Back in the old days, it wasn’t that hard to get a good search engine ranking. Keywords were king. Whether in your domain name, page title, meta tags or content, that’s what search engines relied on keywords to figure out what your site was about. It was also easy to game the system. Keyword stuffing, phantom pages and other black hat tactics flooded search results with garbage and forced search engines to come up with other ways to determine relevance.
While keywords are still important, there are many more signals that search engines use to determine if your site is relevant to a searcher’s request. Every few years Moz (formerly SEOMoz) aggregates search ranking data along with what SEO experts consider the key factors when it comes to how a site ranks in organic search. Here’s a quick summary of the results.
The number and quality of sites that link to yours gives search engines a good idea of what niche your site is in/what it’s about and how much “authority” you hold in the niche.
These are links from your site to external or internal ones either in the body of the text or on the page. These links give search spiders more content to follow and, especially if the linked text is a keyword, more information on the subject matter. Since there’s been some abuse of anchor text, Google apparently downgraded its importance. Moz’s study, though, shows that it’s still important.
Still important in the body text, title, meta description tag and when used as a head line (H1 tag). SEO’s also think that other headline tags as well as image “alternate” tags were important though to a lesser degree.
Great relevance is placed on your domain name especially for branded (company/product/person name) searches. In other words, NorthWestBrokerage.com is better than NWBrokerage.com, though partial matches still have some value. Google, however, is doing some tweaking with domain name weight because these are easy to spoof.
Google said they weren’t going to use G+ in its ranking, but Moz found that number of pluses (as well as Facebook shares) was highly correlated to search engine placement. On the other hand, SEO experts believe they’re not that important in the overall scheme of things. And there is some debate over whether Google is measuring social activity and/or the links that social sharing generates.
Google authorship and other schema.org tags don’t seem to hold much sway in the rankings yet. Google appears to be using it as an identity verification tool but watch for this to change as HTML5 and schema markup becomes more prevalent.
You’d have to expect that Google would use the search data they have to assess popularity and relevance – and they do, using actual user data (traffic and query volume).
Overall site design and navigational structure are also important. Google uses real people to review sites and part of that review includes how the site looks, behaves, what the ad to content ratio is and how well the site achieves its stated mission.
If you’ve been reading between the lines, you get the gist of what search engines are looking for. It’s all about quality content and a good user experience. That base along with smart promotion will be rewarded with better search engine placement. Here are some tips:
Most of the basic ranking factors should have been addressed when you first created your site. But if you’re lacking in any of those areas, it’s time for a site update.
- Does your site structure/navigation and content hierarchy make sense? Is it easy to find what you’re looking for?
- Take advantage of HTML tags (meta, image alternate) that provide additional context.
- If it makes sense, use keywords in your headlines, especially top level headlines (H1).
Whether a new or existing site, consider usability tools/testing to determine if the site makes sense to visitors. Just don’t use the marketing staff or agents – you need unbiased/neutral testers.
- Hire live testers via Mechanical Turk, Loop11 or other sites to perform a list of tasks to check for bottlenecks/navigational confusion.
- Hot spot visuals give you an idea of what regular visitors do/where their attention is drawn. Use Google’s Visitor Flow or you can use a service like Crazy Egg or Mouseflow.
Some other design tips:
- Avoid all Flash sites or putting important content in Flash slide shows or sliders. Search spiders can’t see it.
Link building (links to your site from other sites) seems to be either under-utilized or abused. Avoid services that offer to buy links for you. They’re mostly from low-level or sketchy sites that are only tangentially related to what you’re all about. That’s why the sites that link to you are quality checked.
- Educational sites (.edu) are considered the most authoritative. Contact colleges or vocational schools in your area with real estate programs about listing your site or the opportunity to place an ad.
- Look for local and state government economic development and other business related sites or directories that publish links. Make sure it has a government (.gov) domain.
- Trade sites, bloggers and CRE publication sites are important, too. Ask to be listed in any directories, blog rolls or industry lists.
- When using anchor text for internal or external links, try to place them in the first few paragraphs where search spiders are more likely to discover them.
You just can’t avoid social networking and content creation…
- If you haven’t added a blog to your site, do it now (and make it good). Fresh, regular content is not only attractive to Google but it’s more content to share. And content that links back to your site not only builds links from authoritative sites (social networks) but drives traffic to your domain.
- G+ is a must but Facebook and Twitter likes or shares are also high value networks.
- Guest posting on authoritative sites are useful only if they let you link to your own website or blog.
- Gain influence by promoting other people’s stuff. But not just any stuff. Look at your role as a curator – someone who finds the best content and provides it all in one place. And don’t forget to link your site to your social profiles so search engine knows where the influence belongs.
- Add social sharing icons (besides links to your social accounts) on ALL your site’s pages. You’d be surprised at what people want to share or bookmark. If you don’t want to manually add each icon/link, use a service like AddThis.