Organic Traffic Observations for Early 2016
As we review our clients' websites to see how trends are shaping up so far in 2016, a big area of focus, of course, is on organic SEO. We want to ensure our clients' traffic maintains and gains in both number and quality. Numbers are good, because Google likes sites that get more traffic. Traffic begets traffic. Quality is important because you want relevant visitors who take relevant action. Relevancy, too, builds traffic, particularly for those concepts that your site gains most of its traffic from. In other words, visitors who link to more internal pages, and/or take more action (like filling out a form, commenting on a post, etc.) are of a higher quality than those that only hit (and bounce from) your homepage. In Google's eyes, though traffic in volume is important, what's more important is that your visitors do more things that trigger trackable events or conversions in Google Analytics.
It's critical for Eternity to stay on top of trends in search, so we can give the right advice as we design and build new sites; however -- frustrating as it is to rely on best guesses by industry "experts" -- we don't know exactly what rules Google gears its algorithm toward. Results change over time due to competition, respective activity (or stagnancy), and, perhaps most frustrating, Google keeps changing the rules in its semi-regular updates. More or less text, to use video or not, the importance of responsive design... the list of tweaks that Google makes that can often greatly affect your search traffic is endless.
So, based on our deep dive on a few of our clients' sites this past month to see how they're performing in the first quarter, we've seen some trends that, at least anecdotally, seem to bear out across several sites. Some may be products of changing Google rules, or visitor behavior, or the increasing use of mobile devices, or all of those factors and more.
MORE TEXT IN LINKS
Designers have pushed cleaner pages with less text in recent years, all in an attempt to maximize space for critical navigation and calls to action. The justification is frequently that visitors "don't read text". But this trend appears to have some negative effect in organic search. One old-school user selection method, anchor text -- or text-based links -- is critical on the homepage. Sites that use text-based links get more Google referrals relative to their competitors that don't, and that the more descriptive the links, the better. So, one- and two-word navigation links or buttons can be effective design-wise, but the more descriptive the text associated with a link, the better for search engine referrals on Google.
This applies, too, to introductory or overview text on the homepage. It might take up valuable visual space, but its presence assures visitors and Google both that your site is relevant to what your business does. You can embed anchor links in this text to easily add value. This practice also prompts marketers to focus on what concepts (or keywords, if you must!) are critical to your audience and in the competitive landscape. Homepage text should be compelling, brief, and descriptive.
MORE TEXT (ARE WE BEING REDUNDANT?)
In general, pages with more text rank higher than pages with less text. So, consolidate your site architecture into fewer pages, with high-level concepts broken down in detail as readers go deeper into the text, but don't force a link to a separate page if it's not necessary. Merged pages, less depth in the information architecture, and clear, descriptive navigation labels are easily followed by Google, and easily digested by users on devices where scrolling is sometimes more preferable to many taps / links.
KEEP THE BLOG FRESH
Last but certainly not least, some advice that has not changed in a few years... Keep your blog up-to-date and active, and be sure recent blog posts are included on the homepage. Google wants to see blog updates, and their presence on the homepage guarantees that it not only sees blog content, but that it sees recent updates. Auto-publishing blog posts to your social network further boosts organic through inbound links.