The Google search algorithm, PageRank, is constantly undergoing updates that affect how indexed websites are penalized or rewarded for their search engine optimization (SEO) performance. As an SEO expert, avoiding penalties and reaping PageRank rewards should be top of mind.
A successful SEO strategy is one that incorporates “white hat” tactics (strategies that abide by Google’s rules) and avoids “black hat” techniques (rule-breaking techniques that Google penalizes). Google expects website owners to stick within the rules and operate in good faith when trying to improve their SEO. For those who try to skirt the rules, penalties are issued, and their SEO results take a hit.
As the CEO of IronMonk Solutions and Little Dragon Media, I’ve had a great deal of success with ranking my websites as well as my clients’ websites across a variety of industries and niches. Below, I’ve listed my top white hat SEO techniques so you can stay in Google’s good books while boosting your ranking.
Take A Mobile-First Approach
In 2020, more users are viewing webpages from mobile devices than desktop computers. In fact, that’s been the case since 2016. Since then, Google has adopted a mobile-first indexing system. For this reason, it’s crucial that SEO takes a mobile-first approach.
If your page’s content isn’t easily accessible on mobile devices, or if images or other elements don’t load properly from a smartphone or tablet, you can kiss your chances of landing on the first search engine results page (SERP) goodbye.
Choose Smart Keywords
You can’t build an SEO strategy around search terms with high keyword difficulty (KD) and high search volume. The competition for these highly searched keywords is simply too intense. For the best results, opt for medium-range keywords that boast middle-of-the-pack KD scores in the 50-70 range on a 100-point scale.
If you’re new to keyword research, your first step is to select a keyword research tool that can analyze your competitors’ SEO data and generate a draft keyword list. From that list, it’s your job to find a subset of 20-50 “smart” keywords (e.g., midrange KD and volume) with which to build content. Any of the top-tier keyword research software tools will get the job done.
White Hat Link-Building
Although Google’s PageRank algorithm radically changes the factors that contribute to a website’s SEO success, one constant always remains: the importance of link-building. The greater the number of websites that direct to your website via hyperlinks, the more authority (or “link juice,” as it’s affectionately known) your website will carry. The more authority that your domain carries, the better it will perform through PageRank.
However, Google’s getting better at weeding out black hat link-building. If Google detects that any of your backlinks haven’t been earned organically, then you’re liable to receive a Google penalty. In the most recent PageRank update, Google considers any purchased backlink to constitute a black hat technique. Savvy marketers should avoid these at all costs.
To keep your backlinking strategy clean, be sure to build your backlink network through high-quality references generated by the strength of your content. If you’re paying to write guest posts or for link spam from commercial third parties, sooner than later that will come around to haunt your SEO performance.
Optimize Rich Snippets
The most recent third-party reports indicate that only 0.3% of websites utilize Schema, Google’s rich snippet enhancement tool. This, despite more than one-third of all of Google’s top-performing search results incorporating rich snippets. In short, rich snippets are added data pulled from a page’s HTML and often lead to higher organic click-through rates (CTRs).
One of Google’s top webmasters has since confirmed that structured data (from which rich snippets are derived) are, in fact, not ranking signals. However, adding rich snippets with Google’s Schema tool can help improve your organic CTR by up to 30%, which plays a significant role in how well your overall SEO strategy performs.
Optimize According To User Intent
Your keyword research formula shouldn’t solely consist of KD metrics and total search volume. For your SEO strategy to stand out in 2020, your keywords must match user intent. For example, if you run an e-commerce website selling camping equipment, don’t waste your time building a content strategy around irrelevant keywords that don’t solve questions that campers or survivalists might have.
A good method for finding intent-matching keywords is to type “camping equipment,” for instance, into the Google Search box. Before hitting enter, the Google Suggest tool will provide a list of suggested search queries that other users frequently input. This should provide you with a crop of long-tail keywords that suit the search intent of your target demographic.
Adjusting To Today’s Strategies
Gone are the days when you could create subpar content and have your website rank thanks to sponsored guest posts, spam advertising and paid-for backlinks. In 2020, for your page to rank on the first or second SERP requires a white hat SEO strategy.
Ultimately, a white hat strategy is more about what you don’t do rather than what you should do. So, don’t pay for backlinks or sponsored guest posts. Instead, create strong, value-added content that’s optimized for mobile devices. Over time, you will build an organic network of strong, high-authority backlinks, provided that you choose smart, intent-driven keywords.
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