This guide is aimed at people who build their own websites, either using a drag-and-drop platform or following WordPress tutorials.
So you've spent a few days tweaking the design of your website and you're ready to go live but have you thought about SEO? It's easy to forget about when you're focussed on the design but design isn't everything.
A great looking site will still fail if it can't be found on search engines.
The guide has been written using advice that I am often giving to people in website reviews and answers questions I regularly see posted in forums.
Before you start
SEO is worthless if you don't know your keywords. Keywords are phrases that you want people to type into search engines to find your website.
Realistically speaking, very few people will Google your business name. More likely people will search for a product or a service, maybe a location and this is where you'll want your website to appear.
You'll need to think like a user. What do you search when looking for a new product?
Also consider that broader search terms such as 'fashion' will have a high level of competition but specific search terms such as 'women's black ball gowns London' will have considerably lower competition.
Overall rules for SEO:
You may be tempted to stuff your company name everywhere possible, but don't. If someone is searching for your company name directly your site will no doubt show up but how often does this really happen? Most users will search for products and will then choose a brand or company. You need to make sure your website appears when searching for what you're selling so that's what you should focus on.
SEO results do not happen over night, give them time and keep up the standards of content after you launch.
Know your audience. Think like a user. What do you do when you want to buy a new product? Do you go directly to the same site every time or do you look around? Do you price compare? Do you do your research? Keep all of these things in mind when writing your content.
Be realistic. Don't expect to rank top for every query, target local for maximum results. If you're a florist, don't try to rank for 'flowers' because it just won't happen. Instead, try to rank for 'florists in Bristol' or 'flower delivery in Bristol'. These are what's known as long-tail keywords as people are more likely to search for businesses local to them. There’s also a lot less competition so you’ll have much more success targeting local search queries.
Don't keyword stuff or try to trick Google by hiding links and keywords. This will have a negative effect and undo all your hard work.
Use as many keywords as you can but make sure your content is human-readable. Google can read your content just like a human, picking up on any content that doesn't make sense and flagging it as keyword stuffed.
- Write for your users, not for Google.
Got all that? Awesome, lets get started!
1. Page titles
Page titles are the most important part of SEO, they appear on Google to represent your page and they appear in the tab in your browser.
Google only shows the first 60 characters but you’ll want to make the most of that valuable space so aim for between 50-60 characters.
Do not duplicate title tags - they should be unique to every page.
You should try to follow the structure of 1st Keyword or Name of product or article | 2nd Keyword or Page type | Company name
- Wrap dresses for women | Women’s Fashion | Dress Company
- Drawing classes in Bristol | Adult Learning | Local Centre
- Purple Tote Bag with pockets | Ladies Fashion | Shoes&Things
- Joe Bloggs - Designer Biography | Meet The Team | UltraMedia
- About Page
- Wedding flowers - FlowerCompany
- Welcome - Homepage - handmade dress shop
- Joe Bloggs - UltraMedia
- Shoes&Things | Ladies Fashion
- Parenting articles - Blogs for mums - The best ways to make your children to behave and why they don’t go to bed on time
2. Page descriptions
If page titles are the most important, page descriptions come close second.
Page descriptions appear under the title on Google and should be used to give a preview of what is on your webpage.
Descriptions should be less than 160 characters and should contain your most important keywords.
Be careful not to give too much detail away in your description, let the user know what to expect on your page. Great descriptions often have a question to encourage users to click your link to find an answer.
- There a hundreds of reasons why you should exercise daily, but which are the most important? Take a look at these statistics if you need motivation to workout.
- Learn to draw in our adult learning courses. Community Learning Bristol brings 8 evening classes where you can improve your drawing skills and meet new people.
- Purple Shopper style tote bag with pockets. Made from recycled materials and based on high fashion designs. Designed, hand stitched and shipped from Birmingham.
- Welcome to our website! We sell all sorts of items, browse our shop for more!
- Joe Bloggs biography. Studied at college and is now our senior designer.
- Buy your wedding flowers from us! Wedding flowers London. Wedding flowers UK. Wedding flowers for weddings.
3. URL structure
Your website url should human readable, easily typed and feature your most important keyword.
If you are building your own website you may not have complete control over this, but if you do this is the perfect opportunity to let Google know about your keywords.
If possible, try to ensure that your urls don’t have an extension on the end. An extension is the file type so it could be .html, .php, .asp but this isn’t helpful to your SEO or to your customers. Removing it helps keep your url clean and memorable.
Do not try to use spaces in urls and do not squash words together Eg, shop.co.uk/handstitchedpurpletotebags You should use hyphens (-) to represent spaces between words.
4. Image file names
Did you know image file names also help boost SEO? This often gets overlooked because, I'll be honest, it's a pain to do, especially when you have a lot of images.
Ever done a Google image search? Those images appear because of the file names, the alt text and the content around it.
Rename your images to be helpful and relevant to your content.
This will also help with accessibility and users who rely on screen readers.
Don't forget to compress your images and use the smallest size possible without losing quality.
5. Be tactical with your heading tags
A lot of people (and web developers) starting out like to put the clients logo in a H1 tag. This is terrible for SEO. Google look directly for the H1 tag, if all it finds is your logo you are missing out on a lot of potential rankings for keywords.
Put your most important keywords in your H1 tag.
Sure, you may not want 'Wedding Florists in Bristol' in big across your site but who said H1 tags had to be the biggest text on the page? Just because that's the default, doesn't mean you can't change it. Use a regular paragraph tag and style it huge for your design heading and style your H1 tag slightly smaller if you need to. As long as your page still has content hierarchy there's nothing to stop you from restyling heading tags.
Only use one H1 tag per page.
You can use multiple H2 and H3 tags but don't go overboard. H4s and higher don't hold much in terms of rankings so don't worry too much about them.
Good work on getting this far!
This is where things go from basic to intermediate so don't worry if you choose to stop here. The above steps are enough to ensure your website gets the boost it needs on search engines.
If you'd like to go a little further with your SEO, keep reading.
5. Internal links and Backlinks
Internal links refer to links on your website that link to other pages on you website.
Let's say you write a blog post about the different types of bags you could link text off to the different types of bags that you offer. The important bit here is the link text. Don't just link the word bag, link multiple keywords such as 'tote bags are essential to ladies fashion'. That whole sentence could be a link and Google would associate those words with that content.
Make sure you link between your pages and not just in the site navigation. Put these links in your content. You should aim for 2-3 links to every page from other places on your website.
If you're from the UK you've probably been on TripAdvisor to research places to eat or stay. If you haven't, take a look. Notice the footer has many links such as 'Bristol hotels' or 'Birmingham hotels'. See this is very clever because it looks like those links are there to be helpful to users but actually these internal links have helped TripAdvisor become the top result when Googling a place or business. Google has seen the hundreds of links and now TripAdvisor is very difficult to overtake in search engine ratings when looking for places to stay in a particular city.
Backlinks refer to the links on other people's websites that link to yours. This is where things can get a little tricky.
Depending on your type of business this will vary but below are some options for building backlinks:
- Partnering with another business
- Guest blogging
- Offering products in exchange for a review
- Referrals with other businesses
- Directory websites
- Broken-link building
- Create infographics to share and link back
- Comment and contribute in communities such as Facebook or Quora
- Target your industry influencers
An ideal backlink with be your main keywords and linking back to a relevant page. Don't link the text purple bag to your homepage for example, link directly to the page displaying your purple bags.
Don't make the user think.
These links need to look natural and the best way to organically get backlinks is to create amazing content.
To make the most of Microdata you need access to your code. If your website builder doesn't offer this or if you don't feel comfortable editing code then this is not for you.
Microdata tells Google exactly what it's reading, you can use to specify a product, an author, a review, an event or just your business/organization.
Google loves this. Ever googled a product and found some links have a star rating underneath? That's Microdata. Seen an authors name underneath an article? Microdata.
For most businesses it's recommended to put Microdata around your business address, around any products or articles and then to include some reviews.
If your business sells a product online, product Microdata is a must.
To view all the different types of metadata that you can use visit Schema.org. Don't worry, even for a developer like myself this website is confusing and a little intimidating.
Have a browse, you can click on a type of schema, let's say Author. You'll get taken to a page that lists all the information that you can attach to your website to let Google know about you.
7. Website Speed & Mobile Friendliness
This guide is aimed at people who built their own websites but its important that you are aware of the negative effects that a poorly designed or built website can have.
One thing that Google penalizes is pop ups that cover a lot of screen space. Yes, most websites do have these pop ups, particularly if they are trying to sell something. Most get around this penalization by disabling the pop up on mobile devices, on desktops there's more screen space so the percentage taken up is a lot lower. If you really must have a pop up another option is to have the pop up appear after the user has been on the site awhile but if you truly respect your customers, just don't use pop ups.
Google has confirmed that if your site is slow to load it is less likely to show it in search results on a mobile. You can check how fast your website loads using gtmetrix.com, it gives great feedback and shows where your site can be improved.
If you'd like to know more about the benefits of a hand-coded website over a drag-and-drop you can read them here.
Putting this into practice
Search engine optimization can be a lot of work but with planning and a little research, your website could see a substantial increase in its rankings.
I hope this guide hasn't scared you off and it helps your business get better traffic online.