Google is always changing its algorithms. That’s no surprise.
But the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 saw major changes on “Big G’s” part.
Let’s just say that the way you rank on Google this year will be very different from past years.
Let that sink in … because if you don’t “get” that statement and act on it, you’re going to have some issues ranking at the top of Google this year.
With that in mind, today I’m going to show you the three key areas you need to focus your SEO efforts on in 2018:
- Mobile SEO
- Google Voice Search
- Google RankBrain
And here’s the best part: The methods I’m going to cover today are all super-cheap to implement.
Most are free and will only cost you a bit of time investment to implement.
So without further ado, here are 18 ways to do affordable SEO in 2018 that’ll get powerful results.
18 Killer Affordable SEO Tips to Dominate the SERPs on a Budget (2018 Edition)
1. Optimizing your website for mobile devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets)
2. Making sure Google mobile spiders have access to all of your website’s resources.
Mobile searches are blowing up. 58% of all Google searches are now done on mobile devices, and that percentage is only going to grow. Naturally, Google is going to adapt its ranking algorithm to accommodate this change.
And that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Now, they’re rolling out their Mobile-First Index, which is completely changing the priority of Google’s ranking algorithm.
Since its inception, Google has used the desktop version of a page’s content to determine its ranking. But that all changed on March 26, 2018, when Google rolled out mobile-first indexing.
Here’s why it’s a huge deal:
Moving forward, Google will now place mobile sites as first priority for ranking purposes. That means if your site isn’t mobile optimized, there’s a good chance it’s not going to rank on Google.
At the end of the day, there are two main factors that influence mobile-first indexing: mobile optimization and user-experience (UX) signals.
You’ll need a solid grasp on both to help you rank at the top of Google.
Mobile optimization is how well your site is optimized for mobile devices (i.e. smartphones and tablets).
Here are three affordable SEO tips for making sure your site is mobile-optimized:
Affordable SEO Tip #1: Use a responsive design
There are three ways to set up a mobile site:
- Separate URLs: Each page has its own dedicated mobile URL (m.examplesite.com)
- Dynamic Serving: Same URL but different HTML/CSS depending on the device each visitor uses
- Responsive: The design of the site “responds” to each individual visitor, regardless of device
Out of the three, responsive design is by far the best.
For starters, it’s the mobile design type that Google recommends.
And on top of that, it gives you the following benefits:
- No need for separate URLs or different HTML,
- No need for redirects, and
- User-focused content (which Google really likes)
Here’s a crazy-good guide that covers responsive design in more detail …
… and an awesome resource by Matt Kersley that shows you what your site looks like on different sized screens:
Affordable SEO Tip #2: Make all of your site’s content visible to Google
As we discussed earlier, Google will now look at your mobile site first for everything.
And it wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t have any meaningful effect on SEO either way.
But now it can.
There’s a good chance that if something is hidden on mobile, it won’t be crawled by Google, and thus won’t be considered for ranking purposes. I’m sure you can see how this can have a huge negative effect on your SEO efforts.
Here’s the simple fix: Follow Google’s advice and make sure any page-relevant content shows on all design schemes (both desktop and mobile).
Affordable SEO Tip #3: Check your site’s “friendliness” with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test
One of the most important components of getting ranked (and ranking high) on Google is making sure Google “likes” your site.
What do I mean by “like?” I mean that you follow all of their guidelines and recommendations.
Yes, it’s really that simple. And that important.
Because if Google doesn’t like your site (read: think that it’s “friendly” and beneficial for its users), then it really doesn’t matter how awesome your content is … it’s not going to rank where it counts.
So, how do you get a solid grasp on whether Google likes your mobile site or not?
Google’s made it easy for you by giving you access to their very own Mobile-Friendly Test.
This online tool shows you how easy it is for a visitor to use a specific page or domain on a mobile device. More importantly, it gives you an idea of what you need to fix to make your site more Google-friendly.
Just type in the URL of the page you want to check, Google will analyze the URL, and you’ll receive a report telling you whether it’s mobile-friendly or not:
UX signals translate to how visually appealing and easy-to-use your mobile site is.
Here are three affordable (and simple to implement) SEO tips for improving your site’s user experience:
Affordable SEO Tip #4: Own your mobile site’s speed
As a matter of fact, they actually recommend that a site has load speeds of under a second! It goes without saying, it’s imperative that your mobile site loads fast—especially with mobile-first indexing.
You can use Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool to check your mobile site’s speed. It’s easy to use and, more importantly, comes straight from the place we’re trying to impress (Google). Follow all the recommendations this tool gives you.
First, type the URL of the page you want to check (I’m gonna keep it discreet for privacy reasons):
Take note of the speed and optimization readings. This particular site appears to need a bit of work on the mobile side of things to make sure it’s ready for the Mobile-First Index rollout in July.
If you want to get even more in-depth with page speed insights, then you might want to check out WebPageTest.org. This tool offers more detailed results than Google’s PageSpeed Insights Tool, but you may need to hire a webmaster to read over your results and make the necessary changes.
My advice: Start with Google’s tool, make the necessary changes, and then switch over to WebPageTest.org, if needed.
Affordable SEO Tip #5: Make your mobile site super-easy to read
Remember when it was cool to pinch and double-tap your mobile device’s screen to see certain parts of a webpage?
Yeaaaaah … those days are long gone. We hate having to do stuff like that now. And if we hate it, then that means Google execs, by default, aren’t fans either.
Bottom line: Your content always needs to be easy to both see and read. You can do that by:
- Using a larger font. Buh-bye, 8px font. Hello, 16px font!
- Bolding headlines and important text. For examples, see this post and pretty much any other post published on the Monitor Backlinks blog.
- Having a line length no more than 75 characters total. According to Smashing Magazine, 65 characters is considered the “perfect measure.”
- Using shorter paragraphs. Stick to 2-3 sentences max per paragraph.
Affordable SEO Tip #6: Make your mobile site more visually appealing
In addition to being easy to read, your site also needs to be “easy on the eyes.”
A visually appealing site helps you accomplish two things:
- Boost dwell time
- Reduce bounce rate
Google likes them both (more on this in a bit).
Here are some easy ways to boost your pages’ dwell time and reduce bounce rate by making your mobile site more attractive:
- Resize your site’s header images. Larger header images on desktop browsers can look stunning, but they can be a serious problem on mobile devices. They push your all-important introduction content “below the fold”—which is always a bad thing (I’ll tell you exactly why in an upcoming section on Google RankBrain). For now, start using smaller images at the beginning of your posts so readers can see your introduction immediately on mobile devices.
- Use more “negative” space. Negative space is another way of saying white space—the space that’s between paragraphs, headlines and multimedia content on websites. A page that lacks negative space looks cluttered and unorganized, especially on mobile devices. And if visitors see an “ugly” page, they’re not gonna stick around to read what’s on it. Thus, your dwell time decreases and your bounce rate increases (both of which are very bad in Google’s eyes).
Google Voice Search
1. Voice recognition technology has never been more accurate and accessible.
2. It’s never been more convenient for users to search using a voice assistant.
Simply put: Voice search is here to stay. And voice-focused SEO strategies will continue to evolve and be increasingly important. If you’re not on top of this fast-growing trend, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity.
Position 0: The Key to Being Successful at Google Voice Search
Position 0 is another name for Google’s coveted Featured Snippet location…
… and it’s the key to winning at voice search.
So how do you rank for Position 0? The clearest and most direct path is to write insanely useful, beneficial and in-depth content that’s focused on your chosen topic.
Fail to do that, and it really doesn’t matter what else you do. You’re probably not gonna make it to the very top of Google.
Always start with creating killer content. From there, use these four affordable SEO strategies to get it to Position 0:
Affordable SEO Tip #7: Improve your pages’ load speed
According to research by Brian Dean, the average voice result page loads in 4.6 seconds.
That’s 52% faster than the average page’s load time.
That tells us that Google really cares about page speed, especially in regards to voice search. We need to get a solid handle on making our pages load faster, sooner rather than later.
Because starting July 2018, page speed will be a ranking factor for mobile searches:
Page load speed is now more important than ever.
Here are some ways to increase your page load speed on mobile (and desktop):
Start using a CDN
CDN is an acronym for “content delivery network.” Basically, it’s a network that delivers content to websites fast and securely.
Here’s a brief (and general) overview of how it works:
- The CDN stores cached versions of your content at multiple locations across the world.
- When someone from another country accesses your site, the closest stored version is relayed to them. This drastically speeds up content delivery, thus making your site load faster.
If you own a larger site, I’d go so far as to say that a CDN is a requirement.
If you want to learn more about CDNs, check out this resource.
Google’s PageSpeed is a free module that improves your site’s page speed by automatically optimizing your site’s web performance.
Just install it, set it up, and let it do its thing. If you’re hesitant to install it yourself, then consider hiring a webmaster.
Optimize your images
Images uploaded to your site can get very large, drastically hindering page load speeds. The workaround to that issue is to reduce your image sizes while still maintaining the same quality.
If you’re not sure how to do this (and WordPress is your CMS of choice), the EWWW Image Optimizer is a handy WordPress plugin that takes any image you upload to your domain and optimizes it to load as fast as possible.
Speaking of plugins …
Deactivate all plugins you no longer use
Your unused plugins on your WordPress site may be costing you valuable page load speed. Even if you no longer use them, active plugins continue to use up valuable resources.
So take a few moments and do an audit of your site to see which plugins you can either delete or deactivate.
This simple audit can save you significant page load time and help your overall SEO efforts.
Affordable SEO Tip #8: Create content that’s easy to read and understand
Google places great emphasis on elocution, which is essentially how easy it is for someone to understand an answer to a search query. So the simpler the language, the easier it is to understand.
Drew Eric Whitman, in his book “Cashvertising,” recommends writing at a 5th-grade reading level.
It’s worth noting here that it’s not proven that Google considers reading level when ranking pages. But given the research, it’s very possible that it does. Especially considering that:
- Google needs to be able to easily pronounce voice search answers, and
- Users need to easily understand the answers without any visual aids.
There are some excellent (and free) tools that can help you write in a simpler and clearer manner, including Grammarly and Hemingway App. I’m a big fan of Hemingway App, which has the bonus feature of showing you the reading level you’re currently writing at.
Affordable SEO Tip #9: Switch from HTTP to HTTPS
Google has stated on record that using HTTPS can boost your rankings.
HTTPS is a secured version of HTTP. Without HTTPS, any data passed is insecure. So you can see why Google gives it priority, and why you should highly consider switching over to it if you’re still using HTTP.
However, out of all the affordable SEO tips we’ve covered in this post, it’s worth mentioning that this one is the least affordable—it costs approximately $100 per year to maintain.
On top of that, depending on your knowledge level and the complexity of your site, you may need to hire an experienced webmaster to set it up.
All in all, it’s well worth the investment. HTTPS will continue to be more prevalent in the coming years, and will most likely become the standard in due time.
Affordable SEO Tip #10: Focus on the right keywords
Now you know what to do to be successful with voice search in 2018. But which keywords should you focus on first?
My recommendation: Start with the keywords with the most potential to rank at Position 0.
Which can mean:
- Keywords already ranking on the first page of Google, or
- If none are on the first page, the highest ranking keywords
You can easily find these keywords with Monitor Backlinks, from the Keywords tab:
From your list of keywords, simply find the highest ranked ones by sorting Position from highest to lowest:
If you haven’t added keywords to Monitor Backlinks yet, use the Add Keywords function to add the keywords you want to rank at Position 0 for:
Once added, Monitor Backlinks will monitor their rankings automatically so you can track the results of your hard work. You can pick up a free 30-day trial of Monitor Backlinks here if you want to get on top of rank tracking right away.
It works by turning your search query into a concept and then showing you what it thinks are the most relevant and best results.
It moves beyond simple keyword matching by measuring how people interact with the results, observing and adjusting as needed.
The are three main ways RankBrain interacts with search results: organic CTR, dwell time and bounce rate.
Organic CTR (short for click-through rate) is all about getting more clicks on organic searches. The more clicks an entry gets, the better the chances it’ll move up the rankings.
Here are four ways to get more clicks on your Google entries:
Affordable SEO Tip #11: Create emotionally powerful headlines
Simply put, emotional titles get more clicks (and shares). It’s been proven time and time again with headline-focused research and case studies.
But how do you create an emotionally powerful headline? Here’s an example to give you an idea.
Let’s say we had a headline that read:
How to Be a Better Putter in One Month
That’s weak, right? There’s nothing very engaging or emotionally driven in this headline.
But what if we rewrote it like this:
7 Powerful Tips for Being a Superior Putter (in Under 24 Hours)
Much more engaging, right? Here’s what I included in the second headline to make it more powerful:
- Numbers (more on this tactic in a sec)
- Words in parentheses (a surprisingly powerful trick for further increasing CTR)
- Power words (like “powerful” and “superior”)
Speaking of power words …
Affordable SEO Tip #12: Use more power words
Power words are words that (as the name implies) incite powerful emotions. Use them in your post headlines to add extra oomph to your title tags.
The key is to not get carried away and make the title too sales-hypey. 1-2 power words should do the trick.
If you need some inspiration, here’s an incredible list of 300+ power words personally researched by Jon Morrow of Smart Blogger.
Affordable SEO Tip #13: Include numbers in your title
Countless past studies show the positive impact numbers have on CTR.
You can check out one of the more recent and popular studies by BuzzSumo here that focuses on the most engaging numbers. As you can see below, 10 was the clear winner for the most engaging.
Affordable SEO Tip #14: Optimize your meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are the snippets that show under the title tags in a search result:
They also have a significant impact on CTR, so you want to make sure they’re optimized as well.
The standard meta description defaults to the first few lines of your page’s content. You can modify it via HTML markup, or take the simpler route and download a free plugin like Yoast SEO which allows you to edit the description within the WordPress post editor.
How should you optimize your meta description? I recommend doing three things:
- Add power words to the description
- Clearly convey the benefit of engaging with the content (the “what’s in it for them” statement)
- Include your target keyword (Google will bold it)
Let’s look at the previous example one more time with the above three features in mind:
Increase Dwell Time & Decrease Bounce Rate
Dwell time and bounce rate go hand-in-hand, so I’m including both in this section.
Dwell time is the amount of time a visitor spends on a page. Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who navigate away soon after viewing a page.
We always want a higher dwell time and a lower bounce rate.
Or said another way, we want visitors to stay on our pages as long as possible because that’s a key metric RankBrain uses to determine the quality of a page.
Here are four ways to increase dwell time while decreasing bounce rate:
Affordable SEO Tip #15: Place content above the fold
We’re impatient people these days. The internet’s spoiled us.
If we come across content we can’t immediately see and start reading, we’re likely to hit the back button and try the next search result.
So you can see why it’s important that your content’s introduction is visible immediately on every device—desktop, tablet and mobile.
This is relatively simple to accomplish on a desktop (and some tablets) but may take a bit of configuring for mobile devices. In most cases, simply resizing the header images is enough, as larger header images tend to push content below the fold on mobile devices.
When someone visits your site on a mobile device, it should resemble this (courtesy of Social Triggers):
Affordable SEO Tip #16: Publish long-form, in-depth content
The most obvious and effective way to boost dwell time and reduce bounce rate is to create long-form content that’s both informative and engaging.
Makes sense, right? It takes longer to read 3,000 words than 500 words. So you’re naturally going to stay on the web page longer.
(Just think about how long you’ve been on this page.)
But here’s the key: Make sure the content engages your readers. Because if it doesn’t, it won’t matter how long it is, your readers won’t hang around to read it.
When in doubt, remember this golden rule: Give specific answers to your readers’ specific questions in as much helpful detail as possible.
Affordable SEO Tip #17: Break up your content into chunks
One of long-form content’s biggest sticking points is how overwhelming it can be to readers if it’s not properly formatted. That’s why it’s important that you break it up into more manageable and easier-to-digest chunks.
Meaning: Instead of one huge block of text, you break it up into different sections and sub-sections.
That’s done in two main ways:
1. Add multimedia (where appropriate). This can be in the form of images, videos, infographics, etc.
2. Use headings and subheadings to break sections up. You can reference this post you’re reading, for example.
Affordable SEO Tip #18: Write short introductions
I’m sure you’ve heard that the headline is the most important part of any piece of content. And I agree with that.
But I would also argue that the introduction is just as important. It’s where the vast majority of readers who click through to your post will decide if they’re going to stick around.
It’s tempting to write a lengthy and detailed introduction, but longer introductions tend to frustrate readers more than help them.
Here’s why: Most readers want to dive right into the meat of the content. They want enough exposition to tell them what the post is about and why they should keep reading. But after that, they want to get to the “good stuff.”
That’s why your intro should be short, sweet, and do the following:
- Sell the reader on the content of the post
- Show them how it’ll benefit them or their business.
Now, It’s Your Turn
And, almost all of these tips won’t cost you a dime to implement. They’re 100% free.
Now you might be wondering where to start?
My advice is to start with optimizing your site for mobile first, then RankBrian, then voice search.
And don’t forget to implement what you learned in our recent backlink training guide to make 2018 your most successful year yet!