SEO used to be widely considered as a complicated and challenging internet puzzle that only the best marketing agencies could solve. Search engine optimization was sold (and still is) as a service promising high-ranking results with Google and increased web traffic. A hired SEO expert would put to use strategic formulas and plant all the right keywords in order to catch Google’s eye and help you come off as an authoritative and beneficial web page. While this approach worked, it wasn’t necessarily an authentic method and Google soon caught on to the spammy nature of these marketing companies.
SEO has been severely simplified since the beginning of its time. It’s still a powerful tool that can increase your site traffic and boost your sales, but it’s not as intimidating as you may think. By simply posting good, thorough and thoughtful content, you will find that you are implementing SEO best practices without even trying. However, there are some classic SEO basics that are worth learning about.
The largest and most important component of SEO are SEO keywords. These are the words and/or phrases that Google looks for in your site’s content. Simply put, they are what your target audience is typing in their search bar. It’s important that each page and/or post on your site has a key word or phrase that it primarily focuses on. Consider what it is your business does and what words stick out to describe that most clearly. Be specific. What is your ideal audience searching for on Google? This focus should be made clear and prevalent in 4 areas of your page content.
The title of your page or post is what will show up on a Google search result page as well as in the top of your browser tab. If your keyword is not in your page title, you have a very slim chance of Google finding you.
The URL is a web page’s address. Each and every page on your site has a unique URL. For example, my home page is www.scout-designco.com. If you view my Signature Brand page, you are at www.scout-designco.com/signature-brand. This is a specifically important area if your business blogs. Every post on your site lives at a unique URL, giving you many opportunities to boost your SEO.
Your page description, also referred to as a meta description, displays on a Google search results page right under the page title. This description can be customized and should include at least one instance of your keyword. If you don’t customize the description, Google will use the fist 160 words of your page’s content. So make sure your keyword shows up in your first paragraph too!
CONTENT + HEADING
The content of your page is really what’s selling Google on your authority. It’s important your keyword(s) shows up multiple times, but be careful not to overuse them. Use your keyword(s) naturally when writing content. Google has caught on to the common scheme of “keyword-stuffing” to promote result rankings and you can actually be penalized if Google finds you guilty of overusing your keyword(s). If you’re writing focused and thoughtful content, implementing your keyword(s) will come second nature.
Google also appreciates well structured content. The use of headings and subheadings (and tags) really help to organize your content and make it easier for Google to crawl your page. If you use a keyword in a heading or subheading, even better!
Photos are the easiest way to unintentionally ruin your SEO. By forgetting to optimize your site images, you’ll miss out on some huge ranking potential. Google is pretty genius at reading your website, but it doesn’t quite possess the ability to comprehend what’s going on in a photo. Every image on your website should be given a specific alt title and alt text to help Google understand what it’s looking at. The alt title is what will appear when a user hovers over an image. It’s also the title that will be used if a user pins your photo to Pinterest directly from your website. The alt text is like a description. It’s also the text that will appear if your site won’t display your image for some reason. Both the alt title and alt text of an image can easily be edited through your WordPress Media Library.
Good Image Title = “beautiful-beach-southern-california”
Bad Image Title =”beach”
Even Worse Image Title = “IMG-123”
An inbound link (or backlink) is a link to your web site located on another website. Simply put, it is a referral – someone recommending your website to others. Inbound links are great for SEO! Google considers these referrals quite seriously, especially if they are coming from reputable and relevant websites.
Perhaps the easiest way to gain inbound links is to create share-worthy content. This is especially important for bloggers who create fresh content regularly. If your posts contain valuable information, it’s more likely your readers will share it with others. Every share or re-post on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest count towards inbound links to your site. Every blogger mentioning you (and linking to you!) in their posts, count towards your inbound links. Make sure it’s easy for others to share your content by using hard-to-miss social sharing buttons on your posts and pages. While social media sites do help to boost your SEO, referrals coming from a direct source carry a bit more weight. Your mom sharing your latest post on her Facebook page is great, but a blogger in your same industry mentioning you in a post of their own is gold.
USER EXPERIENCE + PERFORMANCE
While not weighted as heavily, the infrastructure and operation of your website should still be considered in your SEO strategy. If you hire a professional web designer, these factors should almost fall into place seamlessly.
A sitemap is a list of your website’s pages that are accessible to users and search engine crawlers. A sitemap is an important first step in the architecture of your website’s design and should later be translated into a page of it’s own on your site. (This page is typically hidden.) This is beneficial in helping search engines find your content quickly and easily.. * If you’re using the SEO Yoast plugin on WordPress, creating a sitemap cannot be easier. SEO > XML SITEMAPS > ENABLED.
A clear and easy to navigate website makes Google (and your viewers) very happy. Keep your navigation simple. Your main menu should include 4 – 6 top level pages and no more than 2 sub levels. If your website has more than 6 top level pages, consider using a secondary menu in the sidebar or footer of your site. This helps to keep your main menu clean and simple, but lets search engines know there are still important pages to be indexed as “top level”.
Page speed is how long it takes for each page of your site to fully load, images and all. The quicker your site loads, the better it’s user experience and the happier you make search engines. You can make sure your site is speedy by using appropriately sized images (no more than twice the size it appears), deleting any images and/or files your site no longer uses, and deleting any unused plugins in WordPress. Consider enabling a caching system. This allows browsers to cache your site (store it’s information) so upon a viewer re-visiting your site, the entire page doesn’t need to be loaded all over again. (You can do this through your web host or the use of a plugin like WP Super Cache.)
Search engines favor websites that get a lot of attention. If you are a blogger, make sure you are posting regularly (at least once a month). If content marketing isn’t a strategy you implement in your business, you’re not off the hook! Be sure you are updating your page’s copy and images. Introduce new headlines and promotions seasonally, swap out images as older ones become less relevant, use social media feeds to tie in fresh content. If you let your website sit dormant for too long, Google will be become just as uninterested in it as you are.
It should be no surprise that your website needs to be mobile friendly. Over half of Google searches now come from a mobile device. If your website isn’t mobile responsive you are losing out big time. And not only that, but Google will actually penalize your SEO ranking if you don’t meet their mobile responsive standards. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to make sure these expectations are met. Nearly all WordPress themes for purchase are now mobile responsive and if you hire a professional web designer, they should most certainly make sure you’re looking good on every screen size. It’s common sense and best practice. If you’re not sure whether or not your website is optimized for smaller devices, you can check here.
Implementing SEO best practices doesn’t have to be difficult. I include most of these basics in all of my web projects and offer SEO consultations for all of my clients. If you work with a professional in developing your site and do your part in writing authentic and valuable content, you will find that these strategies simply fall into place and your website is liked by Google and other search engines alike.