SEO Techniques - Improve SERP rankings in 2020

It was January
Like everyone, I was too super excited for the new year. 

Our team caught up for a quick meeting to discuss the new initiatives to be taken up for the year. Interesting points were thrown in that were about as focused as scaling up the company to as simple as buying a coffee machine for the office.

We spent quality time on reviewing every process, discussing possible ways to improve. While we were examining the SEO Checklist that we typically follow in our inbound process, there was a sudden intervention in the discussion.

Our Founder Raj questioned
"Does implementing the current checklist be sufficient to rank a page in Top 3 of the search results?"

We looked at each other, wondering what to answer. There were times when we exhausted almost all the hacks in the Checklist and still failed. 

We know that Google Algorithm gets updated daily, and so there is never a single success formula in SEO. We decided to re-lookup the Checklist and update it with the new set of hacks. 

Though it requires intensive efforts, I know it will be fascinating if I take this up. So, It didn't even take a fraction of a second to show my interest.  That's how my hunt towards the SEO Hacks started. 
Let’s dive into my findings!

Technical SEO

Technique #1 - Improve Website Loading Speed

Thinking that improving your website speed isn't essential?
Think again!

Google has officially confirmed Page speed as a ranking factor for mobile searches. With the index now being mobile-first, optimization of your website's page speed has become critical.
It's time for you to get deeper!

Page Speed is a performance metric that denotes the time taken by a page to show on the user's screen. Your website's speed is an average of several sample pages on the site.

But also remember, The website speed is the first impression of your business. It's essential to understand that you won't get a second chance when it comes to user experience. So, to make a strong first impression, your website must load super-fast.

Why is it important?

According to 2018 research by Google, 53% of mobile users leave a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. Unfortunately, most websites perform comparatively weaker and end up losing significant amounts of dollars

Yes! Today's buyers are impatient, and slow sites can kill your conversions affecting your bottom line

Page Speed has a significant impact on:

  1. Attract - Where you rank in organic search.
  2. Engage - How long visitors stay on your site.
  3. Convert - How many of them became your customers.

Check your page speed in Google PageSpeed Insights.

Best Practices for Diagnostics

1. Image Optimization

Images and Videos are an inevitable part of today's website. But do you know that these multimedia content can negatively impact your page performance if not optimized? 

So, here are a few tips that can be followed to optimize all your images,

  • Write an accurate Alt text
    It is the text alternative to the image that helps the search engine to know about it when the image couldn't be rendered. As it serves the SEO purpose best is to include your keyword in the Image Alt text to improve visibility. Also, avoid spaces in the text and use a hyphen instead.
  • Use correct image size
    The more significant the file sizes, the longer it takes a webpage to load. So, it's necessary to resize the images by compressing it significantly. But make sure not to compromise the visual quality more than an extent. Also, avoid resizing within responsive auto-sizing/CSS.
  • Select appropriate image format
    JPEG, PNG or SVG? It all depends on what the image is. So, know the different image formats available and select the appropriate one.
    Here are a few recommendations that I found,
    - for photos of living / non-living objects (use JPG Progressive format)
    - for images with transparent background and those that have text content in it (PNG retains resolution unlike JPG)
    - for logos and icons (it’s a vector format that allows scaling to any size without a loss in image quality)
  • Make use of CDN
    Content Delivery Network decreases the latency to the user and delivers the images from a server node very close to them. More than this, Image CDNs can also provide the correct image tailored to each device.

2. Eliminate render-blocking resources

Common render-blocking resources are the Javascript and CSS codes that are present in the Head section. As these codes are part of the rendering path used by the web browser, any delay in loading will prevent a user from seeing the website content. Instead, a blank screen will be displayed to the user(hence named render-blocking). 

Let’s see how to optimize these codes to improve speed, 

  • Render Blocking CSS
    The CSS codes must be appropriately called from the HTML, and unwanted CSS must be removed. If possible, combine all the CSS into one, thereby lowering the number of requests.
  • Render Blocking Javascript
    Find the number of Javascript files running in the Head section and use only the ones who are really necessary. The Best practice is to include those javascript below the HTML codes to prevent stalling the user experience. 

3. Leverage browser cache

Browser cache stores the static content on a user's browser during the first visit to the website. 
Now, are you wondering how this can impact your page speed? 

Let's get into the details to get the answer.
As said earlier, leveraging browser cache will temporarily store the web page content and data in the user's browser. This will prevent downloading certain site elements over and over again, thereby lowering the total requests on a page. This results in a faster web page and improves server response time. 

You can know the different HTTP Cache Headers below,

  • Cache-Contro
    It defines how long individual data can be cached by the browser. It is an HTTP header used to describe cache policies in both client requests and server responses. There are various cache-control directives like Max-age, No-cache, No-store, Public, and Private.
  • E-Tag
    This is a revalidation token automatically sent by the browser to check if the resource has been modified. It identifies the content version with a string of quotes, e.g., "8987efi922t" that changes every time the resource is altered. If it is unchanged, the browser uses its local version.
  • Expires
    This header specifies the fixed date/time for the cache to get expired. So, after the expiry time, the browser needs to fetch data only from the server.

Technique #2 - Optimize Crawl Rate

What is the crawl budget?

In 2017, Google's Gary Illyes described how Google determines the crawl budget for a specific website. He added that "Prioritizing what to crawl, when, and how many resources the server hosting the site can allocate to crawling is more important for bigger sites or those that auto-generate pages based on URL parameters."

To understand the Crawl budget, you need to know what is crawl rate and crawl demand.

1. Crawl Rate

Crawl rate limit is designed to make sure Google doesn't crawl your page too much that your server performance gets affected. It is determined by the following factors,

  • How quickly your server responds to the requests? Google recommends reducing server response time to under 200ms and notes that "dozens of potential factors" might slow down the server.
  • Whether there are errors returned during the requests? You can find out if Googlebot is getting server errors when crawling your site from the Crawl Errors report in Google Search Console.

As you might imagine, the best way to improve the crawl rate is to fasten your server. If the site responds quickly and there aren't any errors returned Google automatically adjusts the crawl rate limit to open more connections in limited time.

2. Crawl Demand 

It is to understand how much google is interested in crawling your page? This depends on various factors like,

  • How popular is your URL on the Internet?
  • How fresh is your content? Google always loves to crawl pages with new content.

Now, the most important factor - Crawl Budget

3. Crawl Budget 

It is determined based on both the Crawl rate (technical limitation) and the Crawl Demand (Importance of your URLs). In a nutshell, Crawl Budget is the number of URLs Google can and wants to crawl.

How important is the crawl rate for SEO?

If Google doesn't crawl, your page won't rank for anything. 

Though you have exciting and unique content, it's the crawl budget that decides the fate. So, If you have more number of URLs than the crawl budget, there are chances that Google might not be crawling your relevant pages. 

That said if you have a big website with hundreds of links, you need to get the site optimized for the crawl.

Optimization Techniques

  1. Use XML Sitemaps
    Sitemaps are one of the essential paths for Google to discover URLs. So, it's worth maintaining the sitemaps updated, free from errors and minimal redirects. For larger sites, it's recommended to have a Dynamic sitemap.
  1. Reduce crawlable URLs
    Leverage robot.txt to prevent the crawl of unnecessary URLs like administrative pages, documents, gated contents. This allows the crawl budget to be focused on essential pages and reduce errors.
  1. Remove robot.txt blocked URLs from XML Sitemap
    This is a very common mistake to be avoided. When you no-index an URL in robot.txt, you suggest Google not to crawl that link. But at the same time, if you include those URLs in the XML sitemap, it creates a lack in the consistency of messaging to Google. It is like you share Google the address to crawl but remove the URL from that place. Due to this, there is a high chance of getting negatively impacted in rankings.
  1. Avoid Duplicate content
    Google doesn't want to waste the resources by crawling multiple pages with the same content. Though it's not easy, you must be smart enough if you want to get the most from the crawl budget.
  1. Correct HTTP Errors
    Crawl budget optimization is always about clean technical SEO. So, you need to make sure whenever a Googlebot visits your page, it must get a status code 200 or at times redirect code 301. So, clean up all the URLs returning a 404 error or redirect it. Also, avoid redirecting the bot multiple times.

Technique #3 - Get Featured Snippets

Ever since Google opened up about the Featured snippets in search, hundreds of questions had arisen in the SEO world whether they are worth targeting. 
My answer is a definite Yes! 

Featured Snippets are great opportunities to have visibility and competitive edge over the competitors to acquire high traffic from search engines.

What exactly are Featured Snippets?

When Google tries to answer a question, it hunts for the right pieces of information and ranks for that particular search. While doing so, if it finds some unique, extraordinary content, Google creates a special class of Organic results known as Featured Snippets that are usually highlighted compared to other results. 

In Simple terms, Featured Snippets are the content pieces from SERP results that Google considers as 'rich in data' for a particular search.

How many different snippets are available?

There are a variety of Featured Snippet formats, appearing at the top of the search results, making them a highly significant result for top searches.

So before dreaming to rank, you must know some essential snippets among them, and my best advice is to question yourself what type best fits the questions that your users might ask before taking the effort.

  1. Paragraph Snippets
    This is the most common type of snippets that includes one or more paragraphs from the featured results. Generally in the size of 40 to 50 words and answers the questions like What? Who? Why? 
  1. List Snippets
    These can be either numbered or bulleted content that is listed from the featured articles. This answers the question - How? and includes content like recipes and DIY answers. 
  1. Table Snippets
    Good thing about this type of snippet is Google pulls the data and re-formats it into a table automatically. You can get these snippets while looking for rates, pricing or some specific data points.

How to get your place?

Now that you know the different snippets available let's discuss how you go about ranking for them. Also, remember that earning a featured snippet definitely gives you an edge but requires crafting great answers and excellent SEO.

  1. Find the right keywords
    Look for keywords more focused on the questions. An easier way to get this is to look into 'People also ask' segment in the search results
  1. Create excellent content
    Ideally, create a content piece focused on the particular keyword under the word limit (Snippets typically tend to show content with 40 to 50 words). Answer the question clearly in the first few lines and place a pulling content at the end that can urge the user to click on the result.
  1. Format it properly
    With the use of HTML tags, format the content based on the snippet you wanted to rank for. <h1>, <h2> for questions, <p> for paragraph, <li> for listed items.
  1. Request Index
    Now, It's time to wait and watch.

On Page SEO 

Technique #1 - Build Topic Clusters

You might have done intensive keyword research and would have crafted a detailed quality content. Even the titles and meta could be catchy, but still, your keyword rank might remain flat.  

Something is wrong!

But Don’t worry, It’s not only you! 

Even digital giants like HubSpot, Backlinko, and many others will face it unless the content has been built with a comprehensive approach. 

Yes, building a Topic cluster is the only way you can get rewarded.

What is a Topic cluster? 

A Topic cluster is a collection of content pieces on a specific topic that typically includes a Pillar page with a comprehensive overview interlinked to a bunch of cluster pages with detailed content around the same topic. Interlinking between pages is done in an umbrella format.

Building a content structure like this helps you establish a firm authority over the particular topic and also gives your readers a tremendous value with a broader exploration.

Components of a Topic Cluster

  • Pillar Content - A Comprehensive piece of content that is appropriately structured and logically organized to cover all the aspects of a particular topic.
    For a user, It acts as a complete guide that answers all the essential questions and provides a path to explore the topic in more depth by hyperlinking to Cluster contents.
  • Cluster Content - It’s a detailed content that elaborates on a subtopic under the pillar page umbrella. This collection of many related blog posts provides contextual support to the Pillar Page.
  • Hyperlinks - Interlinks that connect all the cluster content with the pillar content in a manner that establishes the relationship between the pages. It’s like spokes on a wheel that helps both users and the search engine to navigate more in-depth into the pillar theme.

Here is an example,

Workout Routine is the Pillar Page, and the content blocks linked with it are the cluster contents that support the pillar content.

Steps to create a Topic Cluster:

  1. Decide on the buyer persona whom you are going to target.
  2. Brainstorm to list all the needs of that buyer persona
  3. Find the search volume of those needs to sort and pick the most important one.
  4. Soon after you picked the right topic, identify the content gap to build a structure for your Pillar page. 
  5. Draft a comprehensive piece of content that covers all the aspects of the topic
  6. Now, list down all the possible questions that a user can get to decide on the cluster pages
  7. With the questions, select the right high volume keywords to target.
  8. Start building pages with detailed content around those keywords that answer the respective questions
  9. Craft and implement a strong interlinking strategy that links all the cluster content pieces together with the pillar content in an umbrella format.
  10. Continue to hunt for opportunities to create new content pieces that expand the cluster and fills the content gap. 

The Ultimate Goal of a Topic cluster is to become the authority of the particular topic and provide a user with everything there is to know about the topic. 

The Power of Deep Linking in Topic clusters

While the long tail keyword search is growing every day, there arises the need for building pages with in-depth content that answers more specific questions. As the long-tail searches are highly-focused, they tend to convert exceptionally well. So, any content strategy must now involve pages optimized for these long-tail keywords. 

Usually, these pages act as a 2nd or 3rd level contents of a Topic cluster. To rank these more in-depth pages, placing the right architecture of interlinks that passes the link juice from high seo value pages is critical. 

Deep Linking is nothing but linking the high-value SEO pages with more in-depth pages on the website in architecture to help those pages rank higher. In a content cluster, the pillar pages are hyperlinked to the first level of cluster pages that, in turn, are linked with these more in-depth pages following the umbrella structure. This hierarchical interlinking helps more in-depth pages in the cluster to get seo value that supports building authority to the entire topic cluster.

Hey, Don't worry! It's not the end.
I will keep on updating the blog with new SEO hacks as long as Google's update stops.

Meanwhile, try the above-listed hacks and keep me posted on which worked and which didn't.
Stay tuned!

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