Like all things on the Web, SEO is a constantly evolving craft where strategies and processes need to be re-thought and adjusted for optimum results. Over the past few years, Google’s algorithms have received plenty of updates and the way that it decides who gets to sit atop its SERPs isn’t necessarily what it used to be.
And while the fundamentals of what constitutes good SEO have remained the same, there are a few new things that need to be added to a website’s repertoire to keep it on top of its game.
At SearchWorks, we just released an updated 2023 SEO campaign management guide to our search marketing team for immediate implementation. In keeping with tradition, we’re sharing a public version of that document to help you get some ideas on what to focus on this year:
Doing Better SEO in 2023
These 10 principles guide 90% of the SEO processes that we do. As such, they receive the bulk of our time, effort and resources due to the fact that they’re the main drivers of positive results for our clients. Some of them are longstanding practices that have become the bread and butter of our SEO operations. The others are newer, emerging areas of focus that we’re betting big on. Here goes:
- Create Direct Landing Pages for Target Keywords
One of the most common reasons why websites don’t rank for their target keywords is the absence of landing pages that should be represent them on a 1:1 basis for the desired search terms. In order to rank high for a competitive, commercial keyword that many other websites are vying for, your domain needs to have a webpage that talks directly about the keyword.
In other words, you can’t expect your website to rank for the keyword “fashion leggings” if you don’t have a webpage dedicated to that kind of product. The same goes for services. If you’re trying to rank for the keyword “SEO services,” you better have a webpage that talks heavily about the subject matter.
A landing page can be any of several webpage and content asset types. Depending on the nature of a website, the type of conversions it’s chasing and the content asset featured, it could be one of the following:
- Home page
- Service page
- Product category pages
- Product detail pages
- Opt-in pages
Strong SEO landing pages often have ample to long-form text content. The volume, breadth and comprehensiveness of the text that covers the main topic (target keyword) is usually correlated with how well it places on Google’s SERPs.
- Create Content Written by Human Experts
At its core, Google has always been about providing its users with the most relevant and authoritative search results possible. The better the match between the searcher’s intent and the search results page (SERP) presented, the more likely that users will continue to patronize the Big G. The more dominant its position is as the go-to search engine, the greater its revenue will be from its advertising business.
In the age of content spam proliferation, disinformation and content-writing AI systems, however, the quality of Google’s SERPs is being tested like never before. There’s way too much bad and inaccurate content out there from non-qualified human writers and bots trying to mimic how real people write. If too much of this content seeps into Google, it can erode people’s trust in Google’s ability to give them what they’re looking for.
At the end of the day, Google still wants to feature content written by real people with genuine credibility in their respective fields. If a user is looking for information about his abdominal pain, he’s unlikely to appreciate reading something about it written by a generic writer who just aggregated what he read from other sources. Consuming content by a licensed physician makes much more sense to the user, and that’s what Google is more likely to favor.
Bottom line: make sure that you hire highly knowledgeable people to write your content. Even if you can’t get them to write the content themselves, make sure that your copywriters run their work by the experts before you publish it online. It’s not only the responsible and ethical thing to do: it’s also what Google loves to reward.
- Backlinks are Still King
Not long after Google became the world’s top search engine, SEOs figured out that backlinks have a lot to do with how well a website performs on the SERPs. The more that pages from other credible websites link to yours, the greater your ranking power becomes.
Fast forward two decades later and Google’s algorithms are still heavily reliant on backlinks as the pre-eminent ranking signal. A website can have a good content library, comprehensive content on its landing pages and amazing UX, but if it doesn’t have a competitive backlink profile, it will likely get beaten by similar websites that have the ability to acquire more links.
For beginners, acquiring quality backlinks can be a frustrating ordeal. However, there are relatively easy ways of doing it, which I discuss in detail in this video:
- Keep Content Fresh.
Having consistently fresh content is also highly correlated with having strong rankings. A lot of people have different takes on what “fresh” really means as far as your content is concerned, but it’s generally about two things:
- Publishing new content frequently
- Updating existing content with outdated information
Generally, the more quality content you publish at a more rapid rate, the better your website performs on search. Google tends to increase crawl frequency to websites that always have new stuff, and greater priority is given to these sites in ranking for the keywords their webpages represent. If you ever wondered why news sites, wikis and blogs tend to dominate, here’s your answer.
- Good On-Page SEO is Easy and Effective
While link building can be tedious and complicated, on-page SEO is anything but. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect it. If you want to maximize your webpages’ ability to climb Google’s rankings, you need to make sure you’re following best practices when filling out the following fields in your website’s HTML:
- Title tags
- Meta descriptions
- H1 Text
- Image alt text
- Body text
We put together comprehensive on-page SEO guides both in article and video forms in the past. If you need a guide on how to do it correctly, you can check this out.
- Mobile is Essential. As far as Google is concerned, smartphones are king and it’s not even close as far as devices are concerned. Mobile search overtook desktop in 2016 and has never looked back since. In our experience, around 85% of the organic traffic that Google drives to our clients’ websites are from mobile devices. Hence, one of the core tenets of our SEO campaigns is a heavy emphasis on optimization for mobile devices.
The core principles are the same when optimizing for moisture and desktop devices. The main distinction is the focus on improving website performance and UX for smartphone screens. When we work to get websites ranking better on mobile, we tend to invest heavy amounts of manpower on the following:
- Mobile site speed
- Mobile-friendliness of the design
- Optimizing text size
- Using the right image sizes and file types
- Clarity of calls to action
- Using effects that work both on desktop and mobile
- Focus on Map Packs.
If you’re doing SEO for a business that targets very specific locations such as cities, regions or small countries, local SEO will be of paramount importance. Keywords with location implications trigger SERPs with local business map packs that occupy all of the “prime real estate” on Google’s first page. This is the area at or near the top of a SERP where the vast majority of user clicks happen. Naturally, you’ll want your website to be in the top 3 of this SERP feature to maximize your ability to generate leads.
There are cases where a website can rank really high on the regular search results, but we found through our own data analysis over the years that a map pack trumps even the number one spot on Google when it comes to traffic generation. As a matter of fact, we’d take the top spot in a map pack any day of the week over the top spot in the traditional SERPs.
When doing local SEO, these are the things we focus on heavily:
- Acquiring links from websites representing businesses in the target local area
- Optimizing our Google Business Profile.
- Generating local citations.
- Localizing our website content
- Adding LocalBusiness Schema markups to our Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) box in the website
If you want to learn how to do each of these optimizations for yourself, you can check out the guide that we just linked to.
- Make Content Skimmable.
Formatting content in such a way that users can find the information they need more easily is very important in modern SEO. Minimizing the amount of page scrolls that a user needs to get to where they want to go on a page tends to lower bounce rates and improve user satisfaction rates. Adding logical headings to subsections of a webpage can also help Google parse between topics and subtopics to better position you for instant answer placements on the SERPs.
Generally, you can make content more skimmable by implementing the following on your long-form webpages:
- Add a table of contents
- Use jump links
- Use headline text appropriately (H1, H2, H3, etc.)
- Used numbered lists
- Use bullet points
- Use images to mark subsections
An easy example of skimmable content would be how Wikipedia presents its pages with a table of contents, jump links and headings.
- Don’t Neglect Long-Tail Keywords
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to rank high for short, competitive keywords with highly commercial search intents behind them. After all, this is the point of doing SEO. If your efforts are not driving leads and sales, they’re probably not worth doing in the first place.
However, the road to the first page of Google isn’t necessarily a straightforward one. You can’t expect a small website to dominate for just a few valuable keywords. If it did, there’s probably something fishy going on in there and Google is bound to notice sooner or later.
The fact of the matter is that SEO has become more holistic over the years. Yes, links and landing pages go a long way in helping you rank, for target keywords, but so does having a comprehensive content library that brings in a ton of incremental traffic from less competitive long tail keywords.
Our advice: don’t neglect optimizing for long tail keywords. Use tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Wordstream and others to discover phrases related to your core keywords with 4 or more words. While the search volume for these keywords may be lower than those from your head terms, they’re a lot easier to rank for and they often bring in highly targeted visitors.
Of course, optimizing for long tail terms doesn’t end with just doing the research. Building suitable landing pages for them, promoting them on social media and building occasional links directly to them can help them shoot up in the rankings pretty quickly.
After you start ranking for dozens or hundreds of long tail keywords, you should start seeing natural links from other websites start to come in. The same goes for social media shares from other people and more positive user engagement signals in your Google Analytics reports. Ranking for long tails also helps give you greater brand exposure, which is valuable in its own right.
- Have Good Technical SEO
Technical SEO is a lot like good housekeeping for a website. If you do it well, it lays the groundwork for success moving forward. If it’s flawed for whatever reason, it will haunt you every step of the way by limiting the amount of success you can have on Google’s SERPs.
The core tenets of technical SEO are as follows:
Obviously, explaining everything that goes into technical SEO would be impossible on a subsection of a blog post like this, but you can check out our Ultimate Technical SEO Guide for a full tutorial. A video version of the post can be found embedded on the same page.
And that’s about it for our quick guide on how to rank higher on Google for the year 2023. In summary, many of the things that make for a great website will still help you rank well. There are a few things that you’ll need to add to your SEO arsenal, but if you’ve been doing SEO for some time now, incorporating them to your processes shouldn’t be too hard.