Search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way. From its introduction in a time when the world wide web was fairly new to its present in today’s world where the standard is to assume mobile-first, updates are aimed towards giving users more relevant and quality content.
Laying the groundwork: SEO in the early days
In its earliest days, SEO was all about stuffing keywords and excessive tagging. The road to the top of the search engine results page was narrow, and on-page optimization was the only way to get there. On top of this, the competition to achieve the highest rank was fierce as companies had just begun to explore the potential of world wide web as a viable avenue for sales and marketing. This resulted in the practice of spamming content with keywords in a bid to outrank other pages. This did not last long. Keyword stuffing and excessive tagging proved themselves a problem since they failed to bring relevant results to users.
Search engine giants introduced indexing guidelines and features aimed to establish relevance while prioritizing user experience. Google’s Universal Search was an update geared to providing users with more engaging content such as news, images, and video which were filtered based on their search behavior and interest.
Backlinks—links from other websites—were also introduced to establish a page’s authority, and while some used link techniques that resulted in spam, this challenge paved the way for more updates.
2010 established that quality content is “king”—this meant that content featured on pages needed to be relevant and capable of answering a user query before the page could rank higher on search engine results. Google also enforced stricter policies on keywords and quality content, providing regular updates such as Penguin, Panda, and Hummingbird—all of which aimed to remove spam from the internet.
Given all these developments, relevancy and user experience continues to be the core focus of SEO. It's also not just about bringing relevant content to every user—it's also about knowing where your users are experiencing their content. Now that mobile-first is the standard, it's important to deliver relevant and optimized content not only on desktop but also, and especially, on handheld devices as well.
The rise of mobile and mobile-first indexing
Photo from Unsplash
As Google puts it, “mobile is changing the world.” More and more users access the internet via smartphones than they do on desktops or personal computers. In an article released by Google on being mobile-friendly, they cited that “94% of people with smartphones search for local information on their phones” in the USA alone. 77% of these mobile searches happen in places where desktop computers are likely to be present, such as at home or at work.
Moreover, data compiled by marketing and sales automation software HubSpot showed that:
- 48% of customers started searching on mobile first regarding the product they purchase
- More than 51% of smartphone users have found a new company or product by searching on their mobile phone
- 50% of mobile users were led by local searches to visit stores within a day
This emergence of mobile usage led Google to release the mobile-first indexing update. This update primarily means that Google will now primarily use the mobile version of a page's content when evaluating the relevance of a page to a user’s query.
Keeping up with SEO in a mobile-first world
To keep up with SEO in a world that prioritizes mobile-first, remember that basic SEO techniques—keywords, link building—still work. You just have to take a couple more steps to make sure that you’re optimized for mobile.
1) Check if your site is mobile-friendly
First things first! Before making any major changes to your site, remember to evaluate your current status first. You can check your mobile-friendliness through a test provided by Google at https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly.
Screenshot from Google Mobile-Friendly Test
After evaluating for mobile-friendliness, it’s also good to check if Google can crawl your website successfully. To do so, login to Google Search Console and go to “Crawl”. Once you’re there, click “Crawl Errors” then on “Smartphone”. You’ll see a graph and table that shows if there are any errors.
Remember, if Google can’t crawl your site, people won’t find your content on the search engine results page. It’s important to act on the results of the tests immediately.
2) Use a mobile-friendly or responsive design
When optimizing for mobile-first, make sure that your mobile and desktop sites contain the same content in terms of text, images, and video. Remember: once Google has moved your site to mobile-first indexing, they won’t crawl your desktop site.
To make things easier and to save yourself from the hassle of creating two versions of your website, choose to employ responsive design—a web design approach that makes website pages look well on any type of device. With mobile-first indexing and Google favoring mobile-friendly sites, a responsive website can help you climb higher on the search engine results page.
3) Make sure that your site loads fast
In an article posted by Think With Google, it was revealed that 40% of consumers will leave a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load, while 79% of shoppers said they are less likely to buy from a site again if they’re dissatisfied with the web performance.
Clearly, we all want our questions answered fast. With the advent of smartphones, we expect the information to be more accessible and right at our fingertips. Google has repeatedly put emphasis on and considered page load time as a ranking factor.
If you want to thrive, it’s important to improve your page loading time. To start off, you can check your speed by using Google’s Test My Site at https://testmysite.thinkwithgoogle.com/. This test generates a report with recommended fixes specific to your website.
The following are among the commonly recommended fixes to improve page loading time:
- Reduce the number of page requests
- Compress images since large image files tend to slow down your site
- Utilize caching to serve pages more quickly
4) Practice basic SEO: create quality content
Lastly, when optimizing your site, always remember that content that is relevant and valuable is king.
Write compelling headlines and copy and match this with keyword research that makes your content more searchable. Avoid keyword stuffing—you want to make sure that your content is helpful and not spam. Employ the use of backlinks or inbound links to establish your authority for your targeted search terms. All in all, provide users with more value and you should be climbing up the rankings in no time.
Get your site optimized for both mobile and desktop
As the mobile-first world ushers in, it is a must to optimize your site for mobile. However, it’s important to make sure you don’t neglect your desktop site entirely. Use responsive design, optimize your page loading time, and create quality content for all versions of your site to climb the search engine ranking.
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