For those of you who read my previous post, part 1 of 5 in my SEO 101 series, you’re already familiar with my intentions, and you can skip down to “The Goals” section. For everyone else, all you really need to know is that I’m developing this 5-part series as an introduction to search engine optimization (SEO), the process you can use to get your site to rank higher in Google search results. Previously, I covered “building an SEO strategy,” and in future segments, I’ll cover ongoing content marketing, link building and off-site optimization, and measurement and analysis.
But for now, let’s focus on on-site optimization.
Where We Left Off
If you need a quick refresher, the last part of my guide went over the basic components of building an SEO strategy from scratch. In addition to outlining the basics of SEO, I covered the processes of market research, competitive research, keyword selection, and setting both a budget and specific goals to achieve. As you’ll soon see, your on-site optimization efforts will at least partially depend on what you uncover and set here, so be sure you have a focus and a keyword strategy in mind before continuing on.
On-site optimization is all about making changes to your website to optimize it for search engine visibility. I’m excluding ongoing content marketing here (though some people would include it), because I’ll be focusing on that in the next part in this series. Here, you’re going to accomplish three goals:
· Proper indexing. The first goal is simply making sure Google can see your site in the first place. Google regularly “crawls” the web to discover new content and add it to its index, so you want to make sure your site is indexed properly.
· Relevant content. Next, you’ll want to be sure your site is loaded with high-quality content; not only will this help associate your site with relevant searches, it will boost your domain authority so you rank higher.
· Site performance. Finally, you’ll want to make sure your site performs well in terms of functionality and loading speed, which is important for both your rankings and your overall user experience and conversion rates.
Collectively, these goals will make sure your site is “seen” by Google, and will give it the highest relevance and authority possible with your one-time onsite changes. Now, let’s look at the individual factors and tactics you’ll use to get your site up to snuff. For your convenience, I’ve dumped them all into two massive lists — one that applies sitewide, and one that applies to your individual pages.
Sitewide Factors for Optimization
· Install and format your robots.txt file. With this, you can select which sections of your site Google indexes — make sure you aren’t blocking anything important.
· Check your server. If there are any server or hosting errors, it could prevent your site from being crawled.
· Organize your URLs. All your URLs should be static, not dynamically served, and keep them organized logically. Use breadcrumbs trails to help your users, and minimize the special characters you use.
· Formalize your site structure with both an HTML and XML sitemap. Keep these updated as you continue adding new pages and changing your site structure.
· Make sure your content loads correctly. Your site should load straight from HTML, and should be compatible with all devices and browsers, including mobile devices.
· Include microformatting. Whenever possible, use microformatting to feed specific types of information to Google.
· Link your pages internally. Internal links help Google categorize the content on your pages, and understand the relationships between your internal pages (it also helps keep your traffic on-site).
· Use external links. Back up your claims and cite external authorities on your onsite pages. The more authoritative these sources are, the more trustworthy your site will seem.
· Optimize your images. All the images on your site should be the proper size and format, with accurate titles and descriptions, and alt tags that properly describe the image in question.
· Reduce page loading times. Site speed is a minimal factor, but it’s still worth pursuing. Reduce your image sizes, get a good caching plugin, and delete unnecessary code and information.
· Get SSL encryption. Again, this is a small factor, but it’s easy to get, so there’s no excuse not to have it.
Page Level Factors for Optimization
· Keep your title tags under 70 characters. You’ll also need to make sure each title tag is unique, accurately descriptive, and inclusive of at least one target keyword.
· Keep your meta descriptions under 160 characters. Similarly, your meta descriptions should be unique and accurately descriptive, with at least one target keyword included.
· Make use of header tags. These tags, descending in order from H1 to H2, H3, and so on, are perfect for organizing your content and emphasizing more keywords.
· Keep your URLs under 90 characters. You’ll also want to avoid abnormal characters, and be as descriptive as possible in your written words.
· Include concise, valuable content on every page. Include a minimum of a few hundred words for every page of your site that you want to be indexed in Google. This is a perfect opportunity to optimize for individual keywords, as long as they’re natural in context.
For the most part, these on-site optimization tactics are one-time efforts; you’ll only need to take care of them once, as opposed to your ongoing content and link building strategies, which will require ongoing work. Still, it’s a good idea to occasionally revisit your goals and adjust your on-site strategy to match it; for example, you might uncover new keywords to target, or there may be new technologies you need to integrate into your site.
From here, our next stop is ongoing content marketing, so watch for my next piece in this series tomorrow!