If you’ve been around search engine optimisation circles, conferences, or blogs, you’ll have noticed the belaboured insistence that SEO is dead. Or isn’t. Or was. Or might be.

Maybe.

Or maybe not.

In fact, it was a big question of September 2016’s BrightonSEO speakers, who were asked to address the question “is SEO dead?”.

The reply from all BrightonSEO speakers was a definitive “no”.

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No half-life zombie existence, then, despite the body-blow of Google Analytics not providing keywords that drive traffic. No – SEO seems to be healthy (no limbs hanging off just yet) with spend on the discipline tipping past $65billion for 2016 recently.

 

One-hundred billion Google searches happen each month. This staggering audience means that SEO is a key component of the internet marketing mix for any company: Brighton or Berlin in stature.

Gaming the leading search company in the world – Google – is the holy grail for many and as a result, it tends to dominate BrightonSEO. At the conference, there was a conformity of views shared at the conference as regards the big G. And very little gnawing on brains.

Google has gone beyond the checklist to ensure that a user’s search query is actually answered by the content it serves up in high positions. The first speaker of the day, Shyam Dattani from data-powered SEO company Searchmetrics echoed this thought, saying that checklist SEO doesn’t work; user experience does.

He also went further, saying that traditional ranking factors (like keywords in page titles etc.) can no longer make sense of organic rankings. In case you were wondering, a page title is shown below, above the gray text of a meta description.

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Finding out how Google assesses user experience is the next step many SEOs take in the journey to the top of Google. It seems that Google’s need to produce relevant, ranked results may well be informed by engagement metrics, more and more.

Engagement as the second wind

So, a test was done by Sam Thomas of the Lord Alan Sugar-backed agency Climb Online to see whether engagement metrics like organic click through rate (clicks divided by impressions) and dwell time (how long is subsequently spent on the site/page) affect organic rankings.

The method employed was to send artificial (bot) traffic through to a site via Google with specific instruction to engage with the site for a period of time, as well as clicking through on other pages.

The ranking for the term “Free SEO Audit” moved 17 places after these fake visits. The more engagement, the higher the rank. This result would seem to back up other similar tests from industry leaders as distinguished as Larry Kim and Rand Fishkin. (All hail Lord Rand.)

Thanks to advanced SEO technology (of which there is a lot, in a booming industry!), we are beginning to uncover what is emerging as a key factor in determining Google rankings in 2017: engagement.

So, now we’ve established what Google uses to (at least partially) determine what ranks first, you’ll be interested in the tactics that improve rankings.

Our old friends page titles and descriptions are everything. These are the meta-data that appear in search, while not appearing on a webpage anywhere but in the code. These encourage click-through from the results pages. But don’t stuff them full of keywords! Encourage click-through by promising to answer a relevant query.

Best practices include non-truncated text, having a CTA, and including the search term rather than other services that may be offered by your firm – as stressed by Sam at BrightonSEO!

Moving the dial though for pages which do not already rank highly can be done also – through quality content. Longer content is beginning to outstrip shorter content.

Google’s obsession with rewarding what it sees as “quality” content continues, aided and abetted in no small way by Google’s search quality raters. Google ranks this content highly because it is quality, treats its (single) topic holistically, answers the questions that a user could have and serves the user intention. Just don’t try to do it with a homepage.

This train of thought led one BrightonSEO speaker to comment; that quality content is far more effective than legacy SEO tactics. Investing in quality content will be rewarded by Google, and that is the best way to travel to page one of Google.

Once there, you can optimise the aforementioned meta data, visible in search. You can also create a click-through rate curve, not too dissimilar from the one below, from Advanced Web Ranking:

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Through a curve like this one, you can understand how to forecast what the change will be in organic traffic terms if a ranking position is gained. Or looking at it from the opposite point of view, what a drop in rankings will do to your bottom-line!

To make your site’s own CTR curve, wander over to Google Search Console, where you’ll find a friendly “Search Traffic” option, in which there is the Search Analytics tool which you’ll select to show clicks, impressions, and position for a time period. We’ve selected last 28 days in the example below.

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Once done, download all of the data into a handy Excel CSV Sheet (don’t get sidetracked by the Google Docs option). So, from the dataset you’ve got sort by smallest to largest for positions, then delete any rows that aren’t in positions 1-10 because let’s face it if you’re not on Page 1 of Google, you’re nowhere.

Now you can do your own BrightonSEO wizardry by grouping keywords by rank (position). To calculate a rank’s average CTR, add up all the clicks a specific rank gets and divide by its total number of impressions. A pivot table can help you to do this easily. Lastly, plot the data on a line chart. This will provide you with a basic CTR curve for your site. Like so:

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As shown in this example, it’s all about the first couple of positions, then it flatlines, somewhat.

Using the site’s CTR curve wisely, you can demonstrate to the c-suite the importance of SEO (and maybe even BrightonSEO) for your business specifically. With so many companies optimising their search presence it may be time to ask: can you afford not to?

That’s why SEO is alive and kicking and is predicted to continue to be for some time to come. Next up? Well BrightonSEO 2017, of course! If you’re going too, or can’t and just want the insights from it, then contact me!