The most common question I get from clients is “How can I improve my website’s SEO?”. Taking into account the many benefits SEO can bring to a business, it’s pretty normal to ask this question and while the answer can sometimes be complicated, there are some concrete steps you can take today to improve your site’s rankings.
It’s all about ‘optimization’
Search Engine Optimization is a methodology that has some rules for making your website friendlier to search engines. These rules can either play a very important role i.e. you accidentally block access to search engine bots and they cannot read and index your pages, or less important i.e. your sitemap file includes more files than it needs.
Either big or small, all the rules have to do with one thing and this is optimization. In this context ‘optimization’ means making your website better for greater visibility in search engines and also for making it better than your competition.
Let me demonstrate with an example the meaning of optimization. Assume that two similar websites are competing for the first place, for a particular keyword in Google. One of the websites has SSL and the other does not. Other things being equal, the website that is secure (SSL), will rank higher than the other website.
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Why is that? Because SSL is part of the Google ranking algorithm. Does this mean that if you make your website SSL today it will magically rank higher in the SERPS? No and this is because there are at least 200 more factors that Google takes into account when ranking websites and SSL is just one of them.
But, since you optimized for SSL, your website has an advantage over other websites that don’t have SSL.
In other words, one factor alone will not give you higher rankings but if you work on your website and improve your SEO for a a number of things, eventually you will get better rankings especially if you do your optimization in a better way than your competitors.
Some people tried to analyse all 200+ SEO factors that Google is secretly using in the ranking algorithm but for most websites you don’t need to go that far, the necessary elements to improve your SEO are the following:
Give search engines what they need
What do search engines need? Content that will make their users happy, it’s as simple as that.
Make an honest review of your website’s content and if it’s not something that you would like to see when searching Google, then why should Google show your page instead of some other page that has better content?
I know that this is judgemental, so here are some other ways to evaluate the quality of your content.
Is it unique and original? – You can rarely find a topic that someone else has not already written an article about it but that does not mean that you cannot create content that is unique and original even if it is based on something that is already published on the web.
Take for example the article you are reading now, if you search Google for ‘How to improve your SEO’ you will find hundreds of articles about it but still the one you are reading now is unique to my website and original since it takes a different angle and has differentiated content from other other articles.
Is it long enough? Study after study confirms that content length matters when it comes to SEO and social sharing. A recent one by hubspot indicates again the content between 2250 -2500 words performs better in search engines and content over 2500 words performs better in social media.
Is it evergreen? Evergreen content is a great way to improve your SEO. You can read my previous article that explains what is evergreen content in detail, in short by publishing evergreen content you are more likely to earn more organic traffic both in the short and in the long term.
Is it fresh? Have you ever imagined how many web pages are already available on the Internet and the rate this amount of information is growing? The numbers are amazing.
Search engines care about old content but their primary concern is to give their users up-to-date content about a topic and this only one of the reasons why your website needs to be updated frequently with new content.
Make it easy for Search Engines to access your content
After you ensure that you can give search engines the right type of content, the next step is to make it easy to access your content.
Register to Google Search Console – Google has a tool for webmasters. Register your website and find out what Google knows about your website, how many pages you have in their index, how many links are pointing to your website (that google knows about), the keywords that triggered your website to show in Google SEPRS and many more useful information.
Submit your sitemap and rss feed – To help search engines discover all the pages of your website that otherwise they could not found, you can create and submit an xml sitemap. Both Google and Bing and other search engines use sitemaps as a guide when indexing a web site.
In addition to the sitemap, in the case of Google, you can optionally submit an RSS feed that includes only your latest changes. This helps Google prioritise the content especially when you have a website with hundreds of pages in their index.
Add internal links to your content – internal links tend to boost your SEO as they serve three important purposes:
- They ‘force’ search engine crawlers to visit more pages from your website
- Can be used to ‘pinpoint’ to search engines about important pages of your website
- Can help users find more information about a topic they are interested
Stay in-synch with the latest developments in SEO
SEO is changing all the time. Search engine engineers in the various companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) are working hard to make their search results more accurate, useful and faster.
To this end, they introduce new rules that may have a direct or indirect impact on your website’s ranking. So, it is necessary to follow the latest developments in SEO and take action where necessary.
Mobile Friendliness: A good example is the change that Google introduced in April 2015 which is related to how they rank websites on mobile. As of that date, any website that was not mobile friendly could not rank so well on mobile, even if it had good rankings on desktop.
Microdata: Another area that is gradually gaining ground in SEO is the use of microdata snippets to describe the meaning of your data to search engines.
Utilizing schemas makes your website easier to understand by search engines and in some cases this gives you an additional advantage like a rich snippet in the SERPS, better rankings for local searches and more attractive views of your adwords ads.
Secure websites (SSL): Making your website secure i.e. https, has a small SEO benefit for now. As explained above, this means that a secure website will rank higher from a non-secure website, other things being equal.
Security of information is something that will gain more importance on the Web in the coming years so the sooner you can migrate your website to SSL the better. It involves making technical changes and applying SSL to your server but it’s a once off task that is worth doing now or at least planning to do in the coming months.
Local SEO optimization: Local SEO is a term used to describe the process of optimizing a website to appear higher in the SERPS when people are searching for information (stores, products, services etc) in a specific area.
Classic example is the ‘near me’ searches performed from mobile i.e. ‘mexican restaurants near me’. Matthew Barby published a nice guide on searchengineland, with more details on how to do local seo that is worth reading.
Care about your users
SEO is not just about search engines but it’s also about users. In fact, if you manage to keep your users happy, search engines will be happy too.
This means that you need to care about your users and the experience they get while on your website. Improving the user experience is a synonym to improving your website’s SEO.
Improve website loading speed: The time it takes for your website to load matters a lot. Google is using speed in their ranking algorithm and several studies show the impact of page speed on sales and time users spend on a website. Faster websites get more transactions and more pageviews than slower sites.
Lower your website’s bounce rate: Bounce rate is a metric that shows the percentage of visitors that left your website without visiting a second page. The lower bounce rate a website has, the better.
Your goal is to reduce your bounce rate as much as possible and this is usually achieved through the quality of the content you provide and the design of your website.
Demonstrate your expertise
‘Trust’ plays a very important role in SEO. You need ‘Google trust’ so that your website gets a higher ranking in Google results and you also need ‘user trust’ so you can fulfil your business goals.
Gaining trust is one of the major objectives of inbound marketing and the best way to achieve this by demonstrating your expertise. You can do this by:
Guest posting on other websites: Guest posting has been associated with link building but the true benefits from publishing your content on other websites are more than that, provided that you do it correctly.
When looking for guest posting opportunities you should seek websites that are superior than yours both in terms of traffic and trust. These websites have strict guest posting policies and they only accept content from experts in the field so getting published is a good way to demonstrate your expertise on a subject and be recognised as an expert.
Users that read your posts will more likely visit your website and some of them will register to your newsletter, buy your products or become regular visitors.
Social media proof: Another way to convince users that you are someone (or a company) they can ‘trust’ is gaining ‘social media proof’. Although this does not have a direct impact on SEO, having a decent amount of followers in the various social networks is a positive signal which plays a role when evaluating the credibility of a website or blog.
Who would you trust as being an expert about a topic, someone that has a few followers on twitter or someone that has an active following with thousands of real and hard earned followers?
Don’t forget the basic SEO principles
While we talk about factors that can indirectly boost your SEO, don’t forget the basics. Things like your page titles and descriptions, url structure, alt text for images, H1 headings for the page titles, canonical urls and a bunch of other rules, still play a very important role when optimizing your website for search engines.
Don’t violate any rules
Last but not least, if you want to improve your SEO you need to play by the rules. Forget about shortcuts or magical ways that can get you top rankings in Google overnight.
Buying links, participating in link exchange schemes or any other ‘SEO tricks’ that you will find on the Internet will get you in trouble sooner or later.
SEO takes time to work and anything that is hard earned now (like a link from an authority website) will give you much more benefits and traffic in future. If you haven’t already read, take a look at how white hat SEO helped me grow my traffic to more than 400K organic visits per month (and still growing).
SEO improvement takes time
As a final word, when doing any kind of improvements to your website, have in mind that it may take some time for these to be taken account by search engines.
A change you do today for SEO purposes may generate better results in a couple of months so keep a record of what you do, monitor your ranking positions and traffic on a regular basis and be patient before deciding if a change improved your SEO or not.