I’m going to say what many business owners are probably thinking: SEO can be a time suck. The task of staying on top of your online presence isn’t just daunting, it’s time-consuming.
But like any goal you set for yourself, tackling SEO and improving your ranking takes focus.
To help narrow that focus, let's look at what, in SEO, actually requires our attention. In 2017 SEMrush published a report on 17 factors and their influence on SEO ranking—the results may surprise you.
While many business owners put an emphasis on keywords, they didn’t even top the list. Below are the top four SEO ranking factors and how you can use them to improve your strategy without wasting valuable time.
Direct Website Visits
Direct visits came out on top as the most important SEO ranking factor in the SEMrush report. This occurs when a visitor comes to your site directly by entering your URL into their browser or using a saved bookmark.
Direct visits topped the list of important factors for one simple reason—they point to brand loyalty and credibility. People go directly to a website because they know exactly what the site offers and, in turn, how it will fulfill their needs.
This means you need to know your users. Without a deep understanding of their problems, which solutions apply to their unique situations and what makes them view a site as reputable, you may end up spending time on pointless content. Take a step back to discover and listen to what your target audience needs from your site:
- What is your target user sharing on social media?
- Based on what they’re sharing, what are their common needs, interests and core goals?
- What feedback are your sales and customer success teams bringing back?
- What solutions can you offer that are applicable to their needs?
Now that you’re completely in tune with your users, you can create a content action plan that offers unique, actionable, expert tips.
Time on Site
Time on site is exactly what it sounds like: the amount of time, measured in seconds or minutes, users are spending on your site. As the number two ranking factor, it’s important to your strategy because it indicates the quality of your website and its relevance to users.
Look at your site design to understand why users aren’t hanging around. It needs to be easy to navigate with relevant, interesting and identifiable links.
Additionally, test how long it takes for a page to load. According to a 2016 Google report, 53 percent of mobile site visits are abandoned if pages take longer than just three seconds to load. Cut out high-resolution images and any unnecessary links or content to optimize your page’s speed.
And don’t forget to do frequent cleanups to get rid of anything unnecessary. Links that lead to outdated content, flashy video animations and irrelevant information make users question your credibility. Use your target audience questions to know exactly what images and content will keep your site visitors engaged.
Pages Per Session
The more pages users are checking out, the more engaged they are when exploring your site. According to the SEMrush report, a user should visit three to three-and-a-half pages each session when they land on your website from a search.
To encourage visitors to explore your site beyond the homepage, you may want to include plenty of valuable resources. This could be a blog, case studies, FAQs or other such resources. The idea is to keep your users’ interest. Additionally, using bold images and action-oriented text can help keep them moving through your content. If you already have a blog, you could update and republish old posts with new statistics, tips and content before writing entirely new pieces.
Lastly, make your calls-to-action (CTA) more prominent. Rather than throwing them at the bottom of your website or a blog post, feature them at the top of your homepage, in exit pop-ups and in other noticeable places on your website. While the location of your CTAs is important, the text is just as crucial to attracting (and keeping) your users’ attention.
Bounce rate is a metric measuring the percentage of users who land on your website but do nothing on the page they entered. A high bounce rate means visitors come to your site, but don’t find anything interesting or it wasn’t what they expected. SEMrush’s report found that "49 percent is the bounce rate for the domains ranking within [the] top three."
To determine why you may have a high bounce rate, first, you need to self-analyze.
- Do you have a call-to-action box encouraging users to click and move to another page?
- Is your page easy to navigate?
- When users click on your ads, does your page meet their expectations?
- Are users exiting when they’re on a page with a pop-up?
- Are your keywords relevant to your site?
- How large are your bodies of text?
- Do your meta descriptions clearly state what’s in your content?
Understanding exactly where your page falls short allows you to create a specific plan of action to help decrease bounce rates.
Additionally, to stand strong amongst larger competitors, you may want to invest both time and money in mobile optimization of your website. Almost half of sampled smartphone users spend more than five hours a day on their mobile devices, according to a 2017 report by technology marketing company Counterpoint. (The report was based on a sample size of 3,500 respondents from around the world.) Investing in making your entire website mobile-friendly can help increase ease-of-use and may even entice more users to stay on your pages.
Above all, climbing out of the SEO time trap takes patience. Separate SEO into manageable pieces, prioritize and knock them out systematically—even if it’s over the course of a year or more, at least you're getting it done.
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