If you’ve had a website for more than a week, then you’re probably already aware of the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). In order to win a slice of Google’s 5 billion+ daily search traffic, you have to have certain keywords listed on your website and several high-quality inbound links from reputable industry sources.
That “keywords plus links” formula has been the basis for effective and profitable SEO for years. Over time, though, Google’s computers have gotten better and better. At the same time, the internet has grown by leaps and bounds and searcher behavior has shifted. The takeaway here is that their search algorithms have changed and grown more complex. Having the right search terms and inbound links still matters a great deal, but there are other factors that come into play when determining search position.
To give you a sense of what those factors are like, let’s look at 10 things Google is looking for on your business website that go beyond simple keywords and inbound links…
#1 Context and Authority
Searchers don’t just want websites with information relevant to the topics they’re looking up – they want the most authoritative and recent resources they can get their hands on. So, Google search algorithms look for context and expertise when evaluating different results.
That means having more pages clustered on a certain topic is helpful, and so is a collection of longer posts or reports. At the same time, websites with strong grammar come off as more credible, and so do articles with statistics and citations. In other words, the more you can do to prove your information is strong, the easier will be for you to attract search visits in the months and years to come.
#2 Geographic Location
Google wants very much to pair searchers with local resources whenever possible. This effect is more prevalent with certain types of searches and businesses (like hotels and restaurants, for example) than it is for others. However, if you want to attract search visitors to your website in almost any field or market, it’s a good idea to let the world know where you are located.
You can accomplish like city and state names, and by mentioning landmarks or neighborhoods. You can also include maps, driving directions, ZIP Codes, and telephone numbers. These all give some indication to your physical location.
#3 Mobile Compatibility
Even in a world where more than half of all internet users are accessing the web via smartphones and tablets, there are still business owners who don’t quite realize just how important mobile functionality is to the success of their website. Not only do real-world customers want to get to your pages through smaller screens, but Google won’t prioritize you in the search results without responsive capability.
All this really means is that your layout and content need to be compatible with smaller screen sizes and mobile browsers. If you haven’t updated your website in years, now might be a good time to have a design team look through your HTML and see if there are changes that need to be made.
#4 Visitor Engagement
Google has realized over the years that automated search spiders can’t determine result quality nearly as well as actual humans can. So, they look for signs of user engagement – like spending a lot of time on a page, clicking through links, etc. – to evaluate which websites are more helpful and relevant than others. So, the more you can do to keep people on your pages, the more likely Google is to keep sending traffic your way.
Additionally, Google looks for other signs of engagement that are more enduring. These could include comments on your blog posts, reviews for your business, and bookmarks or social shares. Any of these signs to the search engine (and other potential customers) that what someone found on your pages was worth checking out or returning to.
#5 Consistency Across Several Sources
It’s unfortunate, but marketers aren’t always the best sources of information about their own products, prices, or even locations. This is partly because websites can become out of date, but also because businesses aren’t always 100% honest about their own details. They would rather have customers believe they are closer, more convenient, or less expensive than reality would dictate.
Knowing this, Google’s search algorithm incorporates information from lots of different sources. So, if it says one thing on your website, but something else on Yelp (for example), that conflict is likely to count against you. You are less reliable as a search result than you could be. Savvy marketers understand this and will ensure that their business listings are consistent across a number of different web platforms.
#6 Hosting Speed and Availability
As we have noted in the past, web hosting is a vastly underrated piece of the online marketing puzzle. Having a great website with underpowered hosting is like building a mansion in a terrible neighborhood with bad roads.
Good web hosting doesn’t cost a lot, and it brings enormous benefits. These include guaranteed uptime, faster page loading, and even the availability of secure SSL connections. All of these are convenient for customers, but they are also major search signals. In other words, Google uses them as indicators of quality results and will reward you with more search traffic if you can check all the right boxes.
#7 A Clear Navigation Structure
It’s generally assumed that Google cares about the content on your website but not necessarily the layout or aesthetic structure. That’s simply not true. For one thing, mobile responsiveness is very important as we’ve already pointed out. And for another, the search engine wants to know that your pages and information are arranged in a way that’s easy to scan and navigate.
The reason is simple: it comes back to the issue of engagement. If Google sends someone to your site and they can’t find what they’re looking for, that makes them frustrated (and theoretically less likely to use Google again in the future). However, if your information is well-organized, they can get exactly what they want with no hassle. So, pay attention to the way your website is organized, because the search spiders are paying attention.
#8 No Missing Links or Broken Plug-ins
To Google’s automated search software, missing links, broken plug-ins, or other technical issues on your pages are like broken windows. They indicate that your website has been neglected and that it might not be safe for visitors.
This makes sense for a lot of reasons. If your content isn’t being maintained well enough to keep things like pictures and navigational indicators up to date, then the information on your site probably isn’t that current or useful. And, websites with small technical problems are at the very least not being cared for. That means they could potentially be infected with viruses or malware. None of these is good for Google’s visitors, so they’ll steer traffic away.
#9 Recently Updated Pages
When you turn to Google for an answer, do you want the most recent information you can find or something that was posted years ago? You opt for the newer resource, of course, just like your customers do. Knowing that it’s easy to see why the search engine has a preference for pages that are constantly being updated.
You want to show search spiders, not to mention real-life customers, that the content on your site isn’t outdated. Google can tell how often you’ve added something new, so give your pages and posts the occasional edit or additions so it can see your website is still alive and growing.
This is a minor detail, but it still counts towards your overall search visibility score. At a time when online privacy and security are more important topics than ever, Google wants to know that it’s sending searchers to a site where their data is going to be protected.
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About Glenn Brooks
Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has provided web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing, and printing industries for 18 years before starting WebWize.