SEO is not a set-it-and-forget-it approach, neither should it be considered a short-term project. It’s a continuous effort and long-term strategy to rank well with your website. In this post, I will explore some simple steps that you can follow whenever you create a new webpage or a new blog post, to give it your best.
1. SEO Tips for URLs
Longer URLs may hurt your webpage’s search engine ranking, so keeping them short, preferably under 75 characters, is important.
Use Hyphens Instead of Underscores
In his 2011 video on “Underscores vs. dashes in URLs”, Matt Cutts explains that Google’s algorithm understands hyphens as word separators, while words separated with underscores are joined together. In other words:
Connie-Reichelsdorfer would be read Connie Reichelsdorfer
Connie_Reichelsdorfer would be read ConnieReichelsdorfer
URL String Parameters
URL string parameters help search engines like Google to categorize a page. Using numbered parameters such as ?=1234 will likely be of little use. As a rule of thumb, if you can read and understand the string parameter, so can Google. Hence, a string parameter such as ?=search-engine-optimization would be more useful than ?=1234.
URL Path Depth
Pages that are, URL-wise, closer to the homepage might be seen as more valuable than pages hidden deep within the website.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) in URLs
LSI keywords in a website’s URLs can help Google identify the meaning of that page. For example, if your webpage is about Apple computers and you want to make sure that the index catches this relationship and not assume it has to do with the fruit, adding descriptive keywords such as “computer,” “laptop,” “smartphone,” or “stocks” can help Google fetch the meaning more easily.
2. SEO Tips for Keywords
Keyword in the URL
As we’ve just discussed, it’s a good practice to keep the URL under around 75 characters. Another factor worth mentioning is that having the keyword in the URL, as early as possible, is an important signals for relevance.
Keywords are important factors for search engines to determine relevance. As a rule of thumb: The earlier the keyword is mentioned in the URL, title tag, description tag, and headlines, and the higher up the keyword appears on a page, the better.
The number of times a keyword or a close variant of the keyword is mentioned on any given page, helps search engines like Google determine the importance of that particular keyword.
In his 2011 video on keyword density, Matt Cutts clarifies that the first few times the keyword is being used it weighs heavily as a relevancy indicator. The weight of it declines, however, as keyword usage increases. Search engines do understand synonyms and it is recommended to switch the use of keyword and synonyms up, to avoid that your webpage appears spammy (keyword stuffing). It also is a quality indicator, because websites that use synonyms usually reads better as well.
In case you’re wondering, there is no “optimal” keyword density rate.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
As discussed in the previous section, Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) is a mathematical method used to help search engines understand your webpage. The search engine crawler that is indexing your page, looks for the most common words and phrases to determine important keywords. By strategically using LSI to establish relationships between words, you can help the bots extract meaning.
For more SEO tips, check out my blog post on 200 SEO Ranking Factors – The Complete List (2018).
3. SEO Tips for Meta Tags
Keyword in Title Tag
The Title Tag is an important location to place your keyword. The title shows in search results and in the user’s browser after your page has loaded. As already discussed, location matters. The earlier the keyword appears in the title tag, the better.
For best display in search results, keep in mind is that since 2016, the character limit for the title tag has been 70 characters. If your title is longer than 70 characters, it will be truncated in search results. That said, remember that Google uses pixel length, not characters per se. Hence, I usually recommend keeping the title under 60 characters.
Keyword in Description Tag
The description of your page is another important relevance factor and you are currently limited to around 320 characters. However, for optimal readability I would recommend sticking to the previous 160 character limit if possible.
As already discussed with URLs and the title, make sure to include the keyword or a close variant as early as possible in the description.
Keyword in H1, H2, and H3 Tags
Headline tags are also important relevancy indicators for search engine bots. Including your keyword in these tags, and as always, as early as possible, is important.
Keywords in Keywords Tag
In the SEO community, opinions split if the keywords tag is still relevant. In 2009, Matt Cutts confirmed that because of the black-hat SEO practice of keyword stuffing, Google no longer looks at the keyword tag. However, Google is not the only search engine and Bing’s and Yahoo’s bots might crawl these tags. As a result, I would not recommend including your important keywords in the keywords tag.
Because it is difficult for search engines to “read” and understand images, multimedia meta tags, such as the alt tag are important. Especially for hyperlinked images, the alt text is an image’s version of anchor text, so don’t skip it.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) in Meta Tags
As already discussed, Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) helps search engine bots extract meaning. Including multiple variants of keywords in page meta tags can help Google identifying relevancy.
4. SEO Tips for Multimedia Items
Including Multimedia Elements
Multimedia elements, such as images, videos, and audio can visibly enhance your content and act as a quality signal for search engines. That said, these elements can negatively affect your page’s load time, so it is important to strike the right balance.
Images can greatly improve your content’s quality, after all an image says more than 1,000 words. However, search engines cannot readily “read” and “understand” an image. To help search engine bots out, you can optimize your images by changing their file names (before the file upload) to something legible, include image alt tags, descriptions, and captions.
Page Loading Speed
Google has been using page loading speed as a ranking factor since 2010 and its developer guidelines indicate that the ideal load time is below 2 seconds (200 ms). You can check your page load time with Google’s free PageSpeed Insights or with Pingdom’s Speed Test Tool.
5. SEO Tips for Content
In 2012, serpIQ conducted a study exploring how content length affects page ranking. The study highlighted that to land in the #1 spot, a post needed on average 2,416 words.
That said, quality still goes before quantity. If you can say something with fewer words, do so. Your strapped readers will thank you.
If you have ever googled a certain piece of news you will certainly have noticed that there is tons of duplicate content indexed on Google and sometimes the entire first page is filled with identical information published under multiple sources. Yet many SEO professions claim that duplicate content will hurt your search engine rankings. How can that be?
What it all comes down to Google’s guidelines on duplicate content. If you have ever read the entire guide you will notice that Google clarifies that duplicate content will be penalized in search engine rankings if that content “is deceptive in origin.”
In other words, duplicate content does not by itself hurt your site. The “intent” of such content is what matters. In fact, Google’s algorithm is fairly advanced in distinguishing original from scrapped content and you will notice that original content usually ranks first. So the common obsession with content scrapers seems unjustified.
If you are holding yourself to a high standard when it comes to creating content, Google will take notice.
Recency of Content Updates
Since the 2010 Google Caffeine update, Google has concerned itself with the recency of content when determining relevance. And this makes sense. More recent content should be able to satisfy a user’s query better than content that is, say, five years old.
Another important factor for Google’s goal to display relevant content for search queries is the significance of edits made to the webpage. Merely switching out a word or adding a sentence to already indexed content is not as relevant as adding or altering entire sections on that page.
User experience is paramount for search engines. Hence, a website’s score on the readability index is an important ranking factor. Pages with convoluted phrasing and highly specialized words will be seen as less valuable as pages that opt for user-friendly content. Readability is determined, among other factors, by:
- sentence length
- paragraph length
- use of transition words
- use of subheadings
- lack of passive voice
- bullet points and numbered lists
Grammar and Spelling
Grammar and spelling are often considered important quality indicators for users. However, as indicated in Matt Cutt’s 2011 video on Grammar and Spelling they are not part of the ranking criteria.
Citing References and Sources
Whether references and sources are ranking factors or not remains to be confirmed by Google. However, the are important quality factors for readers and violating copyright information can get you into serious trouble.
I hope these 5 tips will help you getting started with your search engine optimization efforts. If, at any time you require help with your search engine optimization, feel free to reach out.