As we race into 2019 there have been many posts from SEO experts about what to expect in 2019 and what they expect Google to unleash on the SEO community and online businesses.
Now let me be clear, these are valid points and views which I am not taking anything away from them as these experts have more industry experience than what I have.
What I am saying that there are still a large amount of sites in 2019 that are not adhering to SEO basics and in some cases are just chasing the algorithmic updates (Algo chasers!).
Don’t start amending your site in order to chase the voice search market, which is predicted to become more popular in 2019, if the quality of your content isn’t currently serving your target market.
You need to have a solid foundation to build upon and also look to future proof from any negative down turn from any future update – thus not majorly fearing any update.
Time, and revenue, can be wasted fixing a site if the SEO foundation isn’t solid.
In my opinion this is what Google’s updates during 2018 actually told the SEO community.
So what did we learn in 2018
Quality, it is as simple as that.
Google is a business at the end of the day and the products it is serving to its customers are your results, yes they make their money from paid, but the organic positions are just as important to Google and will look to serve the best results – well dur!!!!
Now this includes all of the updates of last year, mobile, speed, quality of content, user focused content and quality of link authority.
There was a large amount of talk in 2018 about on page quality but very little around links, was there an assumption that Penguin would mop these issues. Well no, at the end of 2018 there were rafts of e mails sent out from Google in relation to actions to be taken to their link profile’s (none of Click’s clients I must add).
I feel that this was Google’s way of saying look your all concentrating on content and speed but don’t forget about the quality of links which are passing authority through.
So what do I mean about going back to basics?
Google will look to again build up the quality of its SERP’s in 2019, therefore you need to ensure that you have the right foundation.
This will be a combination of on page technical, site structure, site content, meta descriptions and building good quality links through well thought out campaigns that has unique data and is sharable.
So let’s start at the front door.
If the bots from varying search engines have difficulty in crawling your site then being able to rank for competitive key terms will be tough, so you need to ensure that these bots can easily roam through your site and gain a full understanding of the sites purpose.
After all this is what you spent significant time on, over the last 2 years in creating good quality content.
Using the robots.txt file correctly can help direct and assist the bots when crawling your site.
There will be pages that you probably won’t want the bots to crawl and waste their crawl budget on, so look to disallow these – your basically giving the heads up to ignore these pages and to focus on the main category pages.
Most of the time this can be the search results or forum comments (should your site have one), so specifying a rule can help, such as –
Just make sure that you don’t block important sections of your site which may hold valuable content which could get you ranking sky high.
Everyone needs a map
The bots are no different providing an update xml site map, a blue print of your site, will help guide the bots around and will assist indexing the pages.
Now this all seems to be simple but we are still coming across sites which are missing these basic first steps, yes even in 2019, so it is important to get these right.
Dynamic sitemaps should be standard especially on eCommerce sites as products come in and out of stock quickly that a sitemap can quickly become out of date.
If you are guiding the bots to an area which is out of stock via an out of date sitemap then the bots will soon catch on and this could then affect other parts of the site – again picking up on the quality of information the bots are being fed.
Always remember to check the site map status in search console on a regular basis.
Ensure that the bots don’t get lost or stuck
There are occasions where bots can get stuck around a specific file or folder on a site and can be the cause of a drop in performance rather.
Undertaking Log File Analysis can help identify if the bots are struggling on the site and the remedial action can be as simple as removing an old .js or telling the bots to exclude the file in its crawl through the robots.txt.
So yes the bots will have sitemaps to get around but even with a map they can still get confused, as can users, so the structure of the site should flow in a natural and logical way.
Having a site structure that naturally flows will add to your customer’s user experience, the bots experience and will ultimately assist with rankings.
The menu and navigation will take time but the time is outweighed by the performance that will come from a straight forwardjourney, make sure logic is taken into consideration and different categories don’t include the same sub-categories as this is likely to confuse both bots and users.
So for example you have ‘Tents’ as a sub category but you have this under categories ‘Outdoor Living’ and ‘Camping’ with the same products and same content then what are the bots going to think when looking to return keywords around tents – it won’t and it will likely be confused on which the best result will be to return.
User journey and mobile user journey are the key areas to focus on.
Meta titles, meta descriptions, keywords, content and use of H tags are some of the most basic elements of SEO.
Whereas content, and user focused content, has been picked up as a key point in 2018 a review of keywords and how these filter back into the meta’s on the site can often be over looked – remember the markets, competition and algorithms are continually changing and therefore these are key elements to keep reviewing.
What was working in 2017 may not necessarily work in 2019, so don’t rest on what previously worked well.
Google may not use descriptions as a direct ranking signal, but that doesn’t mean they ignore them, a good description can act as a click through factor and if search engines can see this engagement then they will obviously review the sites search visibility.
Ensure keywords are used correctly throughout the content and that they are used in building up a picture for what you want the page to say.
Ensure that H tags are used for structural purposes and not just for style purposes, these are here to provide a structure of a site and only 1 H1 tag should be used per page.
In 2018, in my opinion, there was less talk around authority building than in previous years and which is why I believe Google sent out the messages at the end of year in order to say “hey, don’t forget about reviewing the quality of links going through to your site”.
And so it shouldn’t be forgotten, the black hat days are way behind us, and the creeping in of such tactics should be punished as to avoid manipulation.
Undertake a full review of what is pointing to your site as a starting point and if there are any major issues then ensure that they are immediately actioned in the disavow file and to not rely on Penguin.
You are telling Google you are on top of the quality of links that are pointing to your site and that the authority earnt is correct and natural.
But you will still need links, this is how I interpreted the ‘Authority’ part of EAT, but don’t go chasing authority. Instead look to build out natural, unique and shareable campaigns which tell a story and will naturally get picked up.
And don’t get too hung up should this campaign only get ‘no-followed’ links as these are natural.
This may seem a basic SEO 101 but I am still seeing sites which are not adhering to these basics in order to form a solid foundation but will then look to make changes in order to chase the latest algorithmic update because it has been mentioned heavily in forums.
It’s amazing what a few simple tweaks and adjustments can do for your site and overall digital strategy.
Make sure the basics are in place, even in 2019, or at least re-visit them.