E45: The Most Important SEO Ranking Factors of 2018

Everyone is interested in getting high rankings on Google. But who has time to keep up with all the ranking factors? Have no fear... let's discuss the most important factors to focus on.

Michael Reynolds Hey, everyone. Welcome to the podcast. Allison, good morning. I like the little dance you're doing over there.

Allison Gibbs Good morning. I just like to start the day and start the episode with some positivity.

MR Do you want to sing this episode today?

AG Always. I want to sing every episode.

MR All right. If you burst into song, then I'll remember that I encouraged it. All right. So today's topic we're going to talk about the most important SEO ranking factors of 2018. The reason we're bringing this up is it came up in a recent webcast where we talked about pillar content and as part of that we talked about some of the most important ranking factors that affect how you get seen and the website traffic you get from search engines like Google. So, Allison reminded me the disclaimer here I have to say that there are over -- what? -- 200 ranking factors.

AG Yes, there are 200 ranking signals that we are at least aware of with Google.

MR This episode will be 5 hours, so buckle down, get settled in, get a cup of coffee. I'm just kidding. Not really. So we're picking out, I think, eight to talk about today.

AG Um-hum. Just a handful.

MR So just a reminder, this is not comprehensive. We're not going to spend all day talking about all 200 ranking factors. We are going to talk about eight of them. But they are some of the most important and significant factors that you can address on your financial institution's website. We think it's important to cover these, make sure everyone's up to date on what is important in our current landscape of SEO.

AG Before we jump in, do you want to give a little overview of what SEO is --

MR Oh, I suppose I could.

AG -- in case someone is joining us for the first time?

MR Why don't you give us an overview of what SEO is.

AG Okay. Yeah, so SEO stands for search engine optimization. And it is basically the series of tactics that we employ and engage in in order to improve our rankings within search engines. And there, as you have heard, over 200 ranking signals.

MR Are there over 200?

AG Yes. He keeps making fun of me you guys because I get really stressed out about it being very detailed. So that's why he keeps bringing it up and making fun of me because I was like how are we going to talk about all 200 in 30 minutes?

MR We are not going to talk about all 200. But the ones we're going to talk about include content, user intent, backlinks, mobile experience, speed, security, domain age and user experience. So, content -- let's start with content be that's an easy topic, right? It'll only take a couple minutes. [laughs]

AG Yep, it sure will.

MR Okay, I'll stop making fun of you now. The reason we're talking about content in this context of -- because we talked about pillar content recently in a lot of our previous episodes as well. The idea behind content has always been to serve the user.

I like to talk about content in this context -- wow, that's hard to say -- to remind people that it's really easy to write content that people don't care about. Some examples of that would be putting a lot of effort into all about your products and services and all about the stuff that is relevant to your bank or credit union but its not necessarily solving for the user's issue. An example of content that solves for the user's issue would be answering questions, creating resource pages in the form of pillar content that talks about an issue in great detail that is important to your audience. So usually financial topics would be around budgeting, debt, investing, savings, money habits, money behaviors, relating with money, all sorts of things around money. And we don't often see a lot of financial institutions really commit to this and really focusing on creating amazing content that helps people solve a problem and navigate an issue related to money. And that's the type of content that wins in search.

So keep that in mind. If you're focusing on search, it is important to have the right title tags and the right structure of your site and the right overall mapping of content, but the content that really wins is the stuff that solves the problem for the user. I'll leave it at that in the interest of time as we've talked about. But what would you add to that?

AG So the thing with content and the educational content, the major banks and the larger regional banks -- when I say major bank, I'm referencing Bank of America, Wells Fargo -- they are already creating these financial wellness education centers on their website, and they're already hosting this information. But the key that I think could be important for some of the smaller banks or community banks and credit unions is that the millennials don't necessarily like -- they don’t favor the major banks and the major nationwide banks. They want to be a part of the community. They prefer to shop local. And so if you can start helping millennials with their financial wellness component, which there's going to be a lot to unpack with that in a future episode that I'm working on --

MR Ooh, I'm intrigued.

AG -- ooh. So if you can start to do that with your content, that is going to be what cuts you through the noise of a really busy and hectic space.

MR Love it. That kind of segues into the next factor, which is user intent which is very related. So does you content address the user intent of the search? We've kind of covered both in one by talking about this, but again, keep in mind what is the user intent? Is the user intent to look for the best interest rate on a loan? Maybe. Sometimes it is. Is the user intent to learn about your products? Maybe. Or is the user intent to find a budgeting system that works for them? Or is the user intent to learn how to pick the right mutual funds? Or is the user intent to get the definition of an IRA? What is an IRA? Is the user intent should I use Roth or Traditional? Is the user intent to figure out what is a checklist for buying a home? These are all examples of user intent that if you figure out what the user intent is and provide answers and resolution to those issues, that's where you win. We kind of addressed that, again, here two in one here. Allison -- yes, you want to add something?

AG Yes, I want to say something about that because I'm just going to say that the user intent is not to go to your website, in most cases, not to go to your website to learn about your products and/or services to then see something on the page that says three lines about whatever the product is and then "call us for more information." That is not fulfilling the user's intent.

MR That is not helpful.

AG It is not helpful at all. I know you want them to call you. I know that's the whole goal is to get them into your sales process, but the best way to do that is to give them all of the information, equip them with the information and then let them make the choice on whether or not they're going to be the right fit. Because you don't want to waste time on people that will not be the right fit. And, I'm going to tell you right now, they're not going to waste time calling if they don't have the information there right in front of them. I think, honestly, the easiest and probably the lowest hanging fruit, if you will --

MR For the record, Allison said, "lowest hanging fruit."

AG I did -- is going to be within your product pages making sure that all of the information is available in an easy-to-read manner and then also your rates. That's the biggest thing that I hear from banks and credit unions. Most people don't want to mess with it. They don't want to have it on there. They change. They don't want to have to manage it. They don't want to have to update. It's a lot of stress. It's a lot of pressure. There are ways to make it easier, I promise. But that information not being on your website is allowing your users to go to another competitor, look for that information, see it there, they pick up the phone, they call or they start the application process and boom, there you go. You've already lost a potential customer just because you didn't have the information on your website.

MR Yeah, most of the sales process happens before you even talk to somebody.

AG Yeah, like 80% of it. User intent is going to be really important when it comes to the transparency of your products and services. I will put my soap box away.

MR For now.

AG There.

MR For now.

AG Yeah, for now.

MR So next on our list, tell me about backlinks.

AG Yeah, so a backlink is a link to your website from another website. So the reason why we want that is because if your site is linked from another website, then that shows a signal to search engines that there is some authority and some resource authority behind your content. And so it's going to be more than just backlinking your products and your services. It's going to be important to get backlinks to your content as well, your educational content, because that proves that you are the subject matter expert which we know you are. You're already the subject matter experts, why don't you just put that into content. I know it's easier said than done, but I promise you it's worth the time. Put that knowledge into an article then work on getting backlinks.

You want to be very careful about how you get these backlinks. There are some services out there that will engage in what's called link farming. I do not advise that. It will seem flashy at first, and it will seem exciting at first because you're going to see all these backlinks, but if they are from link farms or if they are sites that maybe have a poor domain authority or maybe some spam marked to their domain, then that could affect your overall rankings. So you want to make sure that they are high quality and there is a little bit of a PR component to this.

MR Yeah, thank you. Mobile experience is next. Mobile experience is pretty much what is sounds like. Not a whole lot of discussion needed here, but if your website is not responsive, that's an issue. Google is putting a lot of weight on the mobile experience, so the banking website needs to be responsive. And not just responsive. We've seen some lazy responsive websites where it's like eh, yeah, okay, we made it scaled down, but that's pretty much it. We like to put a lot of care and craftsmanship into a great mobile experience, which means we've actually planned out -- whoa, there's the planning word -- planning out how the flow happens on mobile versus desktop and actually deciding how elements of the site work when you scroll around and get to different areas of the site. So it's not just a matter of scaling it down so it fits. It's a matter of thinking about how people actually use your website on mobile. And that's important. Anything you would add?

AG You know, there's a lot that could be said about this. I think that in the case for financial institution websites and the mobile experience is that the skew towards mobile and the number of users on mobile has not been as, I want to say, as drastic -- maybe that's the best way to say it. It has not been as drastic as, I think, what people expected. So in most cases, from what I see from an analytics perspective, they're still hovering at about the 50% mark of people accessing the site via mobile versus desktop.

So when you are planning a site or when you're looking at a site, I think that it will be important for you from a mobile experience to look at the types of users that are engaging in your site from a mobile perspective because if you are not engaging a content strategy at this point in time, if I had to guess, I'm going to say that probably the majority of the users coming to the site from a mobile perspective are wanting to access their accounts in some capacity. And so that will vastly change how you set up the user experience from a mobile perspective versus if they are new users. Because we want to make sure -- if there are returning customers, we want to provide good customer service, we want them to be able to access their accounts extremely easily on mobile. Not everybody uses the native apps --

MR Yeah, it's funny. I'm glad you mentioned that because it seems like every time there is a shift in marketing or technology, then there's this trend of people thinking oh, well everyone's going to be on mobile and no one's ever going to use the desktop anymore. And we have this mindset of all in and this huge shift and, like you said, it's about half and half. People still use their laptops; they still use desktop computers; they still use their mobile devices. There's a healthy mixture. We use the context and the tool that works best in every situation, and sometimes that is a dramatic shift; other times that is a mixture.

AG Yeah. And in this case, with online banking, I think it is the perception of security, honestly. So I use my banking apps on my phone. I don't do any banking on desktop at all. Only if I absolutely have to, which is maybe once a year. But there are members of our team that have never downloaded the banking app on their phone because, just from a security perspective, they just don't want that data out there, and they only use desktop to access anything to do with online banking.

MR I can probably guess who that is.

AG You probably could. I mean, it's more than one person on the team, honestly.

MR Yeah?

AG Yeah.

MR How about you, Nathan? Are you one of those people?

AG Do you use native apps for your banks? Yeah, both.

MR You use both.

AG I only -- I'm exclusively phone. Like I said, it's once a year for me. Man, sometimes logging in to desktops is just way too stressful for me.

MR You probably have a thousand passwords you have to deal with anyway --

AG I do.

MR -- with all the stuff we do at work.

AG Yep. This is true. This is very true.

MR All right. So next on our list is speed. So this is something that we don't see a lot of financial institutions paying as much attention to as we think they might want to. How's that for diplomacy? But there are lots of slow banking websites out there and we've seen that -- our anecdotal experience anyway, is showing that we see some really amazing results when people speed up their websites. So if your banking website is slow, that is a factor in your overall search visibility that could be playing a part in whether you are being seen or not. But a slow website can limit you from the search traffic you might enjoy if it were faster. So a fast website is usually accomplished by a good cloud hosting platform, a fast CMS, the proper caching, the right optimization images, the way the site is built. There are a lot of factors that go into speed.

I think we've actually done an episode, maybe not recently, but this podcast on speed and speeding up your website so go back and check that one out. But speed really plays a part in search engine rankings. And we've seen sites that go from an F or a D rating in speed on various metrics up to an A or a B rating. And we see a noticeable uptick in organic search traffic. It really does help. And so, again, that's a topic that could take hours to really get into in detail, but a fast website can help. Kind of bottom line.

AG And Google has a free page-speed tool. So if you just type into Google "page speed tool," you can go check the grade of your website on both desktop and mobile, and it will help you identify the improvements that you can make in your website in order to improve the speed and the user experience from that perspective. The majority of the time what I see is it has to do with image sizing and having huge images on your site, so that could be something that could be easily replaced within the next week or so within your own websites. And then the other -- this is getting really technical -- the other component is going to be minifying the different pieces of code on your site. That's going to take more effort from whomever is supporting your site, so if it's your IT team, it might take more effort from them or your website agency in order to accomplish that.

MR So next on our list we'll spend about 30 seconds on because it's security. So in the banking industry, this should not be an issue. Google recommends that all websites be under SSL, even non-banking websites or non-mission critical websites; all websites. Again, if your banking website is not under SSL, that's very rare and a huge issue so we don't expect that to be an issue so we're not going to dwell on that one --

AG I will say, though --

MR Yeah, go ahead.

AG -- that this also plays into the third party. If you have any third-party software, which every single bank or credit union does, this plays into the third party as well. So there's one CMS that we utilize here that doesn't allow us to embed software that isn't under SSL and embed widgets and things like that.

MR Yeah, by design.

AG That is by design, yes. It's not just your website, it's every other product that you're using as well even if you aren't thinking about it. So let's say you're using something like HubSpot and you are collecting general information through HubSpot but it's also hosting your blog, I don't think people think about that as much because in their mind, oh, it's just blog content, but it will really affect your rankings overall if you don't add the SSL. We've seen a pretty dramatic increase, honestly. You can tell if you go back and look at some of our client analytics, you can see the second that Google started to value SSL over non-secure websites because you can see it's a pretty dramatic decrease.

MR Next on our list is domain age. And this doesn't usually play a big factor because most banks or credit unions don't really change their domain very often. But domain age does play a part. The longer your domain has been in existence, the more credibility it has. The reason I can think of this being an issue is if the name of your bank changes or you rebrand with a different name or maybe you're looking at a .bank domain --

AG I was just getting ready to say I don't know how .bank would play into this because you have to go through such a stringent application process and pay quite a bit of money in order to get the .bank that I don't know if the age of the .bank would affect this in a negative way. But I would say a different bank name, if you are renaming the bank and renaming the domain altogether, yes that will affect it.

MR Yeah, I would guess -- I don't have the data, obviously, but I would guess that switching to a .bank would not be as much of an issue because --

AG I don’t think it would be, but --

MR -- again going back to the intent of search engines is to assign credibility to factors and there is so much credibility behind a .bank domain already, I would guess it would offset the domain age issue. But again, that's just a guess. I don't have enough data to know.

AG Yep.

MR Finally on our list, user experience. Of the eight factors we're talking about, the last is user experience and, again, this is a big topic. So really this -- suffice it to say, user experience is something you can apply as an acid test to your website overall. For example, are people getting the information they need? Are people able to navigate well? Is is ADA compliant? That's going to be a big factor in user experience. ADA compliance hits a lot of these touch points on SEO as well. So ADA compliance will go along way toward addressing this user experience factor as well. Are forms -- you talked about earlier -- are forms easy to fill out? Is that something that has an online application for a mortgage or a loan or an account, how easy is it to fill out? How useful are the error messaging prompts? How quickly can they get through the information? How well does it flow? That sort of thing. User experience is a big topic but be aware that user experience is also a ranking factor.

AG Can they find the content that they're looking for?

MR Yeah. Can they find the rates?

AG One of the things that I loved during the Brand Distillery series was when Garrett mentioned that your users, if they are interacting with your brand and they don't understand something because it's so heavily branded with branded keywords and --

MR Jargon? Yeah.

AG Yeah, jargon. That was the word I was looking for, jargon -- that your user feels stupid at that point, or they can feel stupid. Nobody likes feeling that way. And so the whole thought process with the user experience is that if we can give them a positive user experience, it's easy to understand, then they will start to identify your brand and start to have a feel about your brand that's very positive and that could basically lead you into a lifelong customer and a referral source at that point.

MR Right on. All right. So content, user intent, backlinks, mobile experience, speed, security, domain age, and user experience. Those are the factors that we recommend looking at first. If you would like to increase your visibility on search, and we usually find these make a pretty significant impact when you dig into them. That's our list for today. Anything else you would add, Allison?

AG I don’t believe so.

MR Okay. Wonderful. Well, thanks so much for joining us, everybody, today. We appreciate you being a listener. You can find us on the web; capitalpointmarketing.com. As always, we'll see you next time. Thanks, everyone.