We live in a world where we have access to just about every piece of information we need right at our fingertips. All it takes is a query. Coffee shops near me, best cleaning products for hardwood floors, dinner recipes —the list goes on! Once you pop into a search engine with the need for knowledge, it does a pretty impressive job of pulling together a list of information for you to choose from.
Have you ever thought about how a search engine, say Google, knows how to do that? The answer is complex yet clear: Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is what helps websites appear on search engine results pages or SERPs. Perhaps you haven’t given it much thought. However, for business owners or stakeholders with websites, you may want to do some digging. We’re here to help break it down with these SEO best practices.
What Is SEO? A Brief Overview of a Complex Practice
SEO is a set of best practices that can be implemented to impact and improve websites’ position on the search engine results page organically. To evaluate a website, search engines use bots to “crawl” the pages. This means it goes into the pages of a website, evaluates what the content is about, looks at what the page links to, and indexes this information into a library of some sort. When a searcher enters a query, the search engine uses an algorithm to determine which site and page in its library offers the most relevant information to help users achieve their end goal!
Why is SEO Important?
As a business owner with a website, it’s crucial to understand SEO and to put in place a strong SEO strategy for your website. Picture yourself as a searcher. When you’re searching Google for information, do you look at the website option that’s displayed on the 3rd page of search results? Probably not! If you’re like most internet users, you probably look at the first option you see. That’s why it’s essential to optimize your website with SEO best practices to improve where you organically appear on SERPs.
3 Major Focus Areas: Pillars of a Strong SEO Foundation
When a search engine crawls a site, it evaluates three components:
- Technical Setup (On-Site Optimization)
- Content (On-Page Optimization)
- Links (Off-Page Optimization)
These components can be optimized using SEO best practices to ensure your website has a strong SEO foundation. Implementing these tips and tricks can help to improve your organic rankings, aka, your position on the search engine results page.
Technical Set-Up: The Base of Your Strategy
Technical setup impacts the search engine’s ability to crawl and evaluate your site. Think of it as the foundation of your SEO strategy. Without the proper technical setup, your entire website and rankings can suffer!
A variety of factors play into your site’s technical setup, like website infrastructure, page speed, and duplicate content. For example, a page with a lengthy load time indicates that it is of lower quality to search engines. A slow load time is not only annoying to a user but can hurt your rankings. On another note, pages with similar or duplicate content can confuse search engines, compete with each other for SERP placements, and further harm your rankings. Go through your site to ensure that these simple yet crucial items are in place.
Other technical SEO factors include Sitemap and Robots.txt files. A sitemap is a list of all your website’s URLs. This tells the search engines what they should crawl. On the other hand, robots.txt files tell search engines which URLs they should not crawl. Ensure that both of these lists are up to date for a strong SEO strategy. Due to the technical nature of these components, this is where a web developer will come in handy! Some tools to help monitor and improve technical SEO include:
- SEMrush: This software allows website administrators to run site audits to identify issues like duplicate content, linking, robots.txt files, and more.
- Google PageSpeed Insights: This free tool can assess page speed of a URL and will identify a list of recommended improvements.
Content Optimization: Give the People What They Want
Content is crucial. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or the answer to the searchers’ query. You want to give the people what they’re looking for!
Step 1: Keyword Research
You don’t want anyone and everyone coming to your website. After all, not all traffic is good for your end goal (a customer completing a desired action on your website, like a phone call, form submission, sale, etc.). First and foremost, if someone was looking for one of your products or services, what would they type in the search bar? It’s essential to do keyword research to optimize your pages properly. In addition to a target keyword, you can also include keywords related to the target keyword throughout the page. Tools like SEMrush or Google Ads Keyword Planner can help you research popular keywords that you can use throughout pages on your site to target particular queries.
Step 2: Keyword Optimization
Do you have your target keyword selected? Great! Now onto optimizing your page. First and foremost, it’s essential to include your target keyword in the heading, URL, meta title, and meta description. This is what users see on the SERP and helps them evaluate which result they’ll select, but it also helps search engines determine the main focus of the page content. Check out this example here:
My target keyword/query will be “Coffee in Richmond.” So I will include that in both the title and the description of my metadata:
The meta description is not only important to search engines, but this information can help let the user understand what content can be found on your page and whether or not it accurately answers their query. Getting this right will improve click through rates on your organic search result and improve important feedback metrics, like time on page and bounce rate.
Not only should your target keyword be included in the metadata, but it should also be included within the first 100 words of your content, in the headings, and it can even be used in the subheadings. However, it’s important not to overoptimize for a particular keyword, a practice often referred to as keyword stuffing. Instead, you could use similar keywords you found in your research throughout your page to avoid this. Examples in relation to “Coffee in Richmond” could be:
- Richmond coffee shops
- Coffee shops in Richmond VA
Other Ways to Optimize Your Site’s Content:
In addition to optimizing your content using keywords, a variety of other factors come into play. For instance, internal linking, or linking to different related pages within your website, helps search engines find and crawl other pages on your site. On the other hand, external linking, or linking to other web pages outside of your site, helps search engines better understand the topic at hand and how your page fits into the broader context.
Content length also comes into play, as longer content can sometimes mean more information for users, keeping them on your site longer. However, it’s important not to fill your page with content for the sake of the length. Instead, think about what information would truly be helpful to users rather than fill a page with “fluff.” Lastly, images and videos can also keep users on a page longer, adding to the page’s quality and signaling to search engines that your page has valuable and engaging information. Tools that can help identify content opportunities include:
- SEMrush’s On-Page SEO Checker: This tool identifies opportunities on each page of your site where content can be optimized (adding videos, more text, etc.)
Links (Off-Page): Demonstrate Topic Authority and Popularity
Last but not least, off-page SEO or Linking is the third component of your strategy. Linking, or building backlinks, occurs when your website is referenced on another website. Building quality links contributes to the popularity and authority of your site. So how can you get someone else to mention your website on their own? There are a few different ways to ensure that you can acquire high-quality backlinks, including:
- Guest Blogging: Write a blog post for a different website, and link it back to your site. This can benefit both of you!
- Profile Links: When you’re setting up profiles for your business in various online directories, there’s often a place where you can include your website link.
- Organic Linking: Some websites may already reference your website without any prompt. If you continually produce great content, organic links will come!
- Skyscraper Technique: According to ahrefs blog, the Skyscraper Technique involves searching for a relevant piece of content, finding where it links to, and creating even more valuable content. Then, you can ask those that wrote the original content to link to your website instead.
Backlinks can help Google understand the authoritativeness of your site. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that while many backlinks are beneficial, low-quality backlinks can actually harm your efforts to rank higher on SERPs. So think quality over quantity when it comes to building backlinks.
Parting Thoughts on SEO Best Practices
Improving your organic rankings can seem like a difficult task to tackle. It’s important to recognize that SEO is ever-changing, and there are numerous factors that contribute to it. However, you can ensure that you’re ready to play the game with these SEO best practices. For more information on creating a competitive SEO strategy, check out our blog here.