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CHAPTER 1:RankBrain & User Experience Signals
Last year Google announced that RankBrain was their third most important ranking factor:
“In the few months it has been deployed, RankBrain has become the third-most important signal contributing to the result of a search query.”
And as Google refines its algorithm, RankBrain is going to become even MORE important in 2018.
The question is:
What is RankBrain, exactly? And how can you optimize for it?
Google RankBrain: a Dead-Simple Explanation
RankBrain is a machine learning system that helps Google sort their search results.
That might sound complicated, but it isn’t.
RankBrain simply measures how users interact with the search results…
…and ranks them accordingly.
For example, let’s say you search for “cold brew coffee” in Google.
The #4 result looks especially enticing. So you quickly click on it.
And when you get there…wow! It’s the best darn article about coffee you’ve ever read. So you devour every word.
RankBrain is going to take note…and likely give that #4 result a rankings boost.
On the other hand, let’s say that you do the same search. But this time, you click on the #1 result without even looking.
But the content is TERRIBLE. So you bounce from the page after a few seconds. And you click on the #4 result to find something about coffee that’s actually worth reading.
RankBrain will also notice this. And if enough people quickly bounce from that result, Google will boot it from the #1 spot.
As you can see, RankBrain focuses on two things:
1. How long someone spends on your page (Dwell Time)
2. The percentage of people that click on your result (Click Through Rate)
Let’s break each of these down.
RankBrain and Dwell Time
Dwell Time=how long a Google searcher spends on your page.
As it turns out, RankBrain pays A LOT of attention to Dwell Time.
In fact, the head of Google Brain in Canada recently confirmed that Google uses Dwell Time as a ranking signal. He stated that RankBrain measures when:
“someone clicks on a page and stays on that page, when they go back”
And a recent industry study by SearchMetrics supports this statement. They found that the average Dwell Time for a top 10 Google result is 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
If you’ve spent any time digging through your Google Analytics, you know that a 3+ minute Dwell Time is legit.
And it’s no coincidence that pages with awesome Dwell Time tend to rank best. In fact, RankBrain is upranking these pages for that exact reason.
This makes sense if you think about it:
If you spend a long time on a page, you probably like the content on that page.
And if enough people feel the same way, Google will uprank that content to make it easier to find.
If you want to improve your site’s Dwell Time, check out this video:
RankBrain and Organic Click Through Rate (CTR)
Google Engineer Paul Haahr caused a stir in the SEO world when he put up this slide at a conference:
This slide basically says:
“RankBrain sometimes ranks pages higher up than they “should” rank.
And if that page gets an above-average CTR, we use that as a sign that the page should get a permanent rankings boost.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, if no one clicks on your result, why would Google keep it on the first page?
And if your site is getting clicked on like there’s no tomorrow, why would Google keep it buried in the #9 spot?
If you want a few simple strategies that you can use to boost CTR, check out this infographic that I recently made with Larry Kim.
Speaking of click through rate…
CHAPTER 2:Become a CTR Jedi
If you want to master SEO in 2018, you need to become a CTR Jedi.
Yes, because of RankBrain.
But also because of:
And most deadly of all:
In fact, one industry study found that organic CTR is down 37% since 2015.
It’s no secret why: Google is crowding out the organic search results with Answer Boxes, Ads, Carousels, “People also ask” sections, and more.
And to stand out, your result needs to scream “click on me!”…or else it’ll be ignored.
This video will help you boost your CTR using what I call “The Click Magnet Method”:
CHAPTER 3:Comprehensive, In-Depth
In the old days, Google would analyze your page to see how many times you used a specific keyword.
In other words, they focused 100% on your page’s content. So the Google spider would visit your page to check if your keyword appeared in your:
- Title tag
- Image ALT text
- Description tag
- H1 tag
To be fair, they still look at that stuff. But today’s Google is MUCH smarter than it used to be.
So instead of only measuring content, they now focus on context.
What do I mean?
Remember: Google’s #1 job is to show their user the BEST result. And in most cases, the “best” result isn’t a piece of keyword-stuffed content.
Instead, the best pages cover an entire topic in-depth.
With in-depth content, a Google searcher gets everything they need in one place (one stop shopping).
In fact, my recent ranking factors study found that in-depth content tends to rank best in Google.
How To Write Comprehensive, In-Depth Content
So: how can you write the type of in-depth content that Google wants to see?
First, publish content that’s at least 2,000 words. That way, you can cover everything a Google searcher needs to know about that topic.
In fact, our ranking factors study found that longer content (like ultimate guides and long-form blog posts) outranked short articles in Google:
Add LSI Keywords to Your Content
Once you’ve put the finishing touches on your 2,000-word monster, add LSI keywords to it.
LSI keywords are words and phrases that are strongly associated with your page’s topic.
For example, let’s say that you just published an article about The Paleo Diet.
LSI keywords would be terms like:
- Weight loss
And when Google sees these LSI keywords on your page, they think: “Awesome! This page obviously covers this topic really well.”
How do you find LSI keywords? Here are three simple ways to find ‘em:
First, use a nifty free tool called LSI Graph.
Just enter your target keyword into the tool, and it’ll show you a bunch of LSI keywords that are associated with that term:
Add any of these that make sense to your content.
Second, use good ol’ Google. Just search for your target keyword. Then check out the “Searches related to…” section at the bottom of the search results.
The words in bold here are LSI keywords.
Finally, you can hack the Google Keyword Planner for LSI keyword ideas. Here’s how:
Pop your keyword into the Google Keyword Planner. And click “Get Ideas”.
Then, scan the results. Many of these are LSI keywords.
Just like with the other strategies I showed you, sprinkle LSI keywords from the Google Keyword Planner into your content.
CHAPTER 4:Get Ready for Google’s Mobile-first Index
Last year Google announced that they’re switching over to a “mobile-first index”.
In other words, Google will consider the mobile version of your site the “real” version. And this will be the case even if someone searches from a desktop.
This move makes sense. Today, 60% of Google searches are from a mobile device. And that’s only going to grow in the future.
Even though Google’s Mobile-first index isn’t live yet, it’s coming any day now. That’s why I recommend prepping for it now.
How to Prepare for Google’s Mobile-First Index: 3 Simple Steps
Make Your Content Consistent Across Desktop and Mobile
You know how sometimes people hide content on the mobile version of their page?
Here’s an example:
Well, that’s going to be a BIG problem when Google unveils their mobile-first algo.
Once Google goes mobile-first they’re going to consider the mobile version of your page the “true” version. That hidden content is going to be 100% ignored by Big G.
That’s why you want to display 100% of the content from your desktop version to mobile folks too.
For example, when you visit this post on the Backlinko blog from an iPhone, you get the same amazing content that desktop users get 🙂
As you can see, there’s nothing hidden behind buttons, menus, or expandable sections.
Move From m. to Responsive Design
Do you have a mobile “M.” version of your site? Google recommends switching over to responsive design.
So do I.
Make Sure Your Site Kicks Butt On Mobile
I see lots of sites that technically work on a phone or tablet. But they’re a huge pain to actually use.
As I talked about in Chapter 1, RankBrain closely measures how Google users interact with your site.
And if peeps have a hard time using your site with their phone, they’re going to hit their “back” button without thinking twice.
How do you know if your site is legit mobile friendly?
I recommend checking out the nifty Mobile-Friendly Test tool from Google. Just enter a URL into it, and the tool will let you know if your site is mobile-friendly:
They’ll even hook you up with recommendations that you can use to up your mobile game.
CHAPTER 5:Go-All In With Video (Or Get
Online video is EXPLODING right now.
In fact, according to Cisco, online video will make up 80% of all online traffic by 2021.
And that may still not satiate the world’s demand for video.
Despite the fact that there are more videos out there than ever, HubSpot states that 43% of people want to see MORE video content.
If you’re not creating video content, you’re missing out. Here’s how to take advantage of video’s SEO benefits in 2018:
Tap Into YouTube
YouTube is already the world’s 2nd largest search engine.
And like any online video platform, it’s growing fast (The Huffington Post reports that the amount of time that people spend on YouTube is up 60% compared to last year).
In short, more and more people are searching for stuff on YouTube… and skipping Google altogether.
So if you want to get more traffic from SEO in 2018, I recommend creating and optimizing content specifically for YouTube.
It’s a search engine that’s too big to ignore.
The best part? Most marketers are too lazy to make videos. So it’s pretty easy to get your videos seen (assuming you know what you’re doing).
For example, my channel has fewer than 20 total videos. And those 20 videos generate over 100k views per month.
(And as you might expect, a good chunk of those viewers turn into website visitors, leads and customers).
It gets better: when you publish SEO-optimized YouTube videos, you’ll own more Google real estate.
Why? Well, for starters: 55% of all Google search resultscontain at least one video.
(And almost all of those videos are from YouTube).
Here’s an example of what I mean:
And considering that Google owns YouTube, expect even MORE YouTube videos in the search results in 2018.
In fact, Google has started to blend YouTube results into Google Image search:
Embed Video Content Into Text-Based Blog Posts
If people want to see more video, why not give it to them?
That’s why I recommend embedding video content into your blog posts. In my experience, this can give you a serious dwell time boost.
Here’s an example of this in action:
CHAPTER 6:Pay Attention to Voice Search
Is voice search “the next big thing” in SEO? I doubt it. That said, the popularity of voice search IS growing insanely fast.For example, check out these eyebrow-raising facts:
- 40% of adults perform at least one voice search every day (source)
- Voice searches performed in Google are up 35x since 2008 (source)
- 20% of all searches on mobile are voice searches (source)
Knowing that, smart SEOs are starting to optimize some of their content for voice search.
Including me 🙂
How to Optimize for Voice Search
Voice search is still super duper early.
Even so, there are a few things we DO know about how voice search works… and how to optimize for it.
First, your content needs to be on the first page.
Kinda obvious, but it’s worth pointing out.
Next, it helps A LOT if your content appears in a Featured Snippet, like this:
Google’s algorithm has already put together a convenient little snippet.
And from my testing, Google voice search (especially Google Home) tends to spit out the text inside of the Featured Snippet.
Finally, include a question (and answer) in your content.
The vast majority of voice searches are question based (“How do I do a pullup?” or “Who starred in Shawshank Redemption”?).
When that happens, Google usually picks a page that contains a) the question and b) the answer.
When I search for:
I get this answer:
And when I go to the actual page, I see that the content includes my question and a short answer:
Just what Google’s voice search algorithm wants to see.
CHAPTER 7:Don’t Forget: Content and Links
With all that said…SEO is still all about content and links.Without amazing content, you’ll never get links.
And without links, you won’t crack the first page.
And if you’re not on Google’s first page, RankBrain, Voice Search and the Mobile-first algorithm won’t matter. Those only come into play once you already rank for stuff.
In fact, Google recently came out and said that content and links are their #1 and #2 ranking factors:
And when we recently analyzed 1 million Google search results, we found that the number of sites linking to a page correlated with rankings more than anything else.
In short, content and links will still be the foundation of SEO in 2018.
And once you have a handle on that, it’s time to optimize your site for the new SEO trends that I outlined in this guide.
BONUS CHAPTER:Quick Tips for SEO in 2018
Create Visual Content (Especially “Embeddable Images”)
Just like video, visual content is growing fast.
In fact, a recent poll found that 37% of marketers stated that visual marketing was the most important form of content for their business.
And thanks to sites like Pinterest and Instagram, visual content should continue to see growth in 2018.
How can you take advantage of this trend?
Create more visual content… especially “Embeddable Images”.
In my experience, “Embeddable Images” can do just as well as a fancy infographic…if not better.
(Embeddable Images are images that are easy for other sites to embed into their content. When they do, they’ll usually link back to you).
For example, here’s a simple visual that I included in this guide.
It’s nice…but pretty simple.
Even so, people LOVE embedding this image in their content:
And because of that, that single Embeddable Image has generated a handful of high-quality backlinks to my site.
Publish Unique Data
Bloggers and journalists LOVE unique data.
And if you can hook them up with a stat, a survey, or an industry study, they’ll throw links at your feet like rose petals.
For example, I recently published this study of YouTube ranking factors:
This content contains has lots of data that people can cite (like the fact that the average video on the first page of YouTube is nearly 15 minutes).
And cite they do! This page has racked up backlinks from over 180 different domains in under a year:
Encourage Comments on Your Site
Do blog comments help your rankings?
The answer seems to be: “YES!”.
Last year Google said that community (blog comments) can help “a lot” with rankings.
And this year Google said that “Comments are better on-site for engagement signals for SEO than moving to social.”
In other words, Google wants to see that you have an active community on your site. And they’re likely to pay even more attention to this ranking signal in 2018.
Go On Podcasts
Podcasts are one of my all-time favorite ways to build links.
It’s like guest posting… without all the BS. Just show up, provide value, and you get a sweet backlink: