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Many businesses today consider backlinks to be the gold standard in boosting organic keyword rankings. It’s believed that, if they can generate a high number of links, they’re sure to rank highly on Google searches. It doesn’t matter where the backlinks come from. As long as plenty exist, the company is sure to profit — right?
Backlinks are undoubtedly important, but Google has dramatically improved its ability to differentiate between natural backlinks and those created through questionable means. Plenty of businesses have attempted to manipulate rankings by buying large numbers of links on low-quality, irrelevant websites. While these tricksters may see a temporary increase in their rankings, Google will soon find out and penalize them with a “manual action.”
The key to avoiding this fate lies in understanding what constitutes a high-quality link, as well as where to place it.
Paying the penalty
When Google launched the first iteration of its Penguin algorithm in 2012, webmasters received 700 000 messages about black-hat techniques, and Google has since continued to go after attempts to manipulate results with phony backlinks.
Receiving a manual action can be hugely detrimental to a site. Not only will it mean a website loses the majority of its keyword rankings and organic traffic, but it also requires companies to devote some serious time and resources to having the action revoked. That temporary jump in the rankings might look great at the time, but it will soon leave a company facing months (or even years) in the search-engine wilderness.
The importance of Google Analytics
Instead of gambling with search engine invisibility and looking for cheat sheets, businesses must invest properly in SEO to get ahead. To that end, Google Analytics is a necessary first step. Half of the top million sites on the Internet use it, and that figure rises to 60% among the top 10 000. Its advanced tools allow businesses to track any increase or decrease in organic traffic.
By setting up Google’s Search Console, businesses can also gain insight into vital analytics like clicks, impressions, click-through rates, and average Google position (as well as keep track of any potential manual actions). All of this information will be a massive aid to any company’s SEO efforts.
What the Google Algorithm is looking for
So, what determines a website’s organic search placement other than backlinks, and how can you ensure your business gets that coveted front-page billing? Here are three tips to help you get started:
1. Don’t skimp on your content
It doesn’t matter which industry you operate in — if you don’t have a blog or repository of content, you’re shooting your SEO efforts in the foot. With Google assessing websites on the basis of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, you can’t afford for your content to be sparse.
This doesn’t just mean linking your company’s Instagram account to your website and adding a few additional sentences. Images are important, but a study conducted by Backlinko utilizing data from SEMrush, Ahrefs, SimilarWeb, and MarketMuse demonstrated the importance of long-form blog posts as well, and websites that make the front page of Google possess content that averages 1 890 words per post.
Creating content that addresses your customers’ concerns will have other trickle-down effects as well. It will make others more likely to link to your website — organically improving your backlinks — and it will increase the amount of time users spend on any one page. With visitor metrics playing an important role in Google’s search rankings, keeping your company blog up-to-date and informative is a no-brainer.
2. Technical SEO is your best friend
Much of the received wisdom about SEO focuses on content, but technical SEO is equally important. Google places great value on security, and in December 2015, the company confirmed it was adjusting its indexing system to give preference to websites that were secure (HTTPS, as opposed to HTTP).
Google also cares about site speed, and if your front page takes a long time to load, it won’t make the first page of search results. By fixing broken links, ensuring clean URLs, and establishing an organized information architecture, you can optimize your website at the technical level and ensure Google rewards your great content, too.
3. User experience and conversion rates are a big deal
Google is getting better at understanding users’ search behavior. For instance, if a user stops searching for a particular product after entering your website, Google will value your page over other results.
To boost these conversions, work on your site’s user interface and try to eliminate “pogo-sticking” to lower your bounce rates. If you check your Google Analytics and find that your bounce rate is more than 35%, you need to get working. Bring your best content front and center — it’s just one simple way to point users in the right direction and turn those numbers around.
We’ve worked with companies that have seen major boosts from applying these tactics. One enjoyed a 789 percent increase in organic traffic over a nine-month period, while another (suffering from a manual action penalty) saw a 225 percent increase after a rigorous backlink analysis saw the penalty lifted.
By offering high-quality content on a well-designed, secure, and optimized website, you can ensure your company enjoys the fruits of a high organic search ranking. Your reputation will flourish, and consumers will flock to your page.