New year, new mic-dropping SEO updates! Working in SEO means you need to keep on your toes when it comes to the algorithm, as Google is constantly finding ways to assess and reward optimized sites. With the new year comes new Google challenges, updates, approaches and techniques to help websites rock their rankings.
In 2020, an encore performance by the global pandemic meant that more and more businesses moved online, and sought out strategies to maintain, and improve their digital presence. A few million new eCommerce sites were built or rebuilt, as brick and mortar businesses had to move their offerings online. Some of those businesses found themselves reaching out to an SEO consultant for the first time ever.
At the same time, Google released some pretty substantial updates that all business owners and site owners most definitely need to be aware of right now.
Here’s 22 tips & techniques to add to. your SEO set list this year.
In the World of Link Building…
1. Digital PR Has Replaced Guest Blogging
In the world of SEO, few things have evolved as much as guest posting over the years. In fact, we don’t even really call it guest posting anymore. We call it digital PR. Today, the term guest post conjures up images of the previously spammy tactics that were used back in 2014 when Google’s Matt Cutts declared guest posting dead.
Instead of just shotgun blasting content to any-damn-site (which was the norm in 2014), today’s link builders are now using the tried and true tactics that have worked in traditional PR for years:
- Research target sites
- See what they post and what their readers want
- Approach those sites with a personalized pitch that offers real value
- Write them a high-quality piece
- EARN the high-quality link
- Enjoy the benefits, then repeat as much as humanly possible
Isn’t that a lot more work? You betcha! But the old way no longer works (at all), and the payoff for all that work is most certainly there. In 2012, Moz estimated that your links made up about 30% of your overall SEO clout. But today, Moz has estimated that your links could be worth over 50%.
If you’re not building links, you’re basically running your SEO race on one leg. And if you don’t have time to do it yourself, you should definitely speak with a link building services company ASAP.
2. Combine Link Building and Podcasting
We could fill 80 blogs with how to do this properly, but I’ll try to boil it down to the basics.
Taking an active role in podcasting is an amazing way to build your SEO, your brand, and thought-leadership. Taking a passive role is often a massive waste of time.
- Active: Strive to offer real value. Promote your podcast via digital PR and look for opportunities for your stakeholders to be guests on other podcasts.
- Passive: Recording and publishing with no promotional plan. Waiting for guest podcast opportunities to come to you, or saying No because you don’t see the value.
Done properly, combining proven link building tactics with podcast syndication can unlock some big wins.
3. Build More Local Citations
You can write the best blogs on the web and optimize your pages perfectly, but you’re still going to struggle to rank if you’re not building local citations. They carry a lot of SEO weight.
In a lot of cases, this means being on industry review sites like Yelp or Hotels.com. But it really starts with your Google listing. Your Google my Business profile was renamed simply your Google Business Profile in 2021 (because… reasons?) and they unveiled a few new features, such as:
- Messaging (Customers can instantly message you directly)
- Health & Safety Attributes (i.e. Mask and vaccine passport protocols)
- Pandemic-Related Attributes for Restaurants (Take-out and curb-side available)
- Online Services Listings (Do you offer online quotes or appointments)
- Call Logging (Track the calls that came in from Google Maps or SERPs)
- Enhanced GMB performance reports (Deeper dives into your traffic)
- Black-Owned Business Attributes (Let your customers know that you’re a proudly black-owned business)
Review your profile! If your information is incomplete or outdated, you’re making it very difficult for people to find, call, and support you. Or even worse, if your profile isn’t claimed, you’re opening the door for shady competitors to claim it for you. It’s dirty pool, but it happens.
In the World of Keyword Research…
4. Look into Topic Clusters
It’s important to know that the various stages of keyword research have expanded in recent years. One of the recent keyword trends involves topic clusters.
Clusters do not replace keywords, but they give Google a better idea of how comprehensive and authoritative your site is by looking at the synonyms, subtopics, and FAQs related to your keywords. Showing Google that you have topical authority, and not just optimized keywords, can boost your rankings and unlock more traffic.
This trend is only going to grow over time, which is why all of the major keyword tools have some sort of cluster functionality right now.
5. Embrace Semantic SEO
As we mentioned in the previous section, the science of SEO keyword research is getting more complex. This includes the emergence of semantic SEO, which is basically showing Google that you truly understand your target audience.
First, you’re finding the keywords and questions that your audience is searching for via good old-fashioned keywords research. Then, you’re taking things to the next level by using semantic SEO to figure out any follow-up questions your audience may have. And then, you’re answering them.
Mastering this deadly SEO krav maga helps you show Google that nobody understands your target audience like you, and helps you appear in the coveted zero position in featured snippets or the People also searched for section of the SERPs.
In the World of On-Page Optimization…
6. Optimize Every Page You Want to Rank
As you can see from the previous section, the world of keyword research is evolving, so your on page optimization strategy is going to need to evolve right alongside it. You need to be thoughtful and strategic in how you use all of that new information we just talked about above.
Warning: If you have pages that rank, you may have noticed that Google has re-written your meta descriptions when they show up in the SERPs. This definitely made some headlines and turned some heads in the world of SEO in 2021, because SEOs just loooove it when Google controls things.
According to Google, these re-writes can happen when:
- A poor meta description doesn’t summarize the page
- Google wants to more accurately match the search query with the web page
- Google wants to match the search query with the content, but the match isn’t in the meta description
Keep an eye out for this.
7. Optimize Your Internal Links
The need to do this hasn’t changed. You need a goodly amount of internal links in your landing pages and blogs to encourage the user and the Google bots to go from page to page on your site. If you have no internal links, the journey basically stops there.
You also need to make sure you’re using strategic keywords to link to those internal pages.
8. Optimize Your Crawlability and Indexability
This is one of those topics that we can talk about all day. You need to ensure your pages are as crawlable and indexable as possible.
Fixing these issues can lead to appreciable SEO gains and unlock more traffic.
9. Remove All Broken Links and Dead Images
Yes, we know it’s hard to stay on top of every single image and link on your site. But you need to do your best. Broken links and dead images hurt your SEO. They make you look like an online barren wasteland that time forgot.
You can use a tool like SEMrush to find your broken links. Images are a little trickier. You can use something like Screaming Frog to crawl your site, but it’s possible that it won’t catch all of your broken images.
10. Optimize Your Images
You’re not a millionaire, so you don’t have a Shutterstock account. You’ve spent the last 15 minutes deep-diving free image sites to find the perfect image for your blog. Huzzah, you found one! Now don’t waste it! Do two things to that image:
- Optimize the image attributes with keywords
- Compress it for web use, so it doesn’t slow your load times
As we will explore in the next section, load speeds have never been more important.
In the World of User Experience…
11. Run Frequent Page Speed and Core Web Vitals Tests
It’s time for you to be obsessed with your user experience, particularly in the wake of Google’s recent page experience update.
A good user experience always starts with good load speeds. The definition of good used to be subjective and hotly debated. But, not anymore. Google has given us some new metrics and some clear numbers to shoot for:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): When a user arrives on your site, how long does it take for the page to completely load? Shoot for a time of 2.5 seconds or lower.
- First Input Delay (FID): How long does it take for your page to react to a click? Shoot for a score of 100 milliseconds or lower.
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): CLS looks at how long it takes for the page to stop shifting during the loading process. This is gauged through a proprietary scoring system, but the target score is 0.1.
So right now, Step #1 is running a Core Web Vitals Test. Step #2 is to not beat yourself up when you fail, because almost everyone fails it at first. Hell, even YouTube failed the core web vitals.
In fact, only about 50% of the top 100 performing sites on the web passed the test. A year ago, those numbers were even lower, with only 22% of the top desktop and 28% of the top mobile sites passing their tests.
Remember: If you failed the first test, your competition probably did too. The key is making the proper adjustments before they do. There is a great opportunity to improve your site speed and Google rankings right now if you prioritize testing and optimizing your speeds.
12. It’s Time for Mobile-first Planning
Google extended their timeframe for mobile-first indexing from September 2020 to March 2021. This means that a poorly optimized mobile site could be hurting your rankings as we speak.
You need to know that:
- Your mobile site needs to be just as optimized for keywords and user experience as your desktop site.
- Any content that doesn’t appear on your mobile site doesn’t exist in the eyes of Google.
If you’re building or revamping your site in 2022, it’s time for mobile-first planning.
13. Make Sure You’re a Safe Place
Google listed security as a major ranking signal with their page experience update. Make sure your site is free of malware and you’re on an HTTPS instead of an HTTP.
That being said, if those two problems apply to you, SEO is likely the least of your website’s concerns right now.
14. Audit Your Interstitials
Google has also flagged intrusive interstitials as a major ranking signal for page experience.
This does not apply to:
- Interstitials that pop up for legal reasons. This includes cookie usage or age verification.
- Login dialogues that are not publicly indexable. This would include pages behind a paywall
Simply put, if it’s on an indexable page, and it’s not for legal reasons (think something for promotions, or mailing list invites), make sure it follows Google’s guidelines.
In the World of Blogging…
15. Make Time For a Content Audit
It could be time for a good old-fashioned SEO Blog audit to purge anything that’s not offering you real value right now.
Remember: If a blog isn’t helping you, it’s weighing you down.
If it’s not generating traffic, helping your rankings, or generating leads, it’s just taking up space in the backend. As we mentioned above, speed has never been more important, and unused assets (images, videos, podcasts) in the backend can really slow you down.
Does that mean you need to throw out anything that’s not performing? No. If something isn’t performing, ask yourself why. Is this blog simply too dated (i.e. The top 10 Upcoming Concerts of 2019), or can it be given a second life with some updated images, titles, headings, stats, or keywords? Or is this blog simply not very good and would be better re-written from scratch?
Recycle content that can be repurposed or revamped, and throw the rest out.
16. Write Better Blogs Because
Content Quality is King
How does one write better blogs? Isn’t good writing subjective? No, not really. While different topics and writing styles will resonate with certain readers, there are a few things you can do to write better content.
- No spelling or grammar errors
- Engaging headlines
- Using keywords organically, without ruining the flow
Those are pretty straightforward. However, when we get into your blog’s E-A-T score, things get more involved.
E-A-T stands for:
Google has stated that E-A-T isn’t a ranking factor per se, but it’s a major part of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
This is particularly important if your business falls into Google’s YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) category. This could be someone in the financial sector, the health sector, or anyone that could potentially be responsible for influencing their readers’ health, happiness, or finances.
This is another topic that is just simply too massive for one blog, much less one section in one blog. But if you want to boost your site’s E-T-A, ask yourself:
- Are we publishing often enough to establish ourselves?
- Are we citing/linking to established and respected sources?
- Are respected sites linking to us?
- Are we staying within our niche, or are we trying to be too broad?
- Do we have a strong off-site presence, with things like review sites, industry publications, or Wikipedia listings?
You can write Pulitzer-level stuff. But if nobody is linking to you, and there is no trace of you anywhere else on the web, it’s hard for Google to trust your content.
17. Know That Long-Form Content Ranks Better
There is significant and reliable data that says long-form content ranks better and earns more links than shorter content. But does that mean that a well-written 600-word blog will not perform as well as 2000 words of nonsensical bullshit? Not at all. The quality still needs to be there, as does your E-A-T.
However, as someone that has way more than his 10,000 hours of writing content, I can surmise that long-form content typically performs better for a number of reasons:
- Writing 2000+ words is difficult. The author is immediately doing more planning and research.
- Long-form allows you to really take a deep dive into an issue and answer more of the readers’ questions. Remember what we said earlier about semantic SEO and clusters?
- You have more room to organically work in your keywords and add more longtail keywords.
- Other sites are more likely to share/link to something like a report, whitepaper, or study.
- Writing long-form forces you to be more interesting, insightful, or funny to keep the readers’ attention.
Don’t strive to write 2000 words for the sake of writing 2000 words. Strive to write better content and offer more value.
General Best Practices…
18. Purge Unused WordPress Plugins
Make revisiting the usefulness of your WordPress plugins a part of your website/content audit. If you’re not using it regularly, it’s just weighing down the backend. Too many plugins can be a speed killer!
We’ve already discussed a few, but here are another 8 reasons to audit your website in 2022 to get the most from your site.
19. Don’t Be Lazy With Your Shopify Store
Yes, Shopify gives you the ability to set yourself up for SEO success. But no, it does not run on autopilot. Each page (both category and product) needs to be optimized properly.
At the same time, when writing product pages, do not simply borrow descriptions from the manufacturer. For example, if you’re a hardware store selling snow blowers, do not simply use the product descriptions from the manufacturer’s website, brochure, or owner’s manual. That copy has almost certainly been indexed elsewhere on the web. So, if it shows up in your online store, Google will view it as duplicate content.
Write your own unique product pages/ product descriptions.
20. Don’t Overreact or Underreact to Google Updates
We have a saying around the office: “Don’t be an algo-chaser.”
When Google announces an update on the horizon, or confirms one they just rolled out, be aware and act appropriately. But don’t go nuts. There are literally hundreds of big and small updates every single year. If you try to react to all of them, it will drive you goddamn insane.
The pillars of what Google wants to see haven’t really changed over the last few years:
- Quality content
- Organic keyword usage and optimization
- A good user experience on both mobile and desktop
- Quality links from high-quality sites
If you’re already committed to those things, you’re already doing what Google wants right now AND what they will almost certainly want in the future. So, carry on.
We also have another saying around the office: “If you’re doing the right things, you should be borderline excited for an update. But if you’re doing spammy things, you should be very worried about an update.”
21. The Time to Act is… Yesterday
The SEO game is more competitive than ever. The pandemic has forced countless businesses to move their offerings online. All of a sudden, a high-end clothing store that has always survived on reputation and location is looking into local SEO services to try to rank locally.
If you’re starting to focus on SEO, you’re a bit late to the party, but you’re not too late. The important thing is that you don’t start off by trying hacks and cheats to try to make up a lot of ground in a hurry. That will do more harm than good.
22. We Can Help!
As you can see from the previous 21 points, there is a lot to know and a lot of work to be done. But the good news is that you don’t have to do it alone.