When understanding Search Engine Optimization you need to understand that to rand your website towards the top of pages on Google, Bing and Yahoo you need to understand and work with complex algorithms and it takes a lot of time and effort. There are certain rules you can follow to optimize your website and provide the search engine bots with the necessary signals. While most articles focus on SEO tips and advice this article will discuss SEO in relation to how it can be applied in practice. This is why a good portion of the websites simply do not get the expected results.
Page Titles and Description
Page titles are the most important characteristics of an optimized page title are:
- Each page needs to have a unique page title that accurately describes the page’s content.
- Be brief and descriptive.
- Help the user understand what the page is about
Homepage Title: The title for your homepage can include the name of your website/business and other bits of important information like the physical location of your business or maybe a few of its main focuses or offerings. The titles of other posts/pages of your website should accurately describe what the page is about and be attractive to the searcher.
The page description meta tag is also very important. It gives users, Google, and other search engines a summary of what the page is about. Google may choose to show what you type in the description as a snippet for your page or may decide to use a part of your page’s content. In other words, it does not mean that what you write in the description will show in the snippet.
The guidelines for writing a good meta description are:
- Always provide a unique description for all pages, post, products of your website.
- Keep the size between 140-150 characters.
- Avoid repeating the title in the description
- Don’t add too many keywords
- Try to use the description as a way to ‘advertise’ your page to the reader so that they click on your title and visit the page.
Permanent Link Structure
The permanent link structure is a term used to describe the format of URLs for pages (categories/tags) or individual posts of a website. It is shown in the browser address bar and in the search results (below the page title).
SEO Friendly URLs
- Make URLs simple and easy to understand for search engines and users
- Use hyphens ‘ – ‘ to separate the words that make up a URL
- Avoid lengthy URLs with unnecessary information
- Use words that describe what the page is about but avoid keyword stuffing
Examples of BAD URL structures
Examples of GOOD URL structures
When we talk about internal links we mean links in a page that point to other pages within the website i.e. not external links. This is used to redirect to a page within the website to find out more information on how to increase the intensity of an exercise. Internal linking is a very important factor for website SEO but still, many website owners are not using it correctly. The rules to follow for internal links are simple:
- Link related articles together either by using keyword anchor text or by using the full article title.
- Make sure that the links are useful both for the user and easy to understand by search engines.
- Don’t make links for search engines only. An internal link should help the user navigate the site better.
- Do not use terms like ‘click here’ or ‘[..]’ for internal linking.
- Don’t overdo it. A few internal links per page are enough (create more if really necessary)
Secure your Website
The best thing about SSL is it’s simple to set up, and once it’s done all you have to do is route people to use HTTPS instead of HTTP. If you try to access your site by putting https:// in front of your URLs right now, you’ll get an error. That’s because you haven’t installed an SSL Certificate.
Setting up HTTPS on your website is very easy, just follow these simple steps:
- Host with a dedicated IP address
- Buy a certificate
- Activate the certificate
- Install the certificate
- Update your site to use HTTPS
Text Formatting and The Use of H1, H2, and H3
Don’t just publish the text on your website without first doing some basic formatting. This is not good for the user experience and works against your SEO efforts. General guidelines for formatting a post or page on your website:
- Use H1 tags for the title of your post
- Use H2 tags for the main headings of your post.
- Use BOLD and Italics to draw users attention
- Don’t use H2 tags for all your headings
- Write small paragraphs
- Use a font size that is easy to read
When formatting your posts always have in mind the user experience. Can the user identify the main sections of your post (H2 tags) just by looking at the page? Is the text easy to read on all devices (smartphones, Apple Ipads, Android tablets etc)?
Use of Breadcrumb
Make sure that you have a breadcrumb on all your internal pages. A breadcrumb is a set of links at the top of the page that aid navigation. If you are using WordPress there are many free plugins to create a breadcrumb.
The 404 Page
SEO is about improving the user experience and a proper 404 page contributes to that goal. The 404 page is the page shown when a user is looking for a page on your site that doesn’t exist or mistypes a URL or follows a broken link. A properly configured 404 page should include:
- Give some info to the user of what happened rather than displaying “Not found”
- Have a design consistent with the rest of the website
- Give options to the user to navigate to other pages of the site.
Images are necessary to enhance the user experience but care should be taken not to create other side effects like problems with page load speed or slow response. Use these rules when optimizing your images.
- Use Alt Text to describe the image. You can add keywords but don’t overdo it.
- Use keywords in image filenames (separated with dashes). Avoid using filenames like image1.jpg or person1.jpg. Instead, use meaningful names with dashes. For example woman-working-out.jpg
- Keep all image files in a dedicated folder in your site i.e. www.mydomain.com/images/
- Optimize the image size. The smaller the size of the image (in KB) the faster your website will load.
Google mentioned many times that page speed is a ranking factor and yet many webmasters don’t optimize their websites for speed. The aim of Google is to provide the searcher with the most accurate results in the fastest possible way. It is certain that page speed (as a ranking factor) will gain more importance in the next couple of years. Fast websites improve the user experience and it is a factor to encourage the visitor to come again. In addition, a website that loads in less than 4 seconds is more likely to:
- Rank better in search results
- Get more page visits per user
- Get more conversions
How to tackle the page speed problem?
- Optimize the size of your images.
- Use a caching service or plug-in (Some of these include WP Super cache and W3Total Cache).
- Go to http://www.webpagetest.org/ and test how many seconds it takes for your pages to load from different locations, internet speed, and browsers. The analysis report at the end will also tell you which components of your page take too long to load so that you can remove them.
- Go to Google Page Speed Service to analyze your website and get performance recommendations.
- If you have a lot of images on your site and you cannot improve performance with the recommendations given by the tools mentioned above you can consider using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) service such as Cloud Flare or Amazon Cloud Front
Tackling issues related to performance is a technical issue and sometimes it’s not easy for the average user to identify and solve the problems but it is a very important factor for SEO and should not be neglected.
Get Links from Other Websites
There is no way to avoid mentioning link building when we talk about SEO. The reason is simple: Off-Page SEO factors play a very critical role in the Google ranking algorithm. What is link building and why it is very important for SEO?
Google’s initial ranking algorithm was based on looking for a way to compare websites so that the best results were shown first in the search engines results pages (SERPS). Besides taking into account the on-page SEO factors of a page, Google decided that websites that have incoming links from other websites are probably more important and popular than others, so they deserved a better ranking. In other words, incoming links counted as ‘votes of trust’ and this had a positive effect on a website’s ranking position. The more incoming links pointing to a website the better was the ranking position.
In the beginning, this was something that could easily be manipulated. Webmasters who understood this concept started building thousands of links pointing to their websites and increased their rankings. The problem was that some of those websites were not good quality websites and they did not actually deserve to be on the first page of Google. Over time this created a huge problem for Google that impacted the quality of their search results.
To protect their reputation and keep spam websites away, Google started adding more strict rules to their ranking algorithm and they were able to differentiate between natural and artificially created links. The result was a success for Google. Spam and low-quality websites did not only lost their rankings but in many cases, they were removed from the Google index. This was the time that Google penalties became more popular and words like Panda and Penguin (that’s the name given to Google ranking algorithm changes) became a nightmare for many webmasters.
With regard to link building, you should understand the following:
- Links are still a very important aspect of SEO.
- It’s no longer a matter of quantity (how many links are pointing to your website) but of quality (from where these links are coming).
- Natural links are good for your rankings, artificially generated links can get you into trouble.
How to approach link building:
- Publish great content on your website that will naturally attract links
- Put your content in front of other webmasters/bloggers that may potentially link to your website (Facebook and other social media channels are great promotion tools for this purpose)
- Link to other websites and reach out to webmasters informing them that you added a link to their websites. If they like your website, they may return the favor – This is actually advice given by Google in one of their guides.
- Publish content on other websites and add links pointing to your pages (this is also known as guest posting)
- Make connections with other webmasters and let them know about your website (twitter and email are great tools to built connections with other people)
- Try to get links from high-quality websites only
- Get links from websites related to your niche and not any kind of website
- Built your link profile gradually (any sudden changes to the number of incoming links may raise some warnings signals in the ranking algorithm)
- Make sure you understand the difference between a ‘follow’ and ‘nofollow‘ link
- Read Google’s guidelines on link building
- How you approach link building for new websites is different than older websites so make sure that you use the right techniques
- Use tools like SEMRush to analyze the link profiles of your competitors and try to learn as much as you can about their link practices
- Check your link profile frequently and take action if necessary to clean your profile from unwanted links
- Don’t buy links (avoid any sort of link building packages)
- Don’t do any form of massive link building
- Don’t add your link in low-quality websites
- Links from comments or forums can sometimes do more harm than good (unless they are genuine and from well-trusted sources)
Mobile Friendly Website
A significant number of searches performed each day are through mobile devices. Many studies have shown that recently the number of searches using smartphones is steadily increasing especially when it comes to making online purchases.
You need to understand the difference between a mobile-friendly website and a native Android, iPhone or Windows Mobile app. A mobile-friendly website is optimized for viewing on the mobile browser (i.e. Chrome on Android or Safari on iPhone). The best way to approach Mobile SEO is to adopt a responsive website design. There are many advantages both in terms of SEO and usability.
For more information visit our article Explaining Google’s Mobile First Index
A sitemap is a list of all posts/pages of your website. You need 2 types of sitemaps. First, an XML sitemap to submit to Google, Bing and other search engines and second an HTML sitemap to help visitors find your content easier. It is recommended to place a link to your user sitemap from the main menu.
XML Sitemap (for search engines)
Depending on your blogging platform you can use plugins to create and update your web site’s sitemap. When viewed in the browser it looks like this:
HTML Sitemap (for Users)
The user sitemap should provide links to all (or to the most important pages of your site). It can also group posts by author, date, category etc. Its purpose is to help the user find information on your site easier and quicker. My user sitemap looks like this:
Create Great Content
In order for the above tips to work you need first and foremost to have good content on your website. Content is still king and a website with good, original, quality content can do better in the long run (with or without SEO) than a website optimized in SEO but with not so good content.
What is good content?
When people search on Google, Yahoo or Bing they are essentially looking for an answer to a question. Good content is post or page that answers this question.
How do I know if my content is good?
- Check your analytics and especially the time users spent on a page. A reader will stay longer on the page if the content is good.
- Check the number of social media shares (Facebook likes, tweets etc.). This is actually a very good way to understand what user’s want and what type of content to provide in your website or blog.
How to write good content?
- Make sure that your content delivers what promised in the title. Make sure that your post provides an accurate description (or steps) that someone can follow to achieve the desired result.
- Check your text for typos, spelling and grammar mistakes.
- Format your text (as explained in Tip 8 above)
- Provide links within your content (where appropriate) to other pages on your site (or other sites) to get more information.
- Include references from established research or studies (where appropriate) to prove that what you are saying or suggesting is correct.
Quantity VS Quality
Many people often ask “How long (in words) should I make my posts?” You should understand that there is no single answer that fits all purposes. It greatly depends on the type of post and topic. The post needs to explain to someone with enough information to answer the user’s query and be useful to that viewer. This is exactly where quantity vs. quality comes into place. It’s better to write a quality post without counting words rather than a long unfriendly post for the sake of providing more word count. Google’s official view about content length is very clear: Short content can be useful and rank well.
What does Google consider good content?
A couple of weeks after the release of Penguin, Google published a set of criteria for accessing the quality of a website. Among the suggested guidelines they included some questions to ask after you finish a post, to help you determine the quality of your work.
Having fresh content is an incentive for visitors to come back and for search engine bots to visit and crawl your website more often. This is true when you really have something new to say about the niche or topic your covering. Avoid publishing pages with similar content just for the sake of updating your website or blog.
External links (links in your website pointing to other sites) are important for SEO. In general ensure that:
- You are not linking to spam websites or websites with inappropriate content
- You have no broken links i.e. links to websites or pages that no longer exist (you can use Xenu – a free tool to analyze your external links).
- You are not in any way selling or exchanging links
- Any links in your comments section carry the nofollow directive
Webmaster Tools and Analytics
Google and Bing have what is called webmaster tools. This is the place to register and submit your website to their index. After submission, you can visit the webmaster central and get valuable information about your website.
When you submit your website to Google webmaster tools and Bing webmaster tools you gain a number of advantages:
- It’s a way to tell search engines about your website (by submitting your sitemap)
- It’s a way to get feedback on the number of pages indexed
- It’s a way to get notified about potential problems i.e. access issues that restrict websites from crawling your content
- You can see the number of incoming and internal links.
Also, it is very important to use Google Analytics (or any other traffic analysis tool) to:
- Find out how visitors find your website (direct visits, search, referrals etc)
- How much time they spend on your pages (and on which pages)
- What keywords they used
- How many pages they view per visit
One of the ways to help search engines understand the context of your content is through the use of structured data markup. In simple terms, structured data is a way to annotate your content so that crawlers can index your pages better. This can improve the presentation of your pages in the search results and this means higher click-through rates and more organic traffic. This helps with the various schemas for almost all kinds of content (articles, videos, images, products etc) and websites (personal, business, local business etc).
Canonical URLs are very important for SEO. Setting a canonical URL for all your pages is a great way to:
- Avoid duplicate content issues
- To specify which URL that you want people to see in search results.
You might prefer people to reach your green dresses product page via
- To consolidate link signals for similar or duplicate pages. It helps search engines to be able to consolidate the information they have for the individual URLs (such as links to them) into a single, preferred URL.
This means that links from other sites to
get consolidated with links to
- To simplify tracking metrics for a single product/topic. With a variety of URLs, it’s more challenging to get consolidated metrics for a specific piece of content.
- To manage syndicated content. If you syndicate your content for publication on other domains, you want to consolidate page ranking to your preferred URL.
- To avoid spending crawling time on duplicate pages. You want Googlebot to get the most out of your site, so it’s better for it to spend time crawling new (or updated) pages on your site, rather than crawling the desktop and mobile versions of the same pages.
Once you have optimized your website for SEO by following ALL of the above guidelines, the next steps are:
- Concentrate on improving your website by (proving more content, whether it’s new product info, articles, services – or whatever you are trying to achieve)
- Promote your website using techniques that work and above all are safe.
- If you fail with your SEO optimization your website may not be running on its full potential but if you follow wrong promotion techniques you increase the risk of getting a penalty and completely destroy your efforts.