Want better rankings and all the benefits that come with that?
Read on and discover the five most impactful SEO techniques you need to focus on this year…
SEO is an ever-evolving arena and there’s so much advice out there that it can be hard for small business owners to keep up when they already have a hundred and one demands on their time.
To help you cut through the noise, we’ve put together our guide to the top five SEO techniques you need to focus on right now to achieve better rankings – plus practical advice about how to apply them to your website.
1. Reinforcing E-A-T
In November 2022, Google’s VP of Search, Hyung-Jin Kim confirmed that “E-A-T is a core part of our metrics” and applies to “every single query, every single result”. Why? “To ensure the content that people consume is not going to be harmful and is going to be useful to the user”.
In case you’re not already aware (or as a refresher), E-A-T refers to Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. It aims to reward websites with high-quality, trustworthy content written by experts for an audience that will find it genuinely helpful.
After all, Google wants to be able to list web pages in search results that have been written by experts about a certain topic with a high level of authority in their field and who are a source of information that searchers can trust.
All websites should be able to demonstrate a high degree of E-A-T. This is especially important for websites giving legal, financial or medical advice. These are what are known as Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) websites, and they can cause significant physical or mental harm if they provide information that is inaccurate.
If E-A-T hasn’t been your focus before now (or, actually, even if it has), this is one of five SEO techniques you need to be thinking about more – and with an extra E!
Why an extra E?! Well, because Google recently updated its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines to add E for “experience” to E-E-A-T.
In the guidelines, Google says that when we write content we should be asking, does the “content also demonstrate that it was produced with some degree of experience, such as with actual use of a product, having actually visited a place or communicating what a person experienced?”
This is because there are “some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has first-hand, life experience on the topic at hand.”
Google said in the updated guidelines that Experience, Expertise and Authoritativeness are important concepts that can support your assessment of trust and that “trust is the most important member of the E-E-A-T family because untrustworthy pages have low E-E-A-T no matter how Experienced, Expert, or Authoritative they may seem.”
How to demonstrate E-E-A-T on your website
You can find loads of information about how Google wants websites to demonstrate E-E-A-T in its Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. Here are some of the key points:
- Make sure your website is secure, especially if you take payments
- Claim and use your Google Business profile – People are 2.7 times more likely to consider a business reputable, as well as 70% more likely to visit and 50% more likely to buy from, if it has a complete Google Business profile. It shows that your business is current, established and – if you update your profile regularly – that you care about communicating the latest news, offers and content with your customers.
- Feature genuine, recent reviews on your website, Google Business profile and social media pages – This shows potential customers and Google that you deliver good outcomes. Think about adding testimonials and case studies to your website too.
- Accurate content – This is so important! If you make any sort of claim or factual statement on your website, make sure that it is accurate. Preferably, you should link to a high authority, trusted source to show where the information came from (for example, published research or a survey from an industry expert). Linking to low-quality sources can damage your credibility – just because something is published on a website doesn’t make it true, so you need to research your sources diligently.
- Relevant content – Google wants to see relevant content on your website. It will expect to see an SEO expert talking about SEO, content, social media, etc. What Google wouldn’t expect to see is an SEO expert blogging about car maintenance. If you want to publish content about something unrelated to your business, it’s advisable to set up a separate website or blog.
- A great About page – If you’re publishing content about a specific topic, what is it that makes you an authority? The About Us page on your website is the ideal place to highlight your experience, qualifications, membership of governing bodies, well-known clients, mentions in the press, and so on. Google is looking for evidence that what you say online can be trusted and comes from a place of personal knowledge and experience.
- Information about who is responsible for the content on your site – This is especially important on YMYL websites. The best recommendation is to have a clear author bio for anyone who publishes content on your site. You might also want to link the bio to a dedicated page about that person, depending on their level of experience. (You’ll notice that I have an author bio at the bottom of all of my blog articles on my website).
E-E-A-T can be built up in other ways. For example, every time you or your business is mentioned positively or as an expert in the news or other articles, this helps to boost your reputation.
Equally, people citing your content as an expert source or links from business partners to your site can increase your credibility. Even having active social media profiles with plenty of engagement can help to build how Google views your E-E-A-T.
2. Helpful content matters
In August 2022, Google announced its “helpful content update”; further adjustments to the update were made in December 2022.
The aim of the update was to downgrade the rankings of “content that seems to have been primarily created for ranking well in search engines rather than to help or inform people”. Instead, Google highlighted its intention to help searchers find content that they would find genuinely helpful and to “reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience”.
What does helpful content look like?
Hopefully, you’re already publishing content on your website that’s written for people first rather than trying to game the search engines.
Google says that if you can genuinely answer “yes” to the following questions, you’re probably on the right track:
- Do you have an existing or intended audience for your business or site that would find the content useful if they came directly to you?
- Does your content clearly demonstrate first-hand expertise and a depth of knowledge (for example, expertise that comes from having actually used a product or service, or visiting a place)?
- Does your site have a primary purpose or focus?
- After reading your content, will someone leave feeling they’ve learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?
- Will someone reading your content leave feeling like they’ve had a satisfying experience?
- Are you keeping in mind our guidance for core updates and for product reviews?
If you’re not sure about your audience, however, and your content feels a bit all over the place in terms of focus and quality, then you may need to take action.
What does unhelpful content look like?
Google says unhelpful content written for search engines first might include:
- Lots of content on different topics in hopes of performing well in a wide variety of searches
- Extensive automation (e.g. too much content written entirely by AI software – see more about this below!)
- Summaries of what other people have said with nothing new to say or to add value
- Writing about things that are trending even if they’re not relevant to your audience just to piggyback the trend’s traffic
- Niche information designed to capture search traffic for the search term rather than because you know about the niche
- Promising an answer when one isn’t available (e.g. when a TV programme will air, despite no date being confirmed)
- Writing to a set word count all the time because you believe it’s what Google wants (hint: Google doesn’t have a preferred word count)
Is AI-generated content being penalised?
There’s been a lot of debate in the SEO world recently about whether AI-content is being targeted and penalised by Google. In part, this debate stems back to April 2022 when Google’s Search Advocate John Mueller said that content written by AI software is “auto-generated content” and “essentially the same as if you’re just shuffling words around, or looking up synonyms, or doing the translation tricks that people used to do”.
The debate has moved on somewhat since April. In November 2022, Google’s Search Liaison Danny Sullivan stated on Twitter that the problem isn’t AI content, it’s “content written primarily for search engines” regardless of whether that’s by an AI tool or a person.
Danny Sullivan warns that “it’s unlikely that some AI content is going to feel written by people without some degree of human review”.
If you are someone who uses AI tools to craft your content, the key is to edit it to add your own unique touch, voice and insights, and to keep asking, “Is this content genuinely helpful for the intended audience?”
How to ensure your website provides helpful content
Our recommendation would be to conduct a content audit. If your content is written for your ideal customers, gives value and is informed by your expertise, then it stays. If, however, you have content that doesn’t enhance the user experience, it is probably sensible to remove or rewrite it.
The helpful content update is site-wide rather than penalising or rewarding individual pages. This means that even your great content could get downgraded if you have low-quality content too.
Think about how you can enhance the user experience on your website. Link related articles together, cite and link to reputable sources, maintain a primary focus, write for your ideal customers.
This approach is at the heart of ethical SEO because it puts people first.
3. Core Web Vitals for a positive user experience
Core Web Vitals is a set of technical factors that Google feels contribute to a good overall user experience when visiting a web page. Essentially, these factors all influence how quickly a web page loads and whether it lags and jumps around once people are interacting with the page.
In particular, three elements matter:
- LCP (Largest Contentful Paint): the length of time it takes for the largest content element to be visible to a searcher after they requested the URL
- FID (First Input Delay): the length of time from when a person first interacts with a page (e.g., by tapping on a link or button) to when the browser responds to the interaction
- CLS (Cumulative Layout Shift): how often a page layout shifts and jumps around when the user is trying to interact with it; this is common on web pages that features lots of ads and videos in between paragraphs of content
Google wants people to be able to land on a page and interact with it as quickly and effortlessly as possible. If images take more than 2.5 seconds to load, for example, this can cause users to get frustrated and head back to the search results due to a bad user experience.
How to improve the Core Web Vitals on your website
You can find the Core Web Vitals report for your website in Google Search Console (look for the Experience menu from the dashboard main screen). This will give you an overview of how many URLs on your site are poor, need improvement or offer a good user experience. The reports are split by mobile and desktop results.
Once you open the report, you’ll see more in-depth information about the issues that need addressing. For example, the LCP might be longer than 2.5 seconds on certain pages.
If you click on the ‘LEARN MORE’ option, you’ll be taken to advice about how to address these issues (if you use a web developer, you may need their support).
Another helpful tool for improving your Core Web Vitals is Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This looks at the performance, accessibility, best practices and some SEO elements on your site with more detailed advice about what to fix (including WordPress plugins that might be helpful).
We should note that some plugins can affect the performance of your WordPress theme or other plugins, so install them with caution, one at a time, so you’re able to identify the plugin that’s created issues if they occur.
Image optimisation and accessibility
Images are often the ‘heaviest’ elements on a web page and can hurt page load speeds if they’re not properly optimised. Therefore, one of the things you should focus on for better rankings is optimising any non-text elements on your site.
You can do this by:
- Resizing and compressing image files
- Saving images in the best formats for the web
- Adding alt tags and captions to images
- Using Schema Markup
- Optimising any functional buttons
You’ll find steps to complete all of these actions in the article I’ve linked to above this list.
4. Featured snippets and other SERP features
You’ve probably noticed that Google is including a growing number of features in search engine results pages (SERPs) to help searchers find the information they need.
These elements include but are not limited to:
- Rich Snippets – Most search results display the same three pieces of data (title tag, meta description, URL) but rich snippets include extra information such as a star rating from reviews, recipe information such as how long a dish takes to prepare, product information, videos, top news stories and more.
- Featured Snippets – These are short snippets of text that appear at the top of a SERP in order to quickly answer the searcher’s query. If your content appears in a Featured Snippet, you can hope to attract approximately eight percent of all clicks for that search term.
- People Also Ask – This panel lists algorithmically-generated questions that Google thinks might relate to the searcher’s original query. When the searcher clicks on the question, it will expand to show a short answer (a bit like a Featured Snippet).
- Site links – When a person searches for an exact domain, Google will often display an expanded pack of up to 10 links to popular pages on the same site.
- Local pack – This gives three results on Google Maps for searches that Google considers to be local.
SERP features like those listed above are a great shortcut to page one of Google but also highly competitive.
Below shows one of our Featured Snippets for the SEO+ site:
How to get your content to appear in SERP features
The first step is to think about your ideal customer’s search intent, as well as how they’d search to find your content; many Featured Snippets focus on question-based search terms.
Next, you’ll need to make sure that your website has the correct Schema Markup to appear in search results. There are several ways to achieve this, which I’ve listed (with action points) in my Schema Made Easy Beginner’s Guide.
If you have a WordPress site, there are a number of Schema plugins. Many themes, particularly for online stores, include product snippets. You can test whether Google sees rich results on your website pages here.
5. Semantically-related keywords
For years now, Google has been moving away from ranking web pages based on how extensively they matched one keyword or phrase. The keyword-stuffed websites of the past made for poor reading and an awful user experience.
Instead, Google’s algorithms have increasingly focused – with ever-growing sophistication – on understanding the emotional intent behind a search (what need is driving people to look for something?) and to think about a wide range of words they might use to search for that thing.
These are what’s known as “semantically-related keywords”, which means words or phrases that are related to each other conceptually.
For a search term like “seo advice”, semantically-related keywords might include:
- more website traffic
- seo tips
- traffic-generating seo
- boost your organic rankings
- boost traffic to your website
- higher rankings
- what is seo?
- Improve search engine visibility
- How can seo increase web traffic
If we look at the example above, the chances are that someone looking for “SEO advice” wants to figure out how to rank higher in Google and bring more traffic to their website because their site isn’t currently being found. They need more visibility because they need more traffic, which means more customers, more income and less stress about keeping their business afloat.
That’s the search intent in this scenario. If we understand that, we can understand the kind of answers the person will be looking for and what to include in our content to make it genuinely helpful.
How to use semantically-related keywords on your website
Always write a blog article with a single focus topic in mind. For example, the article you’re reading right now is about “five ways to achieve better rankings”. Everything in the content should support the focus topic.
However, that doesn’t mean you have to shoehorn that phrase into the article as many times as possible. Instead, the approach should be to provide information that reflects and supports the overarching topic. Related keywords and phrases occur naturally.
If you look back over this article, you’ll notice I’ve used phrases such as “achieve better rankings”, “more website traffic”, “ideal customer’s search intent”, “what to include in content to make it genuinely helpful”, “help searchers find content”. I didn’t have to force those phrases into the article, they simply reflect the topic, and they are all semantically-related.
It’s sensible to think about topic clusters. For example, someone who helps entrepreneurs set up small businesses might have topic clusters around client relationships, marketing, finances, networking and so on.
Then, within each topic cluster, think about what questions or concerns your target audience might have.
If we take the “client relationships” topic idea from above, people might ask:
- How can I find new clients?
- What should a new client contract include?
- How can I keep a client?
- How do I fire a client?
You can then write content that answers these questions.
A great tip for finding semantically-related keywords is to type your main topic idea/search term into Google and see what similar words and phrases come up in the search results and SERP features.
For example, when I typed in “how to fire a client”, page one of Google showed me related phrases such as:
- How to fire a bad client politely
- How do you professionally break up with client?
- Dump a client
- Terminate a contract with a client
- Fire a horrible client
- Fire a client professionally without any hassle
- How to fire a client template
As we can see, this gives us insight into the words people might use and what will be driving the search intent of someone who makes this search. This could all inform new content someone publishes on this topic.
The key point is to put yourself in the searcher’s shoes. Identify what they want to find when they make a specific search and then create content that meets their need when they land on it.
The SEO Accelerator
The above five SEO techniques will help you to achieve better rankings because they reflect what Google wants to give to searchers. Even more importantly, these tips all put people first. They’re about creating a brilliant user experience and sharing your expertise with an audience who will find it valuable.
This is at the root of long-lasting customer relationships with people who become passionate ambassadors for your business brand.
If you would like to learn more about people-first SEO that consistently brings more customers to your website, my SEO Accelerator programme is for you (no previous SEO knowledge required!). Discover the eight core essentials of successful SEO and get hands-on support from me, Hazel Jarrett, for 12 weeks as you implement everything you learn.
If you would like a completely done-for-you SEO solution find out more about our SEO Service here.
Want to know the best part?
Whichever option you choose, the result will be the same – your website will deliver ongoing and long-lasting genuine results for your business.
Hazel Jarrett, director of SEO at SEO+, is well-known in the SEO space, has won many awards during her 20-year career and has been published on various well-known sites. Through her services and training programs, her SEO strategies have generated 10s of millions of sales for her clients, earning her a big reputation for delivering the results that matter.
Want to follow Hazel on social media? You’ll find her via the icons below.