People are always on the lookout for the search engine optimization (SEO) trick that will propel them to the top of a Google Search results page. Obviously, this does not exist, but if there were one SEO factor that summed it up, then it would be to design not for a search algorithm but for a person.
As a freethinking and complex human, there are a plethora of factors that your brain computes and acts upon as you experience the world in front of you. Google has been studying these factors since it launched 20 years ago, and we are way beyond the days of black-hat keyword spamming and buying spammy backlinks to rank higher.
Consider What Makes A Successful User Journey
In the age of high-speed internet and one-click checkout, what do we really want in a website’s user journey? The simple answer is less time and more convenience — to be able to digest interesting information or complete an action that will take as little time as possible and is ultra convenient for the user.
So, with this in mind, if I were a search engine, then I would want to reward websites that achieve this since they have satisfied my users. Did they find what they were looking for and leave happy? Is the website mobile friendly and fast? Are users getting to the bottom of the content as well as clicking on things? What are other signals out there, like mentions on other websites and links to the page in question?
PRET: An Easy Model To Remember
We all love a simple way to remember things, so I give you the PRET model. Nope, this has nothing to do with sandwich stores located on every New York City and London street corner, but it is something I developed a few years ago when explaining what Google looks for and why you should design for people.
How popular are your webpage and overall website? Is there a good amount of traffic? Are there other websites talking about yours and maybe linking to it? Are there social media indicators showing that you are the popular kid in school? Like any sensible TV network would do, if something is proving to be popular, then it is going to be shown more frequently and higher up in the listings. Google treats websites in the exact same way.
Thus, backlinks do indeed still matter and won’t be going away any time soon. Simple mentions of your brand on other websites also help. And some social media is tracked, while others (behind paywalls where search engines can’t see) still count as they can drive traffic that’s considered in gauging popularity.
How relevant is the content on the webpage and overall website to the person’s search term? Do images have related themes (yes, Google has image recognition now), related filenames and associated tags? Are there title and meta tags set up (these typically get pulled into a Google Search result and are usually set in the content management system, or CMS) as well as keywords in the URL? Does the wider website have similar themes linking to this page in a structured manner? Are there other websites mentioning, or even linking, to the webpage that mentions related themes?
If the content is not relevant to what the person is looking for, then it won’t be shown on search results. The trick is to show the content in such a way that it entices the user, and then when they are there, it is obvious that the webpage is highly relevant.
Are people actually clicking on the search results listing and then engaging with the linked webpage? Once a user clicks, do they hit the back button straight away or actually spend time on the content? Do they scroll to the bottom, click on other links, social sharing options or call-to-action buttons? Is the webpage so unbelievably slow and mobile unfriendly that the user gives up?
Engagement is such an important factor in understanding if a webpage is any good to the user. If it is quicker and more convenient for the user to hit the back button and go to the next listing on the search results page, then it’s likely they will.
How trustworthy are your webpage, your website and anyone who dares to talk about it? Is it a brand new website or has Google had its eye on it for a while? Does the server the website is hosted on look legit, and are the websites that link to yours link farms or real mentions? Is the business verified on Google My Business?
New websites are rarely ranked high unless they are attached to a completely new search term (or maybe, if Justin Bieber links to your site from his Twitter account on day one). Trust is important since, if your website appears untrustworthy, then it probably will not be worthy of including in Google’s top results.
Anything Else Google Thinks About?
Of course, there are other factors that do matter when it comes to SEO — in particular, technical aspects to help contextual understanding and indexing. You absolutely need to build a great website architecture that is fast, mobile optimized and has basic tags in place. You need basics like having structures in place for social sharing to promote footfall, and it is useful to have a good CMS to quickly add optimized content.
Simply search Google for “SEO checklist” and you will find guidance from the likes of Search Engine Journal, Moz and others. These resources will mention all sorts of tech things you need to think about, like extensible markup language (XML) sitemaps, robots.txt, meta tags and more.
In the end, it all comes down to providing a great experience for the user and showing interesting content that they will want to digest and share — in as little time as possible with as much convenience as you can technically provide.