In today’s digital world, getting found online by prospects and clients is critical. Which means that in spite of all the never ending changes in search algorithms and SEO techniques, optimizing your website for search remains a top priority.
Search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved considerably over the last several years. The algorithms of Google, Yahoo and Bing have increasingly centered on rewarding high-quality content served up on websites that provide a great user experience. While some of the long-standing fundamentals are still in play, there are other important factors to consider as well.
So how should your firm adapt to these changes and improve your SEO? Here are 8 ways to help you improve your search engine rankings starting today.
1. Attract visitors with valuable, quality content
The key to SEO is focusing your resources on creating content that people find useful. It will help you earn search engine visibility, while also building a relationship with your audience and helping to achieve your marketing goals. Creating quality, context-driven content for your readers, prospects and clients and will ultimately help you have a good search engine ranking.
But you can’t possibly expect to rank high for certain keywords or subject matter if your website doesn’t have content (and loads of good content) that speaks to those specific subjects. Keep this in mind: users are looking for the best answers to their search queries and the search engines want to provide them exactly what they are looking for. While there are many other, more technical aspects of SEO (that we’ll cover later), no amount of technical prowess can make up for a lack of quality, context-driven content that speaks to the user’s interests (and search query).
2. Find your niche and cover it on your website
You can’t expect to rank high for every possible keyword or area of your firm’s subject matter expertise. Especially for firms with a wide range of services and products, you’ll always have a tough time covering the SEO spectrum. So when it comes to your content, try finding a niche within your industry that you are most passionate about and that ultimately sets you apart from the rest of the pack.
Writing in-depth content on niche topics provides a better ROI than just writing short, general blog posts. Blogging gives you something to talk about and promote on social media, and it provides you the best avenue to create keyword-rich, context-driven content (and lots of it). And by providing valuable content, you will build an audience of people that pay attention to what you have to say and value your opinions.
3. Get the technical fundamentals right
While content is the most important factor in search rankings, there are still technical best practices you need to follow to ensure that your site is search engine-friendly. No matter how great your content is, if your website is not technically optimized for search, visitors are less likely to find you. There are many aspects to technical SEO, but here are some important ones to consider:
- Be sure your website is indexible and optimized for crawlability
- Set up Google Search Console for your website
- Use an SEO crawling tool to ensure your site is free of 404 errors
- Optimize image file names and use unique ALT tag descriptions
- Create sitemap.xml and robots.txt files
- Apply a canonical tag to avoid duplicate content
- Use 301 redirects when deleting pages or launching a new site
- Invest in website security to protect your site and prevent a rankings hit
For more information, see Moz’s Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet.
4. Optimize each page and post on your website
While we previously discussed site-wide technical best practices, it’s also important to make sure that each and every page that you want to rank is also optimized for search as well. Make sure that you include the targeted keyword in the title, headers and copy. But keep in mind, you should be writing to humans, not robots. Here are some of the on-page aspects to consider:
- Use a clean, SEO-friendly URL structure, ideally with keywords
- Use internal links to aid with navigation
- Include quality external links to authority sites where appropriate
- Create a unique page title for every page using targeted keywords – the ideal length is 50–60 characters
- Create a unique meta description for every page with the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) in mind – use no more than 160 characters
- Use header tags (H1, H2, H3, H4) that include keywords
- Use social sharing buttons on blog content to encourage sharing
5. Make your website (even more) mobile-friendly
Having a mobile-friendly website has become table stakes as mobile usage has skyrocketed and become an integral part of our society. As such, mobile has been an ongoing focus for Google. In 2015, marketers experienced “Mobilegeddon” as Google released a mobile-friendly update that was designed to give a boost to mobile-friendly content in Google’s mobile search results. Most recently, Google started experimenting with “mobile-first indexing,” meaning that they will index the mobile versions of websites instead of their desktop counterparts.
Needless to say, making sure your website is increasingly mobile-friendly is critical to not only user experience, but also to your website’s SEO. Even if you think your website is “mobile friendly,” try using Google’s Mobile Friendly Test tool just to make sure. Responsive design is a great way to address the mobile user, but it’s also important to think mobile-first when it comes to design and content. Based on the direction Google is going, the more optimized your site is for mobile users the more optimized it will be for search as well.
6. Minimize page load speed
Similar to Google’s views on mobile, ultimately they (and other search engines) are interested in providing a good user experience. Page load speed has become increasingly important to Google (they’ve said they’re “obsessed” with speed) and it’s been part of their ranking factors and Bing’s for a while now. Users don’t have the patience to wait for pages to load, and considering how many are using mobile devices that may or may not be connected to lightning-fast WIFI, marketers need to make minimizing page load a priority. Many of these factors might be beyond the capability of your marketing team, but here are some of the ways you can speed up your website:
- Use a website speed tool such as the one from Pingdom or Google PageSpeed Insights to find out where you need to improve
- Compress the images and video on your website
- Utilize page and browser caching and enable compression
- Minimize http requests and redirects
- Reduce server response time
- Remove query strings from static resources
7. Migrate your website to HTTPS
Hypertext Transport Protocol Security (HTTPS) websites use an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to protect a site connection through authentication and encryption. While once only found on websites that involved the exchange of sensitive user data (such as banks, e-commerce sites, insurance, etc.), HTTPS is becoming more popular across the board. Unsurprisingly, Google is leading the charge for making the entire web more secure, even launching an HTTPS everywhere campaign. As part of their ongoing push for improving user experience they have also started including HTTPS as a ranking signal, and now give indexing priority to secure pages over unsecured pages.
The point is, HTTPS is the future of the Internet, so why not go ahead and take advantage of the SEO benefits that it offers, while building trust and credibility with your users in the process. Purchasing an SSL certificate runs around $75 or more per year and can be fairly easy to implement by your web development partner. For more information, read Google’s guide to Securing Your Website With HTTPS.
8. Leverage an SEO tool
Monitoring and optimizing your website for search is not a “set it and forget it” exercise, rather it requires ongoing time and consideration. Fortunately, there are a ton of helpful tools out there to help you with the process. At the most basic, your CMS should include an SEO plugin or widget to help you optimize your pages and posts. If you use WordPress, Yoast SEO is my personal favorite SEO plugin and best of all it’s well supported and free.
For those who want to take their SEO to another level, there are subscription solutions such as Moz and SEMrush that can provide you website audits, monitoring, rank tracking and will recommend steps you can take to improve your SEO. Additionally, many marketing automation platforms such as HubSpot and Act-On include SEO tools as well.
Always stay one step ahead
Figuring out the best way to optimize your website on Google or other search engines can be confusing, especially when the algorithms keep changing! SEO is and always has been a moving target, but by following these 8 tips and continuing to put quality content first, your website will be ahead of the curve.