I'm a freelance graphic designer, illustrator, writer and the founder of Sand Web Design. Graphic artist at News Corp. Father and husband. Pop culture addict.
Search engine optimisation. How could three little words possibly cause many a small business owner so much stress? Nailing down your SEO strategy can be like trying to wrangle a barrel of monkeys. It's a subject much written about, covered by countless blogs and websites, all with different ideas and information and different ways of attacking SEO for a newly established business or site. It's also important not to forget that Google likes to change the SEO goal posts from time to time as well. Wind the clock back a few years, and SEO was a completely different animal; much more keyword focused and less organic. These days SEO relies less on keywords (although they are still important of course) and more on relevant, original content.
Building and implementing a solid SEO strategy can be a frustrating affair, but even today, deep into 2019, there are some set rules that should be adhered to, no matter the type or scale of your site and content. That is my purpose in writing this blog post - to boil down those important, must-not-neglect 'ten commandment' rules when it comes to SEO.
Title tag hierarchy is a key part of making sure your website is structured properly for SEO. Heading tags are simple snippets of HTML that act as a guideline once applied to any written content within your website. These tags organise your information into a specific 'chain of command' (H1 or heading 1, through to H6 or heading 6), making it much easier for services like Google to know what information is the most important and where and how your site should appear in search results. The simple rules of thumb when it comes to title tagging are as follows;
The landscape of what kind of devices people are using to access the web is changing all the time, and it's generally moving in one direction; towards smartphone and smaller, hand-held devices. It's more important now than ever to make sure your website is comprised of a responsive design, meaning that it scales well from large, desktop resolutions, right down to phone screens.
If your site is designed properly, and your responsive breakpoints work well, then Google will mark your site with a very important 'mobile friendly' search tag. This can give your overall SEO results a tangible boost. Not only that, but having a properly responsive design makes for a much better user-experience, meaning people that do hit your site are much more likely to stick around and digest the information you're trying to get in front of them.
So you've just completed your fantastic, brand spanking new website. You have a collection of pages all sprouting from your very important homepage. What next? How do you ensure that Google knows that all of those other pages on your site exist? You can probably just site back and wait for them to be indexed, but why not give the process a helping hand? You need to submit your sitemap to Google.
A sitemap is an XML document that is attached to your website. It's basically precisely what it sounds like; a map of your entire website structure. Some of your pages may be a little out of the way, not well linked or just hard for Google spiders to find. The sitemap will give them that information. All you need to do is head over to the 'Google Search Console', create a free account and then define your sitemap path. By default it is generally yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml but if not, your web designer can help you find it. Just submit that sitemap to your verified domain, and Bob's you're uncle, your site is far more visible to Google search indexing.
The 'bread and butter' content of your site is more important than just about anything when it comes to your sites SEO ranking, but things like page titles and descriptions should not be overlooked either. This simply means the title of your page as it will appear in a browser, and the description paragraph that proceeds your web address in Google search results.
Editing this content with proper key-wording and relevant information can also be a real boon. I tend to focus on these sections as I write the copy for any given page, rather than as an afterthought. This ensures that the titles and descriptions run parallel with the page copy, and include some of the same phrasing and information, just in a much more condensed form.
Think about what you might search in Google if you were trying to find a business or website similar to yours. That's a great place to start when it comes to this kind of thing. There are, however, more in depth tools for keyword and phrasing research. Check out the very next step for more on that!
The important thing to remember when you're trying to lock down useful search phrasing, is to think in very specific terms. I've come across clients that want to just throw every keyword they can muster into the content of their site. This is a mistake. You're just muddying the water with this approach. Like any problem in life, a little bit of planning can go a long way towards a solution. You need to sit back and think about precisely what kind of wording and phrasing people might actually be using to try and find a business or website like yours. If you, for example, you run a welding company, simply throwing every single bit of welding jargon and terminology that there is into your site is not the way to go. Google will not rank content like that favourably. Google results encourage content writers to create relevant, original and concise content. The purpose of Google searches, after all, are to get the best, relevant content in front of human eyeballs, all sourced by very simple, single sentence (and sometimes single word) searches. This is what your content and keyword strategy need to focus on.
But how? Where do you start? The good news; you're not on your own. There are some incredible tools that will allow you to research and plan keyword content specific to your field or area of expertise. As mentioned above, Google auto-suggestion research is a great place to start. If you're a welder and you're based in Cairns, for example, start there. Type 'welding cairns' into a Google search bar and see what suggestions pop up underneath. You might see things like 'suppliers', 'fabrication', 'on-site', 'mobile welding' or 'engineering'. This is the hard data, sourced from actual users making actual searches on Google. To boil it down to simple terms; these are the most common things that people are searching for in regards to welding in the Cairns area. It then stands to reason that some of these results, the ones that might apply directly to you, are a great place to start when developing a website content strategy.
It doesn't have to stop there, however. There are other tools that will allow you to dig into this user-generated information in even greater detail. You can jump onto services like 'Google Trends' and 'Google Keyword Planner' to reap even more important search related data. My advice is simple; before you write a single word of website copy, gather some information from these sites and build a simple 'plan of attack' for your content.
You won't always be starting from square one when it comes to your SEO. Maybe you have an old site that you plan to upgrade or overhaul. Maybe you're just adding new, more relevant pages to your existing site. If you've had that old site live for a while, chances are that you've developed some 'search equity', meaning that the site is appearing somewhere in Google rankings. Overhauling your site does not mean you need to throw away that equity. That's what 301 redirection is for.
What is 301 redirection? It's pretty simple really. When you launch your new site, all you need to do is ensure that all of those old page addresses are properly set up as 301 redirects to your new, more relevant content. This will push that existing search equity and throw it towards your new content. Nothing gets wasted, and you don't need to start from scratch with your SEO all over again. It also ensure that users will not be hitting old, broken or missing links, because those redundant links will now redirect them to the new ones. User experience is paramount, so making your content easy to find and problem free to navigate is a huge plus.
When you're dealing with Google, you can sometimes, in a way, be dealing with the blind. You may have a lot of photos and visual content on your site, but how can an automated Google indexer see that visual information? Basically; it can't. This is where 'alt tags' become important. Alt tags are small snippets of text or descriptors that you can attach to any image on your site. You can keep them basic, but it's also another opportunity to include a little more keyword phrasing, but make sure you only do this when actually relevant to the given image. Jam a bunch of superfluous keywords into your tag and you'll do more harm than good. Once again; modern Google indexing relies more of relevance than simple spamming of words and phrases.
The ultimate goal with alt tagging your images is to have them appear in appropriate Google image searches. All of this adds to your overall site visibility.
There are no speed limits when it comes to your website. You want it fast, you want it smooth and you want an issue free user-experience. No one wants to visit a site and stare at a pre-loader for what can feel like an eternity. Google doesn't want this either, so if you're site has slow down and loading problems, that can become a big SEO problem. You will experience a negative result in listings for a slow-loading site.
So how can you avoid this? Step one; tailor your content to user-experience. Format your images correctly and make sure your video is web-friendly. There's no point uploading giant background images to your site that have a huge, unnecessary resolution. In most cases 72 DPI will do just fine, and most users won't be viewing the images at a full-screen resolution higher than about 2000 pixels wide at the most.
Your choice of host can also effect the load speed of your site, so some research here before you commit can be good. Many hosting providers proclaim to provide super-fast servers, but this is not always the case, especially depending on which part of the world you (and your target users) live. Are you an Australian business targeting an Australian based customer base? A service that has local, Australia based servers is always a good choice. Long load times and delays ultimately give users a greater opportunity to simply close a tab or backtrack and try a different website, so load speed is very critical.
A good SEO strategy is like a moving target; it will change and evolve with your content and with the changes that Google themselves make to their algorithms and infrastructure. Tracking your SEO data is very important. With services like Google Analytics, you can take a look at the hard data of your website, tracking information like your page visitors and their behaviour on your site. All this data can be used to refine your overall SEO strategy. Are parts of your website clearly outperforming others? Redirect your content where you need it, and funnel those unique users where you need them to be. Google Analytics is free and easy to integrate into any website
Links are like the arterial veins of the internet. Information moves through them like blood being carried around a vast body. Making sure that your website has valuable in-going and out-going links creates that connective tissue needed to boost your SEO ranking. You might feel that linking to an outside, authoritative site which is not your own is like sending your page-views elsewhere, but that may not be the case. Out-going links to relevant sources have been proven to improve the health of site SEO. It makes Google see your website as a more valuable, visible and scaleable source.
The same can be said for in-coming links. Does your business have a healthy following on various social media platforms? Throw a link to each of those sites into the footer of each of your website pages, and you're just creating more opportunities for Google to see your site and rank its relevance.
In conclusion, SEO can be a lengthy process, and you have to be willing to work at it and adapt. Natural Google rankings won't just happen overnight, but if you follow the few important rules above, you'll be moving in the right direction. If you're looking for more information on SEO and website design, head over to my contact page and drop me a question via the link below.