Ranking well on search engines can make or break your business’s online presence. Whether you’re running an eCommerce site, a blog, an online educational platform, or any other type of website, you need optimization to get eyeballs on your content and offers.
This is where SEO (or search engine optimization) comes into play. While SEO is an umbrella term for an array of optimization practices, there are a few SEO best practices that you can focus on to lay a good foundation for your business.
SEO is the process of optimizing your website to get organic traffic from search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Your objective is to make your site appear more prominently on the search engine results pages (SERPs) for queries that are aligned with your business offer or areas of expertise.
The more prominent your pages are ranked on the SERPs, the more site visitors you could get. You’re also more likely to convert these visitors into fans or paying customers. Ultimately, you need SEO to reach your target audience, increase your ROI, and move ahead of your competitors.
The tricky thing is that not all SEO strategies and tactics are beneficial—especially in the long term. Some of the last decade’s, and even last year’s, SEO practices are now frowned upon. With that, you have to stay abreast of what’s currently acceptable and what practices to stay away from. More importantly, you must stay in the loop of any algorithmic changes that could affect your site’s rankings.
Crafting a great SEO strategy means staying within the boundaries of white hat SEO and strictly avoiding black hat SEO. (Google and the other search engines consider the latter to be unethical.)
White hat SEO consists of ethical strategies and tactics that are sanctioned by Google and the other search engines. A few good examples of white hat tactics are publishing well-written and original content, properly using keywords in every web page, and ensuring fast loading page speeds.
Good SEO also encompasses great user experience (UX) design. With that, you shouldn’t only optimize for search engine bots but also for the human users who will be interacting with your website.
In contrast, black hat SEO pertains to deceptive tactics that are considered to be unethical by search engines and SEO specialists. These include the creation of automated content, setting up sneaky redirects, and reporting a competitor to Google even if they’ve done nothing wrong.
Link buying, cloaking, keyword stuffing, and using article spinning tools are also considered to be black hat tactics. If you want your site to remain in good standing with Google, you’ll need to avoid such tactics like the plague.
As already mentioned, SEO helps your site rank better on the SERPs. But is that the only reason why you need it?
To be clear, SERP rankings are just the tip of the iceberg. Done right, your brand could reap the following additional benefits:
If your site appears at the top of the search results (especially if it’s for several related keywords), then a searcher will be more likely to remember your brand name and recognize it as a credible name in its niche.
It’s common knowledge that search engines are smarter these days. They wouldn’t put a website at the top of SERPs if it doesn’t offer any value or relevance to the search query it ranks for. So, when your site does make it to the top, its appearance there instantly signals credibility and click-worthiness.
SEO helps your website get found. And if your web pages appear compelling enough on SERPs (that is, your title tag and meta description entice people to click), then you’ll likely get a higher click-through rate and greater traffic—a good starting point for gaining leads and regular site visitors.
When your site’s content matches a search query’s intent, there’s a higher chance that people will stay on your site and act on your call to action. Not only that, but because of the added credibility that ranking on SERPs gives to your brand, you get a competitive advantage over competitors with unoptimized sites.
As a website owner, you’ll need to focus on these four key areas in order to create an effective SEO strategy:
For your content to rank prominently on the SERPs, as well as attract the right audience, you’ll need to craft original content that educates and inspires your audience. Whether it’s blog posts, white papers, infographics, or slides, your site’s content should also address your target audience’s pain points.
By helping your audience solve their problems and make empowered decisions, they’ll be more likely to choose your product or service once they’re ready to make a buying decision. It also goes without saying that your content marketing initiatives cannot be truly effective unless you’re reaching out to a clearly defined audience.
Recommended Reading: Dropshipping 101: Defining Your Target Market & Target Audience
Moreover, your content would have a difficult time ranking on the SERPs unless it’s properly optimized for the keywords your audience is using to find the answers to their questions. Identifying these search queries requires keyword research, and there are a number of tools you can use to pinpoint the keywords your target audience is using. These include AnswerThePublic, Semrush, Ahrefs, and Ubersuggest.
Aside from your primary keywords (i.e. the main keywords you’ll be optimizing your content with), you’ll also need to find alternative keywords. This is to ensure that your content won’t be flagged for keyword spamming.
These alternate keywords are called Latent Semantic Indexing. Also known as LSI, Latent Semantic Indexing keywords are words and phrases that are semantically similar to a search query. For example “Blue Shoes” vs “Blue Footwear.” By using LSI keywords, you can expand your content without getting off topic or straying too far from your target keyword.
You can use LSIGraph to discover LSI keywords for your chosen topic and niche. Search for your main keyword and LSIGraph will give you a list of LSI keywords.
Keyword spamming is when your main keyword appears more times than is acceptable for your page. The most acceptable percentage for keyword insertion is 1% to 2%. If you go above this number, your content can be considered spammy or deemed unacceptable according to Google’s content quality metrics. To avoid this, using alternative keywords in your content should be practiced.
On-page SEO consists of tasks that directly affect the content, pages, and architecture of your website; in other words, all of the elements that make a website useful for a visitor.
On-Page SEO involves optimizing the pages of your website with the intention of ranking prominently on the SERPs.
In order to optimize a page properly, you need to ensure that meta titles, meta descriptions, and Alt text are all utilized properly. Other on-page SEO tasks include using header tags in your content and incorporating relevant keywords and phrases in these.
The meta title refers to the title of the web page–this will become the main heading that users will see in the SERP. It is one of the most important on-page SEO factors, next only to the actual on-page content.
Ideally, the title length is 60 characters or less since Google displays the first 50-60 characters of your title. After that, Google will truncate the title with an ellipsis. This will cause important keywords to be omitted and prevent them from being crawled.
The ideal meta description length has varied widely in recent years, but today it is recommended that it should be within 155-160 characters.
Here’s a good formula to follow: target keyword + secondary keywords + descriptors + call-to-action.
Describe your photos using Alt text, or alternative text descriptions. Also known as Alt tags, Alt text is the written copy that is shown in place of a photo on a webpage if the image fails to load on a user’s computer. Alt text allows search engines to better crawl and rank your site by associating keywords with images. It also helps screen-reading tools describe images to visually impaired readers.
Your visual content must be optimized for search engines and your target audience. Images can have a big impact on the loading time of your webpage, which is why it is highly recommended that you compress your images before uploading to your site. You can use Photoshop to create optimized images or you can use a tool such as TinyPNG. Aim to have image file sizes under 500 KB.
Secondly, you should create readable image file names to alert Google and help search engines understand your image and improve your SEO. Let Google know what the image is about by using your target keyword in the image file name.
To make sure you implement the right on-page SEO tactics for each page, here is a short checklist to keep handy:
Off-Page SEO involves establishing relationships between websites. If a lot of websites link to your content, search engines will infer that your content is valuable to users. Backlinks are necessary for SEO because they signal to Google that another website finds your content valuable enough to link to it.
For this reason, it is crucial for you to get quality backlinks from high-authority sites in your niche. This will make search engines consider your website as an important and relevant resource, causing your site to have a higher rank.
Link-building is probably one of the most difficult tasks you have to undertake when it comes to SEO, but it is also one of the most essential. It has been said that getting backlinks from other sites is a cornerstone of Google’s algorithm and has a huge bearing on how well you will rank on the SERPs.
Although search engines consider both the number and quality of your backlinks (as well as the number of referring domains), quality is much more important than quantity.
Technical SEO refers to optimizations that you do to your website and server in order to allow search engine spiders to crawl and index your website more effectively. These steps can help improve your site’s organic rankings in the long run.
Make use of a user-friendly and consistent URL structure. To ensure that your URLs are SEO friendly, keep them short, link each word in it using hyphens (not underscores), and use descriptive words related to your content in them.
If you optimize them well, your URLs can act as a ranking factor. Your goal is to let users understand what is featured in a particular webpage just by checking the URL.
One thing that some site owners tend to overlook is site speed. If your website loads slowly, your ranking will suffer, which is why you should aim for your site to load in around three seconds. A slow-loading webpage can be detrimental to your bounce rate—or the percentage of visitors who bounce off or leave your site. If your page takes too long to load, your visitors may get impatient and leave.
Did you know that site speed has actually been a ranking factor for more than a decade?
Since 2010, page speed has had an effect on whether or not your site can be seen on SERPs. This is because a delay in your page’s loading speed will affect the number of pages that Google’s crawlers get to index. Google also revealed that site speed is one of the signals used by its algorithm to rank pages. To help speed up loading time, keep the overall page size below 5 MB.
Schema, or more precisely schema markup, is structured data that search engines use to easily understand what can be found on a page. It is essentially code that search engines use to accurately read a site’s page, which in turn helps them show relevant pages to users faster. This is also what is used to show rich snippets.
AMPs, or accelerated mobile pages, are essentially pages that are formatted to give users on mobile fast-loading pages that facilitate a better user experience. To achieve these fast-loading mobile pages, sites have to create an AMP copy of the HTML5 page content.
This is stripped down content and centers on user experience. If a site has an AMP page, and a user accesses the site via mobile, the AMP page is what appears rather than the canonical one.
Ask your webmaster to ensure that your site’s HTML code complies with the AMP guidelines of Google in order to enhance your search performance.
What is site architecture? It’s essentially the structure and hierarchy of your site’s pages. To create great site architecture, here are some things to remember:
There are a lot of things for you to do to ensure that your site ranks high on Google. Here are SEO best practices that you can follow to help your website rise to the top of the SERPs.
Add an SSL certificate to provide a layer of security to your website. This will change your website URL from “HTTP” to “HTTPS.” HTTPS is faster and more secure, and is considered a ranking signal by Google due to security concerns.
When your website does not have an SSL certificate, search browsers will alert visitors that your site is “Not Secure.” This could prompt users to leave your site immediately especially if you collect sensitive, personal information such as names, addresses, and credit card info, among others.
You can get a free SSL certificate using Let’s Encrypt.
Use internal links to help online audiences navigate around your website. Internal links should lead to other pages on your website to help users find more information. Internal links also send signals to search engine bots and help them crawl and understand your pages.
SEO best practices for internal links include having webpages with no more than 100 links and avoid creating pages with more than 1,000 links.
You can secure more than one variation of your domain name to protect your brand and allow users to visit your site through different hostnames (e.g., claim both http://domain.com and http://www.domain.com).
You can also register multiple domains associated with your brand (such as misspelled brand names) so that you can automatically redirect users who’ve accidently made typo errors when entering your URL. This way, you won’t lose any traffic due to mistyping.
Help search engines associate your company with a specific geographic region in order to improve your local search rankings. This is because local search engine results are mainly geography-based.
Include the physical address of your company (or multiple branches) in the footer of your website. For websites to rank highly in local SEO, it is important that the address in the website matches the same information in their social media accounts.
Ensure that Google can find all of your webpages by submitting your XML sitemap, which is a list of all the URLs of your website. The sitemap serves as a roadmap to let search engines know what content is available and how to reach it.
Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools are free tools from Google and Microsoft, respectively, that let you submit your website to their search engines for crawling and indexing. By submitting your XML sitemap, you can help search engines index your web pages more quickly.
Due to the ever-changing Google algorithms, it pays to be well ahead of the game. Here are some SEO trends that experts believe will still be relevant this year and in the near future.
If your aim is to outrank the competition, then long-form content is still a must for you this year. It has been noted that longer blog posts and content have consistently outperformed shorter ones in the previous year. This trend will continue and may even bring about even longer content that can reach upwards of 3,000 words. A 2020 study conducted by Backlinko revealed that writing comprehensive and in-depth articles can help websites rank higher in Google.
If you’ve heard the phrase “all SEO is mobile SEO,” then you know that you need to continue improving your site’s relevance on mobile browsers. This also means mobile UX will take the front seat this year and how your site does on mobile will soon dictate how well your site will rank on Google on both desktop and mobile.
While not that many companies are tapping artificial intelligence (AI), it seems this year, it’s something that can no longer be ignored. AI will be on the rise in the coming year and this will include the creation of AI-generated content, the use of SEO automation tools, and more.
While a lot of website owners still do SEO manually for their websites, there are some who either hire an eCommerce SEO agency or use tools that can help them automate this task. If you want to speed up your optimization efforts, as well as keep yourself up-to-date without having to constantly do research on the topic, you can opt to use these SEO tools:
SEMrush or Ahrefs is definitely worth investing in if you’re serious about optimizing your website. These two offer a suite of tools that you can use for your optimization needs, such as a keyword research function, rank tracking, competitive analysis, and even a blog post ideation tool.
If you’re using WordPress as your CMS, then Rank Math is a good plugin to have for optimization on your site. It shows you a number of things and these include readability checker, meta data checker, and schema coding.
GA allows you to track demographics and monitor key metrics that reflect the habits of your target audience. It’s a must-have tool if you want to adjust your site based on how your audience interacts with it. You can use Google Analytics to monitor the organic traffic of your website and see how many people are visiting your site from search engines, which will indicate the effectiveness of your SEO strategies.
Another tool that is worth having in your grab-bag of tools for SEO is this one that works in tandem with Analytics. It provides you with information that the former doesn’t offer, such as click-through rate, position in SERPs, and insights on what keywords people used to find you.
This tool from Google helps you add social media remarketing pixels and live chat widgets.