You created your website with a goal (or many) in mind: sell products, event sign-up, share information, build your brand and so on. This is exciting and awesome but also comes with the sad reality that if no one can see your website, your website goals will not be accomplished.
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a way of implementing strategies to make sure users who are looking for you, can find you. There is a lot of information about SEO, but the truth is search engines are changing all the time and no matter what you do, your main strategy should be to build a website that is designed to meet the needs of your users. Your number one factor for SEO is quality content. Most search engines have significantly evolved to use AI to analyze what is on your website, thus putting quality content on your website should always be your largest focus.
It is good to keep SEO strategies in your mind as you make website decisions, but not as your main priority. If your priority is your users, your SEO ranking will in-turn increase over time. Some outdated SEO strategies to be aware of:
|More keywords on your site means more chances of your site being found.||Search engines are getting smarter and can recognize when pages are flooded with repeated or synonym keywords. The reality is, these days key words account for less than 5% of a websites ranking and in some cases they are completely ignored.|
|Add a lot of information, the more words the more likely you will be found.||Like keywords, having more information does not mean you will have more people visiting your website. Users are smart; if directed to a site that lacks useful content, they will quickly leave and not come back. Quality information is what will attract and retain visitors to your website. The time a user spends on your page does affect how search engines rank your site.|
|The more pages you have on a website, the more more times you will show up on a search engine.||Again, search engines are getting smarter (or people are programming them to be smarter!) and thus they can recognize if you have created pages like “subs, hoagies, heroes, sandwich” all with the same content to try to generate more traffic and will penalize your ranking. Also, if your site is confusing to navigate, users will not stay long.|
|You need many links on your website so that a search engine can find your website.||Inbound links, links on other sites navigating to your site, from other sites with high ratings are the ones that matter to increase your rating. However, it is important to know that links are the path that the search engines “crawl” through, making them important. However, you should use links naturally.|
|You should use catchy phrases and titles throughout your website.||Being creative and utilizing your brand is important. However you want to make sure your information is clear and easy to find by users. Be sure to strike a balance. For instance “Contact” is commonly seen and users expect this to be where your contact information is located. A ski resort using “Our Igloo” to represent their contact section could be seen as a creative way to display their home base in the mountain, but could also get overlooked by a viewer and as a result they give up and look for another location to go on vacation.|
Often we think we want more traffic to our website; yes and no. More traffic is not helpful; more useful traffic is helpful. This means that you and the search engines want the same thing. For instance, if you are a yoga studio, you do not want someone who is looking to go to a concert to come to your website. They will quickly leave and this will hurt your ranking. You want people who want what you have to offer to find you. There are simple solutions that you can use right now to improve SEO for your website.
These are five improvements that you can make, each of which can be done in less than five minutes, to help search engines connect users to your website and then to encourage users to stay on your site.
1 - Break up text
We are all in search of a good read - Harry Potter is always a good idea. While we want our favorite book to never end, paragraphs upon paragraphs of text are not meant for a website. In fact, a good rule of thumb is to keep your content length between 300 - 1000 words per page; target 700 words of quality content.
People often seek information they can quickly process and often on small screens. For these reasons alone, you want to break up your text so that it can be processed quickly and in a way that invites users to continue to read. Here are a few suggestions:
- Use bulleted or numbered lists
- Organize with tables
- Communicate with pictures or info graphics
- Group information with header tags
The above are all helpful for users and encourage them to stay on your page longer (increasing time on page). Header tags <h1>, <h2>, etc. are extremely important in helping search engines to determine different subsections of the page.
Note: If you do have a lot of information that needs to be communicated through pages of writing, you can always include it as a downloadable file instead of on the body of your website.
2 - Alt text
Images are great. They help users to get a better idea of what you are trying to communicate. Use images when it will enhance your page. Be sure to include “alt text” with your image. This is text that describes what the image is used for.
Search engines can not see images, they can only read the file paths. The alt text gives a descriptor that a search engine can read, and thus use when helping to rank your site as a potential match to a user’s search. You can get an idea of how search engines are seeing your site by using a text only web browser.
Example: Below is a picture of networking rack using PATCHBOX to organize (PATCHBOX is an excellent product for cable organization: purchase here). We want this image to be read by a search engine. If there is no alt text it will not be read. “Networking cables” would be a basic option but would not be a detailed descriptor. A better option would be “PATCHBOX Cat6 retractable cables organizing network rack”. The HTML for this option is included below.
Note: alt text is also helpful for visually impaired as they can use the descriptors to understand what is being shown in the image.
Note: In addition to alt text, the file name itself is also important. The above example has a file name of “patchbox.jpg” which clearly identifies with the image rather than something generic like “DCS_1289.jpg.”
3 - Links in natural places
Links are important; they are the paths that search engines use to “crawl” or navigate across websites. Also, this is how humans can move from site to site.
Add in external links to a site that is not yours and also add internal links that bring users to other spots on your website. However, be sure to use links naturally.
Do not add a link in every place you can possibly think of.
Do add links where it will be helpful for your users.
Ex: If you are comparing two companies, you can provide links to both of those companies as they are mentioned. You do not however need to link all the features/pages/products that those companies have to offer. This will loose site credibility and deter users as it is frustrating if links are not intuitive and helpful.
This is similar to when you first learned how to use a highlighter. If you highlight the whole page it is not very useful, conversely if you only highlight one word in all of the text you are also not optimizing how it can be used.
Another way to think about using links is like references on a research paper. If you are not referencing any sources, your information is simply opinion. At the same time you do not want to fill every paragraph with citations as that would turn it into a reference list and is also not helpful. Typically it is good practice for every page to have at least one related outbound link to a significant website, but no more than three.
Keep in mind that links should be placed with the purpose of helping convenience users, and in turn this will naturally improve SEO.
Note: Breadcrumbs are effective in establishing a path for search engines to crawl your pages.
Note: Search engines give ranking value to the links you put on your site, and use them to build credibility of your website. Do not just add as many as you can as that will hurt your ranking, also there are times you might not want to include links as if they point to a source that is not credible or has been downgraded by a search engine can also hurt your ranking.
4 - Title tag
Your title is what displays on the search engine’s result pages and also on the web browser’s page tab. Be sure to include a title tag. We recommend keeping your title tag under 72 total characters. If you do not add in a title tag, search engines will pull text from your site of its own choosing. This is the user’s first impression with your website. If your website is showing up in the top list of results, you then want to be sure users choose to click on it. Your title will help make that happen.
5 - URL naming
Your URL can help you out because search engines can read them, and so do humans. When choosing your URL do not make them too lengthy, and also use a convention that is understandable. Search engines understand hyphens (-), other separators (+, _, ?, space, no space) are not always recognized and absolutely need to be avoided. In fact, browsers will replace special characters with different elements. For instance %20 is what replaces a space. This is because special characters are used by the browser and servers for certain executions, thus should not be used in URL naming. Below is an example of how a URL name can be improved.
The above strategies help search engines find a quality match for what users are looking for and also to help users choose and stay on your website. Just like a physical establishment, foot traffic is good, but more importantly you want people coming in who are going to stay a while and use your service/product. Like a store, attracting people who are coming in, taking a quick look, and walking right out is not the traffic that you are aiming for. Remember, your website is built for a goal and your efforts should be around making sure that goal is met. More viewers is not the goal; it is a means to an end. Quality will always outperform quantity when it comes to what you are doing to improve SEO on your website.
There are many more strategies that you can implement to help search engines find you for the right reasons. One increasingly important item for SEO scoring and soon to be required is SSL, or Secure Socket Layer. This will soon be crucial as search engines such as Google, will soon no longer include sites not communicating with HTTPS (secure hypertext transfer protocol).
If you are craving more information about SEO, we welcome you to attend our free Basics of SEO luncheon at our Vermont office, or contact us at info[at]circletechcollective.com to find out about how we can help improve SEO for you to meet your website goals.