A good place to start thinking about SEO is to consider the goals of Search Engines companies. In order to keep people coming back, Google and other search engines want to display the best, highest-quality results for any given search query.
So, your strategy for SEO should:
Make sure that the pages of your site actually do have the best, highest-quality content for keywords relevant to your site.
Make sure that Google and other search engines are aware that #1 is true.
That begs the question – What defines high-quality content? Over the past few years, Google and other searches engines have gotten much smarter about understanding both website content and user experience. Google has published clear that are a great framework to abide by.
The good news is that for the most part, what’s good for your visitors will also help your search rankings.
The first part of quality is making sure that your site is reputable. Your site must be free of spam, malware and other problems. Excessive ads or pages filled with nothing but links are signs that your site is not reputable. And, as mentioned above, any deceptive practices are another sign of a bad-quality site. If you sign up for notifications in Google Webmaster tools they will tell you if they detect any issues on your site.
Another measure of high quality is a fast site. Faster is clearly a better user experience. And, studies have shown that a faster site also converts better. Several years ago Google started factoring in site speed into search result rankings, so delivering on this has never been more crucial to site visibility.
For people searching from a mobile device, a measure of quality content is that the site is mobile-friendly. Google began labeling mobile optimized sites in search results this fall, presumably giving ranking preference to those that are responsive. With 1/3 of search result clicks going to the top organic result, the need to perform well in organic search has never been more crucial. You should make sure your site renders well on tablets and phones to maximize web traffic from mobile searches.
Freshness is also a factor. A site that hasn’t been updated in months or years is most likely lower quality. With out of date content, this also probably means the site hasn’t earned any new inbound links. Without a good “freshness factor”,search engines will likely pass over a site for newer, more current content.
Spelling errors and broken links are signs of bad quality. The Alexa Site Audit regularly monitors your site for broken links, which are bad both for your visitors and for SEO.
Quality content is copy that is original, clearly written, and relevant to the user’s search query. Writing good copy is hard work, so you need to make the copy as effective as possible in making the connection between what people are searching for and the pages of your website.
The pages of your site should be, for the most part, focused on individual topics – not individual keywords. But it is important that the content include the keywords or phrases you want to rank for in search engines naturally in the text.
The process of picking the right keywords – Keyword Research – is one of the most important parts of SEO and is a big topic unto itself. But some questions to get answers to are:
What keywords do people who are genuinely interested in my topic/product/service/organization use when searching?
What keyword phrases are currently driving traffic to my site?
What keyword phrases are driving traffic to my competitors’ sites?
How often do people search for certain keyword phrases?
The Alexa keyword tool, which is part of the Alexa Advanced subscription, can help you find keywords driving traffic to your competitors’ sites. You can also search by keyword, and find the top sites receiving organic or paid traffic from that keyword. Google Trends is another useful tool to help you understand how search patterns change over time. In all, comprehensive keyword research and testing can give incredible insight into your customers needs and buying behavior, trends in demand and market constraints, and even your competitors’ strategy.
Quality content is also reflected in engagement metrics. Metrics like bounce rate and session length allow a search engine to determine how happy a visitor is with the result. Over time, usage patterns emerge and search engines can differentiate fairly accurately between what visitors find engaging, quality content and what they don’t. If you’re offering substantial, differentiated value, your engagement metrics will show it.