Basic on-site SEO
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a buzzword that's sure to have come up if you own a business website. Maybe you know all about it and are an expert. Perhaps it's something you might have dabbled in or may only have a limited knowledge of. This article is for the latter. You need an understanding of HTML and how to view your website's source code. Most Content Management Systems allow this, but that's outside the scope of this article.
SEO is the process by which you adjust your website's content and structure to accommodate the search engines that people use to find your website when they enter in keywords. You are fine tuning your website to gain relevance (and rank). This means your website receives more visitors. The end result is more business for your products or services.
We can divide SEO into "on-site" and "off-site" activities. "On-site" activities are changes that you can make to your site. We will cover "off-site" activities in a future post. This article discusses the TOP 10 "on-site" optimisations you can make to your website.
Links on your site and other sites contribute to how search engines perceive the relevance of your website. You cannot exert direct control on external websites' linking to your websites. There are several strategies (known as link building) that you can use but these are for a future post. Internal links on your site are also important to establish site structure for the search engines. If your site contains pages that are not accessible through the navigation or page links then, as far as the search engines are concerned, they don't exist. Examples of pages that may not be accessible:
- pages where you need to fill out and submit a form
- pages where you need to log in
- pages that are only found by entering data into a search box
2. Make your content relevant and fresh
It sounds obvious but one of the best things you can do is reflect what your business does. How? By providing content that explains this. If you want users to enter in keywords into a search engine to find your site, how will they find it if your content doesn't embody those keywords? When you write your content each page should have about 100 words so the search engine can actually determine what the page is about. Make sure you use these keywords in your content but don't saturate the page with them (this doesn't help the SEO). When explaining your products or services try and use as many synonyms as you can. This helps because you never know what terms people will actually be looking for. If the keywords aren't in your site then there is no chance of people finding it by using them.
The second thing to remember is to freshen up your content and change or add things on a regular basis. The search engines know that successful websites are ones where people want to return to for new information. Things like a blog or news feed are ideal for this. They allow you to communicate new information about your products and services to your audience. Fresh content, offers, social media and user engagement are all important. The longer a user stays on your site, the more the search engines consider it.
It goes without saying that your page title is the most important HTML tag to describe your page. Here is an example of the title tag:
<title>Brickworks CMS - Brick Blog - website tips</title>
The title tag is the tag that provides a brief description of your website. The tag is ultra important for 3 main reasons:
1. It appears at the top of the browser's tab to identify the site. It tends to be what users will see if they bookmark your page (unless they change it):
2. It is the first thing that appears in the search results for you site and the link to it:
3. It is what is usually seen in the anchor when you or someone shares your page on Social Media:
The title tag should be brief and concise and not be longer than 50 or so characters. Don't forget, this is your first point of call to your end user so the title should have important keywords in it. If your brand is important, it should be in there too (whether at the start or end depends on how important your brand is or how important the keywords are). Users should be able to determine what is on the page just from the title. Product websites should have the product name, service websites should describe the service.
4. Meta "description" tags
Meta tags are HTML tags within your page's <head> section. To identify it here is an example of a description meta tag:
<meta name="description" content="Our BLOG will give you ideas to help increase your website's visibility">
The meta description tag doesn't improve your search rankings in any way. What it does do is allow you to customise your message to users who happen to have found you on the web. Consider a Google search for Coffee tables:
The text highlighted above is in the site's meta description. This is what people see when your site shows up in their search results. This is your chance to attract customers to your site rather than another one that might be in the results (your call to action). You only have about 150-160 characters here. Make sure you think about a good page description to encourage your guests. Try not to exceed this amount because nothing is more frustrating than having your message cut short. If you do not specify one on your page, you are at the mercy of the search engine. They will often show the search terms in context somewhere in the content, which can be quite random.
Heading within the page are also important for the search engine to determine your content. You must always implement headings using the designated HTML heading tag "h"... so <h1> <h2> etc. Headings inform the search engine about the content within it. They treat the text within the headings with a higher priority to describe the pages than the text within. Here are some general rules:
- On a page that has normal textual content always have one AND ONLY ONE <h1> tag
- You can have as many <h2>, <h3> etc.
- Tags should be sequential. <h1> to <h2> to <h3>. Don't skip a level and only one h1!
Something else to remember is to not "over-head" your pages by putting too many headings with too little content.
The URLs (which is the text that is in your browser's address bar when you navigate through a site) should be human readable. It should "somewhat" describe where you are in the site structure. It is important to use hyphens "-" as word spacing (otherwise you will see escaped codes like %20, which are hard to read).
Examples of good SEO URL's:
Examples of bad SEO URL's:
you get the idea!
Another thing to keep in mind is to allow short URLs for promotions and mini-sites. This helps your users remember them if they wish to enter them in.
7. Image "alt" tags
The original use of image alt tags was to display text in place of an image. This helped users if they decided not to download images due to slow connections, or perhaps they were short of sight and were using a screen reader. More recently though, search engines use the alt text to support image searches such as Google Images. If you want your images to appear in these results then provide some alt text in your image tags:
<image src="/images/blackdog.jpg" alt="Black lab jumping fence" />
8. Speed & Responsiveness
The previous blog post to this one talked about responsive web design (RWD) and why you need it, but speed is also a factor. A site that can load quickly is more favourable than one that takes a long time. You can use your analytics software to determine which pages are too slow and which ones load quickly. Google also offers a Speed checker here : https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/
9. XML Site map
An XML site map is in essence an XML file, which describes your site hierarchy to the search engines. The file may also contain meta data about your site along with frequency of page updates. You can find more about XML site maps here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/topic/4581190?hl=en&ref_topic=4581352&vid=1-635753124156451662-13739010702747765071
10. Friendly error messages
There's nothing worse when visiting a website and seeing an error message. Perhaps it shows application source code or maybe just the built in browser 4xx or 5xx error messages. The search engines don't like them either. An error free site is a healthy site and much more likely to gain traction with the search engines. So, where possible, use friendly error message pages. Try and make the messages make sense and offer the user to click back to the home page at least. Some other tactics are using humour and/or apologising:
"Whoops, we can't find the page you were looking for"
"Sorry, but our site is down. Please come back real soon!"
A list of DONTS for SEO
Finally we close with a short list of things you should not do if you want to be among the high rankers in the search results...
- DO NOT duplicate content anywhere on your site. In particular, don't have many sites with the same content. Redirect any other URLs you might have to one single URL that the search engines see as your primary URL. It is wise to not even duplicate titles anywhere on the site. Don't have two URLs that go to the same page (also seen as duplicating content)
- DO NOT migrate your old site to a new site without understanding the implications and how redirects work
- DO NOT attempt to saturate your pages with keywords. Don't try and mask these keywords from your users by colouring them white or something, but hoping the search engine will pick them up
- DO NOT exchange links on a large scale or affiliate yourself with unrepeatable websites (or spam sites)