With January well under way, now is a great time to take stock and prepare your SEO strategy for 2017. But where exactly should you start? Here are four important SEO factors you should address at the start of the new year:
Migrate to HTTPS
Since Google began offering a ranking incentive to sites that use secure HTTPS rather than HTTP, the number of sites becoming encrypted has grown. While Google has maintained that using HTTPS offers a very modest ranking boost, the fact is that the majority of sites on the first page of Google tend to be encrypted, and there has been anecdotal evidence shared around the SEO community showing ranking improvements after switching.
But it’s not just the chance of improved search rankings that should convince you now’s the time to switch – web browsers are also beginning to discriminate against non-secured sites.
You’ve probably seen the green padlock in your web browser’s address bar in the past, denoting the website is being served securely over HTTPS. However, from January 2017 onwards, in the Google Chrome browser, non-secure HTTP sites will be given a red “not secure” notice.
Naturally, this is likely to have an impact in the users’ confidence in your site. Would you buy from a website if you were unsure whether your details were safe or if the seller was legitimate?
Fortunately for many small business sites, this does not need to be an expensive process, and so is well worth being placed at the top of your to-do list for the end of January.
Back in 2014, Google made changes to its algorithm that demoted non-mobile responsive sites in the search results for users on smartphones. Since then, mobile search has grown – now more searches are conducted on mobile devices every day than on a desktop or laptop.
As a result, Google is again placing increased importance on mobile sites. The Google algorithm will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages of the site, rather than the desktop version.
Google has made a number of recommendations to help ensure your site is ready for when these changes are eventually rolled out sometime in 2017.
The objective should be to have a responsive site where the primary content is the same across both mobile and desktop devices, so if your site is like this, you don't have anything to worry about.
If your mobile and desktop sites have different content, then some changes will be needed, which include making sure structured data is the same on both versions of the site, ensuring the mobile version can be seen by Googlebot by testing your site’s robots.txt file, as well as beefing up your mobile site content.
Speed up your site
Site speed has been a ranking factor in Google since 2010. But how much does site speed actually impact rankings? To find out, Brian Dean at Backlinko analysed the median page load speeds of 1 million domains using Alexa’s domain speed data.
Brian found a clear correlation between site speed and Google rankings, with faster pages achieving higher rankings than slower ones. While he concluded that fast loading sites are significantly more likely to rank in Google, he does admit that webmasters that optimise their sites for speed may also optimise for SEO, hence the correlation.
However potentially higher rankings are not the only benefit of a fast site – user experience and conversion rates also benefit. Nearly half of web users expect sites to load in two seconds or less, and tend to abandon a site that doesn’t load within three seconds. If your site loads in over two seconds, you could be losing a great deal of traffic, as well as missing out on extra enquiries or sales that this traffic could lead to.
Audit your backlinks
In October of last year, Google rolled out the final update to Penguin, the part of the algorithm that adjusts rankings based on their backlinks. With this update, Penguin has now become part of the core search algorithm, and updates in real-time.
But what does this actually mean?
Previously, Google released Penguin updates between one and three times a year since the first in 2012. Each update created a big upset in the search results, with entire sites being either wiped out or boosted up the rankings.
Now, as this is the last Penguin update, there will be no more dramatic shifts in ranking results. This means that any penalty as a result of your backlinks will be much harder to identify.
The result is webmasters and SEOs need to be much more proactive when it comes to scrutinising their site’s links, and consider removing and replacing any that do not fit Google’s guidelines.
Now is the time to perform a backlink audit and review the state of your site’s links. Clear out any ‘toxic’ links and plan a link building campaign to replace these with links that meet Google’s guidelines.
So there you have it; four SEO actions you can perform in January to take stock of your site’s current situation, resolve any issues and prepare for a successful 2017.
Seb Atkinson is a search marketing manager at Selesti.