It’s been a busy year in search… Since last October we watched the break-up of Google Authorship, endured two Panda updates, battled Penguin 3.0 and survived “Mobilegeddon”—is your head spinning yet?

Keeping track of these crazy algorithm changes can be a daunting task, but knowing which ones really matter when it comes to ranking in search engines can be an even bigger challenge. That’s why we’ve decided to condense the results from Moz’s Ranking Factors Study and provide you with the top 5 SEO strategies you need to focus on right now.

#1 Page Load Speed

Page load speed remains just as vital today as it was yesterday. Not only is page speed one of the biggest algorithmic factors known to impact search rankings, it’s also one of the most important ingredients in a quality user experience. It’s a fast-paced world, and if your site doesn’t load in a few seconds, users will give up and move on to another site—likely your competitor.

How to find out if your site loads fast or slow

The great thing about Google is that they make it fairly easy for webmasters to assess the performance of a website. Use the PageSpeed Insights tool to get instant feedback on your site’s mobile and desktop speed performance.

How to speed up your site

Google’s PageSpeed Insights also provides lots of detailed information about how to improve the speed of your site. Among other things, you’ll typically find recommendations and how-tos on reducing server response time, optimizing images and minifying JavaScript, CSS and HTML.

#2 Quality Content

Content is still king. It has been for years and it looks as though it will continue to be one of the most important elements in your overall SEO strategy. Google’s goal is to serve up the most relevant, useful information in response to user queries. The Panda algorithm is charged with the task of determining what qualifies as “quality content” and what is considered “low-quality” or “thin content”.

How to find out if your site has “quality content”

Begin by understanding Google’s quality guidelines and follow these basic principle:

  • Design your content for people, not for search engines – that means writing in a way that connects to real people and do not stuff pages full of keywords
  • Don’t deceive your users—make sure you’re delivering the content you say you’re delivering
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings—focus on building useful, interesting content that your users want and need. Don’t try to manipulate the search engines, try winning over your audience with awesome content instead

 

How to fix and improve “low quality content” on pages

  • Look for pages on your site with little to no text, then beef them up with useful content. If you can’t think of anything to say on a page then you probably don’t need that page.
  • Look for pages that overuse certain keywords then rewrite the copy to flow naturally and sound more conversational. Read it out loud—if it sounds funny, edit again
  • Avoid duplicate content. Don’t scrape content from other websites—if you want to reference content from another website, that’s fine, but add some original content of your own to the page. If you have multiple URLs with the same content (common on ecommerce catalog sites), use rel=canonical tags.

 

#3 Mobile-Friendly

Mobilegeddon, the algorithm that rewards mobile-friendly websites with higher rankings, hit the scene in late April 2015. In an unusually open move, Google pre-announced the update, giving site owners time to mobilize (pun intended) before the algorithm rolled out. Fortunately for many, the name Mobilegeddon instilled more fear than was actually warranted. The impact of this update wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the name had us believe although mobile-friendliness is still an important factor to keep in consideration.

How to find out if your site is mobile-friendly

Simple—just use Google’s “Mobile-Friendly Test.” Type in your domain and click “analyze.” You’ll get a quick yes or no response—there is no distinction between levels of mobile-friendliness.

How to make your website mobile-friendly

  • If you’re redesigning your site, ensure your website template design is responsive
  • If your site did not pass the Google Mobile-Friendly Test, contact IT or an SEO and ask them to follow the recommendations provided in the test results
  • If you’re not sure where to begin, ask a website developer and/or designer about building a responsive website

 

#4 Social Media

Over the years, there’s been speculation as to whether or not social signals have an impact on search rankings. Google claims it doesn’t, while Bing says social media does contribute to rankings. What we do know for sure is that social media can be responsible for driving plenty of quality traffic to a website. We also know that Panda demands a solid content strategy … and where there’s a content strategy, there should be a social media strategy. So even if social media doesn’t affect Google rankings (at least not yet), it still has a place alongside SEO.

But wait … Google and Twitter got back together recently, which means that tweets will now show up in the SERPs again. If you Google “Southpaw movie” you’ll see something like this:

southpaw

 

See that little scroll arrow on the right? It lets you swipe through recent Tweets in the past week, which is a pretty cool feature that’s sure to get user’s attention.

#5 Rich Snippets

Simply put, microdata (aka schema or rich data markup) is HTML code that helps search engines understand a website’s information and therefore return “rich snippets” of data in the SERPs.

Those links in the SERP were generated from microdata markup. You also see the star ratings and votes –those, too, come from microdata.

Until recently microdata was simply a way for websites to get an edge over the competition by providing more useful content in the SERP, but it didn’t have any real SEO value in terms of rankings. Recently, however, Google’s John Mueller said (at the 21:40 minute mark of this Google Hangout) that “over time, I think it [structured markup] is something that might go into the rankings as well”.

How to check your site’s microdata

Visit Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools), log in, click “Search Appearance” then “Structured Data”.

If you’re already using some structured data markup on your site, this is the place to find out if it’s working properly.

How to begin using microdata on your site

Here are some basic structured data markup elements you might want to start with:

  • People & organizations
  • Products & offers
  • Events
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Reviews
  • Recipes
  • Software Apps
  • Videos
  • Articles

There is a ton of information on how to setup the code for these, and more, at schema.org. Once you think you’ve got the hang of it, you can test your code with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool before pushing it live.

Summary

Based on Moz’s Ranking Factors Study it seems user experience is becoming increasingly more important to search engines than traditional ranking signals, such as inbound links and URL structures. That said, if you want to compete for rankings you can’t ignore backlinks from high-authority sites, relevant keyword usage in Page Titles, and, last but certainly not least, you must focus on generating unique, high-quality content. Because at the end of the day, all the number one rankings in the world mean nothing if prospects aren’t consuming your content and converting into leads for your business.

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