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Aside from “Google,” what’s the first thing you think about when someone mentions Search Engine Optimization? I’m sure it’s probably “keywords.” If you have a website for your business, there’s a strong possibility you’ve spent at least a few minutes thinking about how you can get people to check you out; SEO and keywords are almost always at the top of every suggestions list.

I don’t blame you, it makes sense—Google sees approximately 3 billion search queries every day, 3 BILLION. So if you have enough of the right keywords on your site, someone will eventually see it on their search engine results page (SERP)…right?

I wish, but it’s not quite that simple. Although keywords are very important, they’re certainly not the end-all-be-all of SEO—not by a long shot. There’s a lot of stuff that contributes to highly effective SEO, and you might be surprised to know that keywords are just one part of the three major SEO super players: content, design, and user experience. The reason these three things matter more than keywords is that Google (and your customer) is intelligent enough to know the difference between a good website and one that’s just jamming many keywords onto a page.Since a search engine’s objective is to provide searchers with the best, most relevant query results, it has to rate the potential value of every website (and we do mean every website) using algorithms that create a scorecard of relevance. Everything from code optimization (ie hashtags and titles) to link-backs can add/subtract points for that site, and influence the overall SERP ranking*

Most importantly are the visitors you’re hoping to attract to your products or services. This website you’ve built is for them, not for you, and ultimately it’s their finding value in it that helps to boost SERP rankings. To do that, you’ll need an impressive user experience. Here’s a look at the three most critical areas:

  1. Bounce Rate

When people see and click on your website in their SERP, do they immediately press the back button and bounce out (insert spongebob meme here)? If so, that tells the search engine that your site isn’t relevant or valuable to that specific search, which lowers your rank *Gasp*.

You can help prevent this by a few quick tweaks:

  • taking the time to figure out who your website is for (you have to be mindful of who your customer is)
  • what it seeks to accomplish
  • what value it provides to your specific audience 

Once you’ve got that sorted, and given priority to content that is most relevant to the search terms that bring people to your site in the first place, remember…speed matters. You’ve got about 10 seconds to convince people to stay on your site, so be sure to optimize it for fast loading and easy navigation (emphasis on FAST and EZ). These things will also encourage visitors who’ve clicked into your site to stay and explore, which leads us to…

  1. Time Spent on Site

The longer a person stays on your site, the better your site looks to a search engine. Incorporating design elements like parallax scrolling or animations can help keep users engaged enough to stick around, and you want them to stick around. Additionally, providing suggestions for more content they might find relevant, keeping the user experience simple and intuitive, and ensuring that your CTAs are prominent can also help to keep visitors interested and moved to take action rather than leave—be it them signing up for your newsletter or filling out the contact form. When the bounce rate is low and the time spent on your site is high, this will be a signal to the search engine that your site is trustworthy and valuable, and it might be just the thing to satisfy all the other people who are searching for similar things (hello, rankings boost…yay).

  1. Mobilegeddon

Mobile internet search has officially overtaken desktop search as users around the world embrace smartphones and tablets as their primary screens. This fact is why search engines like Google are putting a priority on curating search results that meet their user criteria of “mobile first.” If your site is not optimized for mobile, it will pay the price in rankings, specifically as it applies those who are searching on mobile devices—which represents approximately 53% of the world’s population.

If you have two versions of your website (standard and mobile), your main concern is a duplication of content which can cause a lot of problems for SEO. If you don’t have a mobile site at all, you should consider responsive design, not only because it makes practical design sense for today’s modern websites, but also because Google happens to love it.

Keywords may provide an access point to your website, but they can’t always have an impact on what happens once visitors are there. The most important thing to remember is that your website is there to serve one purpose above all others: make your visitors engaged enough to stick around and accomplish a task (fill out a form, buy some stuff, download something, etc.). It’s a solid combination of design, user experience, and content that achieves this—and when that’s said and done, well, it will assist in  improving your SEO efforts across the board, and build your brand’s online reputation.