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SEO Performance in 2018 Using Cloudflare


6 min read

For some businesses SEO is a bad word, and for good reason. Google and other search engines keep their algorithms a well-guarded secret making SEO implementation not unlike playing a game where the referee won’t tell you all the rules. While SEO experts exist, the ambiguity around search creates an opening for grandiose claims and misinformation by unscrupulous profiteers claiming expertise.

If you’ve done SEO research, you may have come across an admixture of legitimate SEO practices, outdated optimizations, and misguided advice. You might have read that using the keyword meta tag in your HTML will help your SEO (it won’t), that there’s a specific number of instances a keyword should occur on a webpage (there isn’t), or that buying links will improve your rankings (it likely won’t and will get the site penalized). Let’s sift through the noise and highlight some dos and don’ts for performance-based SEO in 2018.

SEO is dead, long live SEO!

Nearly every year since its inception, SEO is declared dead. It is true that the scope of best practices for search engines has narrowed over the years as search engines have become smarter, and much of the benefit from SEO can be experienced by following these two rules:

  1. Create good content
  2. Don’t be creepy

Beyond the fairly obvious, there are a number of tactics that can help improve the importance with which a website is evaluated inside Google, Bing and others. This blog will focus on optimizing for Google, though the principles and practices likely apply to all search engines.

Does using Cloudflare hurt my SEO?

The short answer is, no. When asked whether or not Cloudflare can damage search rankings, John Mueller from Google stated CDNs can work great for both users and search engines when properly configured. This is consistent with our findings at Cloudflare, as we have millions of web properties, including SEO agencies, who use our service to improve both performance and SEO.

Can load time affect a site's SEO ranking?

Yes, it can. Since at least 2010, Google has publicly stated that site speed affects your Google ranking. While most sites at that time were not affected, times have changed and heavier sites with frontend frameworks, images, CMS platforms and/or a slew of other javascript dependencies are the new normal. Google promotes websites that result in a good user experience, and slow sites are frustrating and penalized in rankings as a result.

The cost of slow websites on user experience is particularly dramatic in mobile, where limited bandwidth results in further constraints. Aside from low search rankings, slow loading sites result in bad outcomes; research by Google indicates 53% of mobile sites are abandoned if load time is more than 3 seconds. Separate research from Google using a deep neural network found that as a mobile site’s load time goes from 1 to 7 seconds, the probability of a visitor bouncing increases 113%. The problems surrounding page speed increase the longer a site takes to load; mobile sites that load in 5 seconds earn 2x more ad revenue than those that take 19 seconds to load (the average time to completely load a site on a 3G connection).

What tools can I use to evaluate my site's performance?

A number of free and verified tools are available for checking a website’s performance. Based on Google’s research, you can estimate the number of visitors you will lose due to excessive loading time on mobile. Not to sound click baitey, but the results may surprise you.

As more web traffic continues to shift to mobile, mobile optimization must be prioritized for most websites. Google has announced that in July 2018 mobile speed will also affect SEO placement. If you want to do more research on your site’s overall mobile readiness, you can check to see if your site is mobile friendly.

If you’re technically-minded and use Chrome, you can pop into the Chrome devtools and click on the audits tab to access Lighthouse, Chrome’s built in analysis tool.

Other key metrics used for judging your site's performance include FCP and DCL speeds. First Contentful Paint (FCP) measures the first moment content is loaded onto the screen of the user, answering the user’s question: “is this useful?”. The other metric, DOM Content Loaded (DCL), measures when all stylesheets have loaded and the DOM tree is able to be rendered. Google provides a tool for you to measure your website’s FCP and DCL speeds relative to other sites.

Can spammy websites hosted on the same platform hurt SEO?

Generally speaking, there is no cause for concern as shared hosts shouldn’t hurt your SEO, even if some of the sites on the shared host are less reputable. In the unlikely event you find yourself as the only legitimate website on the host that is almost entirely spam, it might be time to rethink your hosting strategy.

Does downtime hurt SEO?

If your site is down when it’s crawled, it may be temporarily pulled from results. This is why service interruptions such as getting DDoSed during peak purchases times can be more damaging. Typically a site’s ranking will recover when it comes back online. If it’s down for an entire day it may take up to a few weeks to recover.

Don’t be creepy in SEO: an incomplete guide

Everybody likes to win, but playing outside the rules can have consequences. For websites that attempt to circumvent Google’s guidelines in an attempt to trick the search algorithms and web crawlers, a perilous future awaits. Here are a few things that you should make sure you avoid.

Permitting user-generated spam - sometimes unmoderated comment sections run amok with user generated spam ads, complete with links to online pharmacies and other unrelated topics. Leaving these types of links in place lowers the quality of your content and may subject you to penalization. Having trouble handling a spam situation? There are strategies you can implement.

Link schemes - while sharing links with reputable sources is still a legitimate tactic, excessively sharing links is not. Likewise, purchasing large bundles of links in an attempt to boost SEO by artificially passing PageRank is best avoided. There are many link schemes, and if you’re curious whether or not you’re in violation, look at Google’s documentation. If you feel like you might’ve made questionable link decisions in the past and you want to undo them, you can disavow links that point to your site, but use this feature with extreme caution.

Doorway pages - By creating many pages that optimize for specific search phrases, but ultimately point to the same page, some sites attempt to saturate all the search terms around a particular topic. While this might be tempting strategy to gain a lot of SEO very quickly, it may result in all pages losing rank.

Scraping content - In an attempt to artificially build content, some websites will scrape content from other reputable sources and call it their own. Aside from the fact that this behavior can get a site flagged by the Panda algorithm for unrelated or excessive content, it is also in violation of the guidelines and can result in penalization or removal of a website from results.

Hidden text and links - by hiding text inside a webpage so it’s not visible to users, some websites will try to artificially increment the amount of content they have on their site or the amount of instances a keyword occurs. Hiding text behind an image, setting a font size to zero, using CSS to position an element off of the screen, or the classic “white text on a white background” are all tactics to be avoided.

Sneaky redirects - as the name implies, it’s possible to surreptitiously redirect users from the result that they were expecting onto something different. Split cases can also occur where a desktop version of the site will be directed to the intended page while the mobile will be forwarded to full-screen advertising.

Cloaking - by attempting to show different content to search engines and users, some sites will attempt to circumvent the processes a search engine has in place to filter out low value content. While cloaking might have a cool name, it’s in violation and can result in rank reduction or listing removal.

What SEO resources does Google provide?

There are number of sources that can be considered authoritative when it comes to Google SEO. John Mueller, Gary Illyes and (formerly) Matt Cutts, collectively represent a large portion of the official voice of Google search and provide much of the official SEO best practices content. Aside from the videos, blogs, office hours, and other content provided by these experts, Google also provides the Google webmaster blog and Google search console which house various resources and updates.

Last but not least, if you have web properties currently on Cloudflare there are technical optimizations you can make to improve your SEO.

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