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Written by Caroline Cox on Sep 25

It’s like the age-old saying goes: An SEO pro’s work is never done.

OK, so maybe we made that up. But the sentiment holds true — with the ever-changing algorithm and advances in tech, optimizing your website for search engine results is an ongoing process.

The good news? There are SEO best practices you can put in place that will set you up for success for months and even years to come. These 11 best practices will not only help ensure you’ve got top-notch SEO, but they’ll add value to your overall brand, and help illustrate to prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Quick wins for optimizing your website
  • The must-have elements of quality content
  • The latest Google developments to leverage
  • The upcoming SEO trends to keep an eye on

1. Authenticity is key

These days, Google’s algorithm is all about authenticity. Some have dubbed this E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. The sites with credible content created by trustworthy authors move up in the rankings, while those without the right credentials get cut. 

By providing proper attribution — say, giving the blog writer a byline at the top of the post and a photo with a short bio at the bottom — you can effectively illustrate why this person is the authority on whatever topic they’re writing about. 

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

Video is a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Embrace video content

In the spirit of this quality-over-quantity trend, video is fast becoming a highly effective content tool. Video is a great way to increase page time and boost engagement — TechCrunch reports that, by 2021, a whopping 82 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video. 

But once your video content is good to go, don’t forget to optimize it. You can optimize your videos by:

  • Deciding whether to host it on another site or on your own (this will depend on your goals)
  • Choosing an engaging thumbnail image
  • Creating a thoughtful title and meta description
  • Optimizing the page the video is hosted on
  • Investing in paid ads for promotion
  • Including captions within your video

3. Focus on high-quality content

In case you didn’t already know: if you’re churning out page after page of content, promoting it, then moving on, you’re doing it wrong. When it comes to SEO best practices, it’s far more beneficial to refresh your old content as well as create new, quality content that’s comprehensive. 

If your current strategy is to post for the sake of posting, go ahead and throw that plan away. Instead, pivot your plan to include regular refreshes of existing posts to make them more valuable, whether that means updating stats, including new quotes, or adding the latest developments related to the subject.

While keywords are crucial, the quality of content is becoming more important as the algorithm becomes more sophisticated. It’s a good idea to use variations of the keyword as well as associated keywords and language related to the topic of your content. 

Pro tip: Look at what type of content ranks best for your topic, then create something even more valuable.

4. Prioritize mobile-first indexing

The masterminds at Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018. Before this, Google was crawling and ranking the desktop version of a website.

But with the increasing rate at which people are searching for things on their cellphones, it became clear that using the mobile version would be the best way to help the majority of their users ensure they’re getting the best results.

So, what does this mean for you? Your site has to look sharp on mobile to rank well. That means no wonky formatting, no slow page loads, and no weird margins that make reading or scrolling nearly impossible.

Do a spot check on your pages by pulling them up on your mobile device to see how they’re rendering. If you don’t have a mobile-responsive site, it will continue to pull your desktop version, but this leaves you more prone to a sub-par user experience and search engine results page (SERP) ranking.

5. Make sure your site is up to speed

Speed is a vital part of good SEO practices. Even though research shows that people will bounce from a site within about 10 seconds or so if you don’t catch their attention, many sites still suffer from slow page-load times.

Images and video are two features that can affect page speed since these tend to be larger files. More — and larger — files mean more HTTP requests, which means more load time. 

Make sure the files you’re uploading aren’t bigger than necessary (they don’t need to be magazine-quality high-res photos to look good on your site). And consider enabling compression, so your files are compressed (aka smaller) and take less time to load.

Enabling browser caching can also help, as this means the page isn’t loading completely from scratch each time it’s visited.

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform better than those without. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Don’t underestimate good visuals

Visuals don’t just catch the reader’s eye — they help bring your content to life. Our experts recommend using at least two images per blog post, whether that means photographs, well-designed infographics, or something else.

But don’t just slap a couple of free stock images into your copy and call it a day. The images you choose should make sense for the topic you’re covering, and the look should feel in line with your brand, even if you’re using stock imagery.

By now, you probably know what’s coming next: optimizing!

Once you’ve found some high-quality photos and compressed them to the proper size to keep your page speedy and your formatting on point, make sure to include proper alt text that corresponds to the image. This is what will show up if someone has images disabled on their device, or potentially if they hover their mouse over the image. Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform even better. 

7. Monitor your reviews

Brand sentiment is part of what the algorithm takes into consideration — not only for Google but for other review sites like Facebook as well. Because of this, it’s important to keep a close eye on your reviews across various sites, and even consider setting up alerts so you’re notified daily or as soon as a new one hits.

Negative reviews should be publicly addressed, if possible, as long as the comment seems authentic and not like spam (you should be able to tell the difference). Do what you can to turn this disgruntled customer’s opinion around — it could be as easy as:

  • Offering a refund
  • Getting them on the phone with a customer service rep to sort out an issue
  • Talking to them when they’re less fired up, reminding them there are people behind your brand
  • Apologizing for a miscommunication, misunderstanding or mixup, which could result in the person deleting their negative review entirely

But don’t just respond to the negative reviews — acknowledging and thanking someone for a positive review makes your happy client feel seen and valued. And, as we know, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools around.

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

HawkSEM client cdljobs.com’s featured snippet on Google’s SERP.

8. Keep featured snippets in mind

It seems like featured snippets (also known as answer boxes) are all the rage in SEO these days. Featured snippets are usually found in the space between paid search ads and ranked results, sometimes accompanied by an image or video. 

Featured snippets are a SERP feature that often shows up when someone asks a question in the search box — the snippet result usually includes what the algorithm deems the most relevant answer.

Similarly, Google’s Knowledge Graph panel boxes will often appear on the SERP when you search for people, places, and things. It can be tough to get a featured snippet or knowledge panel spot, so see what those who land those spots are doing and how you can emulate them in a way that makes sense for your business.

9. Look into structured data

To help search engines understand what a post is about, the major players (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex) banded together to create a structured data language called Schema.

Schema is a type of vocabulary with tags you can add to the HTML markup of your web pages and emails.

One of the biggest benefits to Schema is that it can enhance the snippets that appear below your page title on the SERP. It allows you to add enriching content like a publish date or rating, rather than simply the meta description. 

10. Own and manage your backlinks

Oh, backlinks — so valuable and yet so elusive. While there’s no real shortcut to getting quality backlinks, by putting in the work, it’s still possible to begin seeing SEO-boosting results. The first step is to measure up your site’s current backlinks, then compare the results with those of your competitors. 

Sites that will link to your competitors are likely to link to you as well — if your content is optimized, high-quality, and relevant (it’s also a good idea to link to relevant, high-authority sites). When reaching out about backlink opportunities, it’s key to prioritize personalization, show the value you’re offering, and focus on building a relationship with this business, not just asking for a favor out of the blue.

Take things to the next level by partnering with other high-authority brands upfront during the creation process — they’ll feel more involved and may be more likely to link to the post once it’s live.

HawkSEM blog: SEO Best Practices

Voice search is predicted to encompass half of all online searches by 2020. (Image via Unsplash)

11. Keep an eye on voice search

Forbes predicted that voice search would dominate SEO in 2019 and encompass half of all online searches by 2020. The appeal of being able to search without using a screen is understandable — you can get answers and find information while doing other activities like cooking or driving.

The concept isn’t new, but household technology devices like Google Home have taken the trend to a whole new level.

Optimizing your site for voice search is a whole ‘nother ball game — but it can be done. Along with ensuring it loads quickly, you can optimize for voice search by:

  • Making sure your site is mobile responsive
  • Including longtail, natural-sounding keywords
  • Prioritizing featured snippets
  • Keeping copy concise and digestible
  • Having strong local SEO (like a thorough and accurate Google My Business Page)

While the voice-search space is still developing, early results show that prioritizing this search type can yield better brand awareness, revenue, and more.

The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. By implementing the above best practices, not only will your site become easier to find, but you’ll be able to better connect with users and customers who can benefit from what you have to offer. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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