Basic SEO for website owners
If you want to perform well in search engines there are some basics that will only cost you your time. This article lays things a website owner/editor can do within a typical CMS that won’t need any input from your developers or an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) partner.
That’s not to say an experienced and knowledgeable SEO consultant doesn’t have value. They will be aware of the latest best practices in the search engine world, have experience with the best ways to get the results for your brand, and likely have access to specialist website and search analysis tools. However doing the basics yourself first will mean you’re not paying someone else to do what you could have done just as well yourself.
It’s important to make clear that Website SEO and is an ongoing process to keep content fresh and on-target with ever changing customer language and trends.
So without further ado, let’s run through the things you could should be doing now.
The page title is a big factor to search engines. It’s important for every page to have a unique title (or they may be considered as duplicate pages and be ignored) and that the title is closely related to the page’s content.
Years of experience has taught me that website’s never have any problems with coming up on searches for the company name, so don’t be overly concerned about putting that in the page title. If you would like it in there I recommend adding it as a suffix, after all the important stuff.
Do not stuff the title with key phrases because search engines are wise to that tactic and may penalise you. Try to stay below 70 characters and get you key phrases in as soon as possible.
This piece of content has little (if any) impact on search ranking but it may be used within listings so it’s a useful means of getting a message to people and making your link stand out amongst the crowd.
Aim to keep descriptions less than 120 characters and focus on what will make people want to click through to your website. Like titles, you should make each description unique if possible.
Google in particular will often take a snippet of text from the page body if it thinks it’s more relevant that your description but it still remains good practice to put something in here.
You can test how a particular web page will be presented by Google at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets
This is a big one. Search engines (especially Google) strive to return websites that have the highest value to their users, so they devote their time to making their search engine analyse web pages as if it were a human. The days of SEO being synonymous with finding tricks to fool search engine bots are long gone. Now you get the best results but writing websites solely for your users, and that will only become more true as time goes by and search engines become even more intelligent.
That said, you do need to help search engines understand the context of your pages but the following means of doing that will also help users read the pages.
Use headings to clearly break up content into logical chunks. Your CMS probably lets your format text as a “Heading” or “H” following by a digit between 1 and 6. Search engines will use these headings to add context to subsequent content and that will help with making sure your pages come up in the searches you want them to.
There are no strict rules on the use of headings except to say that there should only be one H1, which titles the main page subject.
One of the main things here is to write for humans but bear in mind that different people will use different terms to describe your products or services. Imagine conversations you’ve had with customers and try to answer their questions within the text, taking care to use their words and not always your familiar industry terminology.
Don’t over-stuff the page with every key phrase you can think of. There are lots of opportunities to drop them in throughout the website and they don’t all need to be on every page.
Don’t be afraid to use lists where it makes sense to get the message across. It’s quite likely that search engines can understand a list much easier than trying to parse a paragraph of text.
Think about using ‘long tail’ key phrases that are less common but are very specific to your content. This may get fewer overall search hits but there’s a higher chance of converting those people into customers because you can be sure you’re offering exactly what they are looking for. This is a useful tactic if you are competing against big brands in search engines because it’s easier to rank higher for these less common search phrases.
Although the evidence is anecdotal, it does appear as if Google gives higher regard to well written content. Copy writing for the web is a skill in itself but, to generalise, you just need to remember that most people skim read on web pages and a lot of users find it a lot harder to keep their concentration on glaring computer screen that’s surrounded by lots of distractions that there would be in more traditional reading environments.
To make your content more readable (and hopefully be rewarded by Google for doing so) keep sentences and paragraphs short. Don’t be afraid to add paragraph breaks a lot more frequently than you typically would because that does help on-screen readability.
Spelling and grammar
As an extension to the above, remember that spelling and grammar are just as important on the web as they are elsewhere. If a company publishes badly written content you would probably regard them as pretty unprofessional, and search engines are likely to do the same.
If your CMS lets you customise the URL of pages you should put key phrase in there. Your CMS may even auto-generate the URL from the main page title/heading, in which case bear that in mind when titling the page.
When linking to any content on the web you should try to avoid the common wording “click here”. The only way search engines know what you’re linking to is by putting the actual subject in the link, or as a title in the case of linking from an image (which your CMS should let you do).
Search engines ‘spiders’ discover web pages by ‘crawling the web’ and following any links that they come across. The link text will be carried forward to the destination page to give it some indicative key phrases. As you can probably appreciate a link to this article that says “read about some useful SEO techniques” is going to tell search engines a lot more about this page that one that just says “click here”.
There are three main types of links, and that logic applies to them all.
Linking to other content within your own website will not help your ranking directly but ensuring every page is linked to at least once does mean that the whole site can be discovered by search engine spiders … not to mention real users!
Outgoing links to other websites won’t help your website’s ranking but it’s a nice thing to do for other websites. After all you’ll be hoping that other websites do the same for you (see next point).
Only ever link to 3rd party websites that are relevant to your content and do not partake in link exchanges/swaps. Overtly bad practice here may cause Google to blacklist your website.
Presuming you have a website that’s well structured and has plenty of relevant content, incoming links are still the single biggest factor in SEO. To put it in the most simple terms, each time a search engine (Google in particular) finds another website linking to you they’ll see that as a vote for your site and give you a little higher regard, especially if that website ranks highly themselves.
Of course the caveat here is that really want links from other websites/pages that cover the same subject as yourself. You also want to encourage people to link to you using descriptive links (explained above) wherever possible.
Getting incoming links can be a very difficult thing to achieve. The most successful ones come naturally though because if you build a high quality and valuable resource people will want to link to it.
When you add images to your website give them informative file names (rather than the code that came off a digital camera) and always ensure they have and “ALT” attribute. Search engines will read ALT attributes in place of ‘seeing’ images and they may also appear in image searches to drive a few more people to your website.
A good ALT attribute will literally describe that the image is. Remember they’re traditionally intended for blind people using screen readers so have that in mind when labelling them.
If your CMS doesn’t automatically resize images it’s worth doing that yourself because page speed is a factor that search engines use and a page full of massive images will not be looked upon as favourably as one that is nice and fast to load.
Add and update your website’s content as frequently as possible. Stagnant websites will naturally get overtaken by newer and fresher ones so show search engines that your website is still relevant by periodically changing content.
It’s taken a lot of words to explain that but if you tackle it point by point I think you’ll see that basic website optimisation isn’t too hard and once the basics are in your mind it’ll become part of the natural thought process when adding new website content.
None of the points carry a magic wand that will dramatically boost a website’s search performance because SEO doesn’t work like that. Follow best practice across the board though and you should see some positive effect.
This article has focused on things that any website owner can do during day to day content management. There are further steps that you may feel comfortable taking such as key phrase analysis, competitor analysis, content error handling, not the mention the monitoring of search rankings to see if your work is really paying off. I shall post followup articles for anyone interested in going into that depth.