10 key facts you need to know about SEO in 2017

When you set up the website for your business I have no doubt that somewhere along the line you thought about SEO. But have you been able to keep up with the numerous changes Google constantly makes to its search engine since then? Of course you haven’t, because you’re busy being the expert at running your business. But you should know that what you believed worked as SEO back then may not still be working for you today.

To its credit Google invests heavily in updates and upgrades to its search engine algorithms and rules with the purpose of making the user – i.e. the ‘searcher’ – experience as painless and easy as possible: it’s not for nothing that their Vision Statement is: “To provide access to the world’s information in one click”. The flip side for small business owners is how on earth to stay abreast of the multiple yearly updates and keep your site up-to-date?

To give you a flavour of how it works now, here are 10 current key factors (in no particular order) that are the differentiators in successful organic search. All of these affect how Google sees your website and consequently how far up the search results you land.

1. Page load speeds – especially on mobile
If your website doesn’t load within 3-4 seconds, Google will penalise you. This is especially relevant for the 40% of search traffic being done on mobile devices (see below). It’s not just down to limited attention spans; searchers will recognise that if a site is slow to load then it’s probably poor quality and they will move on.

2. Content: Quality over quantity
Especially on your home page. “Quality” content is content that is original, relevant and clear enough to tell your visitors all about your business and what you can do for them. This doesn’t always mean lots of pages either if they don’t serve a real purpose and/or have poor quality content. Poor content, duplicated content, or copied content will affect your page rankings.

3. A secure site
Google doesn’t like websites that aren’t encrypted, and the giveaway is the “s” in your URL address (i.e. https://). No longer the sole province of e-commerce sites, if your website doesn’t have SSL encryption, it will affect your rankings.

4. Being local
30% of searchers are looking for local businesses and Google likes to be able to push local businesses towards the top of the rankings. Their algorithms even evaluate distance when determining where to place you. A top tip is to make sure your location is included in descriptions, tags and keywords (more of which later). Another tip is to get your business in Google My Business and on Google+: Google will love you for it!

5. Featured Snippets
These don’t always necessarily need to be Wikipedia territory and again this comes back to having highly relevant content. These boxes always appear at the top of the page rankings (even over paid results) and get great click-throughs so it’s worth investing in the type of clear, concise content that gets you in there.

6. Mobile optimisation
If your website isn’t optimised for mobile then you could be in serious trouble with the 40% of global search traffic that use mobile devices as well as with Google. At best you’re irritating people and looking amateur, at worst you’re missing out on page rankings. This matters, make the switch to an optimised site now.

7. Keywords
One great improvement in Google is the reduced necessity for keywords to be exact. Such is the power of their search algorithms that you no longer need to repeat keywords or phrases verbatim throughout your content. Google is clever enough to recognise synonyms and related terms and count them in the results. Keywords are still a good idea for headlines but only if you can present them in a way that makes sense and doesn’t look forced. In fact if you use “keyword stuffing” on every page in a way that creates a poor user experience and Google will penalise you.

8. Images
Google can’t read images so it will skip over any untagged images on your site, even if you have text overlays embedded in them. Image Alt-tags are also a requirement under the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act since users with limited vision often use text-to-speech software. Image tagging is a simple process in your site’s editing suite so spend a little time appending them, remembering to use your keywords wherever possible.

9. H1 doesn’t matter anymore (in search rankings, anyway)
There is no point using your H1 for your keywords because Google doesn’t count H1’s now. This doesn’t devalue its usefulness in defining the style of your site, but it means you can save your keywords for the content instead.

10. Links do still matter, but only if they’re relevant
The days of linking being a numbers game are over. It’s a great help to your rankings to have links on your website but, again, they need to be relevant and quality links, i.e. they go to legitimate websites and be as diverse as possible without degrading the use experience. They make your website look authoritative and are one of the top 5 things you can build to help your rankings

If the Summer holidays means a slow-down in your business, now might be a good time to audit your website and eliminate any aspects that might be affecting your page rankings.