What’s the most important thing to be doing now to get the best SEO out of your website?
Good question. Here’s the answer!
SEO is one of the most misguided / misunderstood things I have to deal with when it comes to my clients. Part of this comes from the “what was true last week, may not be true today” nature of the fast changing science. Did you know that Google is reported to change its search algorithm around 500 to 600 times each year? Try keeping up with that! That’s probably why I have written so many posts on the topic of SEO in past.
SEO isn’t a switch we can turn on, it’s not someone we can pay. Contrary to the snake oil salespeople who will tell you that, it’s not.
SEO is an mindful application of basic principals over a long time.
This last week I had two profound conversations with people on the topic. One was so focused on building inbound links, the other with keywords. While EVERYTHING is important in SEO, some things more important than others.
When my friend Jeff Bernheisel (he’s a really smart cookie!) shared this chart on FB, it was just what I was looking for!
It came from this report: https://landing.semrush.com/other-files/SEMrush_Ranking_factors.pdf
SEMrush started with 600,000 keywords, looked at those pages that ranked well for those keywords to see how they sorted in 12 known SEO ranking factors.
Here’s a closer look at the chart.
I’m not going to cover all 12 right now, instead I want to look specifically at the top of the chart.
Direct Website Visits
SEMrush determined that: Out of 12 factors we have analyzed, the number of direct website visits seems to be the most important page-ranking factor. Websites with higher authority consequently gain more traffic, and as a result, have a better chance of getting into the top.
Ok, so what does that mean and how can I get more traffic?
When we say SEO we’re referring to what is called Organic SEO. It’s one of your sales funnels. That means that someone you don’t know, typed a phrase into Google who then gave them a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) with a ranked list of possible answers to their query. They picked on a link that went to your site and that’s how they ended up on your site. That’s SEO. A ‘Direct Website Visit’ is essentially everything else.
Direct visits can come from a variety of places. I’ll give you a few ideas on how to get more direct traffic to your site.
- Share your posts on social media. People will see them, click to see more and be on your site.
- Boost those posts on FB. Reaches more people, results in more clicks.
- Run a Facebook Ad Campaign. While that should generally go to a targeted squeeze page, it could go to your post. Either way, we’re increasing our sites overall direct website traffic, not just one post.
- Don’t forget that Newsletters drive traffic to your website.
Time on Site
One of my favorite topics. When Google sends someone your way, they watch you to see what happens next. Did you get to the site and then close the tab or click away? That’s not a confident signal to Google. Instead, did you spend a bunch of time on that article? Maybe click to read more articles? Google looks at that very favorably.
What can you do to help make that happen?
- Write valuable content that engages the reader.
- Embed a relevant YouTube video. Why? Guess what happens when people push play? They stay longer!
- Embed a podcast or sound file for the same reason.
- Link to other content inside your site (like I just did). Help people find out more information by linking directly to it. They’ll still be on your site and Time on Site Matters!
Pages Per Session & Bounce Rate
Here’s where it’s going to get a little fuzzy. Let’s start with Bounce Rate.
Bounce Rate is the percentage of people that land on a page and leave without taking any other action. 100% bounce rate would mean that all of the people landed on your page and then closed that tab.
It’s fuzzy because what if that was a squeeze page they landed on? As you know, squeeze pages are built to remove most if not all distractions. No menu bar, no ‘click for more’, no related content. It’s either take my Call to Action (that might be an Order button) or close the browser. While you might have a highly effective squeeze page, you can see where they also would have a high bounce rate, right?
So while Bounce Rate is a ranking factor, be mindful of your website and the way it’s setup. Perhaps a higher bounce rate is ok – after all, you might be getting a good number of lead captures and that’s the most important part.
Pages Per Session – like Bounce Rate, it’s tracking a visitors actions. Google assumes that if the visitor clicks around a bunch that you might have some pretty good stuff on your site.
How can you improve your Bounce Rate and Pages Per Session?
- Have clear navigation on your site. That would be in the menu bar and perhaps the sidebar.
- Suggest related content. There’s quite a few plugins that’ll do this for you. I use Jetpack for that purpose. You can see the suggested posts at the bottom of this post. Jetpack did that automatically!
- Link to content deeper inside your site. Almost every BOLD item in this article is a link to other content that I’ve written about. That’s just begging you to increase those pages per session!
Oh Boy! Here’s where we’re going to get into trouble.
SEMrush noted that:
A website’s number of referring domains can also indicate its authority, which together with the previously mentioned factors influences a website’s rankings.
You just read that and thought I need more people to link to me.
Ok, yes you do. How you go about it is probably wrong though and might get you dropped from Google all together. Remember back when we used to have blogrolls on our sidebars? Have you heard of Link Farms? Reciprocal Linking? All that stuff is not what you want. Quality links back to your site, from quality websites in quality ways. That’s what you are looking for.
When I was a loan officer I loved writing guest posts on real estate agents websites. My content reached a different crowd but more importantly I was also able to create quality links back to my website. That was at least 10 years ago and it’s still true today.
Want me to write a post for your blog? I’d be happy to!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Write for Human Beings, not Google. That said, if you can get your message across in 350 words – great! If it takes just 200, don’t fill the page with useless filler just to get to a specific number of words. Need to write 1,500 words? Go for it!
SEMrush determined that:
…the quality and relevance of your content play a crucial role in the page rankings.
We also found out that long-tail search queries have more content on average than short-tail ones — almost 20 percent more.
Remember, we’re going after the long tail keywords here. If your are writing content, longer content will do better than shorter.
Website Security (HTTPS)
When Google came out and announced that https was going to be a ranking factor, initially I wasn’t on the bandwagon. It wasn’t until a while later I saw the light and switched to HTTPS. That wasn’t an easy task. Now that it’s done, every website I build for myself, I start it with HTTPS.
Want to make your site HTTPS?
You might have an issue. I had to go page by page through my website and track down every single non https reference. Old YouTube embeds, old scripts, old images, old links. It was a lot of work!
If you are in real estate and have an IDX on your site you’ll have an extra issue. Most all of the MLS’s out there have https for their agents. That’s where the agent uploads the information, searches for properties and much more. When it comes to the part that the public sees (i. e. properties) that info usually isn’t HTTPS, but rather plain old http (it’s cheaper and easier).
So if you have a 3rd party IDX on your site, they are pulling from the public side. Embed that stuff in your site and you break the daisy chain of security. Read more about “Poisoning the Well“. It’s not the IDX’s fault, it’s what they have to work with.
The good news is that some IDX providers are working at fixing this. Someday, all of the web will be HTTPS – someday.
Did you know you could hire me to make your site HTTPS? Just ask!
Moral of the Story:
While there are hundreds of ranking signals you’ll note that at the bottom of the chart of the top 12 are items like keywords in body, in density, in title, and in meta.
These are all addresses in the YOAST Plugin I’ve talked about. In case you missed it, I’ve been saying for a while that it’s not about getting a green light for each of your posts all the time.
Write quality content for real humans and you’ll be fine. Use the Yoast plugin as a guide, not as a rule. If you want to concentrate on anything to improve your SEO it should be the 7 things I details from the top of the chart: Direct Website Visits, Time on Site, Pages per Session, Bounce Rate, Referring Domains, Content Length and HTTPS.