5 Ways to Improve Your Search Rank in 2018

Where does your website rank in search results?

Achieving top search rank has never been easy. In 2018, it's tougher than ever.

Google controls nearly 70% of the search market, so if you want any kind of online success, you have to play by Google's rules.

Those rules have changed—a lot. And if your site hasn't adapted, it may get buried so far back in the SERPs (Search Engine Page Results) that you're losing business. One of the most significant changes is that Google's whole approach to search results has shifted from an objective set of results to a much more personalized approach.

More Personalized Search Results

Step back in time a few years and suppose I searched for "chandeliers." Google would return a list of results that might include definitions, perhaps some history of chandeliers, stores that sell chandeliers, maybe even repair shops and parts.

Woman searching on a cell phoneFast forward to 2018. Now if I search for "chandeliers," Google takes into account a number of "implicit query factors" such as my location, my search and shopping history, and the device I'm using. If I'm on a mobile device, and I'm near a lighting store that's currently open and sells chandeliers, the #1 item in my SERP is likely to be that store's location map. If I'm using a desktop and I frequently shop on Amazon or Wayfair, those sites are likely to have top positions in my SERP. If my search history shows a preference for specific brands, sites that feature them will tend to rank. In other words, Google's goal is to deliver data-based results tailored to my unique needs and patterns. The SERPs are personalized to me, the searcher, more than they are based on you, the company with the website.

So How Can You Improve Your Search Rank?

You can see why it's challenging, right? But it is possible. Along with personalization, Google has announced other clear priorities. Using these as starting points, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts scrutinize mountains of data to discover just how these and other criteria make websites rank higher. We've pulled together five important strategies to help you make sure your website doesn't get left behind.

How to Improve Your Search Rank in 2018

  1. Optimize your site for mobile-first indexing.
  2. Install an SSL certificate on your website.
  3. Provide relevant, authoritative content for your target audience.
  4. Optimize download speed.
  5. Maximize SEO with featured snippets and LSI keywords.

Let's take a look at each of these strategies.

1. Optimize Your Site for Mobile-First Indexing

Many company websites have two versions: the primary (desktop) version and a mobile version. Usually the mobile version is scaled down with lighter content, fewer images and apps, and less data and metatag markup. But since nearly 60% of searches now come from mobile devices, Google has started to implement mobile-first indexing.

What does that mean? Google will now consider the mobile version of your website as the primary version. It will crawl the mobile version first and base your site rank on the mobile version. Obviously, if the mobile version is less complete than the desktop version, your site rank will suffer.

What do you need to do? If your website is fully responsive, you may not need to make any site changes. If not, your mobile version will need to be upgraded to include an equivalent level of high quality content, data and metatag markup (including social and internationalization), apps, sitemaps, and search engine verifications.

Either way, make sure your website meets Google's mobile-friendly standards. That's easy to check with this test.

2. Install an SSL Certificate on Your Website.

SSL encryption is a Google ranking factor.Google announced in 2014 that it was beginning to use HTTPS as a ranking signal. Firefox added warnings on HTTP sites last year to alert users that the site was not secure. And Google just announced that beginning in July, Chrome will do the same.

Google says it is "strongly advocating that sites adopt HTTPS encryption." That's serious language, especially since Google has identified HTTPS as a ranking signal. By January of 2017, half of websites were encrypted. If yours is in the bottom half, you can't expect to rank in the top of search results.

Bottom line—if you haven't migrated your site to HTTPS, you should. Now. The good news is that if your site doesn't take payments or store customer information, you can use a free SSL certificate from Let's Encrypt.

3. Provide relevant, authoritative content for your target audience.

Personalized SERPS mean you have to know your audience better than ever: who they are and what problems they want to solve. Then your content, structure, calls to action, and markup all target that specific audience.

Part of your page rank is determined by how users interact with your page. Google closely guards its algorithms, so SEO experts can't produce an exact formula. But they can show reams of data to indicate that what they call "dwell time" impacts search rank. Dwell time is a combination of bounce rate (how quickly a user leaves your site), time on your site, and CTR (click through rate). In other words, it's a measurement of user engagement and conversion—of whether your site content works.

If users who land on your site quickly leave to go elsewhere, your content is either not engaging, not relevant, or lacks authority. Ditto if your site has no calls to action or if those calls are ineffective.

If you want to improve your search rank, invest in top quality content.

4. Optimize Download Speed

With access to over 1.8 billion websites, users can afford to be choosy. We just don't wait for slow sites.

Optimizing speed is technical stuff, but even if you don't proudly call yourself a geek, you can check your site speed with this test. The results will show your site's download speed and send you a report with recommendations.

Quality hosting service is step 1 for optimising website speed. Your web developer may also make improvements to server configuration, caching, compression, content, and code that improve download speed.

5. Maximize SEO with Featured Snippets and LSI Keywords

A featured snippetWhat is a featured snippet?

If you type that question into Google, the top SERP entry will be a featured snippet. A featured snippet is a quick answer box—usually a short list, brief paragraph, map, sometimes even an image or video—that answers a question.

Users wanting only a quick answer—something like a definition—often get what they need just from the snippet without clicking any links. But if users want more information, that featured snippet offers you prime real estate.

Study your website and think about your business, looking for questions—especially what and how questions—that your target audience asks and that you answer. Format those answers for a featured snippet, and you'll increase your chances for top page rank.

Another strategy is to analyze your content for topics. Google's long term strategy has been to shift away from specific individual keywords toward broader topics. You may hear that keywords no longer matter in SEO. To some degree, that's true. They are no longer the key indicator Google uses to index pages. Instead, Google's more sophisticated algorithms crawl page content to discover topics. That's where Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) comes in.

To explain LSI, let's think about online shopping. Suppose you want to shop for a new bandsaw on a site like Amazon. You'll start by choosing the category "Tools and Home Improvement." When you type "bandsaw" in the search box, a whole list of items related to a bandsaw will show up as options. This happens because Amazon has grouped a large number of products under one topic, and bandsaw is included in that topic. Bandsaw is comparable to a "keyword" in Amazon's topic.

Google does the same thing and calls it LSI. Using the Amazon example again, here's what happens: your website about bandsaws might rank even if someone used a search term related to—but not exactly—"bandsaw." Your website should provide well-written, helpful discussion of a topic. It should answer questions users are asking. Your content should not awkwardly repeat a single keyword or phrase (a strategy called "keyword stuffing" that Google penalizes). Instead, if you use a variety of synonyms and/or related terms from Google's LSI keyword list, your content will be more reader-friendly and will be more likely to achieve a higher page rank in Google.

How do you find those LSI keywords? Right here. Of course, that should happen after your SEO experts have done their research on what search terms people are using and comparative search rank.

Search Rank Matters

But at this point, you may be thinking that some of this sounds pretty complicated. And you would be right. That's why SEO experts are just that: Experts who make a professional career out of learning what works and implementing it on websites like yours.

We've included resource links if you like to tackle projects yourself. But if your time and attention are fully occupied with running your business, give us a call or send us an email. This is what we do. And we'll be glad to help.