You’ve probably heard of search engine optimization, or SEO. SEO is a catch-all phrase for the large body of techniques that allow your website to appear higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) for keywords or keyword phrases related to its content. This isn’t as complicated as it may sound, simply put, search engines like Google act as the middle man between your site and a potential reader or customer, and so you have to feed it the information it’s looking for when evaluating the topic, trustworthiness, and authority of your site. Since Google carries 85% of all searches on the Internet, we will focus specifically on this search engine giant.
Google’s algorithm looks at around 200 distinct ranking factors, but only some of them have been revealed. Others can be inferred to exist based on the strong, trial-and-error evidence for them, and we’ll take a close look at some of the most important ones in the post below. Let’s dive in.
Create Quality Content
We’ll start with one of the most obvious but significant factors in increasing your site’s visibility: creating quality content. It’s something that’s often overlooked by people who want their site to rise to the top of the SERPs overnight – they’ll focus primarily on the technical aspects of SEO and forget about user experience. Google cares about quality content and so should you. After all, linking someone to information that properly answers their search query is the whole purpose of a search engine, and Google’s algorithm updates have constituted a long development of reaching this simple goal.
So what kind of things should you write? It’s best to try to get inside the minds of the people who will be searching up keywords that lead them to your site. What questions do they have? What is the intent behind their keyword? Do your best to answer these questions in detail.
Keywords are important, but you don’t want to overuse them. Such “keyword stuffing’ tactics were once upon a time effective, but Google has since cracked down on them. You need to take a holistic view of your website. A good rule of thumb when it comes to keywords is to only use them where they fit into the text naturally, and (sparingly) in certain strategic places like HTML headers and page URLs.
Quality content has a lot of positive knock-on effects that will increase your rankings. For example, if people find value on your page they will link it to their friends, and Google will take note of this incoming traffic. Additionally, quality content which answers users’ questions succinctly and thoroughly increases dwelling time, another thing Google takes as a positive signal. On the other hand, if your content is spammy and uninformative, people will leave the site quickly and choose another. It’s a good idea to update your website weekly or monthly, as Google will take these as signs that your site is active.
Properly Format Your Website
You’ll want your website to be easy to navigate for any potential visitors. When it comes to ecommerce this can be used to optimize your sales funnel, but a good user experience is also of great importance.
Having a website that’s intuitive and easy to read will increase the amount of people staying on your site. It’s great to have helpful content, but if just a large, unorganized mess of text, no one will want to read it! A good idea is to include subdirectories with clear titles, this has the added benefit of appealing to people who just want to skim through the article. You can also use bullet points when listing things out.
Having a clear link structure that links naturally from one page of your site to the next not only increases user experience, but enables crawlers to index the whole thing. Dead links will be penalized, so make sure to remove any of these.
Optimize Your HTML
When it comes to the code of your site, there are certain important steps to take. Using keywords strategically in HTML is much more important than using it many times in the text of your website – this is your chance to describe the content of your site both to visitors and search engine crawlers.
Having keywords in your header tags (that is, H1, H2, etc.) is one of the most basic SEO approaches. Google actually rates keywords here more heavily, so be sure to include them. H1 is more important than H2, and so on down the list, meaning H1 is much weightier than H4. You should still use H2, H3, etc. to organize your site and make it more legible to the person visiting it. Additionally, you can put keywords in the title tags that follow the header tags.
HTML enables you to change each URL on your site, and here is another excellent opportunity to use keywords. Many sites will just index their pages with numbers instead of keywords describing what they are about, which leads to lower rankings than they should have.
Make Sure Your Pages Load Quickly
We live in an age of instant gratification, and this is best exemplified by the Internet. People searching the web want to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily; in fact, a study from Kissmetrics showed that 40 % of all users will give up on a page if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, so this means site speed is correlated to the amount of conversions you get. To make things even worse, Google’s algorithm views both slow loading times and a high bounce rate negatively, meaning that slow load times will have a poor impact on your site’s rankings in more ways than one.
There are some surefire ways to make sure your pages load quickly. One of the most overlooked factors is image size. It’s great to have images on your page (see below for our image SEO tips), but if the file sizes are unnecessarily large they will make it take longer for your site to load. Luckily, there are many free tools that will compress the size of images without reducing their quality, including compressor.io.jpeg.io, and WP Smush on WordPress.
Another way to decrease load times is to enable browser caching. Browser caching simply places HTML documents, CSS files, etc. into temporary storage when someone visits your site so that should they come back, these files can be quickly recalled so they don’t have to load a second time.
If your site is old, you may have a lot of plugins on it that you don’t really use anymore. Plugins take up a great deal of bandwidth, so assess whether or not you need them. If not, remove them. A good tool for looking at plugins at how they’re affecting your website is GTMetrix.
Enabling GZIP compression will compress the size of files on your page, making it load much faster. Additionally, you can take steps to minimize HTTP requests by, for example, combining CSS and HTML files.
Optimize Your Page for Mobile
More searches are done today using mobile devices than desktops or laptops, and in response to this Google has adopted mobile-first indexing. This means making sure your site is easily accessed and intuitive to a person using a smartphone or tablet is vital to its success.
We’ve all been there in the past: we access a site from a smartphone and the text is too small to read, or images look out of place. This is exactly the type of thing Google wants to avoid.
When it comes to font size, many recommend size 14. However, one of the best things you can do to optimize your page for mobile is do some hands-on testing yourself; bring up the site on a smartphone. Is the text legible? Do you have to zoom in? Adjust accordingly. You should also create a strong contrast between the text and your background, as the person might have to deal with the glare of the sun if they’re reading outside.
It’s best to segment your content in short paragraphs of two to three sentences when optimizing for mobile. Keep in mind that people accessing your site through mobile most likely want short, concise answers to their questions, and if the text looks like a novel they’ll be less likely to read it.
You could create a separate, mobile version of your site, but the best way to optimize it for mobile (and the one recommended by Google) is to use a responsive design. A responsive design is a nifty tool that automatically optimizes the layout of your website to the screen of whatever device is being used to access it. This mean you only have one website to manage – if you post an update from desktop, it will also be displayed correctly on mobile. Responsive sites will load faster on mobile; page loading time is particularly important for mobile pages, and Google uses it as a separate ranking factor from desktop loading speed.
Link-building remains one of the most important aspects of SEO. Simply put the more high-quality sites link to your site, the more reliable your site will appear and the higher it will rank in the search engines.
Many people used to try to fudge the system by building private blog networks, creating links to themselves, but Google will now penalize this. So how does one build links?
The most important way, mentioned above, is to create quality content. Links will come naturally if your content is valued within your niche. However, you can also make guest posts on respected sites within your field, which have the added benefit of increasing your visibility
In addition to having relevant sites link to you, it’s also a good idea to link to high authority sites from your own page. This increases your trustworthiness in the eyes of Google and gives it more a of a solid idea as to the topic of your website. One of the most natural ways to do this is to include a “More Resources” page.
Get an SSL Certificate
Internet security and the protection of user data is a hot topic these days. HTTPS ensures that users’ information is transmitted securely, and it is believed that Google sees that as a sign of the trustworthiness of your site. SSL certificates are free, so there’s no reason not to get one. Having the padlock next to your URL means people will view your site as secure and want to stay on it.
Diversifying content on your page is important. Images spice up articles – a wall of text without an accompanying image can look intimidating or boring, and in fact studies show that 80% of people are more likely to read through an article that includes an image. It’s not enough to include these images, though. They too must be optimized for search engines.
One incredibly simple thing you can do is customize the file name. For example, Google’s crawlers have no idea what a file called “20191009174822_1.jpg” is about and won’t be able to index it properly with image search. However, if you’re trying to sell photography equipment and this is a picture of a camera, you can simply change the filename to “brandname_camera.jpg” and Google will have an idea what the image is.
Another step you should always take is to add alt tags to your images. Alt tags are the text that show up in place of an image should the image fail to load. You can include your targeted keyword here – alt tags serve as an excellent indicator to Google as to what the pictures are about
Like all things SEO, you can have too much of a good thing. Use images in moderation and where they’re relevant – too many images will distract from the written content you want the person to read and/or make your site appear tacky.
Have a Social Media Presence
Having a presence on social media is important for any type of page or business if you want to drive traffic to it. Here, it can be useful to build a buyer persona because certain demographics will spend more time on one site than the other. For example, generation Z uses Instagram much more often than Facebook. If you’re advertising a photography business, your presence on Instagram (visually-oriented) is more important than your presence on Facebook (content-oriented).
Overall, a lot of SEO tactics are fairly common sense but sometimes overlooked. The tips above are some of the most important to ensure your site ranks well in 2020, but patience is an important factor as well. Don’t try something and then get rid of it because it’s not working within a week! Overall, produce valuable content that your readers like, and Google will like you, too.
Author Bio: Hybrid Traffic is a link building company that provides high quality link, content optimization, SEO strategies, increasing traffic, keywords and site metrics.