We’ll get this out of the way first: Google rules the internet. Google’s 22 years of operation have seen their search engine become the reigning king of web indexing and the default framework by which consumers access the internet, evolving into an all-in-one tool through which the casual internet user experiences web content. As the internet’s commercial applications have matured, so has Google’s search technology; just like changing markets, the inner workings of Google’s search are always adapting, and the methods by which search results are recalled and ranked for viewing are updated as technology improves and consumer behaviors change. If you’re wondering how to bolster your online reach in 2021, these key SEO strategies should point you in the right direction.
In 2020, just over half of all internet use was attributed to smartphones. As smartphones get more advanced and traditional desktop and notebook computers shrink in relevance, the number of people using smartphones will only increase, so it’s in your best interest that your content is mobile-ready. While smartphone browsers will display regular web pages, the results are often frustrating; the palm-sized screen of a smartphone doesn’t lend itself to excessive zooming, horizontal scrolling, and pinhead-sized plaintext links, not to mention sluggish load times for heavily scripted and content-rich pages meant for computers. Thankfully, there’s AMP, Google’s universal framework and toolkit for rendering mobile-friendly websites that load quickly, make efficient use of screen real estate, and take advantage of the unique functionality of touch-screen devices. If you haven’t made use of AMP, there’s no better time than now.
Now that you’ve created a more mobile-friendly experience, it’s time to talk about security. Though the typical casual internet user might forgive unsecured web connections, Google won’t, and if your website doesn’t meet security standards, even the most daring internet cowboys will be discouraged by their browser’s almost impenetrable security warning screen. Additionally, an improperly secured website will suffer poor ranking in Google searches, limiting your exposure. So what does “unsecured” mean to you and me? There’s no need to dive too deep; it’s all about HTTP, or Hypertext Transfer Protocol, the foundational protocol for transferring data over web connections. (You might know it as those letters at the front of a URL). HTTP works well enough for data transfer, but it does little for security, and in 2018, Google began flagging HTTP URLs as “not secure” in an effort to make HTTPS (the S stands for secure) the new standard. If your website, or any individual pages, are still using the outdated HTTP standard, you should rectify this immediately to avoid a damaged ranking and user inaccessibility.
In the past, a successful search query was a lean search query. If you wanted to find helpful results quickly, your query would be limited to keywords. Efficiency was important. With voice command, this is no longer the case.
What began as one of Google’s wishful-but-clunky technologies has gradually been refined into “an ultimate mobile assistant that helps you with your daily life so you can focus on the things that matter,” and now 55% of smartphone users (those people who account for more than half of internet traffic) use voice command. If the past can serve as a lesson, voice command is poised to grow in use, and your website should be formatted with this in mind.
How do people around you use voice command? You’ll notice people are more likely to speak to their phone the way they speak to a person, with natural, casual syntax and little concern for efficiency. This goes double for younger internet users who might not have experienced the limitations of yesterday’s search conventions and committed proper search phrasing to habit. Instead of manually activating voice command and saying “grilled cheese recipe,” people are now more likely to ask, “Hey Google, how do I make grilled cheese?” Google’s search engine has learned how people talk, so questions, interrogative words, and conjunctions have become part of its vocabulary. To make your website more search-relevant, consider reformatting your site’s written content to reflect conversational language. F.A.Q. sections are an easy, helpful, and natural-looking way to include this type of language since all or most of your frequently asked questions will ideally have come from actual people. If your resources allow, this strategy can be expanded even further with the publishing of a blog, which is ideal for infusing text-rich content into what might otherwise be a textually sparse website with few opportunities for including conversational search phrases.
Are you noticing large numbers of unique IP addresses visiting your website, but confused to see no proportionate increase in search ranking or even a concerning drop in your ranking?
Bounce rate is SEO-speak for the percentage of unique visitors who leave your website without making meaningful engagements, like buying something, submitting contact requests, or clicking an internal link to another of your webpages. If your bounce rate is high, Google will notice, and your ranking will drop. Diminished rankings manifest as fewer unique visits since fewer people will be directed to your website by Google. It might be terrible for you, but imagine you’re a consumer with limited time: would you rather your search engine point you toward a poorly constructed website with broken links, unclear navigation, and an unintuitive point of sale system, or a sleek and well-organized website that allows you to quickly and easily access whatever information or product you’re after? Google’s handling of bounce rate is a form of quality control, with every bounced visitor akin to a bad review. The best way to conquer quality control is to improve quality.
Updating your security protocol, making your site mobile-friendly, and translating your written content will already go a long way to reducing bounce rate, but there are likely more improvements to be made. Pretend you’re a first-time visitor and do some exploration; do you notice any dead links that lead to 404 pages or blank screens? Are there glaring formatting issues that will benefit from editing your HTML tags? Are images crisp and clean, or are you using poorly compressed .jpeg files for your banners? Do a Google search for something that is found on one section of your website; when you click the link, are you directed to that section, or to your website’s homepage? If you sell material goods, what payment methods are available, and are they convenient?
Your website should be visually welcoming and easy to navigate, appear professional, and be reasonably transparent if you want people to not only visit but feel comfortable and confident enough to stick around.
If you don’t feel old yet, here’s a fun fact: it’s been fifteen years since Google’s $1.65 billion purchase of YouTube. What at first seemed like a weighty business gamble has more than paid off, with YouTube growing in popularity thanks to Google’s infrastructure, and Google supplied with a functionally infinite pool of video content, which can usually be found at the very top of a Google search.
YouTube is triply useful, providing a standalone platform for your business, videos that are easily embedded on your website, and increasing your Google search presence. YouTube’s own sophisticated search engine — the worlds second-largest — responds to SEO strategies just like Google’s search, with emphasis on written material. A YouTube video has three major searchable components: its title, its description, and its hashtags. Making the most of video titles, descriptions, and hashtags is key to your channel and videos enjoying maximum search visibility.
Your video title is the first thing people will see. If you can, try to find the middle ground between keyword-rich and concise, but don’t worry if your title is wordy — wordiness is better than sparseness. If your video is about Thai resorts, and you’re trying to attract viewers seeking information on possible vacation destinations in Thailand, consider scrapping titles like “Jeff’s Favorite Vacations” in favor of more specific ones, like “Best Thai Resorts for the Budget Conscious Traveler.” Your description should include as much information as possible; this is your opportunity to pack your video with keywords. Some video publishers hire transcription services for their videos, or perform the transcription themselves, in order to have the full content of the video in written form and searchable as part of their video description. Lastly, you should never neglect hashtags. While they are less important on YouTube than they are on some other platforms, they still boost your search visibility and help categorize your videos, making it easier for viewers to stumble upon them during trips down the topical rabbit hole.