Search Engine Optimization (SEO) basically refers to the methods and techniques used to optimize web content so that it can be easily found and indexed by search engines like Google.
It is important for your website to be optimized because search engines serve as gateways between your website and the people who are searching for the content or information you are offering.
A poorly optimized website will not rank well on search engine results and consequently miss out on organic search traffic. Fortunately for you, in this guide we will cover all the basic search engine optimization guidelines that can help you boost your traffic.
Old school SEO techniques
Unfortunately, most people associate the term ‘SEO’ with old school techniques such as commenting on forums and posting on web directories. You should know there is much more to SEO than just this, and these techniques don’t even work anymore.
Moreover, if you’re not up to date in regards to optimization methods, you might even do more damage to your website than good.
Meet the Panda and the Penguin
Search engines, like Google, have algorithms or complex analysis and calculation techniques, using which they determine how their search results are ranked. If you search any popular term on Google for instance, there are going to be hundreds of thousands of results, but the first page will only show 10.
Panda and Penguin are two of the most important algorithm updates implemented by Google, and you need to have some background on them.
Implemented in early 2011, the Panda updates (they keep coming) are aimed at fishing out low quality websites and bringing high quality ones to the top. Most websites heavy on advertisements and low quality ‘thin’ content suffered and were demoted at the initial release, and further updates to the algorithm keep coming.
The best way to avoid a Panda penalty is to create unique & original content which is valuable, relevant and credible and a comprehensive account of the topic at hand.
Penguin is the name of another Google algorithm update which focuses on bringing down low quality websites by targeting artificial link-creation schemes. One of the ranking factors assessed by search engines is the strength of backlinks a certain website receives.
For instance, if your website is referred to by other authority sites, you get backlinks which significantly affect your rankings and can promote you to the top 10.
In order to game this system, people used to buy and sell links (they still do) and artificially boost rankings by methods known as Black-hat SEO techniques.
If your site is penalized by Penguin you are likely to receive a manual action message in your webmasters dashboard. The process to recover from a Penguin penalty can be long and tedious, which means the best way to avoid it is to refrain from purchasing any kind of links or participating in any link exchange schemes or programs.
How Search Engines Rank Your Website
Now let’s take a look at the factors search engines take into consideration for ranking your website. These are essentially things you should be mindful of when it comes to your own site and should implement anything you aren’t already doing.
Your website’s user interface is an important factor, not only for your visitors but search engines as well. These days search engines assess everything, including the UI, to make sure that the sites they recommend are user friendly and facilitate visitors.
Elements considered here include:
- Prominent and simple navigation
- Search functionality
- Easy access to related content
- Organized page structure with less clutter
- Interface optimization for mobile devices
The quality of your website and the content on it is a major factor behind your ranking. Some of the things Google considers in terms of quality include:
- Trust worthy information
- Comprehensive coverage of topic
- Use of Rich Media
- Redundancy or repetitive content/articles
- keyword stuffing (overuse of certain words in an attempt to rank against them)
- Grammar and structure of the writing
- Original, unique and well-researched content.
- Actionable information which is of value to readers
- Authority in the selected niche
- Editing of the content
- Likelihood of content being shared, commented on and bookmarked
- Number of ads on the page
User experience & engagement
Apart from user interface, the user experience also determines how well your site ranks. UX (user experience) can be defined as the sum total a user experiences or goes through when he/she lands on your page till the time he/she exits it.
Moreover, search engines also measure the level of engagement on your website, which refers to how visitors interact with your site.
Factors considered here include:
- Loading time for the website or page
- Proper mobile site redirection
- Relevant content which meets users’ requirements
- Number of advertisements
- Use of visual content
- Time spent by visitors on your website
- Bounce rate (number of visitors who leave your site without any interaction)
- Comments and social activity on your posts
Tips for optimizing your own site
Now that you know how search engines rank your website, here are a few things you can do to optimize your site and rank better.
Produce original content
This cannot be stressed enough – search engines dig original content. Whenever you attempt to address a topic, make sure you go one ahead than the competition and include details others have missed out.
Don’t regurgitate content or simply rewrite what others have written. Put down your own perspective in a unique manner and refrain from only including obvious points and information.
As stated earlier, your writing is also a determinant for search engine rankings. You should ideally keep your writing simple and grammatically correct. Do not use big words or difficult expressions which negatively impact the user experience.
Moreover, the depth of your content also matters. While you shouldn’t measure quality with number of words, you should ensure that your content adequately and comprehensively covers the topic you are discussing.
Include heading tags
Heading tags are very effective in breaking down content into small chunks and creating a structure search engines can follow. The most important heading is your title, which is marked H1, then all the sub-headings you use should be marked H2, and any headings under those subheadings can be marked H3 and so on.
Add alt text for uploaded images
Any images you upload also need to be optimized for search engines. Make sure you insert an appropriate title and an alternate text which describes the image. An optimized image will show up against search queries in the images section and will also bring you traffic.
Use proper meta tags
Meta tags are still important from the perspective of SEO, especially the meta title and meta description tags.
You can simply think of them as the text that shows up when a search engine returns a result for your website or page. For example, when you search for any term on Google, you see tons of results, all of which include two main things, the title on the top and the small description under it – these are the meta title and meta description tags.
Optimizing these tags means you need to include major keywords in both your title and description, but be careful not to stuff them with keywords either. Every page or post can have its own meta title and description, both of which help search engines determine the relevancy of your content so they can show it against certain search queries.
Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
Given the increasing use of mobile devices throughout the world, your website’s compatibility with mobile devices is a major consideration. An important point to note here is that if you have a dedicated mobile version of the site, any page users access on your site should be redirected to the exact page on the mobile site (and not the home page).
If you don’t have the resources for a dedicated mobile site you can look into responsive design, which makes sure your existing site adjusts according to the resolution it is being viewed on.
Be careful with links
Links, both internal and external, are important for search engine optimization. However, as mentioned above, unnatural and artificial links lead to penalization under the Penguin algorithm, so you should refrain from purchasing links at all costs.
The right way to get links is to create great content which people want to link to and also linking out to authentic sources. Moreover, your own pages should also be interlinked in a meaningful way, passing on link juice throughout the site.
But refrain from using too many links on any one page because that too is a red flag for search engines and can land your website in trouble. Finally, always check for broken links on your website. These are links which return 404 errors because they are either incorrect or the pages they link to are no longer available.
404 errors can negatively impact your rankings, so you should remove any broken links at the earliest.
Engagement is extremely important and can majorly boost your search engine rankings if done right. Make sure there are social sharing options available on your site and use visual content, including infographics and videos to promote sharing and interaction.
You should also encourage visitors to comment on your blog. Ask a question at the end of your posts or simply invite them to comment, which will keep your page active and updated, a good indicator for search engines.
Everyone working online or running a blog/website should know the basics of search engine optimization. White-hat techniques and best practices, such as the ones mentioned in this article, are safe and effective.
Remember, if your site performs well on search engine results, you can pull tons of organic traffic, including highly targeted visitors on the basis of the keywords you focus on.
Just avoid trying to game the system or using Black-hat techniques to boost your ranking and stay updated with the latest algorithmic changes to keep your site’s ranking up.