SEO Ranking Factors for 2017

Steering an organisation toward success means remaining current with all the tools, tips, and trends of today's marketplace. One of the most powerful advantages is having a solid understanding of Search Engine Optimisation. Although SEO can be easy to understand at a high-level overview, the reality is that it is an ever changing, fluctuating and incredible complex practice.

Algorithms, search patterns, and ranking criteria are constantly being tweaked and modified by Google. Even subtle changes such as the number of characters allowed in a meta-description can hurt your overall rank if your organisation has not adapted and altered its campaign to support the new guidelines.

SEO offers a great opportunity to maintain a competitive advantage within the marketplace, but it comes at a price of needing to tap into the proper knowledge and expertise to execute your online strategy. As we countdown the final few weeks to the New Year, now is the perfect time to take a moment and review what changes are new to the SEO ranking world and which areas are a top priority to focus on for 2017.

Many of the prominent trends introduced in 2016 will continue to grow in 2017 and a few new areas have been introduced that will heavily affect your ranking. Make sure to start the year profitable and visible! Include SEO as a highly important and well thought out part of your marketing strategy. Keep in mind the quote that gained popularity on Pintrest boards recently, ‘The Best Place to Hide a Dead Body is Page 2 of Google Search Results.’

Here is a checklist with a few areas that will be key to incorporating SEO best practices this year:

1. Mobile Friendlier

Several months ago Google shook up marketers worlds when they announced the launch of a separate mobile search index that will eventually become their primary search index. Why? More users are surfing on mobile phones and tablets and their screen size and bandwidth are different, making their needs unique from desktop or laptop users. Marketers will need to decide whether or not to optimise for mobile or desktop. Because of the strict priority that Google will place on their mobile search index for SEO ranking in 2017, we may see a resurrection of mobile-only websites again.

Google released a tool called Mobile-Friendly Test. By entering the URL of your site, Google will confirm whether or not it considers it to be mobile friendly and will also list any blocked resources. Just like your web development team tests and audits your desktop site, make sure they are also using the proper custom user agents and robots.txt settings to comprehensively run optimisation tests for your mobile site version. Another important piece to remember to track is your mobile rankings to view progress.

Google on Mobile

2. Test and Improve Page Speed

In a recent blog post, Google admitted that as an organisation they are obsessed with all things speed. They felt it was long overdue to include page loading speed into their SEO ranking algorithms. Quick loading pages provide a much better and user-friendly experience while slow pages that churn and make you feel like you are back in dial up days just slows the internet down and are unsightly.

While site speed will carry nowhere near the weight that content will for ranking, it will be an important new factor to prepare for in 2017. There are a few simple ways to implement tactics that will improve your site loading time:

Reduce Image Sizes - It doesn't take long and there are tools and plugins available that will compress your pictures without compromising the quality.

Web Server - Make sure you are using a quality web hosting service that supports the type of site you are running. It seems simple, but if you are running a WordPress site and your web-hosting package doesn't have the proper technology to support it and the updates, it will slow down your page load time.

Better yet, make sure that your website development team is familiar with Google’s PageSpeed Tools. It's an application designed for developers that will provide insights on how to optimise your site to increase speed and become more mobile friendly. With this tool, you can manually enter all the URL’s for your website and Google will instantly provide a custom analysis for your site. If any area fails their test, PageSpeed Tools provides clear details on how to correct - such as instructions for which images to optimise, a list of landing pages that have redirects which should be corrected or areas of content which have enabled blocking script resources.

Also, if your organisation uses an Apache or Nginx web server, there is a PageSpeed module that can be installed on your site to automatically optimise your page.

3. User Experience

Over the past few years, there has been a shift in users expectations. They expect sites to be fast, provide valuable content and be simple to navigate. Websites need to be responsively designed, be mobile friendly and really just be useful.

By optimising the user experience on your site you will see a reduction in bounce rate, longer average time spent on pages and favourable ranking from Google.

Make sure to review your sitemap on a regular basis through Google Search Console. Often overlooked, sitemaps are what feed search engines the information about your website's structure and allows them to find content quicker. Whenever new content is added to your site, update your XML sitemap and remove deleted pages, redirected URLs and pages that have been blocked from indexing. A sitemap that is not updated and filled with clutter runs the risk of being completely ignored by search engines.

Over the past several years, Google made a push to promote secure sites that utilised SSL security. By ensuring that your website provides a safe experience to web users, Google will reward for having HTTPS security and your ranking will receive a boost.

Google Analytics

4. Content is KING

This is nothing new from 2016 and content will continue to reign and be a major ranking factor for 2017. Quality content that is produced and published often, helpful to the reader and not stuffed with useless keywords is highly rewarded by Google. And really, it should be a priority for your business. Sometimes being caught up with selling and trying to create content based on what we feel will help rank favourably, we forget that the true purpose of a website is to serve our customers. Which, there is no better way than well written, informative content that quickly gives them the information they are seeking and engages them.

Google's Algorithm is continually changing in an effort to recognise and discover content that is relevant and useful to the end user. Keyword density is no longer the sole focus of posts. Keywords need to strategically be used in the page headings, title, ALT text and first and last paragraphs of content. Word length is also being considered, Google recognises that 100 words most likely will not provide detailed and useful information to an individual seeking answers. Longer, quality content is being rewarded.

The buzzword and content strategy to focus on in 2017 is ‘Per Word Value.’ Quite simply, this means dense content that is focused on function, readability, and value orientated to the user. Ditch the 1500 word posts that are long and drawn out because you were trying to rank based on word count and instead switch your strategy to producing really well written and organised articles that are 300 or 400 words instead.

Having a clearly defined SEO strategy for the year ahead is critical to the success and health of your business. Even if you have an internal team of designers and marketers, having an audit or consultation by a third party organisation that lives and breathes SEO best practices is a smart idea. Creative Digital Agencies like Grizzly, can audit your SEO initiatives and offer consultation and implementation to improve your organisation’s visibility organically. Improvements to your rank and being connected with sustainable lead traffic will ultimately increase your sales and conversion. The largest benefit of working with an SEO specialist organisation is knowing that your marketing initiatives are all Google compliant and that you are using up to date guidelines for ranking and have not overlooked any changes Google has made to their algorithm.

Make sure you have a well thought out game plan and be objective. Even better, thoroughly review the Google Webmaster Guidelines to make sure your efforts are compliant. Routinely monitor Google Analytics and Search Console for a snapshot of your organisation's health and sales funnel performance. SEO optimisation is an on-going process that needs dedicated attention and support in order to successfully drive business to your organisation.

Enjoy the ride, challenge and opportunity that the world of SEO brings. Be proactive, always keep user experience in mind and produce quality content and exposure. Happy New Year and Happy Marketing!

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