Search Engine Ranking Optimization – How to Stay (or Climb) to the Top of SERPS in 2018

By: Heather Schallert

Google is making some very progressive movements in 2018 to reward websites that are creating in-depth relevant content in their niche and presenting it to users at lightning fast speed with an easy to navigate user experience.

In an effort to keep your company top of mind and top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), we have put together some details to help your team navigate the upcoming algorithm changes that are most likely approaching and make the best use of search engine ranking optimization.

Mobile Experience Will Be A Huge Factor In Search Engine Rankings

In 2017, Google took a massive step toward rewarding websites that had good ‘user experience’ on mobile devices. It changed the way it “Reads” websites to be from a mobile perspective. What that means is prior to 2017 the Google algorithm valued your websites technical aptitude and content from the perspective of a desktop computer.

Starting in 2017 Google started to rate websites based on the user experience from a “Mobile” perspective. Although Google has not yet “Penalized” websites for having a poor mobile experience it has definitely started to reward sites that do have lightning fast load speeds and a good mobile user experience. That being said there is a rumbling from Google’s insiders as well as professional SEO’s that a penalty algorithm is on the horizon for sites that do not value mobile as their #1 experience.  We believe the moving of search rankings based on this “mobile” priority will begin happening as early as February 1st, 2018.

What Can You Do To Improve Your SERP Rankings and Not Lose Ground?

Mobile experience needs to be your #1 priority, whether that is done through the optimization of your mobile responsive pages so they have a very high site speed or through the creation of AMP pages for mobile.

The other 3 factors that Google will value in 2018 are user experience, all-inclusive in-depth content, and structured data. Basically, you need to have some structured data on your highest performing pages. In addition, content is king, again. The user needs to be able to find what they are looking for through easy navigation on mobile and desktop. The content that they are looking at needs to be well written, in-depth content that answers that next logical question that the user would ask when they are reading. Content needs to be longer and needs to click through to other content that fulfills the user’s natural line of questioning. All inclusive guides to any topic will be rewarded.

SEO Content Graph - Length of Top 10 Mobile Results

Mobile Experience Optimization By February 1st, 2018

We are recommending that you create AMP pages for your 3 highest traffic driving website URL’s/Blogs. Google says non-compliant pages won’t appear in Top Stories or other AMP-specific slots in search results. If you don’t have AMP pages for your website, your search results will not appear in the carousel segment, which is located right under the search bar.  This segment also takes up a lot of real estate on mobile devices and is where a higher percentage of mobile users click. We would recommend taking Q1 to review the organic effects of creating these 3 pages and analyze them for data.

We know that fast-loading websites are better for the user, but what you may not be aware of is how speed can impact the bottom line. Google-sponsored research shows that AMP leads to an average of a 2X increase in time spent on page (details can be seen here). The data also shows e-commerce sites experience an average 20 percent increase in sales conversions compared to non-AMP web pages.

What do users say about AMP? 9to5Google.com recently conducted a poll where they asked users: “Are you more inclined to click on an AMP link than a regular one?” The majority of people (51.14 percent) said yes to that question. Here are the detailed results:

This poll suggests that even for non-news sites, there is a very compelling reason to do AMP for SEO. Not because it increases your rankings, per se, but because you may get more click-throughs (more traffic) from the organic search results. Getting more traffic from organic search, after all, is the goal of SEO. In addition, you’re likely to get more time on site and more conversions.

In the future, we believe sites that do not convert to AMP pages have the potential to lose 10%+ of their traffic and will have a harder time ranking in SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages) for any kind of structured data (rich snippets). They will also have no chance of appearing in the carousel segment.

A large media publisher recently converted 95 percent of their web pages to AMP. They saw a 67 percent lift in organic search traffic to their site.

Mobile Experience Optimization - Mobile Carousel Search Results

Responsive Mobile Sites

We also recommend running speed tests on your mobile responsive sites. As an agency, we plan to work with our clients to get all mobile responsive sites up to a 90% grade on Google’s PageSpeed Insights. What this will do is guarantee that your site is pleasing Google while they are hyper-focused on mobile. It will allow us the time to gather more data on the implementation and tracking of AMP pages.

What is an AMP Page?

AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. It’s essentially a stripped down lightning fast version of your website delivered to mobile devices. Search engines and social platforms can see these mobile pages and favor them.

AMP

Anytime you see the above icon next to a search result in your mobile browser it means it’s a verified AMP page and these pages are favored by Google.

What Does that Mean?

Load speeds are so fast that Google is favoring it as an accelerated page which means a boost in SEO for mobile searches.

How Do I Create AMP Pages?

You have to create a separate HTML page and give it AMP markup. Take the relevant text from your page and place it into a brand new HTML page. There is a walkthrough on how to do this complete with testing on the AMPProject.org website. The markup on the page will tell Google if it’s a mobile page vs an AMP page. Make sure your transfer any metadata and schema (structured data) markup from your existing page and place it on your new AMP page.

If you have a WordPress site, there are plugins available that will help you create your AMP pages.

What are the Downsides of AMP Pages?

Accelerated Mobile Pages are plain and simple. They are not as pretty as responsive pages and the ability to edit them to look nicely designed is currently pretty limited. You can customize CSS on them and use an “AMP Page Builder” plugin to make them look a bit more intriguing. You also need to thin down your content on each page to the most relevant (for both users and SEO) on each page. Generally, you should only have 1-3 images per page on your AMP pages. In addition, sometimes tracking for Google Analytics is hard to implement on those pages. We recommend working with your agency and/or development teams to ensure that tracking is working on your AMP pages. Finally, AMP pages are cached by Google so make sure to let all relevant parties know if you are going to make a change to your AMP pages so they can track the changes and best support them. We advise that the pages you pick to change to AMP will not be ones that you will need to edit over the next two months. We are happy to provide a consultation to help you pick your pages and discuss any questions you may have. Here is an example of mobile responsive pages VS AMP pages and how they layouts differ.

Responsive Page Vs AMP Page Example

What if I Choose to Stick with Responsive Mobile Design

If you choose to not create AMP pages you need to make sure that your responsive mobile design is lightning fast with 90% or better site speed ranking on mobile. In addition, make sure that your mobile navigation is very easy to use and read on mobile across all mobile browsers and different mobile devices and tablets. Make sure the mobile navigation requires as few ‘clicks’ as possible to reach content on your site. If your site isn’t perfectly optimized for mobile, your rankings are going to suffer. We recommend you use AMP page instead of responsive unless you can get your mobile performance into the 90% range.  

Recommended Image Sizes for Google AMP Content

Here is a list of the Google AMP recommended image sizes (all dimensions in pixels @ 72 dpi showing height x width):

AMP Banner Image – Google AMP image size: 60px by <= 320px @ 72dpi – This image is not an actual requirement, but it should be included at the top of every page.  The best practice is to use a centered transparent PNG and specify the desired background container color.  The width of the image could certainly be less than the maximum especially if you plan on overlapping other elements.

Publisher Logo Image – Google AMP image size: 60px  by <= 600px @ 72dpi – This image appears at the top of the AMP card (rich-snippet).  When it is displayed to the visitor it is greatly reduced in size (similar to favicon height).  The width of the image could certainly be less than the maximum.  The image is specified in the rich-snippet (structured data) script in the publisher logo element.  To test the entire snippet, you must use the Structured Data Testing Tool.

Sample: “publisher”:{“@type”:”Organization”,”name”:”<publisher name>“,”logo”:{“@type”:”ImageObject”,”url”:”<logo image URL>“,”height”:”24″,”width”:”160″}}

Featured Image – Google AMP image size: Minimum 390px by 696px @ 72dpi  – This image appears on the AMP card (rich-snippet) in the Google AMP carousel search result. The image is specified in the rich-snippet (structured data) script in the image element.  To test the entire snippet, you must use the Structured Data Testing Tool.

Sample: “image”:{“@type”:”ImageObject”,”url”:”<image URL>“,”width”:882,”height”:568}}

Time to Decide

We know the last thing you want to hear is that you have to put more work into your website, but we are strongly recommending it to all of our Pico clients. If you do not already have a fast loading easy to navigate user experience on mobile, go with AMP. We are happy to provide a free site speed analysis and audit. We would love to discuss the pros and cons of your site as it relates to SEO and organic visibility.

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