The last 12 months has been a time of upheaval and uncertainty. A time of change and of adapting to the volatile environment. It has been a time where many have made big decisions about how their futures look and what needs to be done to achieve shifting goals.
In the world of SEO this has been a time of rapid innovation and many of the old best practices have been replaced with bold new ways of doing things.
SEO has become a broad technical, strategic, intuitive discipline. No, SEO isn’t dead. In fact it has become more essential as Google continually moves goal posts and puts artificial intelligence at the core of its platform. You might be interested to know that there were over 4,000 updates to the Google algorithms in 2020. We can only assume that the pace has increased in 2021.
The new SEO
For business, no platform has more power than Google. Google Search delivers a massive percentage of online business and organic search is the powerhouse.
Simply put, Google organic search is SEO. Google Organic search is Content.
But this environment has changed significantly.
The days of listing Google ranking factors is over. Google’s algorithms have got much too smart for a cookie cutter, ranking factor 1, ranking factor 2, spreadsheet approach. SEO has become even more important but it is now a holistic strategic approach that defies many of the current offerings of many agencies/suppliers.
The good news is that this benefits you, a business owner or the decision maker for an organisation.
So, what does this all mean?
What’s the biggest ranking factor?
Let’s go right to a trusted source to get an opinion on what a business needs to succeed on Google.
Introducing John Mueller – Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google and a frequent contributor to online SEO discussions.
Here is an exchange from back in 2017 on Twitter:
Not really giving a whole lot away… or is he?
What does he mean by awesomeness? In this post I will put together my views on what awesomeness is and how it relates to SEO strategy for 2022 and beyond based on my 16 years in this industry.
I will start with the most important strategies to achieve success and work my way down to the important but less critical. Note: this is not a ranking factors list and each one has a myriad of variations based on brand, purpose, authority, competition, product or service value and much more.
It’s a complex world, folks.
Let’s start at the top.
1. High quality content
If there is no content there is no Google search. The problem now is that there is so much content that simply creating and publishing content is not enough. It is a massively competitive space and I see so much journeyman content out there. This is not good enough and you are wasting your time if you or your agency are simply churning out content for the sake of it.
So, what is “high quality content” in Google’s eyes?
a. Smarter AI
Google has continually refined its algorithms to incorporate more and more sophisticated AI. It started with RankBrain and there have been constant upgrades and tests including probably one of the most important changes to Google’s algorithm – BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) in 2019. Each time they get better at understanding the complexity of human language, context, semantics and this uses a neural network-based technique for natural language processing or NLP.
What does it all mean? Simply put, Google is able to look at words in the context of surrounding words and even paragraphs to ascertain what multiple potential solutions this piece of content could provide. In other words, the algorithm is acting more like the human brain rather than a machine.
It means that Google is able to look at this section of content and to understand a wider range of other influential data from other places – Google My Business, trade and traditional media, social media, industry relationships and more in order to surface the results that most fit the intent of the searcher. Simple demand gets simple, complex gets complex.
Looking into the near future Google is talking about a new technology called MUM (Multitask Unified Model) which means that Google can simultaneously understand images, video, 75 languages and acquire deep knowledge of the world and its nuances.
The example is to take a photo of your hiking boots and ask Google if they would be appropriate for a hike up a different mountain in a different country to the one you have just completed.
This is how complex the understanding is becoming.
How does this relate to high quality content?
It means that high quality content is no one thing. No one desired length. No one recommended type of content. It is whatever offers the very best solution to a particular query by understanding intent and connecting that intent with the best possible responses. So, high quality content is not about the producer or about the format so much, it is about the user or recipient.
That’s a big shift.
The big takeout here is you need to think first and foremost about challenges, questions, pain points, curiosity, learning and about the person typing into search then provide the exact right solution in the right format with the right context to answer intent and multi-intent search behaviour.
This is where pumping out content with no purpose becomes a pointless exercise. Understand user intent then Google will favour your response if you check the other content boxes.
c. User Experience
User Experience needs to be at the core of every website decision including content, layouts, fonts, design, SEO, navigation, page structure, forms, features, loading time, interactivity and more. This needs to be factored into every piece of content produced. Is it going to be an enjoyable, frictionless experience or will there be frustrations, poor usability, unappealing design, small text, a poor colour palette, features that don’t work as they should, intrusive popups or interstitials?
Again, you need to put yourself into the shoes of your visitor and ensure every part of the experience lives up to John Mueller’s idea of awesomeness.
This is also where content features add to the overall experience. Images, graphics, bullet points, numbered lists, quotes, screenshots, videos, testimonials and reviews and much more can give a rich, rewarding experience to visitors.
On the negative side, intrusive popups, exit popups, unwanted interstitials, can and will cause people to abandon a page and should be avoided. If you need to have a lead gen or subscriber strategy make sure it is delayed, not repeated and does not interrupt users’ enjoyment of your content. Google also frowns upon this. Likewise, over use of ads. Ads are fine but if most of your website real estate is taken up with ads you will not be popular with visitors or Google.
One final brief point – clickbait. Don’t do it. If people arrive on a promise and you do not deliver or it feels like a grift they will not return and Google will pick this behaviour up.
E.A.T. is one of Google’s big quality signifiers over the past couple of years. It stands for Expertise – Authority – Trustworthiness and these attributes are extremely important to how Google perceives content along with the previously mentioned intent and context.
Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertise, authority and trustworthiness.”From the White Paper – How Google Fights Disinformation
How do you gain these strong ranking signals?
Google looks at who the author is (if possible), the accuracy of the information, any mentions from trusted sources either through links or otherwise, whether the site is linked to from proven experts, qualifications and credentials, longevity in a particular field, education, books authored, awards and recognition, speaking and conference gigs, overall site content accuracy, relationships with trusted sites, trusted reviews and yes, even a Wikipedia page.
This is particularly important for YMYL web pages (your money or your life) like these:
- News – business, politics, science
- Financial advice
- Shopping research
But the principles should be used for all content.
For a standard business website this would include qualifications, reviews, testimonials, quality backlinks, industry recognition, media mentions (positive), published content and white papers on authority sites by authors from the business.
Avoid factual errors. Do your research. Make sure your sources are impeccable. Google is in a constant battle to counter misinformation so you need to act like a journalist and confirm the accuracy of your claims.
One final measure Of E.A.T. is spelling and grammar. There is nothing worse than the jarring effect of spelling mistakes, missing words, poor grammar and other signs of poor proofing and editing. It looks bad for your readers and Google does notice these things so make sure you have a process in place to avoid a loss of credibility.
This should be a given. Your content will have little chance of ranking if it is not 100% relevant to the searcher’s query. And if by chance you do gain search positions in off-topic keyword groups, there is absolutely no value in these visitors. They will back out quickly and harm your user experience metrics.
The message is to ensure everything about your content lines up – title, description, introduction, content body, subheadings, images, keyword use and variations – these must all sing from the same song sheet. Only then will you see the value of multiple long tail organic visitors.
Everything you do with this content needs to be appropriate to query.
f. Keywords and queries
There is a subtle difference here. Queries are what a user types into the search bar, keywords tend to be within the text of the page they are presented with and where they will likely click through to.
Keywords. This is such a misunderstood area. I see so many examples of clumsy, manipulative attempts to influence search engines.
Here is one example of an unnamed agency that ranks for SEO Auckland.
This is the homepage header (and their brand name is not SEO Auckland), What does this even mean?
How about this one? (another ranking Auckland agency). This is the main “sell” paragraph from their SEO services page.
If you were a potential client and you read this nonsense I would hope you would make a call that you would not like your clients or customers to see your brand damaged by gibberish like this.
And that is the crux of the problem with badly executed, out of date SEO. There are a large number of practitioners who still believe that Google is a dumb technology that they can manipulate with tricks and sleight of hand.
They forget that Google’s understanding of content is almost always greater than theirs and that Google can see this silliness for what it is. If you factor in BERT and the impending MUM technologies you can see that these strategies are doomed to be deposited into the dustbin of SEO history.
Another issue is how some useful tools can be misinterpreted. Let’s take Yoast SEO for example. Yoast is a great plugin that we use often. It gives useful guidance and can let you know if your metadata length is out or if you are being too repetitive or if you have missed an opportunity.
However, Yoast does not boast the intelligence that Google’s algorithms have and offers a bit of a cookie cutter approach to SEO (sorry Yoast). Instead of focusing on getting your target keyword into the title, the first paragraph, a heading or two, scattered across the body of content, into the image alt tag, the description and the slug. It is much better to look at the content holistically (back to that again).
- Who are you speaking to and how can you help them?
- Does the content address their challenge or need?
- Is it unique and is it as comprehensive as it needs to be?
- Have you added features and images to make the experience enjoyable?
- Are you offering insights that may be hard to find elsewhere?
- Are you delivering E.A.T.?
In most cases, if the writing is of a high standard, you will find good keyword use, plenty of keyword variations and plenty of associated language for context and you will satisfy most user experience needs. Then an experienced SEO can make subtle enhancements to optimise the page for maximum potential on Google.
SEO should never be visible to the user. I found the two awful examples above with one search and two minutes.
Takeout: Never let an SEO agency talk you into sounding like an idiot.
g. Links – internal and external
Links. These are still very important but fortunately reliance on backlinks alone is being superceded by Google’s ability to analyse content and websites without relying on this clunky, easily manipulated metric.
I will talk more about this in the section on backlinks further on so let’s concentrate on best practice for links in high quality content.
Starting with internal links, imagine you have created a significant blog post that describes a product or service and how it solves a problem for your market. At the beginning of the post you describe the problem and then you go through a multi-step solution to help the reader.
It makes perfect sense to link to your solution using the anchor text naming your solution early in the post when you begin to describe it. Then let’s say you have other products or services that can also help the reader, then links to these on descriptive anchor text is also being helpful.
And finally, in the conclusion, you want to invite the reader to take an action. It could be to contact you, call you, purchase, fill out a form or read something else. This is natural internal linking from new content.
External links have a slightly different purpose. They are there to offer additional authoritative information, to back up your points, to help the user to gain a deeper understanding about what you are discussing. These should always go to sites that are indisputably accurate and are seen to be a trusted source.
With both types of link you must focus on the reader. Think “How can I help?”, “Would you like to know more about what we do?”, “Here is some additional information to back up what I am saying” and “If you want to know more, you can contact us here”.
h. Headings, subheadings and content structure
Headings and subheadings have a very important purpose. In traditional media you had a headline then the story followed. In print this was usually a series of text paragraphs with quotes where available.
Online content is a different ball game. You are engaging with one user, they are the only one that you are speaking to. It doesn’t matter if thousands of people are reading that page at the exact same time, you are speaking one on one to every single one of them.
You need to anticipate their needs. One way to do this is to give them easy ways to get where they need to go quickly and efficiently. Some users will click through from search and because you have clearly articulated what the page is about in your metadata (which appears most of the time in Google’s search results), they will begin reading your content. This is where it is important to reinforce early why they are here with the answer to their query and a description of what value they will get if they continue.
From here, a healthy percentage of readers will scroll and look for the section they are most interested in. So it makes sense to introduce each section with a heading that describes what they will learn.
I’m sure many of you will scroll past sections in this post that you are already familiar with or not what you are looking for and this is where structure counts. It is also an opportunity to grab your attention if there is something that I feel you shouldn’t miss.
And you know what? Google reads the title, H1, H2s, H3s, H4s and so on as key indicators of what the content writer sees as important points, particularly if the headings announce important information to follow.
i. Other content considerations
Here are a few final thoughts on high quality content not covered above:
- Don’t republish your content on multiple sites
- Use social media widgets to enable connection
- Do not allow spam comments
- Do your research and ensure you are gathering insights from trustworthy sources
- Have an organised approach to your content – an easy to follow narrative
- Consider the appropriate tone of voice
- Respect your visitor and don’t talk down to them
There are a myriad of ways to approach content and each piece should be customised for the intended purpose. Always think about what the best way is to supply that which the searcher is looking for.
2. Pagespeed and Core Web Vitals
The reason why Pagespeed and Core Web Vitals is sitting at number two is not because it will make or break your SEO strategy right now but more about the importance of these tests and tools to your results in the coming years. We are already seeing movement both up and down due to adherence or not complying to this update.
a. What is the Google Page Experience Update?
User Experience has become the primary focus for Google over the last few years, and this has intensified recently. It appears that Google has taken on the mantle of ensuring all websites have excellent technical performance and that they deliver a frictionless, fast, easy to use experience for every result that appears in the top positions on their search engine.
And so, they announced the impending Page Experience update way back in May 2020 despite the rollout not being due until May 2021. In reality, it was delayed for a couple of months and the rollout actually happened from June through to late August.
The Google Page Experience Update is designed to encourage website owners to focus on how users experience your website. It can be as simple as page loading time but also offers testing and insights for a range of usability factors that have previously not been measured or rewarded.
Basically, Google wants any site in their top positions to offer the very best in technical performance and UX for every person who visits the site no matter where in the world they are and on which type of device they use.
Google also looks at every page of every site so if you have a fast, user friendly homepage but your product pages suck you will get warnings in Google Search Console and it is likely you will lose some ground in search results.
Security is also a major consideration so if you do not have a secure certificate or if you have been hacked, this is a problem for how you rank on Google. In my experience it can take weeks or even months to recover lost ground in the case of malicious behaviour – more on that later.
Google’s initiative is to encourage developers and their clients to “build great websites” and to “build a web ecosystem that users love”.
b. How important is Pagespeed?
OK, I’ve answered that question.
The important fact to remember is that Google analyses websites based on their mobile experience first and foremost. It doesn’t matter if the majority of your visitors access your website on their desktop computers, how your pages rank are dictated primarily by your mobile experience.
So, if your developer tries to fob off poor mobile speed as not important because you are in a desktop dominant niche you need to push back on this.
A good mark on mobile pagespeed is 90+. Here is ours.
This is using Google Developer Pagespeed Insights.
To explain why this is so important to Google, think about the number of times you used your mobile device and have used either standard search or voice search and you have had to wait several seconds for a site to load. In many cases this is as long as 10 to 15 seconds. There is no way I would wait that long for a webpage to load even if the page I am after is crucial to my next move.
So, Google is brute forcing change in this area and it should be celebrated. Anything that helps to progress our technology experiences needs to be encouraged.
As you can see below the 99 score, Google has created three categories – 0 – 49 is poor, 50 – 89 needs improvement and 90 -100 is deemed to be “good”.
c. What is Core Web Vitals?
The second part and probably the most important one is Google’s new series of tests known as Core Web Vitals. I explain what these mean on this page after the case studies.
Google looks at Field Data and Lab Data. Field Data is based on actual user interactions on multiple Chrome browsers in multiple locations. Unfortunately, this data does not show for localised or lower traffic sites. And there can be large disparities between Field and Lab which is causing some consternation in the SEO community.
So, here are the key Lab Data tests that Google looks at:
- First Contentful Paint
- Speed Index
- Largest Contentful Paint
- Time to Interactive
- Total Blocking Time
- Cumulative Layout Shift
You want to aim for “green” or passes in all of these tests. What do they mean? Here is a simplified version:
First Contentful Paint – How long it takes a browser to render the first piece of content.
Speed Index – Speed Index measures how quickly content is visually displayed during page load.
Largest Contentful Paint – LCP measures when the largest content element in the viewport is rendered to the screen.
Time to interactive – TTI measures how long it takes a page to become fully interactive i.e. Responds to clicks/interactions within 50 milliseconds.
Total Blocking Time – TBT measures the total amount of time that a page is blocked from responding to user input, such as mouse clicks, screen taps, or keyboard presses.
Cumulative Layout Shift – A layout shift occurs any time a visible element changes its position from one rendered frame to the next – e.g. that annoying instance where something on a page moves just as you are about to click on it taking you to somewhere you didn’t intent to go.
All of these make sense even if they seem to be a complicated way to say “offer better website experiences”.
d. How does Pagespeed and Core Web Vitals affect your organic performance?
It’s fairly obvious that this is important to Google. So it makes sense that sites that pass the tests and load quickly will do better. And those that don’t will be seen as less relevant to a search query.
But it’s not as simple as that. There are a large number of huge, influential websites that Google does not want to impact. So, there will be safeguards and this will be built in to the new algorithm. This is also why Google has rolled this update out over three months. They will be testing and adjusting the AI the entire time to ensure the changes are not hurting sites that matter.
And these adjustments will be continuing over the coming months.
The general consensus is this though. If you are in a YMYL (your money or your life) niche (medical, news, government, finance, health and others) Google will probably not harm your positions.
For the rest, you can expect this to influence results but it will be gradual. In this Covid affected environment it is difficult to measure year on year organic impacts as each niche is reacting differently.
However, think about it this way. Google has spent a year preparing for this update. They have invested a massive amount of money into it. It is logical to expect that search results will change according to these new requirements.
3. User Experience
The days of clunky, slow loading websites with tiny fonts and poor mobile experience are long gone. It is simply not acceptable to represent your brand in this way. Websites have to be thought about in a far more strategic way where you respect the user and help them to find exactly what they are looking for in an efficient and intuitive way.
The homepage experience
Website design has raced ahead in the past couple of years and nowhere is this more evident than on the homepage. You need to anticipate your visitor’s every need.
What are they looking for and how can you help them?
Starting with the menu and homepage header image. Do you offer clear navigation to your most important/popular services, products or information? Are the menu items named accurately? Does the header image offer a memorable visual representation that leaps off the screen? Does the tagline explain in a short sentence what you are all about so they know they are in the right place?
Next up is usually a brand and purpose short paragraph under a compelling heading. Does your statement resonate with your users?
Beyond this you will need to customise depending on what your business or organisation does. The following are common sections on an effective homepage:
- Featured products or services
- An About us or Meet the team section
- Recent blog posts
- Recent case studies
- A call-to-action banner (contact us)
- Client logos
- Industry achievements and qualifications
- Promotion section for a substantial piece of content – white paper, ultimate guide, ebook etc.
Your content should be in a nice, contemporary font and the page should have plenty of white space.
The footer should have address and contact details, social media links, key pages, recent posts.
Look at each page as an opportunity to give your visitor what they want. The information needs to be clear and well executed. It should be attractive and easy to use.
Think about how else you can help them. If it is a product page can you add user generated reviews? How attractive are the product images? If you are an ecommerce site then have you gone through every step of the purchase process to ensure there are no anomalies or frustrating issues. It should always be an enjoyable experience.
If you are offering services to a specific sector it might be worth adding a testimonial from a business in the same sector. You might also want to add a gallery of client logos. And don’t forget a Contact us banner.
Internal links are crucial. They not only pass authority through the site, they alert Google to important pages when managed correctly. And most of all, they help your visitors to get to where they need to go.
Google rates websites based on their mobile version as I have previously mentioned. So it is critical to prioritise testing on various mobile devices. Browserstack is a useful online tool for testing on a variety of devices and screen resolutions.
Keep an eye on Google Search Console as Google reports any mobile issues and advises which pages are affected. Common errors are content that is wider than the screen, clickable elements that are too close together, viewport not set and text too small to read.
And the responsive design should look great on all mobile devices and the mobile features like click to call should be in prominent positions. The menu also needs to be designed specifically for mobile users.
Your job is to ensure a frictionless experience for every website user. They should want to return.
Let’s get into some of the analytics metrics Google watches. Bounce rate is not a simple metric. Having a low bounce rate or a high bounce rate will not affect your performance per se.
The answer is… it depends.
As a quick recap, bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your website after visiting one page without visiting any other pages. Many in SEO see this as being a bad thing.
However, Google is able to understand the nuances. Let’s say that you have a blog post that offers a solution to a challenge and you do the job well. A visitor clicks through to your post, gets the answer they need and leaves again. Is that a bad experience?
No. You have provided exactly what Google is looking for.
What about when a user searches your brand name and from the site links they select the contact page as they want to call you? Should there be an expectation they would want to visit another page?
How about when a searcher is looking for a specific service and they get presented with your service page. The page has everything they need – details on the service, a testimonial, contact details. Should they go to another page?
So, a low bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it means that you have done your job with accuracy and insight.
Most blog driven content strategies result in a high bounce rate. If you are driving visitors to blog posts through social media promotion and Google Search targeting then it is rare for these visitors to click to another page. You can mitigate this by having strong calls-to-action and a solid internal linking strategy but you are still going to have a bounce rate in the 70% to 80% zone.
Where you don’t want a high bounce rate? Your homepage or any category or summary pages. If people are bouncing from these pages you are either attracting the wrong visitors or you are not offering a good user experience.
- Slow load times = bounce
- Poor mobile experience = bounce
- Poor optimisation resulting in ranking for the wrong phrases = bounce
- Bad design = bounce
- Poor grammar and spelling = bounce
- Spammy content = bounce
- Too many ads = bounce
- Intrusive popups = bounce
To summarise, bounce rate is not so much a ranking influence as it is a symptom of something you have got wrong – but only on pages where people should be clicking through to another page.
The next important user experience metric is session duration. This is how long people stay on your site in total. These can be surprisingly low on some websites.
They can be influenced by a number of things. If the majority of people are visiting your website to call you and your phone number is at the top of your homepage then you will have a short session time and a high bounce rate.
Does that mean you shouldn’t have your phone number in a prominent position on your homepage? Fortunately not.
Again, you always have to think about the user. If you make them click one more time to get them to your contact page then you are making them work harder than you need to.
Another interesting challenge is when you have a large pool of users who arrive at your site to use the login – e.g. contractors who are updating their time sheets. This will obviously affect session duration.
Will Google misinterpret this as poor user experience? That is very unlikely.
And let’s look at the homepage in a bit more detail. The days of having a large amount of text on the homepage are thankfully over. Think of the homepage as offering a fast path to where the visitor wants to get to. You should have multiple options in most cases but session duration should be quick and efficient.
Some of the best homepages on the web are for SaaS startups where they have one purpose. And that is the sole focus.
The key is to offer a layered approach so each visitor can customise their experience. Some will arrive and want fast answers and then leave. Others are on your site to dig deeper, to find out who you are, to get more detail, to be convinced.
And they may do this several times before making a decision. And remember, these people are also looking at your competitors.
Session duration is important, and in some cases it isn’t. This is where Google’s increasing AI sophistication is making big inroads into understanding positive or negative experiences. It is page by page, detail by detail.
Act right by the user and you are on the right track.
4. On-page optimisation
As part of a holistic approach to SEO, your on-page optimisation is one of the key areas where you can tell Google and your users exactly what you are offering and why they should care. Although on-page optimisation is grounded in SEO principles it should never be obvious to a visitor. As mentioned in the high quality content section, content should always be about the reader. You need to ensure they have an experience that they will enjoy and will get value from.
However, just beneath the surface there will be a range of technical and strategic work at play.
In 2022, Google will be relying more and more on the sophistication of their new AI based approach. Google’s understanding has improved dramatically and we are already seeing the effects in how pages of content are crawled and analysed in context and how Google’s interpretations are going way beyond exact match keyword targeting practices from a couple of years ago.
Now is a time of rapid change and the changes will cause some volatility and as always, there will be unintended collateral damage so website owners and managers need to be vigilant. This means that tracking website behaviour, visitor results and technical issues are critical.
The speed of change has also meant some of the SEO assumptions are no longer as black and white as they used to be. The following are my current understanding of best practice based on my observations and projected change to algorithms according to Google and industry leaders.
The following sections deal with some of the more important on-page optimisation areas but no one of them is any sort of magic bullet. A combination of the following plus high quality, unique, sought after content needs to be the foundation with these optimisation points the super-charger.
So many website managers and developers overlook the importance of the title tag. I see large companies who are represented on Google with a title tag that says “Home”. This really is inexcusable.
In August 2021, Google announced a new approach to title tags. For years, title tags had been possibly the most important on-page SEO tag. It was usual practice to run through a series of checks:
- Is the target keyword at the beginning of the tag?
- Is the title less than 60 characters (or 512 pixels)?
- Are there any qualifying statements in addition to the keyword?
- Is location important and should this be added?
- Are there related keywords that should be used in addition to the primary keyword?
According to Google, in 80% of cases, the HTML title tag SEO managers create is absolutely fine and will be used if the query suggests the title will be a good response. As they stated, they have been offering alternative titles and descriptions for some time now but this has become a lot smarter.
An example of where Google would replace the title is when a streaming TV series has the same title for each episode. Google helpfully updates to say Episode 1, Episode 2 etc.
One instance I have noticed already is where pages add a location to the title tag to take advantage of local SEO. So the page may have said SEO Auckland – followed by a qualifier. In this case the agency is targeting a lucrative phrase and has used the title tag power to help them to rank for this phrase.
Anecdotally, Google has offered an alternative and sometimes this is as simple as the agency brand name which has a direct impact on this practice.
Likewise, where websites are using outdated attempts to target more than one keyword. Listing out two or three keywords or locations will attract a title rewrite by Google based on your H1 tag, page content and the services offered.
Google is now offering new guidance on correct use of titles which they are now calling “title links”. Check it out as there is useful info on what you should be doing and what you need to avoid.
This is a good change. As mentioned in the high quality content section, anything that focuses SEO on the user and not on little tricks has to be celebrated. It means we have to view the big picture and look at intent, context, brand value, reputation and quality.
Here are my recommendations for Title Tag optimisation in 2022:
- Describe what the page is about, accurately and without trying to fool search engines
- Adhere to best practice length (less than 60 characters including spaces but not less than 40 characters)
- Only use a location if you are a local business with a local market
- Never use multiple keywords
- Use natural, appealing language
- Think about the user. What are they looking for? How can you help them? But…
- Make sure the title 100% lines up with the content on the page
- Use keyword research but do this with a big picture approach and an understanding that Google is very good at understanding context, intent, synonyms, overall site focus
- Eliminate any duplicate titles
- Don’t use title defaults like page name | site name. Customise your titles to offer users the best possible information. An exception to this rule is if you have an ecommerce site with thousands of products. In this case it is perfectly acceptable to default to product name plus detail | site name. Detail could be brand, model, price or other additions that are useful to a searcher.
Meta descriptions are your opportunity to connect with potential customers or to get people to read your content or to describe in a short sentence or two what your webpage is about. Every page on your site needs to have a unique description that tells people using search exactly what to expect if they choose to click through to the page showing for their query.
Google chooses whether to show this as a snippet in their results or to create their own one based on content on the page or the query that the searcher is using. If you try several different queries to surface your page you will find that they will vary.
The biggest mistake you can make with descriptions is to leave them blank. That means Google has to create descriptions for every query which eliminates the opportunity to create your own engaging call-to-action and to connect with your customer the way you want to.
The second worst thing is to have a description that doesn’t relate accurately to the content on the page. This mistake are more common than you might think. I see sites in our audits where a standard business description is pasted into the description fields for pages that have nothing to do with the content added.
I also see websites attempting to get as many keywords into their descriptions as possible in a misguide effort to rank for these phrases. You can guarantee that these will not be used and that your site will lose trust for being spammy. Don’t do it.
This is a proven fact. Having keywords in your meta description does NOT help you to rank for that phrase. The only advantage is that the phrase will be highlighted in the description which may lift click-through but only marginally. Unfortunately, most of the current CMS based SEO analysis tools push people toward using target keywords in meta descriptions.
My advice on this is to ignore the tool recommendations and use the phrase if it makes sense and gives value to the searcher. If you can create a better description of your page without using the exact phrase then go ahead and do that instead.
In most cases where Google rewrites snippets, the content comes from the first paragraph of content. But only if the content matches the query. Sometimes the snippet has a combination – a bit from here, a bit from there. Sometimes this is not ideal and it points to a lack of focus in the page content.
Google offers you the ability to exclude parts of your page content from snippets using a data-nosnippet attribute. Or if you think that Google’s versions are hurting your conversions you can use a nosnippet meta tag.
The primary goal for creating descriptions should be to take your deep understanding of your customer’s or user’s needs and offer them, in a clear and concise way, exactly what they are looking for. And that must align exactly with the content on your page. This is an opportunity to improve your CTR (click-through-rate) and to deliver value.
Use friendly, approachable language that uses the brand tone of voice and add a call-to-action if relevant even if it is something simple like “Find out more here”.
Here are my recommendations for effective meta description use in 2022.
- Think of the user – how can you encourage them to click-through? What are they looking for? Does your page satisfy that need?
- Stick to length guidelines – 150 – 160 characters including spaces
- Don’t cram keywords in
- Use appropriate tone of voice
- Use a call-to-action if possible
- If your target keyword works, use it. If it doesn’t, don’t stress about it.
- Understand that Google will use alternate snippets so ensure your page content has plenty of relevant and clear information Google can use
- Eliminate duplicates. Every page needs a customised description.
- Evaluate what is working for your competitors and test alternatives
- Utilise rich results to enhance your snippet appearance
Google has just published new guidance on meta descriptions here.
The power of headings
Most people will arrive from search or social media based on a title/headline and a description. It arouses their curiosity or it offers an answer to a question or challenge.
In most cases, the visitor will then scroll through the content to make sure they are in the right place or to judge credibility or to find the piece of information they are after. In many cases, they will scroll through the subheadings to see what the content will give them before returning to the top to read the entire piece.
How can you anticipate this behaviour in a way that helps your SEO? And how does Google treat these headings?
To answer the first question, the idea is to create content that is well structured. It should have a strong introduction (see next section) followed by a series of subheadings that create a logical narrative. People should be able to follow the logical pattern you have created. It will guide them through the post and take them through to a conclusion and a call-to-action.
In summary, there is a lot going on in the world of search. I could have added a lot more but thought that these are the most important ones at this stage.
If you would like to find out how we can help with your digital strategy and SEO you can reach us here.