March 2018 Google Algorithm Update: Quick Answer Section Was there an algorthm update in March 2018? Yes, Google has confirmed an algorithm update that was rolled out on the 7th of March 2018. What was the scope of the update? It wasn’t focused on a single SEO area. It was rather broad. I was hit…Details
On this page, you’ll be introduced to all basic and current SEO guidelines and, if you scroll down, you’ll find a rich library of resources on specific SEO topics. Additionally, you can use the search field to the right to research a topic of your interest.
What is SEO?
SEO is short for search engine optimization. SEO is a part of SEM (search engine marketing) focusing on website optimization. The goal is to convince search engines that your site’s resources are better than the competitors’ and more relevant to search queries.
You do that by complying with a long list of optimization requirements, where most of the work can best be described as a process, not a single task.
The requirements for SEO are dictated by search engines themselves and, more specifically, by the globally dominating Google. They are defined by changes in search algorithms and are thus changing frequently.
Search algorithms are, roughly said, mathematical equations that attempt to match search queries with the most reputable and relevant results by assessing them with the help of predefined rules.
Even though search algorithms are based on very precise rules, SEO has never been a straightforward task. This is due to the fact that search engines keep details about ranking algorithms secret to avoid black hat SEO and manipulations.
What we know about SEO today, is based either on official information or on third party’s research of the activity online. MOZ, for example, keeps a close eye on the internet and reports often about “detected spikes in activity” that, backed by feedback from publishers, are attributed to algorithm changes.
“Evergreen” Basics Of SEO
To optimize your site for search engines, you have to start as deep as your site’s code and go all the way to delivering excellent user experience. There are both tasks, related to relatively constant ranking factors and others that are meant to give an edge by applying the most current SEO trends. When starting out with SEO, it makes sense to begin by building a solid base, that is working on the evergreen SEO basics.
If you want your site to rank well in Google, you have to make sure that the code of your theme and plugins validates (has no errors) and meets W3C’s web standards.
One way to do that, is to use the markup validating service provided by The World Wide Web Consortium, W3C.
Coding errors can cause multiple problems with the back- and frontend of your site, including slow page loading, malfunctioning of widgets, commands returning errors or internal server error, locking you out of the site. Errors can, however, also be present without causing obvious issues. It is therefore important to check the code, even when not experiencing any specific issues.
If you aren’t the one responsible for the code of your site or don’t have coding skills, you can still use the markup validating service to identify eventual problems. Such problems can then easily be solved by contacting the theme/plugin developer or changing the WordPress theme or plugin causing the issue.
Be aware that the mentioned errors affect not only user experience but also your site’s SEO score. Especially slow pages or pages returning errors, can destroy your efforts to rank high.
- Setup and maintenance
Even for those who can’t code, there are technical SEO tasks to take care of. Updating WordPress, your theme, and plugins regularly is an important task, directly connected to the security and stability of your site.
Additionally, you should learn to set up your links, using pretty permalinks that let the user know, where they will end up, when clicking on the link. As long as your website has instances of duplicate content or pages have been moved, you must implement rel=canonical, 301 or 302 redirects to help search engines discover and understand your content.
In order to comply with the best practice, you must also implement structured data (for reference, take a look at Schema.org) and set properly hreflang to tell search engines, what elements you have on your pages and which language your site uses.
Likewise, maintaining a properly configured robots.txt file and a sitemap, instructing search engines to only index and follow what needs to be indexed or followed, are some of the most important technical SEO tasks you have to take care of.
Last but not least, you should schedule a regular checkup of your site and monitor everything for broken links, not working media, malfunctioning widgets, etc.
It’s more than recommended that you register with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster, quite useful sets of monitoring and management tools for webmasters and site owners, allowing you to submit a sitemap, monitor, and manage the performance of your site. In addition to daily monitoring, you get security warnings, if suspicious activity is detected on your site.
To comply with the current SEO guidelines for quality content, you must continuously work to deliver quality.
You have to strive to publish regularly, as this makes it easier for search engines to understand your publishing schedule and crawl your site in a timely manner. This is quite important as the opposite can result in long delays in indexing of new content. Needless to say, this makes it much more difficult for you to market your site.
Content should be original and in-depth, answering as many topic-related questions as possible. In should be optimized for a cluster of keywords, naturally fitting the topic and naturally used in the text.
As of this moment, search engines are still not good at interpreting video and images, making text, ALT text, and meta data your strongest weapon in terms of making them understand what your pages are about – and how well they cover the topic at hand. Using various media is, though, very important, as it affects strongly user experience and engagement.
You can get help with SEO-finetuning by using tools as All in one SEO pack or SEO by Yoast, two industry-wide recognized SEO plugins, allowing you to manage everything from custom titles for posts and pages to meta data, social meta, and keyword saturation.
It is worth to note that you can stop stressing about duplicate content as a result of normal website setup (for example, overusing categories or supporting e-commerce), as there is no Google punishment for this. Your site can only be hit, if the duplicate content has been published as a result of engaging in deceptive practices.
User experience means a lot in the eyes of Google and they have included it as a part of their algorithms. Therefore, details as content type, size of page elements, spaces between them, etc. are today an important part of SEO. You should restrain from using too many colors or fonts, as well as from displaying too many commercials to avoid that your pages are classified as spam.
General recommendation here is to consistently use a small set of fonts and colors site-wide. Which ones you choose, is up to you, however, being aware of the psychological effects of design is a prerequisite for success.
Your site must be easy to navigate. Poor navigation or missing internal links lead to high bounce rates, affecting your SEO score negatively.
Best practice is to structure your menus in a way, following the site’s logic, and to place them prominently on your pages.
It’s recommended to display your main menu in the header and to add an additional menu either in the sidebar, or in the footer.
Most important is though, that the menus make it easy to navigate through your content and fit the site’s logic and design.
- Social signals
Social signals are, for example, likes and shares that your content generated. Even though Google doesn’t index activity on social media, as social shares for example, they’ve become pretty good at registering social actions on your pages. This means that every time a person pressed a share or like button on your pages, it got registered as social activity by Google.
These social interactions are then translated into an appropriate SEO boost. The importance of social shares for SEO is one of the two major reasons, why marketers and site owners have been urged to introduce prominent social sharing buttons and additional sharing options, such as Twitter quotes. The other major reason is that social shares, even though not registered as backlinks, are a powerful tool for driving traffic.
Backlinks have been one of the three most important SEO factor ever since the rise of search engines and their importance hasn’t decreased yet. The way Google interprets them has, though, changed significantly.
While it was most important to simply generate a high number of backlinks a decade ago, today it’s much more the quality of backlinks that matters. Google looks at factors as the referring site’s reputation, whether the links are natural or not, whether the referring site is relevant to your site’s field, and, only then, registers how many relevant and high quality links your site has relative to competition.
Backlinks, as well as any other ranking factor, are calculated on page-per-page basis and not site-wide. This means, that one cannot rely on one or two popular posts’ authority to boost the performance of the whole site.
It’s therefore important to work on building high quality backlinks on page level. The best way to do this is to deliver consistent quality on every page.
It is important to note that backlinks’ status as a major ranking factor is now being shaken up by the invasion of artificial intelligence and the focus on user intent.
Artificial intelligence (AI) becomes quickly a big part of SEO. Google introduced machine learning back in 2011 and has worked on AI ever since. BrainRank, that was introduced in 2015, seems to be only the beginning of a new era in the SEO world, where AI plays increasingly important role.
Direct implications for SEO in the first stage of AI’s implementation are the ability to use natural language for queries and match such queries to search results by focusing on user intent rather than keywords. Additionally, RankBrain is powered by deep machine learning, allowing it to change behavior without warning upon collection of data, which is without a doubt the most challenging development within the field.
With the ultimate goal to use AI to understand and assess content “the human way”, by interconnecting and processing data from different content types or sources, SEO in the new millennium will change a lot – or will disappear as we know it today. Instead, focus would turn to user experience and content value from a human perspective.
Note, that this doesn’t mean that, for example, backlinks won’t be important anymore. Backlinks, as many other of the “classic” SEO factors are perceived as quality signals from a human point of view as well.
- Site age
Site age isn’t one of those SEO factors that you can manipulate but it’s quite important just the same. The reason is that having survived as a business or publisher for some years, is perceived as a sign of reliability. Therefore, an older site will always have an advantage when competing with newer sites.
Note that it’s not your business’ age that counts but the age of your domain (time since you registered it). It’s therefore highly recommended to restrain from changing domain name, as long as it’s not absolutely necessary.
Current SEO Guidelines As Of 2018
The current SEO guidelines build on top of the “evergreen” essentials reviewed above and represent the current path to success with SEO. This means that you cannot choose to only implement them, while disregarding the basics.
Here’re the current SEO guidelines as of 2018:
- Structured data:
The implementation of structured data has long been important in relation to features as, for example, Google News or the general ability of search engines to understand the structure of your site’s content. In 2018 and on, you have yet another reason to ensure that structure data is properly implemented: more and more commercials and search-engine-powered answer boxes on SERP mean that you must get your snippets featured, if you want to get some traffic from organic search.
Rich snippets allow you to give potential site visitors additional reasons to visit exactly your site by showing them reviews, content excerpts, and telling them, what kind of content they can expect on your page.
In order to get rich snippets shown or featured, you must implement structured data on your site. It is recommended that your use Schema.org, which is a collaborative project, founded by Google, Microsoft, Yandex, and Yahoo.
- Mobile first index
It is expected that 2018 will be the year, where mobile index first update is launched. So far, it’s always been the desktop version of sites that has been crawled, indexed, and rated but now this is going to change. Google plans to start index the mobile versions of websites with priority and base site ranks on them.
Mobile first indexing can have enormous implications for businesses without a proper mobile site or with a lightweight version that features less content. It’s therefore a must to put some hard work into your mobile site today to avoid serious shakeups in 2018.
The update shouldn’t affect your desktop-generated backlinks but you should revert your canonical links to point to mobile pages and keep an eye on backlink stats in Google Search Console, just in case.
Google advices to move to responsive designs as a way to avoid issues, connected to loosing backlinks, managing two websites or working with two content strategies.
- Depth and quality of content
Depth and quality of content have been measured in many different ways throughout the years, as Google hasn’t been able to actually understand and evaluate content as a human. This is, though, about to change.
For now, your first priority task is to drop superficial posting and dig deep to deliver comprehensive quality content. Set it as your goal to cover all topics from all possible angles and add value when working with content curation. Adding value means that you should always provide site visitors with something they can’t get anywhere else, maybe a new piece of data or a new turn of events.
When it comes to technical details, make sure your language is proper and your posts are longer than 2000 words. Especially length seems to be very beneficial to SEO scores.
- Topical authority
While you might think that topical authority and quality content are one and the same, you can’t be more wrong. Quality content is what you try to deliver on every single page. Topical authority, on the other hand, is a term covering a total revamp of your site, resulting in a more holistic and topic-oriented website.
Topical authority is still the new kid on the block but its importance grows quickly due to a number of user-experience- and algorithm-updates-related factors. Now it’s a must to rethink your website strategy and find your specialization.
- Personal branding
Branding has been very important for business for hundreds of years and now we observe that its importance in relation to individuals grows fast as well.
Due to the many websites and blogs out there, it’s very difficult for internet users to find true specialists on a topic relevant to them. Via personal branding you can demonstrate your knowhow and lead relevant traffic to your site.
Making a name for yourself or the authors on your blog, might be difficult and time-consuming but it’s really worth it. It will help you attract loyal followers and will accelerate your marketing efforts by adding word of mouth, social shares, and backlinks to your marketing mix. All those will, in turn, boost your SEO score due to more traffic, more backlinks, lower bounce rates, more social interactions, etc.
You can brand yourself by, for example, getting in touch with a community from within your field and using your knowledge to help others.
- App integration
Apps are great for so many reasons but reasons, relevant to SEO in 2017, are: bypassing SERPs, reaching potentially passive users, motivating them to take an action, and providing the demanded ease of use.
While this isn’t a typical SEO task, the tendency of people being heavily dependent on their mobile devices makes it a must to introduce an app.
It’s not absolutely crazy to look 5-10 years in the future and predict that search of information or products/services in the form we know it today, won’t exist anymore. Instead, we’ll always shop through apps and ask Siri about whatever’s on our minds.
Keep also in mind that a person, who downloaded your app, is much more likely to become a loyal customer than a person, who ended on your web shop, while looking for something.
- Customer-journey-based optimization
It is no longer enough to just create quality content. In order to expand your reach, you must work on becoming extraordinary relevant to customers at all stages of their customer journey.
By creating content, targeting each of the steps a customer takes, you can get ahead of the game, attract and retain customers. Even more importantly, you can convince search engines that your content is relevant to a customer’s intent, boosting your chances to rank high.
- Intent – fluctuation in ranking factors
Due to the fact that Google starts working with user intent, it is expected that the ranking factors as we know them today will disappear. The reason is that a user’s intent can affect, whether it’s authority, freshness, proximity or something completely different that weighs the most.
Thus, we cannot speak about static or standard application of ranking factors. They will differ a lot from industry to industry and even from situation to situation.
While it is naive to believe that this is a chance to fly right up to the top of the SERP, this can result in users being offered more diverse content, also from unestablished publishers.
In the same time, it means that SEO is getting segmented. We can soon start talking about medical SEO, legal SEO, food SEO, entertainment SEO, etc.
As you can see, there’s a lot to take care of in terms of SEO at the moment. Not only is the field changing faster than ever but we are possibly on the verge of a completely new digital reality.
It might be that we still don’t know, exactly how things will turn out to be a few years from now, but you can always start with the current SEO recommendations and try to keep up with the development within the field.
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