How to SEO Your Website in 2016
A primer for how to do SEO yourself to improve your website rankings
How to SEO your website is one of the most highly searched terms used by owners of business websites. This article covers the main points on how to SEO your website, including on-page and off-page methods.
Conducting a thorough SEO analysis is a must-do task before you dive into changing tactics and methods. As with so many things in life, how you prepare is a critical factor that largely determines your ultimate level of success. You should spend adequate time to pull in-depth data, compare the data from different sources, and add your own notes. You will almost certainly identify things to change, things to delete and discover things you need to create. Everything you choose to do (or undo) should be a deliberate effort to achieve a specific goal.
There are many SEO analysis tools available online. Many have free versions, and the better services have paid versions. Because this is a very important thing for your business it makes perfect sense for you to spend a little money for the robust paid versions during the time you rebuild your website. You will be quite surprised at the head start you can get with information provided by SEO analysis software.
Our recommended Top 5 SEO Analysis tools are:
- Google Search Console (FREE): If you have a Google account (which is free) you can add Google Search Console, and then “add your site” to get a great amount of information on how Google sees your site. Another reason to use this tool is that you can get alerts if your site has been hacked, and you can always use it to continually improve your website.
- MOZ Pro Tools ($100 month): MOZ has invested a lot of time and money to create an incredible tool for search engine optimization and local search marketing. This tool has several options/upgrades however the basic paid version is sufficient for most people doing their own SEO. This tool gives you specific recommendations on how to improve your website.
- SEMRush ($70 month): The core strength of SEMRush is it’s incredibly rich keyword research tool, and domain research tool. A new feature for SEMRush is its site audit tool which is perfect for anyone seeking an easier way to diagnose an under-performing website. The audit tool identifies areas for improvements, and cites specific items to address. Additionally a position tracker tool allows you to actively monitor your effectiveness in getting ranked for individual keywords.
- Site Report Card (FREE): This SEO analysis tool is great for finding broken links, spelling errors, and evaluating other items. Another feature is that it enables you to do a little side-by-side comparison of your site against your competitors. Your competitors may not be doing everything correctly (or ethically) however it’s worth checking in hopes of discovering a valuable nugget or two of information.
- GT Metrix (FREE): This tool helps you identify areas for improvement relative to technical performance. Although some of the items suggested are too complex for the average do-it-yourself SEO person, you should use this tool and do as much as possible. You should consider hiring someone to do the more important items which you are unable to do.
With an initial SEO assessment in hand you can add notes, and build out a template guide in Excel. You can develop a tab for general tasks such as adding an SSL certificate, doing site verifications or special coding such as Google Tags Manager. You can create other tabs for each page to develop page specific items such as page titles, descriptions, and content notes.
After you complete your SEO analysis, before you make any revisions, you should make and keep a backup of your original website files. If you later find that you completely botched your attempts to improve your SEO you can always restore your site and hope to recover lost ground. This is especially true if you are a novice SEO person working on someone else’s website.
What Is On Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to work which is done to your website’s pages for the purpose of improving organic rankings on search engines. On-page SEO generally pertains to work done to improve optimization of website code or content. It is a good idea to use a On-Page SEO Checklist to guide your work.
How to optimize your website content
Optimizing your content in 2016 requires more effort than ever before. You definitely need to pay attention to the quality of your content. In this sense quality definitely refers to developing content that is informative, well structured (including schema markup), free from typographical or grammar errors, and as unique as possible.
Optimizing Text Copy for SEO
A good way to think about optimizing your text content for SEO is to realize that you have two objectives. One objective is to get the highest possible organic rankings, and the other is to get rankings for high traffic and/or highly relevant terms (usually long-tail phrases). You should complete extensive keyword research using keyword research tools and competitor website analysis. Develop a good list of search phrases and segregate them into clusters of relevant terms. Use one or two clusters to create individual pages that have a strong common theme. (i.e., Instead of a single page about all widgets, create pages for red plastic widgets, blue steel widgets, etc.). This is also a common practice for creating high performing PPC advertising ad groups.
Take each cluster of search phrases and structure them in a logical order with the goal of presenting a single topic. (i.e., A page on blue widgets may be broken down with sub headings for dark blue widgets, medium blue widgets, light blue widgets. This would be an informative and well structured page for someone interested in blue widgets. Write informative content which includes variations of keyword and phrases, but do not write copy that simply includes every word or phrase. It should read naturally.
Pay attention to the fine details. Use HTML heading tags in an appropriate manner. Use only one H1 tag per page, which should include your primary target search phrase. Write copy that can be read at an 8th-10th grade level or use a free readability tool such as Readability-Score.com to improve readability.
Use proper grammar, eliminate typos and avoid run-on sentences. If your target audience is generally new to your type of business you should avoid a lot of industry lingo or technical language. If your customers are very familiar with your type of business they probably appreciate specifics and speaking to them as an educated buyer. Remember that the idea is to communicate and persuade. If your website visitors do not understand, or cannot get, useful information they will feel a disconnect and leave your website.
Thoughts on hiring a copy writer
You can find an unlimited number of people offering copy writing services. Most of these people cannot provide what you need. Keep in mind that your copy is being written not just for a potential customer, but also for search engines – this article is about SEO right? A large percentage of people you may think of hiring to write copy simply do not understand your business. They will resort to visiting competitor websites, and creating a hodgepodge of content. Typically you will have to clean it up, if not rewrite all of it so that it properly reflects your business. Keep in mind too that website layouts often break up content into paragraphs, content boxes, feature areas, etc. Consider your page layouts when developing copy, and let your copy writer know about any special requirements.
Hiring a English major typically results in copy that is has a very stiff and formal feel, and lacks the proper mix of direct information and advertising flair.
Hiring a technical writer for general copy results in copy that is often tedious to read and does not engage or persuade – it’s boring. Use technical writers for developing technical information!
Hiring advertising copy writers can be okay however; they rarely understand SEO. They often have their strengths in writing flowery scripts or articles. While their copy may be pleasant to read you must keep in mind that SEO requires more than just being wordy.
If you need to contract your copy writing our suggestion is to hire an internet marketing company with significant and broad business experience that also understands SEO and website design. Even if acting as only a consultant they can steer you in the right direction for how to SEO your website.
Optimizing Images for SEO
Images add flavor to an otherwise drab article or website page. A great image illustrates a point, or shows details on how to do something or what type of results to expect. An often overlooked part of on-page optimization is what can be done to optimize images to improve SEO.
Any image you choose should be licensed for commercial use. You can use your own image, or buy an image from any of a number of commercial stock image vendors. An example is 123RF.com which is a stock image vendor with a decent selection at reasonable prices. Do not ever scrape images (copy them from Google images or other websites). Using scraped images can result in legal action such as the infamous Getty Letter or being sued in court for violations of Federal laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyrights Act (DMCA). Use of unauthorized images (or text content) can also result in a Take Down Notice which could get your website banned from search engines. Another good practice in 2016 is to use attrition credit to the original photographer or artist.
Every image placed on your website should have an ALT tag which describes the image. Ideally your image alt tag will contain the primary search term used in your page title. This should be easy to work in naturally if you’re using an image that is relevant to the page topic. For traditional HTML websites you code this by hand. WordPress website designers can add this to images within the image library. You do not need alt tags for background images, and typically not for items such as font-awesome icons.
How to Losslessly Compress an Image
It is very easy to losslessly compress any image, and retain excellent clarity. You can compress both photos and graphics to reduce file sizes by as much as 80% or more. This can have a significant, positive impact on page load times. A free image compression tool is Compressor.
How to optimize your website code
There is a wide range of things that can be done to optimize your website code. Many of the most important things to do are relatively easy. Others are far more technical and perhaps something you should hire a professional to do.
Basic Ways to Optimize Website Code
The following list includes things you need to do within the code of your website.
Things to do within the section of your website
- Page Title: Each page should have a unique title. Use no more than 70 characters/spaces, and ideally keep it to no more than 55 characters/spaces. Separate phrases with a dash, not a vertical line (pipe). Repeating words has no positive effect.
- Page Description: Each page should have a unique description. Use no more than 160 characters/spaces. Your page description should begin with, or at least includes, the primary phrase used in your page title.
- Canonical Tag: A canonical meta tag is a short simple piece of code that, when used properly, mitigates issues with duplicate content. It also serves to manage link juice (ranking power) passed through your website.
- Geo Meta Tags: The geo meta tag is used by Bing to aid in evaluating your website for search queries using a geographical qualifier (a search using a city, state, zip code, etc.).
- Open Graph Tags: The a href=”https://blog.kissmetrics.com/open-graph-meta-tags/” title=”Open Graph Protocol” “target=_blank”>Open Graph Protocol empowers a website page to be a rich object in a social media graph. Open Graph tags work in a manner similar to schema markup.
- Twitter Card Tags: The Twitter Card tag functions in essentially the same manner as the generic Open Graph Tag however; it is designed specifically for Twitter to enhance content displayed.
- Site Verifications: Adding site verification meta tags for Bing, Alexa, Norton, Google and Yandex are easy to do. At minimum you need to verify your site with Google and Bing. This opens the door to their webmaster tools (Search Console) tools, and other useful services.
- Other Tags If you use a blog platform such as WordPress you may see other meta tags in your site code. These are useful and you should not have to do anything to them. Ignore what you may see on SEO forums urging you to use a plethora of meta tags that have no SEO value (author, etc.)
Things to do within the section of your website
- Schema Markup:
Schema markup can first be an intimidating endeavor. With a little study you can learn how to implement it into your site. This is one of the top ways to optimize your website for a particular subject, product or service. At minimum you should use schema markup for your location information.
- Google Tags Manager:
Google Tags Manager (GTM) is a free product which can improve your page load times. It is relatively easy to set-up within your Google account. At minimum you should use GTM for integrating Google Analytics into your website.
- Link Title Attributes: SEO people may contend that this does not affect ranking but it is optimizing the site for usability. Link title attributes are what causes informational text to display when you place your cursor over a link. This takes very little time to do, and we encourage you to use best practices.
There are other things you can do that are more technical such as code minification, combining script files to reduce call-ups, etc. The advanced technical tasks certainly help with SEO but are not as easy for the do-it-yourself SEO person to handle. For these types of items you should contact a competent SEO agency. A well qualified SEO company can also help you with many other items that affect your website performance.
What Is Off Page SEO
Off-page SEO refers to work which is intended to affect your website’s organic ranking, but is not done to the actual website pages. The most common tasks for off-page SEO are:
Types of Off-Page SEO Methods
- Backlink Acquisition: Link building remains an important part of search engine algorithms however: the focus is on quality of earned links. Obtaining backlinks from sites relevant to your business, and from websites with high trust or authority are what you need. A place to start is creating profiles on established sites within your industry (associations, suppliers, customers, etc.)
- Content Marketing: Developing high quality content such as blog articles, infographics, and videos can reap tremendous rewards. Content can be published on your website’s blog, your own YouTube or Vimeo channel, social media sites, and content marketing platforms such as Curata and HootSuite. If you choose to use a third party content marketing service beware that discontinuing use of those services can cause you to lose a wealth of backlinks, and possibly rights to your own work.
- Social Bookmarking : Social bookmarking works well but it can become spammy (bad!) if you don’t apply self control. You should find a list of high PR social bookmarking sites where you can create accounts in your company name. Complete your profile information, including your website URL, and post good content on these sites. Be advised that spamming these sites can get you profile deleted and your IP address banned. Always strive to be a good member of any social bookmarking site’s community.
- Social Media: Last but certainly not least is using social media sites to build your brand. Social media content is best when it is not promotional, and serves to entertain or inform your audience. Popular social media sites for business include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.
A large part of how to SEO your website requires study and observation skills. In learning the SEO process you should invest a great amount of time to not just learn what to do but also understand why you should do it. Keep good records of your research and work progress. You will need to make periodic adjustments, and can use some of the information to help with how to optimize local search listings.