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How to Rank on the Search Engines in 2017

The concept of Search Engine Optimization is not new. However, the algorithms, techniques, and trends for SEO are ever-changing. Here’s a break-down of how SEO has evolved into 2017:

 

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Optimizing a website for search engines means crafting a website’s organization and content around user experience so that it can be easily and repeatedly found by search engines such as Google.

In 2017, Search Engine Rankings will be driven by two things primarily: QUALITY CONTENT + USER EXPERIENCE

SEO Ranking Factors
From searchengineland.com

At a Glance: 2017 Ranking signals Indirect/Direct

  • User Experience – High volume of actions (clicks), low bounce rates, accomplished goals
  • Local (geographic location), NAPW (Name Address Phone + Website), Possum Algorithm
  • Page relevance to search query
  • Trust and authority
  • Social signals (Indirect)
  • Relative, authoritative links – internal and external
  • Brand search
  • Reviews
  • Mobile friendly
  • Page speed
  • Schema markup
  • Frequent updates (value only)
  • Original content
  • LOW keyword density (opposite of old school SEO)
  • Correct use of tags (proper character count)
  • Site hierarchy – home, contact, about, privacy policy, services
  • Long-form content – think 3000-5000 words on your VALUE pieces.
  • Semantically related keywords – If you want to rank for X, Google will look for Y and Z
  • Alt tags in images actually describe the image, are not keyword stuffed.
  • AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages are a growing request by Google. This HTML specification creates “bare bones” on a page for the fastest page load time possible. Style and design go out the window primarily. The content is hosted on Google’s servers. Instant load.

Why Do You Need SEO?

If you want to get more traffic to your website, and then leads from your website, you’ll benefit from search engine rankings. Therefore, we search engine optimize our web pages and our website content in an effort to improve our position on the search engines.

The good news is that ranking on the search engines has gotten more simple, less “geeky”. Today’s SEO is less about the nuts and bolts of page mark up (telling Google what we are about) and more about great, valuable content (giving users what they want to know and do).

Need Help with your SEO, Lead Generation, Real Estate Websites, 
Blogging, Google AdWords and more? Check out www.BallenBrands.com.

What’s New in SEO:

How Search and personalization Work:

girl-at-a-websiteSearch results are now unique to the user. Results are based on personalization and location. Google remembers what has been done prior and works hard to return relative results to that user based on history. It remembers what webpages have been visited in the past and is more likely to return those websites again if the user took action or spent some time there.

This means, when you perform a search query such as “Top San Diego Real Estate Agent” and you happen to be a San Diego Real Estate Agent, or Google realizes based on intent that YOU are probably looking for YOU, then it may return your page in the results for you higher than it would for someone else.

If you want to see where you rank for certain terms, there are great tools to do this such as:
SEMrush.com

Tip: There’s a browser that is designed to hide all personalization and providing a encrypted search allowing you to see true results of pages on the search engines.
https://www.torproject.org

Things Not Strings

Although not “new” this year, it’s a driving force in 2017 SEO.

 

Semantic Search

Semantic Search: Wikipedia

Semantic search seeks to improve search accuracy by understanding searcher intent and the contextual meaning of terms as they appear in the searchable dataspace, whether on the Web or within a closed system, to generate more relevant results.

In old school SEO, we focused completely on keywords. It was all about the choice of keywords, the placement of keywords, keyword density and keyword strings. The more times we placed the keyword, the better we stood the chance of ranking on the search engines.

Google is now smarter than that. Google is learning who we are as an “entity”. Who are we as a business, a brand, a company? What do we sell? What service do we provide? What do others say about us? Google measures intent and topic. It no longer needs us to “tell it” what we are about.

It already knows.

Google Wants synonyms. 

One of the most interesting additions to the algorithms is the way Google compares one web page over another creating common topical keywords and phrases to determine whether or not another page should also rank for the primary keyword or keyword phrase.

Someone ranking for homes for sale, might also include the terms properties, listings or real estate on the page.

Essentially, Google looks at keyword and quickly determines that pages ranking for X keyword or phrase ALSO contain Y and Z Keywords. Therefore, when determining a new web page about X, it will look for Y and Z as well.

Therfore, it is in your best interest to inspect competitors pages based on the keyword you intend to rank for. With a quick eye, you can compare the pages. With a tool like SEMrush, you can enter the page and it will give you all the keywords in a report.

Real Estate Example:
Let’s take horse property for an example. This is one of those terms that I stumbled across accidentally when building my real estate website. I simply built out every page that my IDX provider had fields to build a widget for. (A Widget provides the grid or slideshow of houses). Now I rank high for terms related to horse properties and also generate a lot of leads for that term.

So let’s break down a few of the top pages in Las Vegas related to Horse property.

Sample 1:  Has 240 Keywords relating to Horse Property.
Sample 2: Has 163 Keywords relating to Horse Property
Sample 3: Has 145 Keywords relating to Horse Property

Using SEMrush, I can see that all 3 pages also rank for the phrase:
Ranches For Sale, Land for Sale in Las Vegas, and Horse Farms.

Interestingly enough, even though I never mentioned land on my horse property page, more of my leads coming from that page are looking for land rather than horse property. Google LEARNED that people looking for horse property are interested in land and that is why all 3 rank for that term and others like it.

Now, if I was someone who wanted to compete with those of us here in the top 3, I would start out building a page about Horse Property and focus on that as the topic. I’d also include a grid of homes and say: You might also like to see these Homes for Sale in Las Vegas on 2 acres Land (or more). I might also include a specific section on Ranch Style Homes and one for farms. I’m not really trying to optimize my page for more than one search term as much as I am working to include everything on the page that a visitor might want. I can gather this based on what the other pages rank for. The more visitors then that perform search queries, find my web page, and click around, the more likely I am to rank higher on the search engines. Google will learn my page much faster when I include these value items out of the gate knowing Google will be looking for them.

Rank Brain – Artifical intelligence

rank-brainRank Brain, it’s most basic essence has one goal: to determine the quality of the search term and what the user wants how the pagesatisfied the searchers goal . It measures clicks. It determines what people want based on where they click.
Essentially it measures what happens from the point someone performs a search query to when they land on the page, and what they do when they get there.

With SEO becoming more and more important, search engines had to create a way to utilize it with greater accuracy. For Google, this came in the form of RankBrain. This program is actually not ‘software’ at all, but an artificial intelligence that tracks and processes search data through a learning system. This way, it’s able to continue to adapt and change its own algorithms in order to help provide you or anyone else with the information that they are looking for rather than filling their search feed with spam articles and useless content.

How it Works

This system is not the entirety of the Google search algorithm. Instead, it is one piece of the overall ‘Hummingbird’ system that allows Google to create that list of websites, pages and information when you type something into the search bar. RankBrain, PageRank and a host of other factors and systems are used in order to create the actual ranking, but if you rank high in several of these systems, you’re going to rank a whole lot higher in the overall system, wouldn’t you think?

Some of these systems are more important than others, and Google’s Hummingbird gives them more power over other categories. When it comes to RankBrain however, the system is given a more moderate amount of power. It is, after all, capable of changing the way that results are filed entirely because it allows the algorithm to look at more than just the exact words that are put into the search bar. Instead, the system is able to look at what the individual searching might mean instead of just what they might say.

The only reason this works is because of the artificial intelligence and machine learning. But what are those? Well machine learning means just what it sounds like, the machine is learning on its own. Instead of someone having to tell it that one keyword search means the same as another, it manages to figure that out and put together its own algorithm. Artificial intelligence is the fact that the machine is actually able to learn and take in knowledge by teaching and working things out for itself, like a human does.

Understanding the System

RankBrain is still a relatively new development for Google. In fact, they state right now that it is used in only about 15% of their searches because that is the rate of search terms that Google doesn’t really know or understand. It means that only a small fraction of people ever put something into the Google search bar that the system doesn’t already know and have a method of answering. When the system isn’t sure what the request means, however, that’s when RankBrain fills in. It uses the algorithm that it created to figure out what you’re really saying and what results you’re really looking for and then it gives them to you.

What You Say Versus What You Mean

How many times have you sat down at the computer and tried to think of the right way to phrase your question or your query before typing it in? And then when you do type it in you get results that weren’t what you planned. That’s where RankBrain comes into it. This system is designed to help the Hummingbird algorithm figure out not just what you said, but what you actually meant. It uses searches from you and everyone else to help create an additional algorithm that will combine different search results into one list. You may search ‘dog training leashes’ but RankBrain may realize that what you’re really looking for is information about leash training for your dog. Your results will reflect a combination of these things.

Where it is

RankBrain will continue to grow and develop on its own because that’s what it is designed to do. As it does, it will be able to provide better and better results for those who search uncommon words. Because it is so good at what it does, it’s actually being used by other search engines as well. Of course, each search engine has had to create their own system, but Bing, for example, uses RankNet. There is still not true method of comparing the two services to understand which is better than the other, but both are definitely still learning.

User Experience

IF YOU AREN’T REACHING YOUR DESIRED AUDIENCE AND GIVING THEM WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR, YOU HAVE ALREADY LOST THEM. ~ Lori Ballen

Woman is on her computer writing her blog for her business, coffee in handGoogle has moved past the “mobile-first” mindset to a focus on the User Experience.

Despite what you may have read about any number of SEO strategies, tips, or tricks being more important or having more value than user experience, those other tactics will only help you so much before you, too, become as obsolete as some of those tactics themselves.

Regardless of how many “absolutely guaranteed to work” SEO strategies you apply to your marketing material and online content, one simple fact remains: if you aren’t reaching your desired audience and giving them what they are looking for, you have already lost them.

At the end of the day, it is the user that determines the value and success of your marketing efforts by the actions they take when they encounter it. Do they click? Do they enroll? Do they buy?

Search engine rankings, above-the-fold calls to action, prominently placed images, and creative anchor text do not make the call when it comes to your marketing success — the actions of your users do. All of the other aspects of SEO, content creation, and web design certainly play a role in influencing the visibility of your marketing material, but no amount of visibility will make someone follow you into your sales funnel unless you are acknowledging, addressing, and meeting the needs of your users.

How does Google measure user experience?

Google measures the user experience based on clicks. Let’s say someone is looking for “homes for sale under $400,000 in Las Vegas”. They type this in the search bar on Google. Your page appears on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and the user clicks. Unfortunately, they didn’t land on a page of homes for sale under $400,000 but instead the page has luxury home listings. It is possible your page is ranking for a term not as related for that person performing the query. The visitor bounces back to the search engine (referred to as pogo-sticking) and performs a new search. Google remembers now that that page was not relative to that visitor and therefore may lower the page for that query (search term).

The user may also return to the SERP  if it doesn’t trust the page it lands on, it’s not mobile responsive (and they are on their mobile device), it takes too long to load, it has annoying pop up’s on the first landing page, it has broken links, requires to much scrolling to reach what the user wanted, offers complicated navigation (menus), or it has a bad design overall

User Experience Tips for 2017 seo:
  • Pages must load fast. The goal is under 3 seconds. Remember each page will have it’s own load time. If your page has high resolution images, video, hundreds of links, embedded tools (such as maps) and so forth, your page may load too slow.
    Check out how fast your pages load with this free page speed checker.
  • The page must satisfy the visitors intent based on what they clicked on prior to arriving.
  • The page must appear trustworthy
  • Put the “meat” above the fold. This means you want the main offers, call to action, item the searcher is looking for in the screen before they have to scroll. Give them what they want without them having to dig for it. Those fancy sliders might look pretty, but if they are not functional, they might also chase away the user. A website visitor today wants function over fancy. They want to get to what they want fast with as little scrolling and clicking as possible. Need a great real estate website? Pick up a BREW at www.BallenBrands.com.

‘to do’s’ in SEO for 2017

  • Provide a Quality User Experience
  • Build on a mobile responsive site: Google search is higher than 50% now on mobile than it is on desktop. You must measure each page of content for it’s performance on mobile. Designing on desktop is fine as long as you think mobile. Big blocks of text look fine on a desktop and will fit above the fold. Yet when you take that same 1000 words on a smart phone, it could be several finger scrolls. Break up heavy chunks of text with images, video, and related articles. Don’t let the user get bored scrolling.
  • Make sure your pages load fast: Under 3 Seconds.
  • Promote your Brand -Use your brand whenever possible. You want people learning your brand in association. Brand is powerful for SEO although it may not be a specific ranking factor. On all advertising, create a statemtent that says “Search (your brand)” on Google.Join Rand Fishkin on his Whiteboard Friday to learn more about brand search.
  • http://bit.ly/ALClickyCreate a lot of value packed content. You’ll know it’s valuable when people spend time on your site or accomplish your goal for the page. The goal could be to download something, play something, click somewhere, or comment.Using Clicky, at a glance you measure the amount of traffic on your website for a particular time, the average number of actions a user takes, their average time per visit, the bounce rate and how well your goals were achieved.
  • Provide “information” pages that may appear in search results when someone performs a ‘know-query’. Real Estate Example “What is Dual Agency?”, “How much is the average home price in Las Vegas?”
  • Create Local content as much as possible. Hyerplocal for real estate is incredibly powerful. Hyperlocal is laser targeted on a small geographic area such as a neighborhood or zip code or are around a school. Make sure you have set up your NAP (Name Address Phone) the same on all of your website and social profiles. Be sure you have your Google Place – (Google Business) established.  Google prefers to show local results first where applicable. Possum is a new algorithm focused on local results.
  • Create single topic pages. Don’t work to optimize a page for more than one topic. Keep pages single focused and pack in as much valuable content around that topic as you can.

Real Estate Example:
Topic 1.) How Much will it cost me to sell a house in Las Vegas
Topic 2.) What repairs should I make to my property before selling it?
Topic 3.) How to stage a home to sell for top dollar
Topic 4.) I have multiple offers on my property, which should I take?

While all 3 topics are about sellers and can eventually be combined to create one overall comprehensive guide, each topic can be talked about in length and answer a very specific question. As a best practice, you would include EACH of the other pages as suggested or related articles assuming that the seller would also be interested in the other topics.

  • Keep in mind on page SEO, but undestand that most are just best practices. What’s more important is your content.It’s still imporant to Know how people search:Although keywords on the page are less important, it’s still important to know how people search and create topics around these phrases. Use broad match when using keyword tools. Google now knows that ‘cute puppies’ are the same as ‘adorable young dogs’. Use exact match terms only when it makes sense.

Real Estate Example:
You are creating a page about your services, you might call it: How our Real Estate Services Work. That would be natural. Yet if you title your page: Las Vegas Real Estate Agent Real Estate Services, it’s less natural and could appear spammy. Keep in mind, Google will understand: Realtor®, Real Estate Agent, Real Estate Consultant and so forth are probably the same person.If you have chosen How our Real Estate Services Work and are targeting Real Estate Services as your goal for the page to rank for, then you’d include that phrase in the title, H1 Tag, and content as a best practice. Ultimately, Google will decide what it belieives the page is about and will rank it accordingly.

Real Life Example:
This page is about where to see Christmas Lights on houses in Las Vegas. The original goal keyword was “Chistmas Light Displays”. Google decided to rank this page for 120 other keyword phrases even though the page was not “optimized” specifically for these phrases. Here’s a few of those as reported from the ranking tool we use SEMRush.

screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-12-29-59-pm screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-12-30-09-pm

Decide in advance what phase in the sales funnel will your content satisfy. Top of funnel is going to bring traffic to your website by the search engines with visitors that are just barely beginning the process. They are not yet ready to buy. They are probably just gathering information. You may find your blogs, not designed to sell anything, actually do better in the top of the funnel. Google understands the difference between a “know-query” and a “do-query”. It knows when someone wants to find information about something, or wants to do something.

Real Estate Example of a know query: Someone in Indiana is considering a move to Florida, California, Las Vegas, or Arizona when they retire.They won’t retire for a few years, but are starting to consider locations. They might perform a know query such as “What are the average temperatures in December in Las Vegas”. They might search “Things to do in Phoenix, AZ” or “What is the cost of living in Palm Beach?”.

These would be top of funnel searches. These blogs are designed to inform, educate, and possibly invite.Your blog post would introduce them to your website. Google will also likely store A personalized memory increasing the odds that the visitor may find you again in the future when searching your location.

You could include an offer on your blog post such as “Get the monthly Palm Springs Real Estate Market Report”, or “Introducing North Las Vegas – Your Area Guide”. Now you have brought in a “lead” and can cultivate while you move them through the funnel.Someone further along in the funnel may be ready to buy. They are going to perform a “do-query” that looks something like “find homes for sale in Las Vegas with a pool”, or “shop listings in Boca Raton with a map”.

  • Bigger is Better – Build, Build, Build. That being said, build with quality. The more pages, the more blogs, the more likely you are to rank. There is a “stacking” factor with exposure with the search engines.
  • Link internally. When you have another page or article related to a word or phrase you use in a paragraph on a blog post or webpage, highlight that word or article and link internally to another page on your website that is appropriate. This used to be a bigger factor in SEO, yet it still provides a quality user experience when done well, increasing actions. When Google sees these actions, it will equate to value for the visitor. Don’t create them in an order to “cheat” Google.Example sentence on a blog post:So if you are thinking about selling your house, it might be in your best interest to have a home appraisal before you even have a buyer. The phrase “home appraisal” is now hyperlinked to a page on the website that is all about appraisals. Don’t try to use exact match keywords to links. It could appear spammy.
  • Pay Attention to your CTR: Your CTR is your click through rate. It is figured by dividing the number of clicks you receive from the number of impressions shown on the SERP. If you web page is being shown, and nobody is clicking, your page is likely to drop on the results pages for that search term. You can see these in your Google Search Console. If your click through rates are low, trying changing your meta-title and meta-description.The snippet is usually formed from these.  (Hint, if you are using WordPress, the plug in SEO tool by YOAST will allow you to change these and view the snippet. Consider a Call to Action in your title and meta-description encouraging the web searcher to click.
  • Get Reviews! Reviews are a growing factor in SEO. Google wants to return a reputable business. Put this on the front focus for 2017 and get as many quality reviews as you can on Facebook, Yelp, Zillow, Google +, Whatever applies.
  • Get SOCIAL! Share, Post, and Be Seen. Create content that others share. We BELIEVE social signals will be a ranking factor in the near future. Make sure you have social links on your webpages pointing to your social profiles. On your social profiles, have links back to your website. Auto posts are not super effective. Better to post natively. A pic post with included link generally performs better than a simple uploaded link. People also SEARCH the social engines, so include words. Clicks from social are at least an indirect signal if not a direct signal with the search engines.Real Estate Example of Viral Content: Best places to see holiday lights in Vegas. 80,000 web visits and 2000 leads during one holiday season!!!!!
  • Use Video – Video can increase time on a page which is a quality ranking signal. Anytime you can add value to your page by adding video, is time to do so. Watch how you load the video as not to slow down the page. Shared licensing allows simple embed of Youtube videos. Facebook Live is all the buzz now and when you Facebook Live on your profile page, you can actually embed it on your website or download it and then upload it into your favorite video player: Vimeo, Youtube, Dailymotion etc.

 Using Video can also help drive search engine rankings when hosted on a video channel. Quite frequently, a web page will not rank for a particular term, yet the video will. And when you upload the video, you can include a call to action and link back to your website.

  • Gain Quality Only Links: Find Influencers to talk about you and share your links. Backlinks are still a factor, yet much less than they once were. If you are going to work on getting backlinks, find related industries to share your articles. They must be high authority sites (like news), a “follow” link where possible, and be quality – not spammy. Don’t say “I’ll share your link if you’ll share mine”.
  • Keep your WordPress Theme and PlugIn’s updated – A Hacked website will tank on SEO!
  • Build your Blog with Posts and Categories. When you post a lot of great valuable blog posts under a category, you BOOST the ranking of the category itself which can be huge for your website traffic.

 

Don’t Stuff in Keywords!
Don’t Buy BACKLINKS!
Don’t have annoying pop up’s on landing!

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