Forget Backlinks – 5 Things to Focus on Now For SEO

In the race for the most and the highest quality backlinks, you’re probably missing out on optimizing your site for the things that are in your control and will matter more for SEO and social media in the future.  Yes, backlinks are important and are not going anywhere, but what good are they if your UX for the visitor stinks?

There are things that are in your control and that may matter more in the near future.  This is what I am doing with clients now, so we can go back to backlinks knowing we’re better off than our competitors as these ranking factors become more important in the near and distant future.

Quick preface:

Google is relying more heavily on automation, AI and technology (i.e. RankBrain).  This means there are more data driven measurements based on real information for them to use and for their automation to decide which webpage to show above another in the search results. This could mean the experience of your website is going to become more important than it is now which is why you should start paying attention instead of mostly focusing on the things you cannot control (backlinks, social shares, etc…).

Here are 5 things you can start addressing now to help you prepare for the future.  You don’t have to implement them asap and it isn’t life for death, but it is probably important to at least have them on your radar.

5 things besides backlinks for your site's future seo

Load Times

With the growing demand for instant gratification and increases in mobile devices being used for research and shopping, the load time of your site is playing a more important role.  Google’s given more than enough clues that load times and mobile friendly sites are vital including mentioning it in their announcements for AMPs  and including a mobile friendly icon in the SERPs.  If you don’t have good load times and mobile friendly (not mobile versions) of your site, you’re going to have to address this later when your rankings may be at risk.

If you’re looking for a starting place to find out where you can begin decreasing your load times, this tool will give you a ton of work for your tech team to implement.

If you don’t have a tech team, using YouTube and Google or Bing to look up terms and how to fix things can just as effective and you’ll learn something new.  Just don’t get overwhelmed by looking at code and scary words.  The tool above will give you an awesome roadmap to help speed up your website or blog and let you know where you can improve.

onsite seo is bad, why should search engines consider ranking you

Thinning Out Mobile Sites

A mobile friendly site is not the same as a mobile version of your website.  The trick here is to trim off useless items and keep what is important.  Start by looking at your menu.  What is not directly relevant to someone on a mobile device?

When I’m working on this with clients, they say all of it is.  Then we go through and actually show them that not much is really being used.  We do this by looking at mobile analytics and using tools like Mouseflow.  That’s when we start eliminating what people call the hamburger menu items as well as top level navigation.

Next I look at what images can be shrunk or removed.  What isn’t vital or key for providing a solution.  Which images can you reduce in quality (since high res might not be as important on a phone or smaller device).  Images increase load times, especially if the person isn’t connected via wifi or has a weak connection.  Shrink important images and remove ones that aren’t relevant or actually affecting your conversion rates.

After I start to look at what I can click and use without having to englarge or shrink.  What is difficult to click with my thumb and what is easy to use.  Anything that is important for getting the visitor to your goal should be easily used by a thumb and also in places where the person doesn’t need to shrink, expand or scroll to much.  If you keep missing the item with your thumb or clicking the wrong link, you’re making your visitors work harder which isn’t good for either of you.

Think about how you can keep your mobile site and pages search engine friendly, but also loading quickly and not creating blocks or more work to convert an action.  This is how you can create a mobile experience that the search engines may reward more in the near future.  There’s a lot more that I do with CRO and mobile site load/speed, but this post isn’t about that.  I’ll try to do a post later on or you can use my contact form if you’d like to talk about strategies.

sitemaps vs. catnaps

Sitemaps

When was the last time you checked your sitemap?  It’s probably been a while.  When was the last time you set up 301 redirects, added a folder, changed URL structures or even eliminated old products?  Probably after you checked or updated your sitemaps.

Giving conflicting information to the search engines on what to crawl and having the sitemap give other information is bad and can show you’re not maintaining your website.  Although it isn’t always a huge factor, having a clean sitemap where nothing contradicts what you say to crawl, doesn’t have dead pages, bad URLs, duplicate URLs, 404 pages, redirects, etc… is important.

Google may favor websites that do their maintenance and upkeep.  That’s why it’s important a couple times a year, if not every month to check your site map.  Make sure to check it again after you make any changes to your sites structure or architecture and if you’re a retailer, once your inventory starts to change.

No follow and being mapped

If you’re a blogger, affiliate, news website, merchant or even social media influencer.  It’s time you start to no follow any and all posts.  As monetization technologies advance, and more high profile websites begin using them, the search engines will start to penalize websites.  They’ve already started penalizing bloggers and are recommending that if you use any monetization methods, you pay close attention to their best practices.

I wrote this post on how Google can find out if you’re monetizing your blog or website.  If you’re using any of the monetization techniques mentioned (and some that I didn’t mention), it’s time that you back track and begin adding no follow attributes to any vendor, merchant or partner that you could be making money from.  It gets tricky.

What if you installed a javascript to monetize old links you once gave.  You gave those links without the intent of making money, but because you’re using the javascript, you are now monetizing those posts.  At this point you have to go back and start no following them.  But that could create another issue.

Did you agree to give a do follow link many years ago in exchange for product, money, etc… even if you didn’t disclose?  What if the merchant comes back because the agreement was for a do follow link.  It’s unlikely that they will, but if they do, are you ready to pay them the money back or at least part of it because you’re not living up to your end of the agreement.

This is where people mention that good SEO is hard and takes a lot of work.  Do not take shortcuts or that quick burst of money because it creates more work in the future.

Checking Your URLs

I’m noticing a lot of issues with internal linking structures.  It’s not linking the wrong keywords to the wrong pages, it’s adding in non search engine friendly URLs to top level navigation, main body images/navigation as well as in content main links.

If you have a page about blue widgets and the page you want to have rank is yourdomain.com/blue-widgets, your internal links and navigation for blue widgets should point there.  What I’m seeing (especially with younger and newer programmers) is main navigation and mentions on the homepage and in category page content pointing to a page for blue widgets that is yourdomain.com/randomseriesofwordssymbolsandletters.

Not only can this take away from your end users and the search engines from finding the right page to show, but if it’s a reporter or journalist whose doing research or a potential customer who will share it on social media, they now have the wrong page to share and link to.

Taking shortcuts because you can doesn’t mean you should.  Talk to your web team or programmer or even look at the pages you’ve done on your own and make sure everything points to the right URLs and off of the proper keywords and places.  Internal linking structures are important and it’s vital that you get them right.  Because they are something you control, if they are wrong, it could be a signal for the search engines that you do not properly maintain your website or blog.

There’s a lot more that goes into SEO and that is in your control.  As the search engines are relying more on technology, there are a lot more datapoints and ranking signals that they can use when trying to decide if they should show your website over another.  If the things that are directly in your control are not being maintained or optimized well, you’re sending a pretty clear signal to the search engines that they probably should not reward you with more rankings and traffic.

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