Things to know about SEO
To ensure your website is as friendly as possible to the major search engines, it’s important to follow the rules:
- Unique search engine friendly URLs (clean URLs)
- URLs which reflect the website hierarchy and folder structure
- Sensible H1 Page titles for every page relating to the content of the page
- Unique Meta Titles and Meta Descriptions for each web page
- Ability to change Meta Titles, Meta Descriptions on each web page
- Ability to add Title, Description and Alt Tags to every image
- Responsive layout to ensure website performs well across all platforms including tablet and mobiles (making use of native features where relevant)
- Ensure mobile layout elements are large enough to be accepted by Google guidelines for mobile search
- Return either the www. version of the site OR the non www. version of the site, not both as guided by Google
- Correctly formatted sitemap.xml files with submission to Google
- Correctly formatted .htaccess to ensure correct URL rewrites where necessary
- Correctly formatted canonicalisation of pages (this ensures any duplicates are not indexed by the search engines)
- Correctly formatted robots.txt to ensure readability (or hiding of) of all necessary files (including css and js files) by major search engines
- Low file size ensures quick page load times where possible
- Open Graph Social Meta tags to ensure site is added to the social graph for ease in sharing content
- 301 re-directs for re-built websites to ensure old pages are re-directed to the most relevant page on the new site and established rankings are kept
- Google Analytics implemented on all websites and client access given
- Websites are added to Google Webmaster Tools to monitor any issues arising from Google updates
Basic SEO tips and considerations
Meta Title, H1 Tag, Alt Tag
Without a doubt the most important ranking factor for a web page is its Meta Title. The Meta Title of a webpage should be unique and focussed on the subject matter of the page. It should be no more than 70 characters in length, and should contain at least one or two keywords which relate to what you want the page to be ranked for. If you are targeting a localised audience (search) then the region you are targeting should also be included.
The H1 Tag (the on-screen title of the page) should also be unique and should relate to that page’s Meta Title. It should also be written in a natural way and not sound like it has been written for the search engines i.e. no overboard keyword stuffing, it should simply make sense as a title.
You should also give your images correct titles and most content management platforms like WordPress will let you add an ALT attribute within in the IMG tag. Any time you use an image, add an ALT tag or ALT text as this will provide a clear text alternative of the image for screen reader users, thus making your images SEO-friendly.
Content is King
While there are many ranking factors the search engines use in their algorithms, after the Meta Title and H1 Tag the main focus of your web page should be it’s content. This can be in the form of pages, news stories or blog posts.
Content should be written in a natural way, and should stay focused on the topic of the web page. There is no need to stuff the page with keywords or keyphrases. As you write, these words and phrases should appear naturally in the content.
The major search engines are now extremely sophisticated and are extremely good at identifying content that may be over-optimised. If you read the content out loud and it doesn’t sound natural then you must edit it until it does.
Do not plagiarise content from other sources in order to quickly populate your website, as you will undoubtedly suffer ranking penalties. Search engines will always give preference to the original source material and will be able to tell who has copied who.
Content on each page of your site should also be concise and easy to read, a good rule of thumb is to keep it between 300 and 40 words where possible. If you have content which exceeds that amount, try to break it up over several pages, each with its own unique URL.
For every significant keyword or keyphrase you want to be searched for – say a short list of around 10 for best targeting – there should be a relevant landing page dedicated to that topic.
Please note, even if over time you become a few ranks higher than a competitor, if their content is better and more engaging, then the user could still be more inclined to contact them over you. Therefore, content is of ongoing importance to the success of your website.
Avoid Black-Hat techniques
Black Hat techniques are those which go against the major search engine rules and guidelines, and those which can get you quick results, but also will get your website penalised in the search rankings in the end.
Some examples of this are:
- Hidden text which is stuffed with keywords (e.g. white text on white background, text so small it is unreadable, or text that is placed off the visible browser window)
- Keyword stuffing in titles or content (over-optimisation)
- Plagiarism of titles or content
- Bad link building practices (link buying, and listing on too many directories, especially bad neighbourhoods which are only online to seduce you into paying to list for rankings)
While it may appear these techniques offer significant and fast ranking gains, in the long term it will result in penalties that can be as drastic as your website being removed from the search engines index entirely. Be aware that Google is very strict with this.
The major search engines all have the same goal – to ensure they provide the best and most relevant content for the user, by providing the most respected sites with the most relevant content, at the top of the search results. The way they acknowledge this is by looking at a website and seeing if other people in that field consider that website to have authority. If other people are linking to a website, the search engines believe this means the website is trusted and valued by others – especially if the website with the link is an established website in itself.
Links are analysed to see where they have come from and given their own weight of authority. So a website with a lot of links will not necessarily get to the top of the search engine either. It is quality over quantity. The more authoritative the link ‘profile’ is, the better your rankings will be.
For example if your website is about pet care then having 100 links from all kinds of site like plumbers or cycle shops will not gain you rankings and may actually result in a penalty. However if your website is about pets with 2 links from authoritative bodies or educational institutes, this will ensure the search engines see your site as an authority on the subject and thus your prospects of ranking highly will improve.
Paid-for links are bad
Never pay for links. Anyone buying from websites which sell bundles promising to get your site 200 links for a minimal fee will eventually get penalised. This will result in a lot of work in getting those links removed plus more time convincing the search engines to forget about them. An SEO specialist would have to get involved for as long as it takes and this will cost you a monthly fee.
These kinds of offers generally get you links on known ‘bad link neighbourhoods’ with a track record of link buying practices. A few years ago Google did a Penguin update which heavily penalised a lot of website, including household name websites, for this type of ‘black hat’ activity. (see Interflora article)
Build good links
There’s no easy solution to this but the best way is to write content for your website that people want to read and share with others. (see Content is King section above).
There are other safe ways to get good links which include, guest blogging on someone else’s website (must be relevant to your own website topic), or simply by asking for them. But be careful as some genuine requests can be seen as Black Hat (for instance if you offer something in return). This will be seen as paid links and can get you penalised.
Basic SEO (the things covered in this article) will give your website a good foundation for search engines to find you and start ranking you. Use unique page titles and H1 tags, write content that is authoritative and relevant to the webpage it’s on. Write for your site’s users and not the search engines. If your website and content are good then the rankings will come. For the first 6-12 months of your website going live, you will simply have to be patient.
Don’t do anything shady to try and manipulate the search rankings. Don’t be fooled by offers like “I can get you to the top of Google in 3 days” – schemes like this very rarely work these days, and if they do, it’s usually for very obscure keywords that people aren’t really searching for.
If switching to a new website domain or updating / rebuilding your website with new page structure, implement 301 redirects from old pages to new pages so that users are redirected to the right information. Not doing so, will mean users will face error pages and you lose your established search engine presence (see Ryan Air article).
If after 6-12 months you are looking to boost rankings beyond the results you are gaining organically, then it is always best to get an SEO consultant involved and perhaps try some pay-per-click advertising.