With the very fast and frequent changes in Google’s search algorithms doing SEO is not what it used to be. What were cardinal rules for basic SEO a few years ago barely remain effective today for getting your website to the first page of a Google search, much less to the top of the results. Since the rules have changed, how you do SEO should change too.
Here are some tips for doing SEO in 2016:
- Mobile is here to stay
This ‘rule’ is actually two years old. Since 2014, when mobile apps overtook desktop PCs on internet use, websites have been converting to become ‘responsive’ – able to modify their presentation to suit the device a visitor is using. While many websites take the ‘responsive’ road, some site use alternate URLs optimized for mobile (starting with an ‘m’, as in ‘m.facebook.com’). The decision to maintain a single responsive site or one version for desktop and one for mobile depends on your resources and how fast the mobile solution is.
Accordingly, Moz wrote one of the earliest lists on mobile optimisation two years ago: and they’re still updating it from time to time because of how the rules often change. This means focus on local search and concise titles, URLs and metadata. Their most memorable takeaway: ‘Design for the fat finger’.
2. The longer, the better
Only to a certain extent. Content writers used to be told to write between 300 to 500 words per article as the optimum. However, according to Moz and Buzz Sumo (based on a study of 1 million articles), ‘long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content.’ How long is the new minimum? 1,600 words or seven minutes, says Medium.com. 2,250 to 2,500 words and counting, says Snap Agency. I suspect these statistics depend on the language posts are written in and the their target audience.
When you think about it, the new ‘longer is better’ mantra may counter the ‘optimise for mobile’ rule. After all, do mobile users have the patience to scroll down pages and pages of text when people now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish? Apparently while they may have a short attention span, people do scroll down when what they’re reading is very interesting.
Neil Patel at QuickSprout cautions us against having a longer vs shorter view of content. Like other things, it’s not how long an article is that makes it interesting for many people to read it long enough – it’s a combination of factors: substance, style, frequency, format, purpose, audience, and medium. (Note: this post is not even 1600 words.)
Which bring us down to …
3. Claim your content
Unless you engage in original research and data gathering, this is not going to be easy. Even this post makes use of content written by others. One way to make a post truly yours is by adding your own unique perspective on those you quote. You should also be able to make your readers relate and make sense of what you write. How do you do it? How do good storytellers engage their listeners? Through style and substance (again, quoting Neil Patel). It’s by enriching posts with hard facts and research data. Also, don’t rely on figures and facts alone – make them stand out by putting them in a good infographic. Or by coming up with interesting takeaways out the data. Or by framing your article as an interesting list. Like this article (but don’t rely on lists too much).
Also, put in an original illustration or image – which brings us to …
4. Go for a catchy image
Having a unique image is one of the hallmarks of an interesting article. Usually, an illustrator or a photographer is commissioned to portray what the article says – and if the article says nothing substantial, the image made out of it isn’t going to be substantial. You could also go for stock images that you can then modify (don’t settle for stock images out of the box – make images say what you really want). This is not a whim: An image becomes the thumbnail when your link is shared across social media – and social media, like Twitter and Facebook, are where your readers mostly are nowadays through their mobile phones or tablets. If your article’s thumbnail looks like everyone else’s how will you stand out? Even news website articles, which used to show only their logos when shared on Facebook, are often now shown with eye-catching featured images.
Speaking of eye-catching …
5. After-click experience
After you caught a reader’s eye, what next? They’d quickly leave your page if they cannot find what they want or if your site does not invite them to click on the links. This is the reason why many websites have interesting headlines and titles with eye-catching thumbnails to go with them – to entice visitors to explore the site. You may also put in videos to make your message clearer (although this won’t do in places with slow internet connections). Even The Straight Dope, which has a deceptively 90s look, has distinctive illustrations and titles framed as questions – this makes a casual visitor, even one who is not specifically looking for trivia, curious.
Curiosity is one thing, satisfaction is another. How to keep readers engaged? I mentioned story-telling. Telling stories makes readers understand you better. Quoting the words of your resource persons is also one way of storytelling. Hitch your stories on trending topics. And leave them with important takeaways. How would you tell stories if your site is about a restaurant, for example? Quote what your satisfied customers are saying. Post interesting stories about what they’re saying. Use your keywords in the (hopefully engaging) content. This brings us to the last SEO takeaway:
6. Keywords are passé
No, keywords are not dead (nor would they truly die). It’s just that search engines – Google’s, particularly – are now very adept at detecting what a page is all about, even without us using the traditional SEO advice: ‘Use your keywords x times in the first y paragraphs, place them first on the headings, on metadata, on URLs’, etc. Hence, even more important than keyword positioning, is how rich and relevant your story (because, after-all, articles are stories) is to those who clicked on a search result to your page.
Which brings us to the message of this list: Search engines are now focused and more adept at knowing user intent – and will serve up the best sites to satisfy that intent. Hence, content style, substance, and relevance (a PC only site won’t be very relevant to majority of mobile users, for example) are more important than ever before.