Here Tim Grice, Director of Search at digital and search agency Branded3, looks at how to achieve your search goals through effective audience engagement
As search-engine algorithms have become more sophisticated, so too has the job of trying to reverse-engineer ranking signals. Google is detecting and penalising manipulative techniques, which means a strategy based on ‘faking it’ is just not going to cut it anymore.
To achieve a truly future-proof strategy you have to do your SEO the right way, no shortcuts, just honest work aimed at optimising your web presence for your users, and not for algorithms.
This means that SEO is becoming more than just a handful of automated techniques, it’s a collaboration of web development, web design, CRO, digital PR, data, content marketing and social media.
Genuinely engaging your audience and building the popularity of your brand is the key, simple as that.
Yes, you still need links, but are they the type of links that engage? Will your target audience realistically see them? Do they add a genuine value to your user? If not, then how valuable is the link?
And yes, you still need content; but does the content keep people on the site or make them look elsewhere? Is it serving all searchers who hit your site, or only the ones looking to buy right now? The truth is, 50 per cent of users coming in from Google may be looking to buy, but what about the other 50 per cent – what do they want?
Google has always preached four things about optimising websites: make it fast, make it relevant, make it comprehensive and make it a great user experience.
Historically, SEOs completely ignored this advice, why? Because all we needed were links and keywords, the other stuff just didn’t help us compete. This is not the case now and much more focus will need to be put on the design and development aspects of your website.
So, how does Google really know how engaging and popular you are? One of the ways is based on how long someone actually stays on your site, how often they bounce, and what they do when that happens.
I don’t believe Google is checking your analytics data, but I do believe they monitor the time between a user clicking your result and then returning back to Google to either click on different results, or refine their search query.
If your website creates a short ‘return to search’ time whilst similar results seem to engage, then is that not a clear indicator that you are not the right result for that particular search query?
In terms of popularity, there are tons of different signals, but I believe one that gets ignored regularly is simply how many times people are using Google to search for your brand.
You have to be investing in more than just link acquisition to win at SEO; you have to focus on genuinely engaging your audience, whether that be through your link acquisition, onsite content, PPC advertising, website design or social media strategy.
Authentic audience engagement is powerful, and I believe will slowly tip the balance on links and link-based authority. If you rank in the top five for a particular keyword, you have enough links to be position one; what you need now is to be more engaging and popular.
To get a site that genuinely deserves to rank is really the only strategy moving forward and this is achieved through both a great website design and excellent audience engagement.