If you’re on this blog, you already know how important SEO is for your business. Despite the massive growth of social media, people still use search to find solutions to their problems. As per a 2014 study, search drove nearly 51% of all web traffic, much of it was highly targeted.
One thing is clear: without a good search ranking, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to drive traffic.
In this article, I’ll look at some lesser-known (but just as important) SEO factors you need to focus on in order to rank high, and how to fix them.
1. Your blog URL is too long
Often overlooked, your site’s URL length does impact your search engine ranking.
Generally, 50-60 characters is considered optimal. Therefore, if your URL length is longer (for example, pushing 100 characters), then you should shorten it.
According to one study by Backlinko, there is a direct correlation between URL length and rankings.
It’s clear that short URLs are correlated to higher rankings.
Beyond short URLs, you also want to include a keyword to increase likelihood of ranking higher.
You don’t want your URL to look like this:
Instead, it should be something readers can understand immediately by looking at the URL alone. If the above address was for a pair of blue jeans, you’ll do much better with a URL like this:
A short keyword-filled URL improves user experience and usability. Shorter URLs are easier to read, copy, share, and even remember in memory. A user can tell immediately from the above URL that the page is about “men’s blue jeans”.
For example, check out this page from Kissmetrics:
Notice how the URL is short and tells you exactly what the page is about – the relation between tweets and revenue? You can even remember this URL without bookmarking it.
How to fix this problem?
Fixing URLs might be a cakewalk, or a complete disaster depending on how old your site is.
If you are building a site from scratch using WordPress, you can change URL structure by going to Settings -> Permalinks and choosing something simple like “Post name”. You can also do this manually by selecting “Custom structure” and using “/%postname%/”, like this:
In case your site is already live, you will have to go through a considerably longer process. After changing the URLs, you will have to make sure that you direct all old URLs to new ones. To do this, you will have to:
- 301 redirect all old URLs to new URLs
- Update XML sitemaps and resubmit them to Google Webmaster Tools
- Update all internal links
The first step is the hardest – and most important. If you have a large site, this can become incredibly time consuming. Take this into account if you decide to update your URLs. For very large sites, the SEO benefits might not be worth the pain of changing every URL.
2. You are not optimizing for ‘dwell time’
We’ve all heard about bounce and exit rate. In fact, we use these metrics to figure out which pages need improvements in order to drive conversions.
However, there’s also a lesser-known but related metric referred to as dwell time.
Dwell time measures the level of user engagement on your page for people coming in through search.
It’s calculated by measuring the time elapsed between when a user first click-through to your site and when they return to the SERP page.
The longer time a visitor spends on a site, the higher your ranking.
Though this relationship has never been explicitly stated, there have been hints of its use a factor in determining rank.
It makes sense for Google to factor in dwell time. A user who clicks a search result, then immediately hits the back button likely did so because the search result wasn’t worth his time. A quick click-back time indicates poor quality or poor relevancy – results that Google wants to avoid in its SERPs.
How to fix this problem?
In order to avoid this, here are some ways to keep users on your site:
A. Add “bucket brigades”
“Bucket brigades” is a copywriting tactic which uses words and phrases in a specific way to keep people on their page.
For example, adding a colon after a short sentence is a bucket brigade.
Check it out: (do you see it?)
B. Use eye-catching image
Images are an easy way to grab a visitor’s attention as they require less time to interpret than text leading visitors to remain on your page. A strong image at the top of your content is particularly good for driving more engagement.
C. Follow the “inverted pyramid”
The :inverted pyramid” is a writing style in which you place important information first. By answering people’s questions right off the bat, you immediately satiate their curiosity. At the same time, they are drawn further in because of the promise of additional content on the article below.
3. You are not updating your older content
Much like how leaving bread out for long can cause it to go stale, your content can also become undesirable if left untouched for long.
Even since a major 2011 update, Google has preferred “fresh” content and will begin to rank your old posts lower.
Every time you post content online, it gets indexed and assigned an “inception date”. And as time passes, its “freshness” score decays as newer content with the same keywords begin to replace it.
Therefore, it’s always a smart idea to update your older content (especially if it’s ranking well but not yet quite at the top).
For example, older content ranked between 7-15 are prime candidates for updating.
An easy way to update your posts is by adding new information, updating images, and changing the design or structure of your post.
Take a look at this post by Brian Dean of Backlinko:
He decided to scrap the section at the top titled “wait..what’s the skyscraper technique?”
And instead, went straight into its results after an update.
How to fix it?
This “freshness fix” works best on your well-performing content. You won’t see much benefit improving your page #10 article, but you will see an upward movement with your page #2 ranking content.
To find this content, log into Google Webmaster Tools and open your property. Go to Search Traffic -> Search Analytics. Here, check “Position” and select “Queries”.
This will show you your top performing queries. If you click the query and select “Pages” on the next screen, you will see your top performing page(s) for this query.
These should be your top priority pages to update.
4. You are not using related keywords in your headers
If you thought that keywords are not important, think again.
While it is true that in the post-Panda/Penguin world, Google has severely limited the impact of exact keyword match in anchor text and domain name, the presence of on-page keywords remains critical for SEO, especially in the all-important H1, H2, H3 tags.
This is particularly important today since Google has become smart enough to rank a single article for multiple keywords. Back in 2006, you might have had to create three separate pages for “blue widgets”, “red widgets”, and “green widgets”.
Today, you can rank for all these three terms with a single article on “Widget Colors: Red, Green and Blue”.
I’ll illustrate with an example: the term “sales management” is a ‘head’ term that has a number of related terms such as “sales management process”, “sales management strategies”, etc.
This article from Pipedrive uses all these related terms in the headline. It also uses them as H2 and H3 headers in the article.
Since this article uses related keywords in the headers, it ranks for all the above terms.
This is a great example of how using related keywords in your headers can extend the reach of your content. An in-depth article on a big ‘head’ keyword can often rank for all related keywords.
How to fix it?
Using related keywords in your content is easy enough, but it does require deliberate action. You can’t just throw together a blog post and call it a day; you have to do your keyword research before you start writing and ensure that you use the right keywords in your headers.
Use your favorite keyword research tool to find these related keywords. The default AdWords Keyword Planner is good enough, though you can also use Google autosuggest keywords.
Another tactic is to search for the head keyword (like “sales management”), then scroll down to the bottom to find Google’s related searches. These will often include keywords you’d want in the article.
If you’re struggling for seed keywords, I suggest using Quora. Simply search for your head keyword, then look for the “Related Topics” section in the right sidebar.
This will give you plenty of keyword ideas for your content.
5. You are not optimizing for site speed
When optimizing for SEO, most people tend to focus on off-site techniques such as link building and in the process forget user-experience entirely.
And a big factor that defines user-experience is your site load speed.
In fact, Google has taken into account a site’s load speed as a ranking factor since 2010. Besides this, a slow loading site frustrates users leading them unlikely to return.
In fact site speed and search engine rankings have a direct relationship.
Notice the drop in rankings in correlation with increase in load time.
Keep in mind that your site’s load speed isn’t just important for desktop users.
With nearly 60% of searches being done on mobile (and likely to increase), a slow loading mobile site will also hurt your rankings.
Google has made it clear that it will rank faster loading and responsive pages higher on mobile in an announcement now popularly known as Mobilegeddon.
Therefore, make sure to optimize your site’s load speed for mobile also.
How to fix it?
Improving site speed is a big topic – people have written entire books about it. Others have also argued that SEO in 2017 is all about site speed. Making your site load faster is also a proven growth hack.
This is a highly technical topic, but for most people, following these tips will be more than enough:
A. Optimize your images
B. Upgrade to a faster host
If you’re on a shared hosting plan, consider upgrading to a dedicated server so that all of its resources are dedicated to ensure your page loads quickly.
And if you are already using a dedicated server, compare different vendors to determine which works best for you.
C. Use a CDN
A content delivery network (CDN) such as MaxCDN will host a version of your site on a set of geographically spread servers.
This allows you to serve every request from a closeby location improving load speed.
D. Store images on the cloud to save resources
Instead of storing images on your servers, store them on a cloud service such as Amazon’s Web Services.
Search engine rankings are critical. A good ranking provides you with organic traffic which drives conversions. Therefore, in addition to focusing on well-known SEO tactics such as link building, pay attention to the lesser-known factors mentioned in this post.