Aside from “Google,” what’s the first thing you think about when someone mentions Search Engine Optimization? We’re betting it’s probably “keywords.” That’s because if you have a website for your business, there’s a good chance you’ve spent at least a little bit of time thinking about how you can get people to check it out; SEO and keywords are almost always at the top of every “I’ve built a website, now what?” suggestions list.
And it makes sense—Google sees approximately 3 billion search queries every day. Surely if you have enough of the right keywords on your site, someone will eventually see it on their search engine results page (SERP)...right?
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. While keywords are very important, they’re certainly not the be-all-end-all of SEO—not by a long shot. There’s a lot of stuff (that’s the technical term, we checked) that contributes to effective SEO, and you might be surprised to know that keywords are just one part of three major SEO power players: design, content, and user experience. The reason these three things matter more than keywords is that Google (and your potential customer) is smart enough to know the difference between a good website and one that’s just cramming as many keywords onto a page as possible (that’s called “keyword stuffing” and Google hates it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.)
Since a search engine’s objective is to provide searchers with the best, most relevant query results, it has to rate the potential value of every website using algorithms that create a scorecard of relevance. Everything from code optimization (like title and heading tags) to linkbacks can add/subtract points, and influence the overall SERP rank; keywords matter here, but they must be highly focused on relevant content—and in tune with the overall experience on your website—to be really effective.
Most important of all, however, is the visitors you’re hoping to attract to your products or services. This website you’ve built is for them, and ultimately it’s their finding value in it that helps to boost SERP rankings. To do that, you’ll need an impressive user experience. Here’s a look at three critical areas:
1. Bounce Rate
When people see and click on your website in their SERP, do they immediately press the back button and bounce out? If so, that tells the search engine that your site isn’t relevant or valuable to that specific search, which lowers your rank.
You can help prevent this by taking the time to figure out who your website is for, what it seeks to accomplish, and what value it provides to your specific audience. Once you’ve got that sorted, and given priority to content that is most relevant to the search terms that bring people to your site in the first place, remember that speed matters. You’ve only got about 10 seconds to convince people to stay on your site, so be sure to optimize it for fast loading and easy navigation. These things will also encourage visitors who’ve clicked into your site to stay and explore, which brings us to…
2. Time Spent on Site
The longer a person stays on your site, the better your site looks to a search engine. Again, design, content, and user experience are the best ways to make this happen. Incorporating design elements like parallax scrolling or animations can help keep users engaged enough to stick around. Additionally, providing suggestions for more content they might find relevant, keeping the user experience simple and intuitive, and ensuring that your CTAs are prominent can also help to keep visitors interested and moved to take action rather than leave—whether that’s signing up for your newsletter or filling out the contact form. When the bounce rate is low and the time spent on your site is high, this will be a signal to the search engine that your site is trustworthy and valuable, and it might be just the thing to satisfy all the other people who are searching for similar things (hello, rankings boost).
Mobile internet search has officially overtaken desktop search as users around the world embrace smartphones and tablets as their primary screens. This fact is why search engines like Google are putting a priority on curating search results that meet their user criteria of “mobile first.” If your website is not optimized for mobile, it will pay the price in rankings, specifically as it applies those who are searching on mobile devices—which represents a whopping 52.7% of the world’s population.
If you have two versions of your website (standard and mobile), your main concern is a duplication of content which can cause a lot of problems for SEO. If you don’t have a mobile site at all, you should consider responsive design, not only because it makes practical design sense for today’s modern websites, but also because Google happens to love it.
Keywords may provide an access point to your website, but they can’t always have an impact on what happens once visitors are there. The most important thing to remember is that your website is there to serve one purpose above all others: make your visitors engaged enough to stick around and accomplish a task (fill out a form, buy some stuff, download something, etc.). It’s a solid combination of design, user experience, and content that achieves this—and when that’s done well, it will help to improve your SEO efforts across the board and build your brand’s online reputation.