With so many significant changes in the world of SEO over the past year, it can be hard for non-SEO professionals to keep track of what’s still relevant and what isn’t.
Fortunately, while Google completely replaced their previous algorithm with Hummingbird, their gold standard for webmasters hasn’t changed: they want us to provide the best content and the best user-experience possible.
But what does this mean in 2014? What on-page factors are still relevant, both for readers and search engines?
1. A Frequently-Updated Blog with Awesome Content
Just a few years ago, blogs weren’t thought of as a way for companies to publish content, build their brand, grow their audience, and build authority in their field. Now, they’re an absolute necessity.
In my own testing, I’ve already seen a 51.38% average increase in Google organic search traffic since publishing daily blog content with custom images, offering valuable insights. For more information about how important a blog is for SEO traffic, see “Why an Active Blog is Necessary for a Successful SEO Initiative,” and “10 Steps to SEO-Optimizing Your Blog Articles.”
2. Google Authorship Integration
Google Authorship is Google’s way of verifying authors of content, curating that content, and establishing a sense for how much expertise (and authority) should be awarded to any individual author. Author rank is a concept that steps from this; the thought that authors with Google Authorship integrated gain credibility or “rank” based on their publishing history. It’s currently unknown whether author rank currently exists, but it’s a safe bet that Google will eventually implement it as a ranking factor, if it hasn’t already.
Other benefits of Google Authorship integration are enticing as well. Perhaps the next biggest benefit is Authorship Markup, which results in the author’s Google+ profile image being displayed next to the search result, within the search results page. Studies have shown that this helps draw the eye, attracting more clicks.
Here’s what that looks like:
3. Optimized URLs
We’re still seeing preference given to static, keyword-rich URLs, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.
Best practices for URLs include:
- Under 100 characters in length
- Words separated by hyphens or dashes
- URLs should include no more than 3 subdirectories
- If you’re looking to rank for location-based keywords, be sure to include those in your URLs
- E-commerce sites should append tracking or product numbers at the end of the url (and should certainly not use numbers as a replacement for keywords)
4. Title Tags
The title tag has consistently been one of the most critical ranking factors, and remains so for 2014. Your title tag is likely going to the be clickable text that appears in search results, making its optimization important for reasons far beyond SEO; it’s one thing to rank highly in search results, but if your title tag isn’t enticing, it won’t get clicked.
When choosing your title tag, try to include your keyword naturally and strategically. It’s usually a best practice to use your company name as part of your homepage’s title tag. For internal pages, include it at the end of your title tag rather than at the beginning; this helps with branding.
Your title tag should ideally be less than 65 characters, and again, if you’re targeting local keywords, be sure to use these here as well.
5. Heading Tags
Heading tags are still one of the key factors Google uses to decipher what your page content is about. Fortunately, if you already have a good handle on how to use proper headings to improve reader experience, the same principles hold true in terms of what the search engines like to see.
Each page should have one – and only one – H1 tag. Your H1 tag indicates the main topic of your page, and should be the first element on your page. In fact, your H1 tag will often automatically become your title tag, depending on what CMS software you’re using, and what custom SEO plugins you have installed. This is generally considered to be a best practice.
Breaking up long chunks of content with relevant headers will ensure your readers can quickly scan your content, and will help Google understand the progression of your content as well.
Use your keywords in your header tags (H2, H3, etc.), as well as in your H1 tag, when it’s logical and natural to do so. Don’t force it! The key is keeping it natural and helpful.
6. Alt Image Tags
Your image tags are still important for SEO; not only do they reinforce the relevance of the text content on the page, they also have a chance to rank in Google Image Search. But whereas, long ago, alt image tags were commonly thought of as primarily an SEO tool, marketers need to be keenly aware of using them primarily as a tool for labeling images for the visually impaired.
Where appropriate, your images should contain your keyword. If you’re finding that your images consistently aren’t relevant to your keyword, then maybe it’s time to rethink which images you’re choosing, rather than trying to ‘make’ them relevant.
Make sure your alt image tags are highly descriptive and give readers a clear understanding of the subject of the image.
7. Keywords in Content
This is another factor I don’t see changing at any point in the future. Proper incorporation of keywords will be a natural result of good copywriting, but it never hurts to spell out the best practices in terms of frequency of use.
Keywords should be used throughout your content. Variations of your keywords (known as LSI keywords) are also important. For more information on LSI keywords, see my article “How to Find LSI (Long-Tail Keywords Once You’ve Identified Your Primary Keywords.”
As with all the elements in this article, following these guidelines will go a long way to attracting both your human visitors as well as the search engines.
8. Appropriate Depth of Content
We’re definitely witnessing a move toward Google preferring longer, meatier content, otherwise known as ‘long form’ content. Anyone can slap up a 400-word blog post and optimize it for a keyword or two, and Google is keenly aware of this.
If your site is currently not ranking well, and is made up primarily of short, generic articles, it may be time for a revamp of your current content. Ensure your content is well-written, and keep in mind that blog posts should generally be a minimum of 1000 words. This is particularly true if you have hopes of ranking for Google In-Depth Search (where I’d recommend a minimum of 1500 words).
For more information on creating content that resonates with your audience, see these resources:
- Why No One is Reading What You’re Writing
- The Confluence of Content and Social Media: Insights for Success in 2014
- 10 Steps to Creating a Mobile-Optimized Content Strategy
9. Appropriate Topical Targeting
Whereas we have typically focused our SEO practices on ‘keywords’, I believe we’ve seen a shift towards ‘topical targeting’. For instance, rather than focusing a page on one or two specific keywords, we should be crafting our page to address a particular topic or theme.
This will mean that our pages will be optimized for multiple, related keywords. While this has always been a best practice in the SEO industry, it’s one that has often been ignored in favor of targeting one or two specific keywords.
Organizing your content around topics is not only good for SEO, but is beneficial for improving your readers’ experience, attracting inbound links, and can significantly bump up the ‘share-worthiness’ of your content as well.
As you can see, some important SEO elements really haven’t changed much over the years, while others have. Perhaps our understanding of their importance has, but Google’s goal has remained the same all these years: to provide the most valuable and relevant content to the people who are searching for it.
Ensuring that your topic and keywords are clearly identifiable in your content, URLs, and header and image tags isn’t difficult (though it does take time), and will go a long way toward ensuring the best possible organic search rankings for your content. But most important of all, ensure that you’re publishing awesome content on a regular basis. That’s the foundation of on-page SEO in today’s modern era of SEO.