Ever since Google first crawled the web in 1997, it has categorized pages on the same 2 search ranking factors: relevance and authority.
But a lot has changed in these past 13 years—the most major change being how relevance and authority are determined.
In 2018, Google made 3,234 algorithm changes—more than 8x the number of updates made in 2009.
That’s a lot!
And it means that our role of SEO professionals has become much more complicated.
Like it or not, the only way to ensure your webpage appears high in search engine results pages (SERPs) is to adapt to Google’s standards. While some SEO practices have stood the test of time, others have been replaced.
We consulted Natural Intelligence’s 2 senior SEO experts, Michal Nassimian and Lior Wiznitzer, on the most effective ways for a business to improve its Google search ranking in 2020.
Here are 8 tips you can implement right now:
1. Optimize for Mobile
Google started rolling out mobile-first indexing 3 years ago, after observing that the number of mobile searches had exceeded desktop searches.
Today, Google ranks more than half of all webpages according to their mobile versions. Eventually, it will expand mobile-first indexing to all webpages—whether businesses are ready or not.
At a minimum, you should focus on keeping your sites optimized for mobile and on ensuring the user experience is friendly to mobile users.
But that’s only a first step.
Natural Intelligence, for example, is addressing this issue by introducing accelerated mobile pages (AMP) across its hundreds of websites.
“These are lightweight pages of a quality suitable for mobile,” Wiznitzer says. “Usually, mobile pages have problems with Java[Script] blocking the high-end elements on the page, so other solutions need to be found for these kinds of pages. Google seems to prefer AMP for certain page types. We’ll definitely try to experiment with that, try to move our content efforts to AMP.”
2. Make Your Pages Lighter and Quicker
Google educated us that websites that load quickly and provide excellent user experience (UX) rank well in search results.
It’s only natural; users don’t have much patience for slow and poorly-designed websites.
As more users transition to mobile, attention spans will get even shorter, and an even higher premium will be placed on page speed and UX.
In a sign of things to come, Google announced last year that it will make page speed a factor in mobile search results.
Websites are like vehicles: many things could be slowing them down. But, unlike a car, you don’t have to pay a mechanic thousands of dollars to find out what’s wrong. Online tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix can give you the lowdown for free.
3. Use Backlinks Wisely
Backlinks have always been an important tool in helping Google differentiate high-quality, relevant web pages from low-quality pages. In fact, the patent filed by Larry Page for his and Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s original PageRank algorithm contains 36 mentions of the word “backlink.”
Google’s use of backlinks differentiated it from other search engines that operated at the time.
Page and Brin’s formula ranked web pages based on the quantity and quality of links from other pages to that page. They believed link popularity was an important indicator of a webpage’s authority and importance.
Backlinks were open to manipulation, which is why Google ran an update in 2012 that punished unnatural backlinks to spam sites and rewarded legitimate backlinks.
Today, more than ever, natural backlinks can help your web page work its way up the search rankings.
Do this now:
- Add structured data to your website
- Build a clear website structure and navigation
- Add a sitemap.xml file to the Google Search Console (see instructions below)
“It takes a lot of effort and out-of-the-box thinking to reach out to different websites and let them know what you’re doing,” Nassimian says. “But it’s much better than trying to fool the system and risk penalties that involve losing your search ranking and getting kicked out of search results.”
4. First Topics, Then Keywords
I’m sure you’ve also made this mistake before: choosing keywords before you even know what you’re actually going to write about.
Keyword targeting is an important component of SEO, for sure.
But it has gradually made way for topic targeting.
This shift has come about as SEO experts have recognized the importance of a “holistic approach” to satisfy user intent.
Try to gain insight into your potential customers’ intent by looking at how they search. Keyword research should only be conducted after you’ve identified the topic.
“Google understands the intent behind the user’s search, and we need to take these cues and build our content around that understanding. In order to rank successfully on the topic of dating sites, for example, our content has to cover related sub-topics, such as: ‘what each site excels at,’ ‘what makes a dating site the best,’ ‘how did we choose the top dating sites,’ etc. Of course, we must still use the right keyword phrases effectively in strategic areas of the page in order to rank. Still, today, we’re also concerned with how we can cover the topic in the most relevant, rich, and valuable way,” Nassimian says.
5. Craft High-Quality Content
“Content is King,” Bill Gates declared in a March 1996 essay on the future of the internet. And this statement remains true to this day.
That’s because high-quality content ticks both the relevance and authority boxes. It directly addresses user search queries, making it relevant. Plus, it provides expert advice, giving it authority.
In March 2018, following a backlash to a core algorithm change, Google stated: “There’s no ‘fix’ for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content.”
There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 12, 2018
Make sure your content is aligned with your business’s marketing goals. The content you create must contribute to brand awareness, drive qualified traffic to the site, and generate conversions.
But great content is not all about the text.
Images, videos, charts, diagrams, and quizzes all enrich the visitor experience.
Credibility is also an important factor in content quality.
So it’s super important you incorporate references to authoritative resources inside your content. Link to industry studies, testimonials, and citations from high-profile publications.
6. Add Structured Data
Another way to build your positioning in search engine results is with structured data, a standardized format for classifying a page’s content. Anyone can add structured data to their website thanks to markup tools like Schema.org.
If a search query matches your structured data, your page could show up in a knowledge graph or featured snippet.
Let’s say you search for Nike:
On the left-hand side, you’ll see search results, starting with a Nike PPC ad, Nike’s home page, and other relevant results. On the right, you’ll see what’s known as a knowledge graph panel. It contains information about Nike, including headquarters, founders, phone number, and stock price.
Do this now:
- Create a Google My Business profile
- Create a Wikipedia page for your business
- Create social media pages
- Implement schema markup
- Distribute keywords strategically across your website
A featured snippet, also referred to as position zero, is a special box above the 10 organic search results containing a short answer to a user’s query. Google extracts the answer from a top-ranked page and presents it in a box along with the page’s title and link.
So if we ask Google ‘what is Nike?’:
Google will give you the best answers on the web to date.
Read this guide to learn the secrets to getting featured in the snippets.
Because of their unique design and prominent appearance in SERP, featured snippets draw user attention and steal clicks from the first organic result. Appearing in featured snippets creates an advantage, “because you get more eyes on your brand”, according to Wiznitzer.
7. Add a Sitemap
Just like structured data, a sitemap can help your business acquire more SERP real estate.
Check out the 4 sitelinks that appear below the Nike homepage:
Building a sitemap for your website makes this possible.
It’s super easy to submit a Sitemap.xml file to your business’s Google Search Console account. Just follow the instructions in this video:
8. Think About User Intent
The final SEO tip for 2020 is probably the most important:
Think about the user.
“The more you understand your users, their intent, what motivates them—the better you are at actually serving them the content they’re looking for and at getting them to convert,” says Wiznitzer.
Through thousands of updates to its algorithm, Google has imposed heavier penalties on businesses that offer nothing of substance.
But it has, at the same time, upped the rewards for businesses that add value or solve consumers’ problems.
And we all want to belong to the second group, right?
Staying Up to Date on SEO Tactics
Thankfully, Google has become better at giving advance notice of algorithm changes. As a result, you should find it easier to keep up to date with the rules of search engine optimization—and to be able to plan accordingly.
And when in doubt, you have this blog to get updated and answer urgent questions.
Need help responding to Google search queries? Click here for assistance from our team of digital marketing specialists.Improve your search ranking