By Jason Unger
Search engine optimization (SEO) is constantly changing, and all-too-often an entire industry is reacting to any hint from Google about changes to its search algorithm or the best practices it should be implementing.
We handle the technical side of SEO more than the content or marketing, so we focus a lot on the fundamentals of a Google-friendly website. Here are three factors Google now considers when ranking your website in its search results.
Your website should load quickly, without major delays to the user, both on desktop and mobile devices. Site speed has been a ranking factor since 2010, but there's been renewed emphasis on it recently, especially on the mobile side.
Why does Google care about site speed? Essentially, it's because we all have short attention spans. As web surfers, we expect websites to load quickly and will simply navigate away if they don't. Google recognizes that, and as it is in their interest to help people find what they need, they encourage websites to make their sites load quicker. They've created tools like PageSpeed Insights to help find speed bottlenecks and published a library of information on speed best practices.
The company's new Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project is focused on creating "websites and ads that are consistently fast, beautiful and high-performing across devices and distribution platforms." While there are pros and cons to creating AMP pages, it's clear that Google wants fast-loading, easy-to-use websites.
If your website isn't optimized for mobile devices, you should stop reading this article and go work on your site.
A mobile site is better than nothing, but what Google really recommends is the use of Responsive Design -- a website that has one base of code and a design that responds to the size of the user's device. It goes so far as to say that "Responsive design is Google’s recommended design pattern."
Take a look at this Google comparison between three mobile options.
Besides being Google's preference, responsive design is the industry norm and best practice for developing websites that function well and are usable across any device. It's faster, easier to maintain and allows you to emphasize the content that really matters for the user. All of the sites we design are responsive, built on top of the Bootstrap framework. Here's a great video that shows responsive design in action.
It seems like every week we hear about some corporation getting hacked and user data being exploited. Don't let it happen to you. Google cares about your website's security, and uses whether or not the site is secure as a ranking signal. They're encouraging every site to become HTTPS, and favoring sites that are in search results.
So it doesn't matter if you accept payments on your website or not -- you need an SSL certificate. Google is going so far as to shame websites that collect information without an SSL certificate. Your users need to trust you; make it easy for them.
Besides caring about SSL certificates, Google lets people know if a site may be hacked directly in the search results -- so keeping your site secure is obviously in your best interest.
The Common Thread in What Google Wants
It's easy to list out items that Google wants from your website, but it's more important to understand the common thread. Google wants you to have a faster, secure website that is usable on both desktops and mobile devices because it's good for users. Your site should be easy-to-use, helpful and informative. In short, your users have to be able to actually use it.
Google doesn’t want a site that fulfills all of its technical requirements, but has a horrible user experience. It wants you to be useful. It says it right here:
"The key to creating a great website is to create the best possible experience for your audience with original and high quality content. If people find your site useful and unique, they may come back again or link to your content on their own websites. This can help attract more people to your site over time."
This is what Google wants from you now -- and in the future.
Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that provides custom website design and development, graphic design for print and digital, WordPress consulting and website management.