want to develop a strategy for how you want to leverage schema and prioritize the metadata that represents the greatest opportunity.
How to incorporate schema markup into your SEO strategy:
- Select and implement relevant schema (you’ll need a developer).
- Analyze which types of SERPs appear most for the keywords that you want to target to help you determine which schema to utilize.
- Make sure you’re on the right platform to get into the SERP type for which you’re optimizing.
#4 Adjust your keyword strategy for 2017 realities
Many search queries no longer result in a click (because the above mentioned SERP features eliminate the need to click through). Therefore, it’s important that you focus your SEO strategy on keywords that have traffic potential.
Tools like Moz’s Keyword Explorer and SEMRush now provide SERP feature information alongside keyword metrics. This can help you determine if a keyword has organic traffic potential and how difficult it is to rank for that keyword.
Plus, with machine learning and advanced algorithms, keyword targeting is more about content relevance to the search query (i.e. user intent) and understanding semantics. It’s not enough to just stuff a bunch of keywords on a page. You need to present quality, meaningful content that answers your visitors’ questions, engages them and entices them to explore your site further.
What’s at stake?
As mentioned above, some SERP features, like reviews and featured snippets, result in increased CTR. However, some SERP features have been shown to reduce CTR or completely eliminate clicks, as the user gets the answer they need right on the results page (no need to click).
If you’re targeting keywords with SERP features that eliminate the need to click, you are missing the mark. Also, if you’re focused solely on single keywords and not keywords themes and semantically related words, you’re also missing the mark.
In 2017, search engines are smarter and users expect a whole lot more when it comes to user experience. That’s why many SEO experts recommend creating 10x content.
How to pivot your keyword strategy to work in 2017:
- Use SEO tools or manual searches to ensure you’re targeting keywords with traffic potential (not just volume).
- Incorporate semantically related words and similar keywords into your content.
- Focus on content relevance to the keyword and fulfill the user’s intent with your content.
#5 Develop internal linking standards (and stick to them, consistently)
As backlinks’ influence on rankings diminishes, internal links are becoming more important. Internal links help to distribute link juice across your site, while assisting search engines and users in understanding the page and finding relevant information sources.
In its most recent ranking factor report, SearchMetrics called internal links “one of the most important ranking factors.” Plus, internal links can help improve your on-site user engagement metrics (you know, what we talked about in SEO hack #1).
What’s at stake?
You probably already know which are the high-value pages on your site (the pages that convert best, engage users, etc.). Knowing this puts you 95% of the way to developing an internal linking strategy that can help those pages get more traffic and, possibly, rank better in organic search results.
Strategic internal linking is a way to sculpt your PageRank (i.e. funnel link juice to your high-value pages). For instance, say you want your product category pages to rank for related keywords. Find opportunities in blog posts to link to those product category pages with text links.
How to improve your website’s internal linking strategy:
- Review the current internal links on your site (Screaming Frog offers an internal linking report).
- Place relevant (strategic) text links from blog posts to your high-value pages, preferably with optimized and varied anchor text.
- Find and fix any broken internal links.
- Develop standards for internal linking (when to link where and how to link internally and externally) and be consistent.
#6 Content distribution is king
You put a lot of time and effort into creating your content. Give it a chance to produce a return on your investment by amplifying it. For most people, amplification means social media and influencer outreach.
Year after year, when surveyed by Moz, top SEO experts cite page-level social metrics in the top 10 ranking factors. Social media has become woven into the fabric of our lives. So have search engines. It only makes sense that search engines would pay attention to social signals (such as the number of times a page URL has been shared via social).
When thinking of content distribution, don’t overlook public relations. PR can help you reach larger audiences by securing articles in popular online publications. Also, try syndication or repurposing your content into several formats to increase your reach. That’s why many people now publish the same article on their blog, LinkedIn, medium.com and as a SlideShare.
What’s at stake?
Without proper distribution, your content doesn’t have a fighting chance. You risk using precious resources and getting no return.
How to improve your content distribution:
- Promote your content via social media.
- Diversifying your traffic sources by promoting your content on different channels and in different formats.
- Repurpose and syndicate your content into a variety of formats (images, infographics, videos, slide presentations, etc.).
- Use public relations and influencer outreach to amplify your content.
- Create a Flipboard magazine to promote your top content. Big brands like Fast Company, Huffington Post, NPR and others all share content on Flipboard.
#7 Add paid content promotion to your marketing budget
As mentioned above, social signals can trigger a chain reaction that can lead to improved user engagement and more. All this can lead to better rankings. However, social media platforms, especially Facebook, have seriously limited the reach brands can get for free. It is a pay-to-play system in 2017.
However, social media isn’t the only name of the game. There are several other paid content promotion channels available. You’ll just need to evaluate them to see if they’re a good fit for your brand.
What’s at stake?
Without paid content promotion, your content won’t reach as many people. Plus, with SEO being a long-game, your content probably won’t get much organic traffic until it has some decent user engagement metrics and social signals. So, paid promotion is really part of any good content strategy.
Plus, with paid content promotion, you can target specific audiences (your content in front of the right eyes). On social channels, ads can also help to re-engage existing fans and gain new fans.
How to incorporate paid content promotion into your marketing strategy:
- Test, test, test. Approach paid content promotion as an ongoing experiment. Always be trying new things and building on what works.
- For paid social, let your audience help you decide where to spend your budget. If your audience responds well (likes, shares, comments) to a post in the first 24-48 hours, that post would be a good candidate for promoting.
- If it makes sense for your brand, you can also try content ads on Outbrain or promote your content on StumbleUpon’s paid discovery service.