If you’re even slightly familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), you know that SEO requires constant and steady work, like laying bricks, to drive and keep your page high in search results. It takes time and consistent effort to rise in the rankings and to stay there. You also understand the importance of creating good content focused on the right topics and keywords, plus the need to acquire authoritative backlinks.
For a site to be found in search, the search engine’s online robots must first crawl it—that means the robot walks through all of your site pages to create a map, and it categorizes the contents of each page. Your site structure and form can make this much easier:
- Create discrete pages, each focused on a single, specific topic that corresponds to users’ specific keywords/searches. This allows the engines to clearly know which pages should surface for which keyword search.
- Use a broad-to-narrow approach, if necessary (that is, a broad topic page that links to pages on narrower sub-topics).
- Avoid creating more than two levels of folder structure. Instead, keep the site structure as you flat as you can, placing the most important pages closer to the root.
- Create a clear navigation structure. This is better for usability anyway. Basically, if showed your menu structure as an outline, would a random person be able to understand it? If so, chances are that the search engines will, too.
- Make it easy for engines to map your site by providing an actual map for them. See http://www.sitemaps.org/ for information about sitemaps.
- Consider also using the schema element to tell search engines about your site structure. For example, if you run a restaurant, your schema would have sections for menu, hours of operation, location, reviews, and reservations. If you use the correct schema elements, search engines can actually display all of these items right on the search results page.
In addition to creating a logical site structure, make sure that you use the correct technical tagging and methods. To some extent, your site needs to speak the language of the search engines. Be sure to:
- Use clear page-naming conventions. Pick your structure, and stick with it. Make sure that you use real-language URLs, even if they are wordy. Someone reading the last part of your URL should know what the page is about, such as /creating-videos-with-adobe-premiere-on-mac.
- Include any blog or related assets as a subfolder or subdomain, so that they accrue SEO benefits to the home domain. For example, our blog uses www.ronline.com/blog, accruing SEO benefits to the main site at ronline.com.
- Use valid, semantically correct HTML. Errors in HTML can cause the engines to bypass a page or to lower its ranking. For example, all headers should use header tags (such as H1, H2, or H3). The engines look for these tags and check the keywords in them to help determine the main topics on the page.
- Where you use images, always add alt text. Since they can’t read images, the engines use the text as a proxy to determine what the image is about.
- Include a Title and Description metadata tag on every page. They are critical to search results.
Images, videos, widgets—we pack a lot into our websites. But not all of these are visible to search engines. Problems result when key information—information that could help with your ranking—is buried in a format that search engines can’t plumb. Here’s how you can avoid problems:
- Don’t embed text in images. For example, if you have a header with your tagline, and the header is an image, Google and Bing can’t read the text in the image. So, the tagline is lost to them.
- Similarly, don’t bury important information in Flash, Silverlight, or videos.
As you know, SEO is an ongoing activity, and you need to be able to track how you’re doing and to make improvements where necessary. To get basic reporting, add analytics to your site:
- Properly install Google analytics and/or another analytics package on the site and its pages.
- Set up goals in Google Analytics, based on your business needs and site design. You might want to measure, for instance, how many sign-ups happened on forms and to track the paths the users followed before completing that action. Goals help you do this.
- If you’re redesigning an existing website, gather any baseline data from previous versions of the site, for comparison purposes.
- Make sure assets on subdomains or folders use the same analytics code, so you can trace traffic from them.
- Set up regular reports that you can analyze at least quarterly.
SEO is important, but all of Google’s and Bing’s search algorithms are designed to surface the right content at the right time. That means that, first and foremost, you need to provide good content on specific topics. Most of us can’t sacrifice usability for SEO:
- Include pages that cover specific topics and questions that your target customers will search for, within contexts relevant to your business goals. For example, if your customers will be asking “How do I?” questions for which your product or service is a solution, add pages for those questions.
- Write helpful content, and write it well. The search engines penalize pages with typos and poor grammar. Guess what? So do users.
- Make sure the structure supports copious cross-site links. Cross-links (links between pages on your site) are good for SEO and, when chosen well, they also support the readers’ search for additional or related information.
- Design the site for regular—preferably frequent—content updates. The search engines credit websites that are kept up-to-date. When you update your website with current content, you also increase the chances that people searching for the latest info will come to you.
- Provide and share content that others want to link to. This gets to the backlink issue. Ideally, you want pages on your website that provide information or entertainment valuable enough that other authoritative websites or bloggers link to them. That will greatly help your ranking.
- Practice good, audience-focused writing techniques. Write for your audience, using the terms they understand. If you’re doing that right, your pages have a better chance of appearing when the right keywords are searched. If you need some help, you can also use Google’s tools to research keywords for your industry.
To achieve high SEO, there is a lot required on the content side of the equation. Build that content on a solid foundation using these basic steps and watch as, over time, your site gains authority and improved ranking in search.