If you own a website, or think about having one, you’ve probably come across the term SEO, or search engine optimisation. Now, what the heck is that?
SEO is complex enough it can sometimes stump even the most seasoned veterans. But it’s highly relevant to your business and your online presence. Even the most beautiful website won’t be seen if you don’t know how to make it show up in online searches with solid SEO. But before we get into the nitty-gritty of some basic SEO essentials, we should probably make sure that you understand how it all works.
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Let’s begin with the basics. Like for instance, how does SEO work?
SEO is the process of building online visibility for your website, through a search engine’s organic results. So, when someone types their search terms into say, Google, your website should ideally be displayed somewhere on page one. That’s the holy grail of all SEO experts.
The higher ranked your website is, and the more frequently it appears in the list of search results, the more visitors and organic traffic you will receive.
But, search engines can be mysterious beasts. There are many factors that affect how they will rank your website.
One way to rank sites is by search terms or keywords.
There are also other ways for optimising your search engine visibility, such as adding or editing content, strategically using links, ensuring that your website is “responsive” for mobile devices, and editing or adding HTML. But, we’ll go into a few of these in more detail below.
The idea behind great SEO is to increase your website’s relevance and to remove any barriers when it comes to your search engine ranking.
However, there are plenty of obscure problems that can wreak SEO havoc, even on sites that have mastered the fundamentals.
So how do you create solid SEO for your website?
If you want to make your site’s SEO is as effective as possible, then you want to pay attention to at least these Top Fifteen Points:
#1. A Bad Domain Can Maim Your Website
Before you even purchase and register your domain name, ensure it’s clean. There’s nothing worse than building a stellar website, only to have a domain name with a bad rep you can’t shake. It happens. People innocently purchase a domain with a bad history, and then they wonder why they don’t see the traffic they had anticipated. If that ever happens, it may be best to cut your losses and just buy another domain rather than throwing more money at the problem.
#2. Index or You’ll Regret
Think of search engines like an army of tiny little invisible bots that scour the internet for relevant sites and then rank those sites accordingly. If you want your site to be found in organic searches, make sure your settings allow search engines to crawl and index your website. That’s how you’ll begin to rank.
Tip: But, don’t index it while your website’s in the development stages! That can be detrimental, especially if you’re using the same content as a website that is already published on the internet. Plus, avoid diverting search visitors from your old site to one that’s “in-development”. It could be damaging to your brand. Wait until you’re ready for your big reveal.
#3. Submit Your Sitemap
An XML sitemap helps search engines to better understand your website’s structure. They make sure that search engines like Google can find all your webpages, that they can crawl it more efficiently, so they don’t miss any pages while indexing. Make sure you submit an XML sitemap that is up-to-date.
#4. 404’s Are Not Fantastic
Error pages come in several varieties and all of them can damage SEO. 500 ‘internal server’ errors and 403 ‘forbidden’ errors, impact SEO directly in a negative way.
404, or ‘not found’ errors, can impact SEO indirectly by making for a horrible user experience. When a search visitor sees a ‘404 error page’, they may immediately ‘bounce’ or leave the website. Google translates that ‘bounce’ to mean that the site does not have valuable content and that will lower your ranking as a result.
#5. Speedy Loading is a Definite ‘Like’
There’s nothing more frustrating for your customers than a website that loads like molasses. Slow loading will also affect how well it ranks in Google. There are many factors that can affect the loading of your website: your choice of web host, the size of images, use of plugins, types of plugins and more.
If your site loads slowly, optimize it for faster loading. If you are not sure how to do that, you may want to consult a professional webmaster or an agency like Original Ginger to help you.
#6. It’s Key to Use Keywords Strategically
Sure, website content should be written with SEO in mind. But, don’t over-optimize it by writing only for search engines. Don’t just plop down every keyword you can think of to increase your keyword density. Trust us. It will read horribly, and it could be a red flag to Google that you have poorly written content. The result? A downgraded website ranking. Instead, make your copy flow naturally for your readers, while infusing some well-placed, relevant keywords.
Tip: Not sure which keywords to select? Start with some strategic keyword research to learn which terms and phrases to target with SEO. It’s not always about getting more visitors to your site. It’s about getting the right kind of visitors! Check out Moz for more information on keyword research.
#7. Links Can Lead to Great SEO
We can say a lot about links. If you use them correctly, they can boost your SEO. But, watch out, there are penalties for over-linking! Only add a link if you feel it will help your visitor reach a certain goal or objective.
For instance, there are internal navigation links within your website content that can help visitors to better navigate your site. For example, links to direct your website visitors from one web page to another. These are considered helpful and can win you points.
Useful links are another example. Say you sell sunscreen products on your website. You might write a blog post on sun damage and include an internal link to all the sunscreen products you offer. That is considered useful and will increase your SEO.
If your content is well-written, interesting and unique enough that visitors will want to share it on social media by linking to it (especially other organizations with high authority), then this can also increase your ranking with search engines. You can also share links to your own content as part of a regular promotional activity to build brand awareness and drive referral traffic to your website.
Tip: Be careful not to appear as if you’re manipulating your site ranking with excessive links or over-exchanging links with clients. It could be construed as an attempt to manipulate Google and trigger downgraded ranking of your website.
#8. Anchor’s Away! If it’s Relevant
Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. For good solid SEO, your anchor text should be succinct and relevant to the page you’re linking to. Your search engine ranking will be higher if your anchor text gives your visitors better contextual information.
Tip: A word of caution. Do not overuse keyword rich anchors as it can have the opposite effect.
#9. If It’s Broke, DO Fix It
Don’t frustrate your website visitors with broken or dead links. Not only can it negatively impact SEO, it will lead to a poor user experience for your visitors. It’s a good idea to review your website on a regular basis and correct or remove links that no longer work.
Perhaps the website you link to no longer exists or web pages have been removed from their website. The good news is that there are link-checking tools that can help you identify broken links.
#10. Keep a Limit on Affiliate Links
Have you ever come across affiliate links that take you away from one website, and onto another, where you can purchase a product or service?
While search engines aren’t necessarily opposed to affiliate links, too many can be a red flag and may signal that your content is weak. Although affiliate links can be hidden with redirects, it’s unwise to rely on this tactic to save you.
#11. Never Play Hide and Seek with Search Engines
Hiding content or links is never good.
We’re not sure why anyone would want to add a link and then hide it from their readers, but if you do search engines will consider it very suspicious. Don’t make links the same color as the background of a page or button, even if you have an innocent reason.
The same goes for content. Some people think they’re cleverly manipulating their ranking by writing keyword-rich content and then making it invisible. But, the only one you’re fooling is yourself. The search engines will see right through it and your ranking could be compromised.
#12. Duplicates Could Spell Double-Trouble
When it comes to content, no one likes repeats. Routinely monitor and remove duplicate content from your website. Because any time Google sees duplicate content, it will assume it’s less useful, resulting in a penalty. Instead, it’s worth taking the time to create original and well-written content that is valuable to your readers.
You’ll also want to avoid ‘spun’ content, which is like stolen content. If a writer is offering you articles super-cheap, you may want to think twice. They could be reselling the same content to dozens of other websites, with just a few words changed here and there.
Although it costs more to hire a professional writer, believe us, it’s worth it in the long run. Great, original copy is like a branding boost – it’s an opportunity to show off your unique brand personality and to share your story in an engaging way. And writing about yourself or your business is often harder than you think.
At Original Ginger, we have expert writers who just happen to be great storytellers. Let them do the creative heavy-lifting, while you use your valuable time for other promotional business.
#13. Don’t Go Heavy on the H1 Tags
H1 tags are often misunderstood and used incorrectly.
Basically, an H1 tag is a snippet of HTML code that indicates a heading on a website. Not only does it instruct your browser on how to display content, Google also uses the H1 tag to understand what the page is about. If you use H1 tags excessively, you could be penalized. Think of search engines as if they were the ‘Grammar Police’. If your content is well-structured, you’ll win SEO brownie points.
#14. Don’t Get Clogged by Comments
It’s a fact. You can get slammed by comments that spam your website with low-quality outbound links. That’s why we love website platforms like WordPress. They allow you to monitor and approve comments before they’re published. And if you don’t have time to monitor and moderate comments, you can switch commenting off altogether. Another option is to just disallow links from commenters. Take advantage of these helpful settings. It will save you a lot of hassle.
#15. Keep Your Site in Top Shape
Websites are just like people. To keep in shape, they need to have regular health check-ups. If your website goes down, everyone gets upset: visitors, the webmaster and search engines. And if search engines can’t find your website, they would rather de-index it than keep sending visitors to a dead end.
So, implement regular website health checks. And if you notice that your website’s been hacked, act quickly to contain it, or search engines will remove your site from search results entirely.
However, if this is out of your realm of expertise, that’s when a professional webmaster comes in handy. No one can guarantee that you’ll never be hacked, but regular website maintenance and security monitoring is a great form of prevention. This is also a service that we offer to all our clients.
Well, there it is, Our Fifteen SEO Steps …
Our Last Tip. Beware of the ‘Too Good to be True’ SEO Expert. Some webmasters and SEO consultants might claim to have a magical, foolproof technique to get your website to the top of Page One in search results. But, the only sure-fire way to rank well, is to put in the effort over time.
Be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight. It might even take months. But, with time, knowledge, and hard work, you can reap the benefits of these fifteen SEO steps.
And if you don’t feel up to it, or don’t have the time, consider hiring an agency like Original Ginger to help get you started. Because we’ve only scratched the surface of what it takes to have stand-out solid SEO.