Where to begin with SEO?
This guide will present the most basic steps that every web developer should implement when setting up an SEO compliant website. We use these best practices for every single site that we develop, from local restaurants to multimillion dollar wealth management companies. This technique works because it is based on the existing best practices for web developers and SEO strategists. For this guide, we will be focusing on WordPress, however the examples contained here are universally applicable to any website that wants to increase organic rank.
The last thing you need is another advanced guide to search engine optimization that throws you into the deep end and manages to address none of those critical first steps that many unseasoned devs often forget about. A lot of guides offer tips to better SEO management but you have to have some years under your belt before you can fully understand the technique. Otherwise, you are a bit like Dorothy waking up lost and alone in the strange land of SEO OZ.
We are going to look at:
- Initializing SEO friendly plugins
- Creating categories and tags
- Creating meta tags for your content
- Structuring your blog posts
- Keyword linking
- Accelerated Mobile Pages
- Google Search Console, Google My Business, and Google Analytics
Most SEO plugins perform a base set of useful functions such as providing breadcrumbs, recommending meta tags, reviewing the content of your site, and/or setting up a sitemap, among other things. Still, It is ultimately up to you to add this functionality into your website, meaning you can’t just activate a plugin and walk away. Some SEO plugins offer you control over hidden files, like your .htaccess file, and your public robot.txt file, both of which affect the way web crawling software views the content of your site.
Choose a plugin based on your needs and the reviews offered by WordPress.org. You can’t go wrong with a plugin rated more than 3 stars, but you will not get the full power of any plugin unless you pay for a premium license. There is a ton of power packed into the software, which you authorize to access the most sensitive files on your site. Paying for a premium license gives you access to plugin support, so again, choose a plugin rated higher than 3 stars to guarantee at least some level of help should the plugin break.
Creating Categories & Tags
This section deals with categories and tags created for blog content. Categories are broad terms used to group posts together in a general way. If your site reviews cars then you might have categories for hybrid, truck & SUV, sedan, etc. Categories are hierarchical, meaning you can have a parent category, like sedans, and a subcategory for 2-door and 4-door models.
Tags are terms that focus on specific points within the post content to draw attention to what the post is about. Example tags for the car review site could include miles per gallon (mpg) trade-in value, manual or automatic transmission, and leather interior, to name a few.
Using categories and tags greatly enhances searchability for people who come to your site to view your content. It also makes it easier for crawler software to connect that content to keywords (more on that later) which will then make it easier for search engines to suggest your content based on the words people use when they enter a search. Google has their own way of crawling your site for context, but it mostly relies on tagging your content, so this is never the wrong thing to do.
Creating Meta Tags for Your Content
Use of the term “meta” in this context means self-referencial. Meta tags are lines of html that don’t appear visually on most pages, but they refer to the information found therein. You can use the title meta tag to set the name of your site to display at the top of the browser window, and you can use the keyword meta tag to briefly summarize what the site is for. Meta tags do all sorts of neat stuff behind the scenes, and they live in the head of your website, virtually unseen by most visitors.
Note that meta tags also carry out a sort of mechanical process. Meta content type lets the browser know which character set your site uses and how to reload a page to display the content correctly. Viewport meta tags tell mobile browsers how to render the pages for the best mobile viewing experience.
Meta tags do a lot while hardly being seen. They are useful and should not be overlooked when setting up a new site, or bolstering an existing one. Most wordpress themes set this information automatically, but sometimes you need to go into the head of the site and set meta tags manually, just to make sure you’re hitting all of the notes!
Structuring Blog Posts
Well, here we are at the blog section of the article. A blog can really help guide traffic to your website, however most sites don’t use this tool, either because they don’t have a writer on staff, or because they don’t see the value in it. It is important to mention that a blog is not going to increase visitor traffic on its own. Also, a really great blog might suffer from low readership because the articles are not structured correctly.
First things first, you need to make the articles highly readable. Compelling information is critical, and now with the growing popularity of blogs in the SEO space you should consider unique content a must. Section headers make navigating a long article much easier because the information is broken into portions. Properly formatted headers also make it easier for bots and crawlers to see what content is in the post. A header tag is an HTML element that is used to render titles and subtitles. There are six header tags and a search engine will use those to organize the content on the page.
Headers should contain keywords describing what the post is about. Use a title tag to explain the entire article briefly, then use subheadings to break the post into readable blocks. This helps search engines offer rich results in the form of snippets, which we already covered. Make sure not to nest your headings in a sentence or a block of text.
Keywords are popular search terms that coincide with the content of your website. As an SEO professional, you should have access to a keyword database that will allow you to generate specific keywords and phrases for a certain kind of webspace. Keywords and phrases usually coincide with two terms; Big Head and Long Tail. Big Head keywords target a large market, and long tail keywords are generally more specific. Let’s go back to our example of a car review site to see how keywords play an important role in guiding searches to a page of content.
The review site has information and pictures about cars, but really the site deals with reviews. A broad search term, like sedan, would most likely return car buying sites first. A long tail, or specific search term like 2010 BMW X5 Reviews would bring you to review sites instead of purchasing sites. This approach to mixing head and tail keywords can be the difference you need if your other SEO efforts are falling short.
Okay, we have gotten all of that out of the way, not let’s talk about linking keywords within your content. Aside from including keywords in headers that describe the page information, and subheadings that help to narrow that information down into easy to find snippets, good content writers should strive to use Long Tail keywords and phrases directly in the text. Long Tail keywords are generally less searched for and more specific in detail. Search engine results pages will show your content first for searches with these less direct queries.
Accelerated Mobile Pages
Google launched Accelerated Mobile Pages to compete with Facebook’s Instant Articles. These pages are stripped versions that include AMP HTML, AMP JS library, and Google AMP Cache. All together, these tools help a page load static content in under 1 second. Based on the theory that all mobile sites should load in under 1 second, Google AMP tagged pages are supposed to increase mobile readability.
Pages that are modified to implement the Google AMP project may also see a bump in their rank and ratings, however the project is still in nascent stages of development.
Google Search Console, Google My Business, and Google Analytics
We talk a lot about Google, don’t we? Well, that’s because Google is indispensable, at the moment. If you own a domain, you need to include the property into your Search Console and MyBusiness admin sections. This helps your business information appear as an info tile when someone searches with keywords, or your business’s name. You have probably seen the info tile before, but you may have also noticed that Google doesn’t just populate that information for you. A concerted effort is needed in order to set up these profiles, but once you have you can breathe easier knowing that your business is officially registered in the Google network.
Analytics is almost as ubiquitous a search term as SEO. Really, analytics is necessary if you want to measure how well your site is doing in the optimization arena. Google offers a pretty docile representation of how well your site is performing in searches, but it also gives you an idea of what visitors are actually doing when they encounter your pages. Are they leaving as fast as they arrived? If so, then you should consider why that is, whether it be page loading speed, or poor design. Addressing these concerns begins with setting up your analytic suite by including some script in the header of your website.
Hopefully you have a good understanding of the minimal amount of effort you need to put in to managing SEO for your website. There is no definitive right way to optimize a site, but following these best practices will point your pages in an upward direction, and that is a start.