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So many changes, so few brains cells left to keep up with them all. First there was Panda, then there was Penguin, then there was Panda/Penguin 2.0. Now Google has come out and officially said that unless your site is mobile friendly, your mobile ranking will suffer.
Doesn’t it feel like you’ve barely got a handle on SEO period and now there’s this whole mobile-SEO thing, too??
(Hat tip to my friend Bob George, mobile expert, for pointing this out.)
In spite of my most recent rant, SEO is alive and well, and businesses rely on it every day for a major chunk of their traffic and revenue.
So what’s a person to do, especially a person who is not an SEO expert, who doesn’t have ten hours a day to study to become one and who just wants to run a business on the web?
The first thing you can do is stop obsessing about the big buzzwords like link building and domain authority and page rank.
Then you can check your basics to be sure you’ve got them in place. Use this guide to help!
1. Find Keywords
It’s the most fundamental bit of SEO yet so misunderstood and overlooked.
There’s really no such thing as “keyword density” anymore so get your brain unstuck from 2003 and forget trying to stick a keyword into every paragraph.
The important thing is that you use your keywords somewhere.
If you can get a keyword into the opening paragraph, the closing paragraph and somewhere in the middle of the page, you’re going to be ok.
If you overdo it, you’re not.
And you don’t need to use the exact same keyword every time. You can use similar phrases, singulars and plurals, all to good effect.
Try to stay away from single words – they’re usually too general. Instead of thinking literally of a keyword, think of key phrases and find those that relate most specifically to the content on your pages.
2. Check Your Page Titles
They only appear at the top of your browser tab and in search results. You can’t see them on your website, but search engines read and use them to help determine what your page is about.
If you want to please the search gods, make sure your titles include keywords relevant to your page. That means that each page has a different and unique title with keywords specific only to that page.
Stick to sentences or as close to sentences as you can get. Your title should not look like this:
Keyword, keyword, get your keyword, visit my site for keywords keywords
Using your keyword/phrase once is sufficient, and aim to put it as close to the beginning of the title as you can.
But pleasing the search gods is only half the battle in this case… you also want to appeal to real human beings who will see your title in their search results.
Consider that your page title may be the first, last and only impression someone has of your site. It has to be relevant, professional and interesting enough to make someone want to click.
And try to keep it to 60 characters. More than that and Google will truncate it, rendering the missing bit useless to searchers.
3. Check Your Page Descriptions
Much like titles, these don’t appear on your site and sometimes they don’t even show up in search results, either.
So why bother?
SEO is a bit like “death by a thousand paper cuts”. There is no “thing” you can do to improve your site’s search rank. There are a million billion trillion of them. That may even be an exact number.
Having a good description – one that’s written in a professional, relevant sentence using keywords just like your title does – is one of the myriad cues that search engines pick up to determine the quality and relevance of your site.
Aim for about 150 characters – that’s about all the space you’re going to get in search results before your description gets truncated.
The description should be a short sentence about your page that’s qualitatively different than the title – repetition isn’t useful and may appear spammy. Use a variation of your keyword/phrase so that when you read your title and description together, they present a pretty good idea of what someone can expect to find if they click the link to your site.
4. Optimize But Don’t Over-Optimize
There are so many little places you can put keywords, from headings to image ALT tags to links, that it’s easy to go overboard.
But when it comes to keyword optimization, there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
If you’re worried about overdoing it then consider using variations of your keywords and phrases instead. Or consider that maybe you really don’t need to repeat your keyword in every heading and every paragraph and every link.
5. Test Your Site Speed
This is a biggie. It’s relevant to your run-of-the-mill SEO. It’s vital to your mobile SEO. And it can mean the difference between someone visiting your site and losing a prospect when someone closes the browser window because your site took too long to load.
There are so many factors that contribute to the speed of a site that it would be impossible to cover them all here and a lot of them require some level of technical knowledge to manage.
But there are a few things you can do to speed things up and conversely, to avoid slowing them down.
Resize and compress your images. Never drop a 500 pixel-wide photo into your WordPress (or any) site and then manually resize it to 200 pixels. All those extra pixels create bigger, slower files that take longer to download. Crop/resize your photos and always “save for web” before you upload them.
Use a caching plugin. If you have a WordPress site, take advantage of one of the free options available. If you test your site’s speed before and after caching, you can see a tremendous speed boost.
Rethink your hosting environment. Some of a site’s speed has to do with the server it’s hosted on. If you’re having consistent slowdown issues with your site, it may not be your site at all. It might be worth a few extra dollars a month to upgrade to a better provider. Cheap hosting isn’t always cheap in the long run.
6. Pay Attention To Your URLs
This one is tricky because if you change your URLs after they have already been published and indexed, you’re going to end up with broken URLs in search results and that could do you more harm than good.
So my first suggestion would be: never change a URL unless there’s a really go reason to!
What’s a really good reason?
If you got a little keyword happy. A URL like mysite.com/keyword-keyword-anotherkeyword.html is going to look spammy. Keep them simple.
If the names are meaningless. Google specifies that you should avoid naming your pages things like “page.html”.
If your URLs are mixed-case. A rule of thumb for URLs is always use lowercase.
If you’ve got oddball characters. Question marks and even blank spaces should be eliminated wherever possible. This is a common mistake with WordPress sites when the permalinks aren’t changed to “friendly” links and still contain the dynamic string. Spaces can just wreak havoc so avoid them and uses hyphens between words instead.
If you think your URLs need to be changed, ask your developer about setting up a 301 redirect so that old broken links route to new good links without error.
Or else be sure to have a 404 error page (“page not found”) and then get yourself a Google Webmaster Tools account then get busy submitting your new links to Google along with a removal request for the old broken links.
7. Check Your Structure
One of the most overlooked yet most easily remedied problems for search engines and people alike is the “dump content and run” issue.
Putting together a good marketing site can be a lot of work. And so many times you’ll see one of those generic “services” pages where everything is crammed into a few paragraphs.
But unless you offer a service, then a service page isn’t enough.
On our company website we offer website development, hosting and social media management among other things. And each of those things has its own page, with its own descriptive copy and its own set of keywords. Now Google doesn’t have to guess: Is the page about websites? Or social media? Copywriting? Or something else?
Google likes structure, so take the time to consider the hierarchy of the pages on your site, how they relate to each other, and whether each page focuses on a single topic and idea. Unlike the headache that can come with changing URLs, you can move your navigation around as many times as you like with nary a problem.
Of course, try not to be so indecisive that you end up confusing your visitors with a different navigation scheme every time they visit…
Conversely, don’t split your content into multiple pages if all you’re doing is creating multiple pages with very similar content. On the flip side of “dump content and run” is the person who creates a whole lot of mini-pages just for the opportunity to use some more keywords.
These days, Google is too smart for that trick and they’ll tag you for duplicate content faster than you can speak the syllables.
8. Use Headings
Headings break your content up into easily scannable and digestible pieces for people. They also add structure and act as little markers for search engines.
When it comes to headings, it’s not good enough to swipe some text and make it bigger or smaller, bold or italics, and call it a heading.
You must use the actual HTML heading tags, which are h1, h2, h3 and so on.
Think of using headings as you might if you were creating an outline. Your primary heading should be an h1. Secondary subheadings an h2… and so on as you may need them to designate different “levels” of content.
Lots of people use the h tags just as a style element and that can be a problem. If you have a WordPress site, your theme probably came with a bunch of default h tags. And your h3 may be visually smaller than your h1, so what do you do? Wherever you want a big heading, you use an h3… and of course that’s usually the first heading you want on the page. Then you use h1s for the small headings somewhere in the middle.
Structurally, that’s backwards. Heading tags have nothing to do with the size of the font (although it may appear that way) and everything to do with the relative importance of the heading.
If you don’t know how to make your h tags look the way you want them to, get help from someone who does. Be sure that your h1 headings are the primary headings on your page and diminish from there.
Then use keywords and phrases appropriately in your headings to give them more or less importance. Remember not to overdo it!
9. Get A Sitemap
Not the one that’s a page on your site with links for someone to click through. I’m talking about an XML sitemap.
It’s basically a directory of pages for search engines to crawl.
How do you know if you have a sitemap? Type your URL into a browser and add /sitemap.xml onto the end of it.
It may look like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to you but it’s important for telling Google what pages exist and that you want indexed.
WordPress has plugins that you can use easily. Otherwise you will need to create an XML document that follows standard protocols. It’s a simple step but it’s important.
10. Get Your Technology In Order
If your site is still in Flash… get it out! Search engines cannot read or index the contents of Flash. Unless the Flash adds a necessary component to your visitor’s experience, consider eliminating it altogether even if it looks really, really cool.
It does let you do some pretty cool stuff but it can also get in the way of ranking and sometimes it conflicts with itself in a way that breaks your site.
Beware video technology! With the rise in popularity of video, it may seem like a no-brainer to pop a few on your site but with Google’s recent stance on mobile, video that only works on a desktop will get you in trouble.
Remember that link I posted earlier about mobile ranking? If technology is preventing your site from working properly on mobile, your ranking will suffer. So test your tech out not only on desktops, but be sure it’s functional – and speedy – on mobile, too.
SEO can seem like a big, complicated mess. But not every business can throw their hands up and dismiss it then run off to post on Facebook.
So we have to work with search engines and feed them just the right amount of the good stuff so they’ll keep coming back for more and then share it with people who are searching for us.
Nothing I’ve listed here is complicated and implementing them won’t come back to bite you after the Panda 12.0 update. They’re all basic, fundamental pieces of SEO that you can try right now – or grab your nearest developer and let them know what you need!
Do you have any questions about what does or doesn’t make a good SEO practice? Any of this still sound like mumbo jumbo? Let me know and I’ll try to help!