Smart business leaders figured out long ago that search engine optimization is one of the biggest keys to success in today’s internet-connected economy. In recent years though, many companies have shifted their online marketing strategy towards social media outlets and away from search. That made sense as social media began to outpace search as a primary driver of traffic, but that trend appears to be changing.

In 2017, for the first time in several years, search engines surpassed social media as the top external source of referral traffic online. That shift means that businesses must reorient their strategies to reprioritize search as a vital source of online traffic. For many, it will require revisiting and refining their search engine optimization (SEO) strategies for the first time in a while. Since there’s been plenty of changes in SEO methodology over the last few years, we’ve created a list of five effective SEO strategies in 2018 to help businesses get their websites back to the top of the search engine mountain.

1. Focus on Structure

Since a good foundation is the key to any SEO effort, the first things to focus on are the technical basics of proper website structure. This is necessary to review at regular intervals because updates and additions to pages can wreak havoc on overall site structure. For example, statistics show that 54% of websites have duplicate meta descriptions. That’s often the result of frequent updates and losing track of existing content descriptions.

Begin by conducting a site-wide review to correct technical errors that may prevent indexing by search engine crawlers. Look for issues like broken links, redirect loops and missing tags. While none of these issues is particularly serious on their own, in aggregate they can diminish a search engine’s ability to index a website for presentation in search results.

2. Rich Results

Over the last few years, Google has been placing a greater emphasis on providing more specific and useful information to their users on the search results pages. Anyone that has used the search engine recently has seen results that take the form of answers taken directly from websites, or knowledge panels that compile data from a number of sources. Those are called “rich results“, and they’ve become very important for SEO efforts.

Rich Results

The key to taking advantage of rich results is to adjust websites to make use of structured data. In short, web pages must be updated to use specific code that tells the search engine what kind of data is available on a web page. Rich results derived from that code will appear on search results pages above organic search results and will often be featured in a prominent position.

3. Engagement Counts

Taking steps to increase visibility on search results pages is important, but what your visitors do once they arrive is also vital. Many business owners don’t realize that visitors to their websites can harm their search rankings by leaving quickly or showing other signs of poor engagement. That’s because search engines use measurements of user engagement to determine how authoritative and relevant a site is. If most visitors leave a site right away, the search engine will opt to send fewer people there.

To combat this issue, steps should be taken to attract and hold the attention of online visitors. The primary way to accomplish this is to begin creating useful and well-written content for the site and by making sure to format it in a way that is easy to digest for readers. For landing pages, conducting A/B testing will help to reveal which formats and wording produce the best results and should be part of any comprehensive effort to increase engagement.

4. Optimized Means Localized

Search engines today place a high value on their ability to deliver results to their users that are relevant in terms of information, but also in terms of location. That means that they give some preference to results that come from businesses that are geographically close to whoever initiated the search. This is crucial to know because 72% of users that are presented with local results end up visiting a store within five miles of their location.

For local visibility, it’s necessary to claim and maintain a Google My Business listing. Keeping this local listing updated with current data like contact information, hours of operation and location data will provide potential customers with everything they need to initiate contact with a local business. This is also where customers may leave reviews, and managing those can make or break any company’s reputation. You can read our blog on creating a Google My Business listing here.

5. Speed is Critical

It’s no secret that web users are notoriously fickle and have a somewhat short attention span. With over 1.3 billion websites to choose from, who could blame them? In acknowledgment of that tendency, search engines penalize sites that load slowly. That being said, the true scope of how impatient many web users almost defy belief. To illustrate, consider that online giant Amazon calculated that each second of delay that their users experience when loading pages on the site could cost them $1.6 billion in sales per year.

That eye-popping number means that taking steps to make sure a website loads quickly could have a major effect on a company’s bottom line and must be done immediately. To do so might require streamlining of website code, compression of graphic content and tweaking of cache usage. For larger websites, it is also advisable to make use of a content delivery network to shorten the transit time between users and the server that responds to their requests.

Learn how your website speed compares using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.

Adapt and Maintain

It is clear that search is going to be a fixture in traffic generation for years to come, and businesses that lost sight of this during the rise of social media have some catching up to do if they’d like to remain successful. Also, as we’ve pointed out, SEO strategies are ever-changing. They must be refined and maintained as new developments occur. That’s why the best bet for any business is to make an effort to stay on top of the latest SEO strategies and apply them as soon as possible. Those that do will continue to reap the rewards of search engine success for years to come and will stay one step ahead of their competition. We hope that these tips will help your company to do just that.

Does your company’s website need an SEO boost? Allow our sister company, Rally Marketing, to help make your website a digital machine and create an SEO strategy that will enhance your audiences growth and brand digital presence.