EVP & Chief Revenue Officer of Moz Group at J2 Global.
Changes to third-party data and cookies, updates to Google’s algorithm, and more — digital marketers have had to wrap their heads around many adjustments over the past year. When it comes to changes in the world of SEO, my company’s annual conference, MozCon, provided some great insights to help digital marketers keep up with website optimizations. Here are the top takeaways, plus my advice on how to put them into practice:
Google Continues To Change
One of Google’s latest updates, Core Web Vitals, was a topic that took center stage. With the newest official ranking factor, Google now looks at a page’s user experience by analyzing metrics like largest contentful paint, first input delay and cumulative layout shift. It’s not cut-and-dry, however — your optimizations must be made thoughtfully. During MozCon, our senior search scientist, Tom Capper, highlighted flaws that can actually degrade user experience: Removing useful links to improve first input delay or adding a pop-up 20 seconds after a page has loaded to improve cumulative layout shift may improve those metrics, but they hinder your site’s usability. As with all things in SEO, optimizing only for the search engine can leave your users high and dry.
Google appears to be aware of the issue and had delayed the rollout of the Core Web Vitals update; despite that, it has still moved forward. Capper compared the situation to the prisoner’s dilemma: In the eyes of the search engine, if we believe our competitors are “improving” their sites according to Core Web Vitals, we’ll do the same to avoid losing out on rankings — regardless of how it might damage our sites.
When it comes down to it, this means there’s no way around dancing to the tune of Core Web Vitals — sites will just have to adjust accordingly. When optimizing your website, I recommend the following: Prioritize high-traffic pages by checking field or lab data reports, and optimize according to each metric, but not at the expense of speed or experience. There are many ways to do so, including using facades (content blocks) for late-loading content or opting against using large hero images that take a long time to load. Core Web Vitals aren’t the ideal ranking metric, but learning to live with them is the best way to ease into this update.
The Importance Of E-A-T
Since the pandemic began, misinformation has run rampant online, and it only continues to rise in volume. This is where Google’s expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-A-T) ecosystem is key. Content, authors and websites are evaluated against these qualities when it comes to rankings, building a bulwark against false or harmful information surfacing at the top of results pages. In times of crisis, the importance of E-A-T has grown exponentially, protecting users from inaccurate, untrustworthy news.
Lily Ray, senior director of SEO and head of organic research at Amsive Digital, presented research showing that Google favorably ranks content from reputable sources after searching for potentially controversial keywords. (Full disclosure: Amsive Digital is a Moz customer.) By studying keyword comparisons, she took note that more authoritative websites have become increasingly visible on search results pages in just a few years, thanks to E-A-T.
These days, if you want your website to rank highly, you must consider what could be helping or hurting you in your existing content. Your visibility could be impacted by a poor reputation, the inclusion of hate speech, a lack of good sources or the inclusion of excessive affiliate or sales links. My advice is to focus on being an expert and an authoritative thought leader in your field, and showcase that expertise and authority on your website. With E-A-T, Google will tune out the noise to highlight the voices that matter. The search landscape is more complex and competitive than ever. It’s essential to be reasonable with your organic search goals and always put E-A-T at the forefront of your SEO strategy.
Understanding Your True Competitors
Competition will always be a key factor as you vie for the top spot on the search engine results page (SERP). But there’s a catch: Your actual competitors may not be who you think they are. True competitors aren’t necessarily defined by higher revenue or increased traffic; they exist where you don’t, at least where rankings are concerned. That means it’s time to follow their lead and do what they do — but better.
Pete Meyers, marketing scientist at Moz, stressed the importance of taking cues from competitor SERP insights to inform your own content and SEO strategies. One of the best ways to know where your site is underperforming and to identify gaps in your strategies is to analyze what your top competitors are doing.
You don’t need elaborate tools to do a competitor analysis. Scanning SERP results on Google is all you need for the simplest exercise. The details you are seeking to uncover include who is sharing the SERP with you, what keywords and topics they are targeting and the links directed to their website. This ultimately comes down to reviewing what’s working for them, and then levering those insights for your own efforts.
You won’t find helpful competitor information without being supported by truly good data. It’s critical to understanding not only how to keep up with competitors, but also which competitors are worth keeping up with. After all, if you’re competing with the wrong person, how can you win the race? The results of your analysis will guide how you revise and redirect your content to reflect what’s working for competitors and what’ll get your page ranked.
If the speakers at this year’s MozCon taught us anything, it’s that while the world of SEO continues to evolve, a few principles have remained the same: Offer a quality user experience, provide content that users and search engines can trust and rely on good data, especially when studying your true competitors. While these aren’t the only answers to a fully optimized website, these principles are an excellent place to start.