With Hubspot’s research indicating that 75% of consumers don’t venture beyond the first page of search results, it is clear that success with organic search is determined by ranking in the top 10. And with Search Engine Journal reporting that click through rates for organic search results drop off sharply, with position 1 yielding a 28.5% CTR and positions 2, 3, and 10 yielding a 15%, 11%, and 2.5% CTR, respectively, it is evident that amplifying search ranking positions incrementally can pay off in multiples of engagement. Thus, in order to facilitate your journey with organic search, we’ve attempted to make sense of the 200+ ranking signals that Google employs, beyond domain authority, in order to highlight the actionable factors most germane to driving higher rankings.
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Inbound links, also known as backlinks, are third party endorsements indicative of valuable content that delights. Such backlinks are manifestations of other brands affirming support of your knowledge share or product/service offering and, because of this, the number of authoritative inbound links your page receives factors heavily into how search engines rank the page in search results.
Just consider how, if the New York Times is linking to your content, that is an endorsement of your subject matter expertise and deserves for search algorithms to reward favorably. Thus, in order to optimize for inbound links, generate content that offers a unique perspective or advance a differentiated value proposition that delivers value, builds trust, and earns customer satisfaction. To drive the path forward, create partnerships with established and credible pundits and content producers within your industry in the quest to win coveted hyperlinks that enhance your search ranking advantage.
Since content is the value that search engines serve users in response to search queries, its quality in meeting the search query is a major ranking factor that influences organic search position. And with developments in Google’s web crawling algorithms, machines can understand the meaning of content beyond the density of single keywords and more so in the context of long-tail keywords and phrases. Because of this, content should be optimized as a whole rather than with a singular focus on specific keywords, though, if written well and directed towards the searcher’s query, keywords and context words will naturally sew into the fold to augment search signals. Content that aligns with search intent in order to solve the consumer’s problem at their unique stage in the customer journey is rewarded with favorable visibility. Consider that if a user is searching for “what are the best running shoes?”, search algorithms recognize this is an informational search and serve blog posts and publications that educate and inform, whereas if a user is searching for “buy running shoes” search algorithms recognize this as a transactional request and serve product and e-commerce landing pages.
Thus, as you create content, write to the stage in the customer journey and advance sufficient depth and coverage in order to fully meet the user’s query. Conveying thought leadership on specific topics will push the needle on designating you as an authority such topics, while keeping content up to date signals search relevancy. To optimize content, incorporate keywords and context words using natural language, refresh your content regularly, and meet users’ queries with comprehensive and in-depth responses that satisfy search intent, which will translate to approximately 500-2,000 words depending on the context of the page. Quality content will yield favorable results in the form of in click through uplift, increased time on page, and reduced bounce rates, all of which indicate a positive user experience that augments organic search performance.
While not as important as they once were in impacting search rankings, meta tags facilitate search algorithms’ understanding of both the purpose and topic of different pages and content sections and remain a prominent organic search signal. To optimize for performance, the Title Tag, which appears as a clickable link in search results, should lead with keywords and concisely convey the value of the content contained within. Limiting the Title Tag to 55 characters prevents truncation while writing for search intent encourages click through. Beyond Title Tags, the Description Tags, Header Tags, and Image Alt Tags all exist to facilitate understanding and influence click through or search ranking. As best practice, Description Tags should sit within 156 characters and drive informed demand, Header Tags should remain within 70 characters and limit to one H1 per page, and Image Alt Tags should summarize descriptively with hyphens between words, with all of the meta tags incorporating keywords appropriately without “keyword stuffing.” Whether direct ranking signals or drivers of click through that, in turn, influence organic search ranking, meta tags are on-page SEO attributes that should be optimized for the queries they serve.
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