As a beginner to search engine optimization (SEO) you need to understand that there is no magic way to rank your website in the first page of Google, Bing or Yahoo. Search engines are governed by complex algorithms and it takes a lot of time and effort to ‘convince’ them that your website or web page deserves one of the top spots.
1. Page Titles and description
Page titles are a very important aspect of SEO and this is why it is the first item on my list.
My findings the last couple of months showed that page titles are more important than ever especially for Google SEO.
The most important characteristics of an optimised 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
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 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.
2. 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 web site.
It is shown in the browser address bar and in the search results (below the page title).
SEO Guidelines for 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
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.
4. Internal links
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.
In the example below, when you click on the link with anchor “increase the intensity” you will be redirected to a page with-in 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 web site 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)
5. Text formatting and the use of H1, H2 and H3
Don’t just publish 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
6. 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. When the 404 page is not configured looks like this:
This is not useful for the user and negatively impacts the user experience.
A properly configured 404 page should:
- 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.
If you are using a professional theme (like Thesis), it takes care of the 404 page. This is how my 404 page looks like:
7. Image Optimization
Images are sometimes 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.
If you decide to use images, mind the following:
- 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 is your web site. You can use this free tool to make your image size smaller without losing the quality.
8. Page Speed
Google has many times said that page speed is a ranking factor and yet many web masters don’t optimize their web sites for speed. Their aim (Google’s) 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 web sites 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
9. 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.
I know that for beginners to SEO this is a concept difficult to understand, so let’s take it from the beginning.
What is link building and why it is very important for SEO?
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google Founders), created the initial Google ranking algorithm, they were looking for a way to compare websites so that the best were shown first in the search engines results pages (SERPS).
Besides taking into account the on-page SEO factors of a page, they 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.
At 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 deserved to be in the first page of Google. Overtime this created a huge problem for Google that impacted the quality of their search results.
10. Mobile friendly web sites
A significant number of searches performed each day are through mobile devices. Many studies over the last 6 months identified that the number of searches using smartphones is steadily increasing especially when it comes to making online purchases.
I am sure that if you take a look at your analytics data you will see a good percentage of your daily visits coming from mobile.
In the example demonstrated below, almost 30% of the traffic is from mobile with Apple products (iPhone, iPod and iPad) being on the top positions.