Google Search Changes and Improving Your Search Rank

For the past few weeks, the buzz on the web seems to point to the death of PBNs (private blog networks). This is the second such act where Google has targeted PBNs. The first was in 2014. A PBN leverages what is considered to be the most important ranking factor in Google’s organic search to rank ahead of the competition. How is it done? 

Every website needs to be renewed, usually on an annual basis. If the owner doesn’t renew it, the page rests in a state of limbo. Any person can use a website like GoDaddy, NameSilo, etc., to pick up the dead site.

Once back up and running, the new owner can leverage this site by creating links pointing towards the designated site that they want to rank higher, dubbed the money site.

In the past, Google has had trouble differentiating between links that have been earned and links that have been created using this method. There is no magic “how to improve SEO” pill that decodes every aspect. Still, PBNs have never been considered right.

Think about any website, be it YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, or something else where a person comments telling others to check out their site. These comments provide a similar effect, albeit on a smaller scale, and typically the links are considered ‘no follow.’ PBNs are often composed of hundreds of sites whose domains went up for sale.

If Google has managed to program their algorithm to find and demote sites employing the PBN method, the only viable alternative for websites is to adhere to the ranking factors they have been so adamant about for years. You can read all about SEO hacks, but when you dig into them, they’re just best practices that everyone should be using in the context Google intends for them to be used.

So, as a diligent website owner, how do you improve SEO rankings?

Google Wants Quality Content

It’s no secret that Google has been keen on updating its search algorithm. Sometimes they do it for optimization as with AMP; sometimes, they do it so that niche markets have a chance to get a first-page rank, and other times their motives are a little unclear. What is clear is that something big happened in February, and it has created a wave that has stirred everyone.

Quality content has been the point Google has been trying to drive home to everyone’s brains with an online presence. It’s the ranking factor that can make or break a website, and the new update is an example of just how serious Google is about catering to sites following the rules.

What is quality content?

Here’s a quick breakdown is taken from Google themselves:

  • Engagement: is your content driving conversation, likes, and shares?
  • Trustworthiness: Are you linking to quality sources? Is your content grammatically correct?
  • High-quality Backlinks: Have the right people mentioned your site on the web?
  • Time on Page: What is your bounce rate?
  • Length: How long is your content?

Get People Engaged

  • Create compelling calls to action. People are more likely to engage if you ask them to.
  • Maintain a fast & functional website.
  • Allow for comments on content.
  • Have an email and contact information available.
  • Interlink similar content within your site.
  • Provide value. Why should they come to your site?
  • Be engaged with your audience. If they comment or ask a question, respond ASAP.

Build Trust

Shares by influential and high-ranking sites are an excellent way to do this, but that takes time. More reasonably, begin by reducing grammatical errors, creating customer case studies, linking to positive social reviews, and overall, increasing the amount of time people are spending on your site.

Increase Time on Page: More + Better Content

This may seem obvious, or it may not, but one of the best ways to get time spent on page up is by increasing the number of content people digest each page. In short, longer content ranks higher. Please don’t take my word for it. A study by Backlinko found that the average number of words for the elusive first page of Google is approximately 1900 words (1890 to be exact). Backlinko, Brian Dean, believes that pages should truly strive to be closer to 3000 words.

Google is the de facto web pioneer, and as such, it aims to create a better online experience for all. All of the measures they’ve taken and their algorithm’s updates aim to punish people trying to game the system.

Google 2021 Search Updates: Google Webmaster Report

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AutoComplete: Report Offensive Query

The majority of people have started typing a query into Google and happened to glance down at the suggestions only to find something that most would consider out of place and potentially even offensive. Google is not responsible for its users’ search history, but it’s taking steps to remove potentially distasteful suggestions.

In days past, it used to very easy to find suggestions that seemed irrelevant. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find unrelated ideas with their current algorithm.

Mobile is in Command

Why should you care? More than half of Google’s traffic comes from a mobile device, and that means most likely more than half of the people searching for you will be trying to find you on their phone or tablet. Who would have thought? 

If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, then you’ve more than likely taken a big hit in search rankings. Luckily, you can increase your SEO ranking with a straightforward website redesign.

Get Mobile Optimized (AMP)

Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP introduced about a year ago, on February 24, 2016. Large businesses jumped on as fast as possible, some of which included the BBC, BuzzFeed, Mashable, and The New York Times. On the other side, the mobile-friendliness indicator has taken a toll on smaller companies. It’s been reported that only 51% of small businesses have a mobile-ready website.

Here’s the thing about AMP; it doesn’t make you rank higher by simply adopting it. What it does do is increase the chances to be listed on mobile searches. Google has stated that the change will not hinder desktop results. How would you like to lose half of your search traffic for being penalized on mobile searches?

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Who and What is AMP for?

In the list of early adopters of the AMP update, you may have noticed a trend in the type of websites interested in AMP. These sites are content-rich, and more importantly, rich in specificities that genuinely help readers accomplish their goals. This is no coincidence; AMP is designed to work best for blogging, e-commerce, and news sites.

Its code works allow no custom JavaScript and try to simplify the HTML code of a website. The main goal is for the entire site to load all at once instead of asynchrony. 

Regular HTML loads bits and pieces of a page at a time, so you may see text appear and a box where a picture should be. AMP does away with this by prioritizing speed over customization.

What Else can be Done to increase SEO?

Website Structure

Most people know that structure is important to Google, but what is the structure? The structure is not the visual representation of your website, but rather the way information is presented. When speaking about how to improve SEO, the key is to conduct a full site audit, thoroughly go through every page and improve, add or delete where necessary:

  • Meta description
  • ALT tags for images
  • Duplicate content (Delete)
  • Shorten and optimize permalinks
  • Improve low performing content

Meta Descriptions

This is the information search engines pull from your site to showcase the basic theme or themes of a page. It’s that smaller text below the page title that appears within your search. 

Just remember, this is the pertinent information that is the first thing people will read when they’re deciding whether to click-through to your site. Be sure to keep your meta tags relevant to the content on the page they’re describing. Trying to game Google will result in ranking penalties.

While Google has claimed meta tags aren’t ranking factors, having a strong click-through rate is. You’ll only have between 155 and 160 characters before Google cuts off the rest, so make it count.

Meta Desc
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It may not seem like a room, but it’s still 20 characters more than a tweet! And always, always, always have a call to action.

Make each page description unique. In the same vein, as duplicate content is bad, duplicate meta descriptions will result in Google having difficulty crawling and interpreting pages.

Title Tags

A title tag specifies to search engines the title of a web page. Using a title in line with what you expect people to search for is the ideal way to craft your meta title. It can be effective to repeat the title within the description.

Title Tags
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Delete Duplicate Content

A problem that’s not so big at first can snowball and ruin any precious SEO cred you deserve. Here’s how it works. Somehow, some content you published appears on two different pages of your website. Which, in the first week, maybe isn’t a problem.

However, let’s say you start getting noticed, and the similar or semi-identical articles start to gain traction. 

This is a win, although since it’s two different pages getting shared, the amount of authority your pages are getting is essentially halved. Instead of having one article appearing on the first page of Google, you could have two that are stuck on the third page.

Keep in mind that, about 91% of people do not click past the first page of Google’s search results.

Each successive result and each page has an exponentially lower chance of being found. This is why finding and fixing these same results is so important.

Shorten and Optimize Permalinks

Results on the first page of Google have 37 characters in their URLs, while second-page results have approximately 36, and third-page results have 38. 

Many website builders give you options about how you want your URLs to be structured. If you opt for putting the article name directly into the URL, you can end up with some very, very long URLs.

Here’s an article I was reading while writing this. The website has a character count of 59.

Here it is

Now what they chose to do is include the date because that helps organize their posts better, and they left in the keywords they wanted to rank for. I will say this article made it to the front page of Google. This structure could be altered to:

By removing the data and changing ‘optimizing to optimize this, the link is cut from 59 down to 49 characters. The link is just as descriptive as it was before making these changes.

Optimizing URLs is not primarily about shortening them. It’s about putting the more pertinent information into as few keywords as possible. In many ways structuring your URL is similar to the art of writing title tags. In the case of the link, they did a great job optimizing their link for search by typing the URL directly to their article’s content.

Here’s an example of a bad URL

This one has 68 characters and only one relevant keyword (unless you include the word article).

Now it has the same character count but two keywords to help it rank more effectively. As of right now, this URL appears near the bottom of the second page of Google.

Improve low performing – and old – content

There are several reasons content might not be ranking as well it could be, like typos, lack of keyword strategy, your audience isn’t finding value, it’s outdated information, or it could be too short. The great thing about the internet is that you can update this content.

First, based on everything we’ve discussed so far, review the article and determine why it isn’t performing up to your standards. If it’s more than a year old, it might be time for a revamp.

If it’s a newer piece of content, answer these questions:

  • Is the content useful?
  • Is there a clear focus?
  • Is it keyword optimized?
  • Is it relevant to your target audience?
  • Can you get to the page within three clicks of your homepage?

View any analytics you have available to you. Usually, Google Analytics is the best place to start. Look at the time on the page. If people stay on average for slightly upwards of a minute, the content is most likely adequate. However, you need to optimize it to be found by the right audience. If the bounce rate is high and the time on page is low, there is most likely a problem with the quality of the content or the viewers’ quality.

Once you identify the problem, you can lengthen it, add valuable context, proofread and correct grammar, optimize for search, or scrap it altogether. Having poor content can be just as bad or worse than not having content at all. It’s okay to decide to take it down, and sometimes our audience doesn’t connect.

Do you think PBN’s are dead? Do you think there are best SEO practices that everyone should know about, or is it all about growth hacking your way to the top? What are your “How to improve SEO” tips? Please let us know what you think about the updates and how they’ve affected your site.

We’re listening.

Have something to say about your thoughts on how to improve your SEO and search rankings? 

Share it with us on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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