Updated for 2022!
SEO has been a well-known and widely used marketing strategy for over a decade. During this time, the practice of SEO has changed a great deal. Here, we’ve condensed our knowledge to provide an introduction to modern SEO along with recommended guidelines and best practices.
This guide aims to provide you with a breakdown of key search engine features and strategies that will help boost your rankings and are relevant today. If you’re looking to improve on an existing campaign or are starting from scratch, then our guide will equip you with the latest, modern SEO techniques. These tried and tested strategies are what works right now and will continue to do so in the future.
RankBrain & User Experience
Over a year ago, Google announced that RankBrain was their third most important ranking factor (just behind links and content).
After its roll-out, RankBrank quickly became a cornerstone element of Google’s search algorithm and is set to become an even more integral part of modern SEO strategies.
In short, RankBrain is Google’s machine-learning bot that helps sort through the millions of websites in their index. RankBrain is used to help measure user interaction, more specifically how users engage with various search results.
RankBrain is concerned with two vital pieces of information:
1. The time a user spends on a page (Dwell Time)
2. The percentage of users that click on a result vs number of impressions (Click Through Rate)
Google is particularly interested in understanding the quality of the results it returns. These two metrics give a strong idea of how satisfied a user is with the result he or she has chosen from the SERPS.
Dwell Time refers to the time a user will spend on a page following a search query. RankBrain uses this information as part of its analysis when determining rankings. Specifically, RankBrain tracks when “someone clicks on a page and stays on that page” and “when they go back”.
Google uses many methods to track and collect this critical data with one way being when users are logged into their Google account. Tools like Google Analytics can provide insight into which landing pages from organic searches have high “Time on Page” and “Session Duration”. Analysing these figures, especially across landing pages, should form part of your SEO strategy.
The reasoning behind the use of Dwell Time makes a lot of sense from Google’s perspective. Their main objective is to ensure their users receive a great user experience. If they notice a lot of users clicking a result but bouncing straight back to the search results, it’s an easy way to spot there’s an issue. Alternatively, if they track users spending a lot of time engaging with certain content, they’re able to discover and reward quality websites.
Google confirmed that RankBrain actively monitors Click Through Rate to determine where websites should rank. Furthermore, RankBrain conducts “experiments” where rankings are artificially increased to test Click Through Rates. In this scenario, if a test result performs well, then it will receive a permanent ranking boost. Comparatively, if a test result does not have a strong Click Through Rate, then it will decline again.
Again, we should not be surprised that Google is using this information to determine rankings and measure the quality of their results. It makes a lot of sense to use these behaviours to form an analysis of websites and content. As such, users themselves help to form and re-shape the results.
The Increasing Importance of Click Through Rate
Organic Click Through Rate has declined significantly in recent years as a result of changes to the search interface itself. Google has introduced a number of new elements into the SERPS and restructured how advertisements are displayed. Answer Boxes, new Ad formats, Carousels, “People also ask” sections have crowded the results page making it harder and harder for standard organic results to be seen.
Many years ago, Google would read how many times a keyword or keyphrase was used on a page. Optimising a page would simply be a case of using your given keyword in specific places such as the title tag, URL, H1 tag etc. However, modern SEO requires a lot more effort to properly optimise a page because Google has become much more sophisticated about how it analyses pages.
Google’s ranking algorithm considers both content and context when analysing a page. As a search engine, Google is continually focused on the experience it provides its users, specifically, this means giving searchers the very best results for their query.
Depending on the context, different parameters may be used to determine the best-suited content for a given search query. Google has a preference for in-depth content as it allows searchers to find all the information they need in a single place. However, with an increasing focus on mobile-friendly results, shorter-form content may become more favourable. As a rule of thumb, consider your audience when writing content and the scenarios where they might search for the content you’re optimising.
In-depth content is typically longer than 2K words and is structured to cover a range of sub-topics surrounding the primary topic. Keyword stuffing articles is very much a thing of the past, and over-optimising content will produce negative results.
Nevertheless, Google’s algorithm looks for related keywords using its semantic search index. Adding Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) keywords into your content is a more subtle way to optimise a piece of long-form content. Consider these like related topics or synonyms for your chosen keyword that Google can understand. Google’s understanding of the relationships between topics has developed immensely and will continue to become more and more comprehensive.
Mobile First Index
Google is applying their mobile-first index to more and more websites. This change is part of Google’s process to completely switch over to a mobile-first index which, in short, means that Google will consider the mobile version of your website as the primary version (and not the desktop version).
The mobile version of your website will be the main consideration for rankings, even when searches are made from a desktop device. Although Google’s mobile-first index is not yet fully implemented, this should be a focus for forward-facing and modern SEO strategies.
Preparing for Google’s switch to a mobile-first index could involve structural, content and development changes, depending on your current website. Dealing with issues now will put your site in good stead for when the new index is rolled out in future.
Building a responsive website over a dedicated mobile site is preferable and ensures all content is accessible on all versions. Mobile performance should also be a strong consideration taking into account poorer 3G and 4G connection speeds. These factors will be included in Google’s page analysis but also relate closely to Dwell Time and Click Through Rate as illustrated previously.
Video content is extremely popular with users and Google will reward the inclusion of rich media content like embedded videos on pages. Creating video content or including it within text-based pages and articles increase user engagement which we’ve seen is well-rewarded by RankBrain.
Furthermore, YouTube is, unofficially, the world’s second largest search engine and tapping into this new potential channel could offer a win-win for organic traffic. Couple this with the fact that YouTube is a Google-owned product, you can be sure more and more videos will make their way into the SERPS.
Voice searches are on the rise, and forward-thinking SEO strategies should consider this when planning for the future. Increasing popularity and the availability of voice-enabled devices indicate this could be a new SEO battleground.
Voice results are usually generated using rich snippets, often seen in SERPS as Answer Boxes. Therefore, to optimise for voice search, you need to be already ranking on the first page and generating a featured snippet. Featured snippets are a separate technique of their own, but a simple way to achieve this is to provide a question and answer on a well-optimised page.
Content & Links
A modern SEO strategy should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Quite the opposite, we should learn from the successes, and mistakes, of the past and put them to use in our future SEO work. We know from Google themselves that content and links are the number one and two ranking factors, ahead of RankBrain. Therefore, content and links should still form the backbone of your SEO strategy. Quality, well-optimised content combined with progressive link building strategies are essential to attain page one positions.
A modern SEO strategy must consider the major shifts in user behaviour and how Google has adapted their search engine to coincide with these. New techniques are required to ensure rankings are maintained and developed but, despite the introduction of more sophisticated technologies, Google has retained its core ranking factors – links and content.
Interested in finding out how your site is performing? Check out our free SEO Audit tool!