One of the most common questions I get from clients is: “How can I improve my SEO?”. Taking into account the many benefits SEO can bring to a business, it’s pretty normal to ask this question. While the answer can sometimes be complicated, there are some concrete steps you can take today to improve your site’s rankings.
It’s all about ‘optimization’
Search Engine Optimization is a methodology with rules for making your website friendlier to search engines. These rules can either play a very important role i.e. you accidentally block access to search engine bots and they cannot read and index your pages, or less important i.e. your sitemap file includes more URLs than it needs.
Whether big or small, all the rules have to do with one thing and this is optimization. In the SEO context, ‘optimization’ means two things:
- Make your website better for greater visibility in search engines.
- Make your website better than your competitors.
Let me demonstrate with an example the meaning of optimization.
Assume that two similar websites are competing for a first ranking position on Google, for a particular keyword. One of the websites has SSL and the other does not.
Other things being equal, a website that is secure (SSL), will rank higher in the search results than a non-secure website.
Why is that? Because SSL is part of the Google ranking algorithm.
Does this mean that if you make your website SSL today it will magically rank higher in the SERPS? No, and this is because there are at least 200 more factors that Google takes into account when ranking websites and SSL is just one of them.
But, since you optimized for SSL, your website has an advantage over other websites that don’t have SSL.
In other words, one factor alone will not give you higher rankings but if you work on your website and improve your SEO in a number of areas, you will eventually get better rankings than your competitors.
How to Improve Your SEO
Here are the 7 solid steps to follow to improve your website’s SEO:
- Give search engines what they need
- Make it easy for Search Engines to access your content
- Stay in sync with the latest SEO developments
- Improve the User Experience
- Demonstrate your expertise
- Don’t forget the basic SEO principles
- Don’t violate any rules
1. Give search engines what they need
What do search engines need? Content that will make their users happy, it’s as simple as that.
Make an honest review of your website’s content and if it’s not something that you would like to see when searching Google, then why should Google show your page instead of some other page that has better content?
I know that this is judgmental, so here are some other ways to evaluate the quality of your content.
Is it unique and original? – You can rarely find a topic that someone else has not already written an article about it. But that does not mean that you cannot create content that is unique and original, even if it is based on something that is already published on the web.
Take for example the article you are reading now. If you search Google for ‘How to improve your SEO’ you will find hundreds of articles, but still this one is unique to my website and original since it takes a different angle on the topic from other published articles.
Is it long enough? Study after study confirms that content length matters when it comes to SEO and social sharing. A recent one by Hubspot shows again that content between 2250 -2500 words performs better in search engines and content over 2500 words performs better in social media.
Is it evergreen? Evergreen content is a great way to improve your SEO. You can read my previous article that explains what is evergreen content in detail. In short by publishing evergreen content you are more likely to earn more organic traffic both in the short and the long term.
Is it fresh? Have you ever imagined how many web pages are already available on the Internet and the rate at which this amount of information is growing? The numbers are amazing.
Search engines care about old content but their primary concern is to give their users up-to-date content and this is only one of the reasons why your website needs to be updated frequently with new content.
One of the best and fastest ways to learn SEO is to follow a good SEO course. A high-quality course will help you understand SEO without having to spend endless hours searching for this information from random resources on Google.
2. Make it easy for Search Engines to access your content
After you ensure that you can give search engines the right type of content, the next step is to make it easy to access your content.
Register with Google Search Console – Google has a tool for webmasters. Register your website and find out what Google knows about your website, how many pages you have in their index, how many links are pointing to your website (that google knows about), and the keywords that triggered your website to show in Google SEPRS and much more useful information.
Submit your sitemap and RSS feed – To help search engines discover all the pages from your website that otherwise they could not find, you can create and submit an XML sitemap. Both Google and Bing (and other search engines) use XML sitemaps as a guide when indexing a website.
In addition to the sitemap, in the case of Google, you can optionally submit an RSS feed that includes only your latest changes. This helps Google prioritize the content, especially when you have a website with hundreds of pages in its index.
Add internal links to your content – internal links tend to boost your SEO as they serve three important purposes:
- They ‘force’ search engine crawlers to visit more pages from your website.
- Can be used to ‘pinpoint’ the important pages of your website to search engines.
- Can help users find more information about a topic they are interested in.
3. Stay in sync with the latest developments in SEO
SEO is changing all the time. Search engine engineers in various companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) are working hard to make their search results more accurate, useful, and faster.
To this end, they introduce new rules that may have a direct or indirect impact on your website’s ranking. So, it is necessary to follow the latest developments in SEO and take action when necessary.
Mobile Friendliness: A good example is the Google mobile-friendly update (introduced by Google in 2015). This is related to how Google ranks websites on mobile. Once the update was released, any website that was not mobile-friendly did not rank so well on mobile, even if it had good rankings on desktop.
Schema Markup: Another area that is gradually gaining ground in SEO is the use of structured data. With structured data markup, you can describe the meaning of your data to search engines.
Schemas make your website easier to understand by search engines and in some cases, this gives you an additional advantage like a rich snippet in the SERPS, better rankings for local searches, and more attractive views of your Adwords ads.
Secure websites (SSL): Making your website secure i.e. HTTPS, has a small SEO benefit. As explained above, this means that a secure website will rank higher than a non-secure website, other things being equal.
Security of information is something that will gain more importance on the Web in the coming years so the sooner you can migrate your website to SSL the better. It involves making technical changes and applying SSL to your server but it’s a one-off task that is worth doing now or at least planning to do in the coming months.
Local SEO optimization: Local SEO is a term used to describe the process of optimizing a website to appear higher in the SERPS when people are searching for information (stores, products, services, etc) in a specific area.
A classic example is the ‘near me’ searches performed from mobile i.e. ‘Mexican restaurants near me.
4. Improve the User Experience
SEO is not just about search engines but it’s also about users. In fact, if you manage to keep your users happy, search engines will be happy too.
This means that you need to care about your users and the experience they get while on your website. Improving the user experience is a synonym for improving your website’s SEO.
Improve website loading speed: The time it takes for your website to load matters a lot. Google is using speed in its ranking algorithm and several studies show the impact of page speed on sales and time users spend on a website.
Faster websites get more transactions and more page views than slower sites.
Lower your website’s bounce rate: Bounce rate is a metric that shows the percentage of visitors that left your website without visiting a second page. The lower the bounce rate a website has, the better.
Your goal is to reduce your bounce rate as much as possible and this is usually achieved through the quality of the content you provide and the design of your website.
5. Demonstrate your expertise
‘Trust’ plays a very important role in SEO. You need ‘Google trust’ so that your website gets a higher ranking in Google results and you also need ‘user trust’ so you can fulfill your business goals.
Gaining trust is one of the major objectives of inbound marketing and the best way is by demonstrating your expertise. You can do this by:
Guest posting on other websites: Guest posting has been associated with link building but the true benefits from publishing your content on other websites are more than that, provided that you do it correctly.
When looking for guest posting opportunities you should:
- Seek websites that are superior to yours both in terms of traffic and trust.
- These websites have strict guest posting policies and they only accept content from experts in the field so getting published is a good way to demonstrate your expertise on a subject and be recognized as an expert.
Users that read your posts will more likely visit your website and some of them will register for your newsletter, buy your products or become regular visitors.
Social media proof: Another way to convince users that you are someone (or a company) they can ‘trust’ is gaining ‘social media proof’. Although this does not have a direct impact on SEO, having a decent amount of followers on the various social networks is a positive signal which plays a role when evaluating the credibility of a website or blog.
Who would you trust as being an expert about a topic, someone that has a few followers on Twitter, or someone that has an active following with thousands of real and hard-earned followers?
6. Don’t forget the basic SEO principles
While we talk about factors that can indirectly boost your SEO, don’t forget the basics.
Things like your page titles and descriptions, URL structure, alt text for images, H1 headings for the page titles, canonical URLs, and a bunch of other rules, still play a very important role when optimizing your website for search engines.
7. Don’t violate any rules
Last but not least, if you want to improve your SEO you need to play by the rules. Forget about shortcuts or magical ways that can get you top rankings in Google overnight.
Buying links, participating in link exchange schemes, or any other ‘SEO tricks’ that you will find on the Internet will get you in trouble sooner or later.
SEO takes time to work and anything that is hard-earned now (like a link from an authority website) will give you much more benefits and traffic in the future.
SEO improvement takes time
As a final word, when doing any kind of improvements to your website, have in mind that it may take some time for these to be taken into account by search engines.
A change you do today for SEO purposes may generate better results in a couple of months so keep a record of what you do, monitor your ranking positions and traffic on a regular basis, and be patient before deciding if a change improved your SEO or not.