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4 SEO Changes in 2017 to Outrank the Competition

Every day there seems to be a new update to the list of things you have to do to rank as high as possible in search results. The task of staying up-to-date with SEO changes and user expectations can be a daunting one. Just as your smartphone needs constant updates to keep up with new and improved software, so does your marketing and SEO strategy.

It takes a lot of ongoing work to keep a site showing up first in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), and we all work diligently to make it happen. If you’ve been optimizing your website and recently noticed your ranking drop anyway, new changes in how Google ranks websites may be to blame. In this post, we review these new SEO changes and provide some tips we use to help our clients’ websites rank higher and outpace the competition.

First we’ll go over some SEO tactics that were king in past years but are now losing relevance. The days of panicking about your tactics in reaction to a seismic shift in the algorithms (for example, Panda and Penguin) are becoming fewer and fewer. As search engine artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more intelligent, user experience has taken precedence over executing specific tactics, such as keyword density and how many backlinks you have. Today’s rankings are now being driven by the dynamic between individual content relevance and user intent.

#1: Old SEO practices are losing relevance

  • Keyword in the title
  • Keyword in the H1
  • Keyword in the meta description
  • Keyword in the text
  • Keyword density
  • Backlinks

Don’t get us wrong — these things are still important for SEO, but the keyword itself is no longer the decisive factor in determining the actual ranking for a search query. Your content needs to be high quality and relevant. Keywords should be regarded as helping relevance, not defining relevance.

For example, when you Google “yellow fruit with spikes,” the SERP is for kiwano. Google’s AI is able to see the links between synonyms for “fruit,” “spikes” and “kiwano” to determine that the searcher is looking for a horned melon. Even though kiwano doesn’t exactly match the search query and “yellow fruit with spikes” isn’t in any of the pages’ title tags, the search engine knows kiwano is most closely related to the searcher’s intent.

SEO Changes in 2017

#2: User experience is more important than ever

User experience (UX) on your website should be your main focus. Most users come to a website in search of a question that they need answered. It is up to the website owner to make sure that the searcher can find that answer as quickly and easily as possible.

When you are creating or optimizing your content for SEO, it is important to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you addressing all the questions in the user’s head when they are searching?

Think like the visitor. If they are on your site, what brought them there? What are they looking for? How can you care for their wants and needs?

  • Does your content still make sense when omitting the main keyword?

Try using synonyms, closely related terms and semantically related terms. This is where the need for really relevant keywords comes in handy.

  • Is the content formatted so that it is easy for your visitor to find what they need?

Try forming shorter paragraphs, and use bullet points and spacing. Which of the following is easier to read?

Version A:
“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Cras venenatis mi eu urna tristique, id dictum ligula aliquet. Pellentesque non dignissim leo. Ut dignissim accumsan lectus, at maximus quam lobortis sit amet. Donec pharetra placerat mauris, sit amet molestie diam dictum ac. Vivamus quis ex quis arcu malesuada rhoncus vel eget ex. Sed eget tortor ut augue mattis aliquet in ac nunc. Vestibulum non arcu id quam egestas tristique. Suspendisse fringilla id risus nec dictum. Nunc finibus risus id odio vulputate, at pretium nisi ultricies. Integer imperdiet velit ligula, vitae pulvinar elit malesuada vitae.“

Version B:
“Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
Cras venenatis mi eu urna tristique, id dictum ligula aliquot:

  • Pellentesque non dignissim leo. Ut dignissim accumsan lectus, at maximus quam lobortis sit amet. Donec pharetra placerat mauris, sit amet molestie diam dictum ac.
  • Vivamus quis ex quis arcu malesuada rhoncus vel eget ex.
  • Sed eget tortor ut augue mattis aliquet in ac nunc. Vestibulum non arcu id quam egestas tristique. Suspendisse fringilla id risus nec dictum.

Nunc finibus risus id odio vulputate, at pretium nisi ultricies. Integer imperdiet velit ligula, vitae pulvinar elit malesuada vitae.”

By breaking the content up into smaller paragraphs, using spacing and bullet points, we create content that is easier to read and leads the user’s eye to points we want to emphasize.

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#3: Algorithms are looking at supplemental and related terms, not just keywords

With the advancement of search engine intelligence, at long last, you can be more creative with your content. Instead of repeating the same keyword enough times to match optimal keyword density, you can focus on writing content about the main topic. Google now recognizes semantically related terms and phrases. Good creative content about a given topic on a neat, aesthetically-appealing, user-friendly page will rank higher than a page with the perfect balance of keyword density, description and title but a poor user experience.

  • Today’s search engines know the difference between keywords and user experience. Keyword stuffing doesn’t work anymore.
  • Using more relevant, related keywords is more important than a higher frequency of one.
  • It’s ok to be creative. Write about the topic instead of writing to use the main keyword repeatedly. Make content that the visitor will enjoy.

#4: Site structure is now a key factor in ranking

Site structure is key for ease of navigation. Ease of navigation is essential to good user experience. Good user experience (UX) raises your position in SERPs.

  • Internal linking of related content makes navigation easier. Visitors like easy-to-navigate sites but tend to bounce if they reach a dead end.

Old Site Structure

  • Internal linking of related content around a central theme is recognized by Google as content clustering. By linking your content in this fashion, you can improve the relevance of all the pages in algorithms. Additionally you improve your site’s UX by giving them access to more of your content related to what they’re searching for.

New Site Structure

Ex. A website in a northern state may have a parent page about winter sports with links to child pages. Child pages might include snowboarding, skiing, snowmobile riding, ice fishing etc…

Each child page should link to the other pages with similar content. A parent page may have many children, some stand alone but many of those children should hold hands.

How to Take Advantage of these SEO Changes

As you can tell, the best way to increase your position in SERPs is by improving the user experience of your content as well as implementing standard keyword optimization. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you take advantage of these new SEO changes:

Is my code clean?
Technical SEO is still very important despite recent changes in other aspects of SEO.

  • Fix those broken links and don’t link to poor content. Minimize site errors.
  • Clean up the code and reduce file sizes. Site speed is important for more than just better rankings. On average, visitors will bounce off a page if it takes longer than two seconds to load. What’s the point of getting a lot of traffic to your site if those visitors don’t stick around long enough to convert?

Am I Avoiding Duplicate Content?
Copying and pasting content from another site to a page on your own will get you nothing but a fast trip to last place in search results. Google knows who posted the content first. Plagiarism is folly and is heavily penalized by Google and other search engines.

  • Original content is a must to rank high in search for any topic.
  • If you copy content onto your site, no one will see it but you. The page and site search ranking will be penalized for identical content.
  • It’s ok to find inspiration in other places but if you want similar content on your own site, write your own material about it.

Is my layout optimized for UX and readability?

Website quality and UX are a major factor in today’s SEO. Think of search engines like Google as if they were people visiting your site. How do you think they like it? Is your landing page cluttered with sidebar modules, banners and links not really relevant to the page’s main topic or is it neat and clean, with minimal distractions from the message you want to convey on the page?

As the focus has switched to a heavier rank weighting given to UX, page layout has become more important than ever. Fortunately, many of the things that make your website more user-friendly are the things that algorithms love.

Related: How Utah Tourism and Aristotle Created a Winning Marketing Campaign Strategy

Here are some best practices for making your site more user and SEO friendly. Take note, Google’s algorithm recognizes each and every one of these and then about 200 more.

  • Use larger “readable” font sizes, but not too huge – should be appropriate for the device. Easier to read means easier to rank.
  • Make sure font color has appropriate contrast to background – shouldn’t blend in too much. Text should stand out so it is easy to read.
  • Get rid of clutter and useless modules.
  • Avoiding hidden text (CSS) – If you’re hiding it, you’re telling Google it’s less important. If you have drop down content hidden behind a Read More button, Google will only rank the hidden content at 50%. The way Google sees it, if you don’t think the content is important enough to be seen upon landing on the page, then Google shouldn’t think it’s important enough to rank.
  • Avoiding tabbed structure – each link needs to go to a separate URL.
  • Using attractive layout and formatting – headlines, tables, bulleted lists, photos and shorter paragraphs. Google’s AI can now tell if a website looks good or not. Make it pretty.

The advantages are worth the effort

Some companies may find that they need to do some serious reworking of their sites to meet the new standards. Think of it like spring cleaning. Clean out that code and content to make everything neat. There is a lot of work to be done but the rewards are great, and your website will be more appealing than ever.

So, what will all this get you and how do you recognize improvement? These metrics are the ones that you should be looking out for-

  • Lower bounce rate
  • Higher time-on-site
  • Increased pages per session
  • Increased ranking
  • Increased traffic

In one way, SEO will be easier going forward. Creativity and putting the user first are rewarded, and writers have more flexibility to be descriptive without the ball-and-chain of single keyword density. Make it interesting and keep it clean, and your site will be flying up the SERPs.

Need a hand with SEO?

If you’re not sure where you stand with SEO or you need an SEO expert hand to increase your rankings, we’re here to help. With our industry-leading search engine optimization partner, Searchmetrics, we have the tools, data and insights to create content that adheres to the latest SEO best practices. In fact, Searchmetrics provides us regularly with in-depth research and analysis like the information in this post, which is a huge advantage for our clients. Our SEO experts can help you strategically increase your rankings and beat the competition.

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