On-page SEO techniques
How to make your website Google-friendly
*UPDATED DECEMBER 2018 with new guidelines on meta description length*. The web is a crowded marketplace and you need to make your voice heard.
With optimised, user-friendly content you can significantly improve your search engine rankings and increase the chances of people clicking through to your site.
In this post we will cover a number of on-page optimisation techniques to make your site more Google-friendly.
1. Optimise your content
Before embarking upon any SEO journey, familiarise yourself with your audience needs and identify the keywords you expect customers to use when they look for your services on Google.
Establish your keywords
Start by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and consider what kind of content will solve their problems. Speak to them in person or conduct a survey to identify their exact needs. View other ways to get to know your audience better.
If you have the budget, clickstream data driven keyword tools such as SEMrush, Moz Keyword Explorer and AHrefs provide essential insight such as what keywords the competition is using and how well they rank for them. Free tools including Google Search Suggest, related searches and Google Trends are also useful sources of inspiration.
Place your keywords strategically throughout your copy but be wary of loading your web page with keywords in an attempt to improve your search engine results, a practice known as keyword stuffing. Google will penalise you for it, causing you to move down the search rankings.
Latent Semantic Indexing to improve content quality
You can place alternative keywords throughout your copy with Latent Semantic indexing (LSI) which involves using synonyms and related keywords. Google’s algorithm uses LSI to understand the topic you’re writing about and determine its relevance to the search query. Make sure your copy flows naturally and that you write in a natural tone, using keywords and LSI only where appropriate.
Use fresh content
Keep your site updated with fresh content such as new pages and articles or edits to existing pages. Every time you update your site, search engines take note and will rearrange your site’s ranking. Provide reliable and valuable information on a frequent basis and you will have a better chance of Google ranking your site higher.
2. Optimise your HTML
Unique title tags on every page
The title tag is one of the most important on-page SEO techniques as it tells search engines and visitors what any given page on your site is about.
It appears in various places around web, including on the search engine results page (SERP) as the clickable blue link:
How a title tag looks on a SERP:
It also shows in the tab in your web browser and is a useful way for people who have lots of tabs open to easily identify your content.
How a title looks on a browser tab:
When your page is shared on external websites and certain social media channels, the title will be shown as the anchor text.
How a title tag looks when you share a page on social media:
The title should accurately and concisely describe your page content and it should be unique for every page. Keep to the recommended limit of 60 characters otherwise any additional characters will not be displayed on the search results.
Front-load your title tags by placing your primary keyword at the start. This can help to positively impact search rankings. It also creates a better user experience, as research shows that users may only scan as few as the two words of a headline.
The meta description is a short paragraph of text placed within the HTML of a web page that summarises the page’s content. It provides the snippet of information that appears under your page’s URL in search results.
While descriptions are not tied to search engine rankings, they are your opportunity to advertise your content to searchers and can influence your click through rate. Make them enticing, relevant and informative to encourage people to click through.
In December 2017, Google increased the length of meta descriptions to around 300 characters but in May 2018, reverted back to shorter display snippets of between 155-160 characters. Google's advice is to not focus too much on meta description length. Many of the snippets it chooses are taken dynamically from the content on your web page, if the system deems that content to be more helpful.
Heading tags for scannable content
Heading tags are an important element of SEO. They provide structure to your page and give Google and users a clear idea of what the page content is about. Often people will scan the content of your page and only read the headlines, so make sure yours are relevant and descriptive to encourage users to keep reading.
Follow the HTML H1 to H6 hierarchy, beginning with the most important H1 tag. There should be one unique H1 tag on every page which should provide a basic description of the page content. Place your primary keyword within your H1 tag.
You can have multiple H2-H6 tags but don’t skip the order of any of the tag numbers (for example jumping from H1 to H3) which breaks the heading structure and is not ideal for SEO.
short, compelling URLs
A URL (uniform resource locator) is the web address that appears in the address bar on your browser.
It provides humans and search engines with an indication of what the destination page will be about. The category hierarchy of the given website is reflected in URLs which helps search engine understand the structure of your website, making it easier for your site to get indexed.
Follow these tips to create SEO-friendly URLs:
keep your URL short so readers can quickly identify what the page is about
make them relevant and compelling, helping users understand them
include your primary keyword
use hyphens (-) and not underscores (_) to separate words. Google sees hyphens as word separators while underscores aren’t recognised.
image alt text for additional context
Alt text is the descriptive text that appears when you hover over an image. If a reader can’t view the image because they have turned images off in their browser or they are using a screen reader due to a visual impairment, the alt text provides context and enhances the user experience.
Make sure that your alt text includes the keyword for the page and accurately describes the image.
meaningful Internal and external Links
Make the anchor text in your links meaningful and provide a description of the content you are taking the user to. Keep the links concise and on-topic. There are two types of links you can feature on your site: internal and external.
Internal links are links on your website to other pages within your site. They are important for SEO as they help search engines discover pages on a website. Google also clearly states that ‘the number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page’.
External links which point to some other domain from your site help search engines understand your niche, increasing the trust and quality of your site. They are considered in Google’s algorithms and have a positive impact on rankings.
Link juice refers to the number of internal and external links pointing to your website, in other words the flow of juice between pages. Each link is interpreted as vote of confidence towards your site and is an important factor in determining your search ranking. Feature links sensibly throughout your site and where appropriate link to external sites to maximise the flow of link juice throughout your site.
3. Improve your site's usability
Reduce your Page load speed
A page that doesn’t load quickly enough will increase your bounce rate (the number of people that leave your site after viewing only one page) and lower the average time spent on page. Google treats this as a poor experience for the user and can be harmful to your SEO.
According to KissMetrics, almost half of internet users expect a web page to load in two seconds or less. Ways to increase your page load time include resizing your images, fixing broken links and code, and limiting rich content such as embedded videos per page.
make your site Mobile-friendly
Recent years have marked significant developments in the mobile landscape. Last year, research revealed that mobile devices now account for 57% of all web traffic. According to The Webmaster, nearly 60 percent of all online searches are now carried out on a mobile device.
In direct response to these developments, Google has begun rolling out its mobile-first index which considers the mobile version of your site before the desktop version. Use this as an opportunity to improve the UX of your site with enhancements such as compact copy and compressed images and content. This will increase your page load speed and benefit your search position.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MAY 2017, UPDATED SEPTEMBER 2018, DECEMBER 2018
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