In part two of our four-part search engine optimisation tutorial, we look at ranking factors and white hat SEO techniques that help to improve your SEO ranking naturally without incurring a manual or algorithmic Google penalty that can see you lose your online visibility overnight.
As discussed in the first post of this four-part series, there are now hundreds of factors that search engines like Google use to evaluate the relevance and quality of a website when returning search results to users.
These ‘ranking factors’ can be broken down into two groups — on-page and off-page. Content, user experience, backlinks, mobile device optimisation and other technical factors, such as H1 and H2 headings, anchor text and security encryption, are the most important factors that determine a website’s rank in Google’s search results.
Content has long been one of the most important ranking factors, though there has been a shift away from keyword-focused content to relevant, naturally-written content that delivers a better user experience. Comprehensive content — word counts of 1,000 to 3,500 words — seem to be the trend, with Google algorithm updates like RankBrain and Hummingbird placing much greater importance on semantic relevance and content optimisation.
What this means from a SERP visibility perspective is that well-written, in-depth articles will prevail over keyword-dense articles with lower quality content as they deliver better user experiences and are more relevant to the search query. Quality content entails more than words alone, with images, embedded videos and other media, including infographics, all outstanding ways to provide visitors with better experiences when they land on your site. Long-form content is believed to rank better than short-form content because it’s able to cover a topic in greater detail.
Backlinking is an important ranking factor and will continue to be, though Google has become incredibly adept at determining which links are good and which aren’t. To successfully optimise a website, it isn’t enough to flood a site with backlinks — those links must be from a diverse range of authoritative domains. The three most important ranking signals around backlinking are the number of backlinks, the DA (Domain Authority) of the site linked to, and the diversity of the links pointing at your site.
There’s been a notable shift towards mobile-first indexing by Google over the past few years, and their index is now crawling the mobile-version of sites rather than the desktop version. But having a mobile-friendly site isn’t enough, as all businesses should be taking a mobile-first approach to website development as this is the way the world is rapidly heading — mobile will soon overtake desktop as the top source of searches.
White hat vs. black hat SEO
The above title may be a bit misleading, as it isn’t like you’re presented with a choice between ‘white hat’ and ‘black hat’ SEO techniques. Any SEO techniques used to optimise a website considered to be black hat will see your website penalised and that can be difficult to recover from, not to mention costly in terms of lost sales and revenue during the downtime experienced.
So, what’s the difference? White hat SEO techniques follow Google’s rules, whereas black hat SEO techniques take a more aggressive approach to increasing SERP visibility and bend — if not outright break — those rules.
It may be tempting to use black hat techniques to optimise your website, improve your SEO ranking and succeed in the short-term, but Google rewards long-term SEO strategies and the penalties meted out for black hat techniques — including de-indexing which means zero online visibility — are just not worth it.
There are two types of penalties that Google can hit a website with, manual penalties and algorithmic penalties. Manual penalties are the manual actions of people working at Google and are given when they investigate a website and find something that doesn’t conform to Google’s rules and could potentially harm users. If you have a Google Search Console account, you will be notified of the penalty and given instructions on how to rectify the issue. When you have taken the actions you’ve been advised to take, contact Google and let them know.
Algorithmic penalties, on the other hand, occur when Google changes its guidelines to better serve users and updates its algorithms to make those changes occur. While some websites are negatively affected by these changes in the way of a drop in rankings — and organic traffic — others are given a rankings boost, at the expense of the sites whose rankings have dropped.
Unlike a manual penalty, you won’t be advised in writing if your online presence has been hit with an algorithmic penalty, though you can find out through Google Analytics.
- Sign into your Google Analytics account
- Click on ‘Acquisition’
- Then click on ‘All Traffic’, ‘Source’, then ‘Medium’
- On the graph, click on ‘Google/Organic’
To identify any drastic changes — i.e. a significant drop in organic traffic indicative of an algorithmic penalty — you will need to refine the timeline according to the timeline. If you have been hit with an algorithmic penalty, you will see the drop in traffic on the graph.
It’s well-worth noting that not all websites affected by algorithmic penalties have done something intentionally wrong as websites the world over are affected every time Google updates its algorithm. What’s more, the actions in question could have taken place months or even years ago, so it can prove difficult to determine where you’ve gone wrong. The most common reasons for algorithmic penalties relate to the over-optimisation of websites and include:
- Too many links from irrelevant or low-quality sources pointing at your site
- Too many ads or poorly-positioned ads that affect the user experience
- Excessive use of keywords that you want to rank for
- High bounce rate or low user engagement
- Outbound spam links
Google penalties, both manual and algorithmic, are usually given for using black hat SEO techniques to enhance organic search rankings. However, legitimate actions taken that are later frowned upon by Google can also result in either a manual or an algorithmic penalty. Basically, to avoid being penalised and avoid a significant drop in SERP rankings and organic traffic, follow Google’s best practice guidelines when working to improve your SEO ranking and don’t compromise long-term online visibility for short-term gains — it simply isn’t worth it.
This is part two of four in our search engine optimisation tutorial which looks at SEO techniques and answers questions like “How does link building work?” and “Does SEO actually work?”.
An established SEO company in Brisbane with clients across diverse range of sectors, Bambrick Media strives to deliver the best results for our clients and is committed to providing helpful resources to help non-marketers better understand SEO. To speak with a team member about your local SEO goals and what should SEO cost, contact us here.