If you want your content to be noticed on the internet, you’re going to need search engines to see it — and like it. Through search engine optimization (SEO), you can optimize your web content to be more attractive to search engines, which in turn can push your content higher up on search results.
OK, but is it really that important?
According to imFORZA, 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine, but 75 percent of users never scroll past the first page of search results. This means if you want users to see your content, it needs to be at the top of the first search engine results page (SERP). Overall, search is the No. 1 driver of traffic to content sites, beating out social media by more than 300 percent. Needless to say, SEO matters for marketers.
At first glance, the ins and outs of SEO can seem tricky — sometimes downright confusing. Meta tags? H1 tags? Oh, and what’s crawling? Why are spiders involved? It’s a new language, to say the least. However, once you break it down, optimizing web content for search engines is pretty straightforward, and with these five easy steps, your content will rise to the top (literally and figuratively) in no time.
Step 1: Crawl
First, you’re going to want to figure out where your SEO currently stands. In other words, when Google crawls it, what does it see and how does it react?
The best way to do this is via your own spider crawl. During a crawl, a computer program (like Screaming Frog SEO) navigates your website, making sure all links work and all pages have the essential components that contribute to effective SEO. The crawl analyzes the components of the site, how it’s structured, and how computer programs and search engines read it. It finds potential issues, like broken links, redirect loops, duplicate content, ineffective page titles, and missing meta data. Once you have that information, you can make improvements to optimize your site in the eyes of a search engine and, ultimately, raise your quality score. This is important for two reasons: First, your quality score directly impacts how high Google will rank you on the SERP. Second, the higher your quality score and organic rankings, the more effective your paid efforts. Meaning, you will actually pay less for clicks when you have a high quality score and optimal SEO.
Step 2: Rewrite
Often, a crawl will reveal problems with the length of your meta data. A good rule of thumb is to keep header (h1) tags 60 characters or less, including spaces. H1 tags are the titles of the page — they’re usually what are displayed in the tab at the top of the page you’re browsing. Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag. If you keep your titles under 60 characters, you can expect about 90 percent of your titles to display properly. It’s important to note that Google’s algorithm changes often, so make sure to keep up on the latest changes in case you need to lengthen or shorten your tags.
Meta tags, on the other hand, are the descriptors in the code that tell the search engine what your page is about — like keywords. The best practice to follow is to include no more than 10 tags, or keyword phrases, which must be part of the page’s actual content.
Meta descriptions, which are essentially summaries of the content, should be around 150-170 characters, including spaces — and they must include content that is on the page in order to be deemed relevant by Google.
Be aware that character counts are only going to grow in importance as users continue to use mobile devices for search. On smaller screens, large amounts of text can detract from the attractiveness of content. The golden rule to follow is to use short, detailed, and specific tags and descriptions. This ensures that the search engines can quickly assess the content and assign it to the top of search results. Brevity and clarity — they go together like bread and butter.
Step 3: Reorganize
No one likes a messy, hard-to-navigate website — especially not a search engine. Make sure you group similar content together on related pages. For example, you’ll want to put all history and mission information on an “about” page and all product or service descriptions on a “services” page or section.
Additionally, make sure that old, dated content is scrapped to make room for new, updated content. If you would prefer not to get rid of old content altogether, archiving is a great way at saving the content while also optimizing for search engines. There’s no exact formula for deciding when to archive content, but it’s useful to keep in mind the content’s purpose, relevance, and usefulness at the given moment. If you prefer to avoid deleting or archiving dated content, try updating older (but top performing) pieces with new statistics, information, and trends and republishing. You can also move the older content deeper into the site and make it searchable by topic or date.
Step 4: Optimize
Now it’s time to work on the complex aspects of SEO. What most people don’t know is that the way images and files are added to and live on a site has a strong impact on how fast and accessible the website is. Page load time is a major player in SEO ranking, and images and files directly impact that speed. Image files should be compressed using condensers, like .zip files — and especially for images that might contain random numbers on the end of the file name, be proactive in shortening and renaming image files.
Link and file names should have short, detailed names that accurately describe the content inside. For example, if you uploaded a white paper on why SEO matters, you’d want to name the file something that accurately describes the content — “SEO white paper” is a good, simple example.
Above all, links need to actually work — broken links heavily detract from a website’s SEO. Even if you’re not trying to fix SEO, it’s a good idea to check all links and make sure that all pages are responsive.
Step 5: Finalize
Once you’ve addressed these SEO tactics, it’s time to see how much that work paid off. Google has a great, free tool available that checks page speed and offers suggestions to improve it if needed. Simply put in your website’s URL, and it will crawl your site and make suggestions accordingly. Fortunately, you should already have addressed the common problems from following these steps; however, if you missed some, Google will point them out and offer you a detailed, step-by-step guide on how to fix them. While Google’s tool may provide similar insight to what the crawl provided, it’s still useful to monitor the work you’ve done so far. Who knows? Maybe you accidentally missed something. Google may have also changed something, so it’s important to perform crawls regularly to see if any new issues have arisen, or if any new content you’ve added needs optimization.
SEO doesn’t have to be difficult. By spending a little time getting to know the basics, you’ll be able to optimize your website so it can be successful on major search engines — and give your content the attention it deserves.