Search engines continuously collect data from web pages so that they can better serve their online users. They are like librarians who try to find the right book to satisfy their patrons.

Evidently, the search engines’ systems are capable of taking in a lot of information before they split up the best results for their users. Every search engine has a secret recipe which is called an algorithm. The algorithm turns all the information into useful search results.

It goes without saying that the web pages that appear in the first page of search results are placed in a more advantageous position than other sites which feature in the latter pages of the same search query. Therefore, certain websites are ranked higher in search results, becoming more popular as they are easier to locate.

Websites cannot afford to become buried in search results. A recent saying among millennials goes: “The best place to hide a dead body is page two of Google’s search results.”

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the process of getting traffic from the free, organic, editorial or natural listings on search engines. All major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, present search results with links to web pages and other content, including videos or local listings. Such content is displayed and ranked according to what the search engine considers the most relevant to its users.

There are several key ingredients site administrators ought to consider as they develop their content. Ideally, the content strategy of websites should resonate with the individual internet users in the following ways:

• Keywords based on search intent – Search results will feature pages with information containing the few words that were inserted by internet browsers in their search query. Therefore, keywords maintain their vital role in optimisation. They determine page rank as they drive relevant search traffic.

Keywords are still the primary entry method to the search process, whether initiated by conversational or exact match searches. It is advisable to integrate keywords in URLs, titles, body texts and internal links to align meta-information of content with the search intent.

Recently, the release of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm expanded rank requirements beyond keywords. Although greater emphasis is now placed on conversational search, Hummingbird did not eliminate the need for keyword targeting.

Interestingly, Google recently announced its latest update, namely Panda 4.0. Google maintained that it wants to prevent sites with poor quality content from working their way into its top search results. In other words, Google strives to remain relevant, as it is assuring its users that they will get the answers they are looking for.

• Quality inbound links for authority and discoverability – Quality inbound links between websites matter. Web pages that link to other sites have stronger URL links for search engines. Quality content will naturally gain quality links.

Yet, link-building strategies should never be disregarded. Inbound links continue to influence search rank and visibility. Search engines will always evaluate the authority of inherent, linked content. Therefore, links are one of the best indicators of relevance and credibility. That is why savvy site developers often keep focusing their attention on gaining quality links through organic, white-hat methods such as reciprocal linking.

As mobiles’ share of traffic continues to rise, content should be optimised to enhance users’ experience

• Responsive design for the mobile user experience – As mobiles’ share of digital traffic continue to rise, content should be optimised to enhance mobile users’ experience. Mobile internet has already surpassed desktop traffic. According to a recent comScore survey, mobile devices accounted for no less than 55 per cent of all digital site traffic in January 2014. In addition, comScore maintained that 89.4 per cent of mobile media users had accessed Google sites via smartphones in January. Consequently, marketers need to optimise their content for mobile search.

Key mobile considerations that factor in responsive design include page load time, content length, voice search behaviour, image and video processing, formatting and structure. Mobile consumption habits and responsive elements can be at the forefront of website administrators. It is in their interest to ensure a fluid content consumption experience across all devices.

• Social sharing functionality to enhance social signals – When relevant content is shared across different social networks, search engines may respond by identifying and incorporating all social signals in their search results. Strong social engagement often signifies content quality and resonance. So site developers ought to place social sharing buttons to facilitate their content promotion for further dissemination through other digital media.

The frequency of user updates may also attribute rank value to dynamic data.

It is very likely that in the foreseeable future, social actions will gain greater influence. Google’s algorithms are increasingly becoming more sophisticated as they continue to expand to include broader web and social connections.

• Authorship mark-ups for rank influence – Apparently, both Google’s and Bing-Klout’s authorships have incorporated their users’ social influence and digital presence in their rankings so as to improve the quality of their search results.

In a sense, there is an opportunity for website administrators to pursue engagements with influencers. Previously, the credentials to display author information included web signals such as author­ship mark-ups and e-mail verifications. The new qualifications now include relevance and engagement levels of content. This latest development reaffirms the tie between high quality content and SEO.

The recipe for a good SEO is always changing. Content strategists and marketers who care about their e-reputation realise they have to come up with fresh, engaging content with a growing number of quality links. They have to make sure their websites offer great content for different search engines. A SEO strategy demands consistent high-quality content that is meaningful and purposeful for target audiences.

Mark Anthony Camilleri is a lecturer at the University of Malta.

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