Over the years, I’ve helped many clients optimize their sites to make it easier for Google to find them.
When I’m the one creating that content, I usually optimize it as I go. But if my clients do content marketing on their own, they often crave a little self-sufficiency. That’s when they’ll ask me for tips on how to optimize their new posts themselves.
In response, I’ve prepared quick-and-dirty checklists for them. I’ve shared best practices that they can immediately implement, without paying for special tools.
Today, I’ll share those tips with you.
A quality SEO professional will often begin a new mandate with a full audit to spot site-wide issues that could hurt your rankings.
The tips you read here definitely aren’t a substitute for that site-wide audit. In this post, I won’t be addressing site-wide factors you need to look for and address. I’ll recommend tactics to optimize a specific page of your site.
Having said that, there are a few things I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention. Here are a few basic actions I recommend to anyone who is launching a new website.
Install Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a free utility that provides powerful insights about your site visits. The type of insights that can help you grow your traffic and turn more of that traffic into revenue.
To get started, create a GA account, add your Website as a property, then copy the Google “tracking code” into your site. Click here for instructions on how to set up Google Analytics on a WordPress site.
Install Google Search Console
Google Search Console is an indispensable free tool that keeps your site in peak form. Google Search Console flags site errors, shows you how people are finding your site, and much more. Click here to find out more about what Google Search Console has to offer. And click here for a beginner’s guide on setting up Google Search Console.
Connect Google Analytics to Search Console
Once you’ve set up Google Analytics and Search Console, you can squeeze even more value out of them by connecting them. You’ll be able to access some Search Console data – like the queries that drive traffic to your site – right inside Google Analytics. And you’ll also see some of your GA data from inside Search Console.
Click here to find out more about associating Google Analytics and Search Console.
Create and Submit a Sitemap
A sitemap is a document that lives on your server. Submit it to Google to make it easy for them to find and index your different pages. There are free utilities that you can use to generate your sitemap. And you can use the Google Search Console to submit the sitemap to Google. For detailed instructions on doing exactly that, click here. Or, if you’re on WordPress, you can save yourself the hassle and install the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. More on that below.
Configure your Robots.txt
Robots.txt is another file that resides on your server. You can use to block spiders, including Google’s, from crawling some of your files and folders.
A misconfigured Robots.txt file can be a dangerous thing. On many occasions, I’ve met new clients who lamented that their site received no organic traffic. The culprit? A Robots.txt file that blocked Google from crawling their entire site. Click here to find out more about configuring your robots.txt file.
Install Yoast SEO
If your site is WordPress-based, I highly recommend that you install the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. Yoast is the gold standard of SEO plugins. Set it up, and it will hand-hold you or completely take care of several of the above steps. The plugin will also make SEO recommendations for each page, test the readability of your copy, and much more.
And if you spring for a Premium version of the plugin, you’ll gain access to several valuable bonus features. One notable such feature is a redirect manager that sets up redirects when you delete a page. Another is the ability to check your on-page optimization for more than one keyword per page.
Before you can optimize your page, you need to decide which search terms you’re optimizing it for. Optimizing a page without a target keyword is a bit like planning a trip without a destination. It leads nowhere.
Keyword Selection Criteria
The keywords you select need to meet several objectives simultaneously. They should:
Be closely related to the content of your page. Ask yourself if the person searching for the term will find what they want on your page.
- Have a clear meaning. Steer clear of terms that could have a double meaning.
- Demonstrate strong intent to take an action. Look for terms that suggest the searcher wants to do something, for example:
- To learn something (e.g. “what is X“)
- To do something (e.g. “how do I X“)
- To buy something (e.g. “buy X“)
- Be searched a relatively high number of times each month. Every industry is different. High search volumes are relative. In some very specialized industries, 50 searches per month may be the best you could hope for. Compare search volumes of your keyword contenders.
- Not be so prohibitively competitive that your chances of ever ranking for them are slim.
Expand your Keyword List
Start by expanding your keyword list to make sure you don’t miss out on any great keyword opportunities. Spend time brainstorming ideas. Use free tools like Ubersuggest.io and the Google Adwords Keyword Planner to generate additional keyword ideas.
Make sure to consider “long-tail keywords”. These are longer search phrases that are highly specific in meaning. (Think “buy gluten-free chocolate bunnies” instead of just “chocolate bunnies”.)
Long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volumes but shouldn’t be dismissed: they also tend to be higher in intent and less competitive.
Narrow your Keyword List
You’ll then drop ideas that don’t meet your selection criteria. For the more qualitative criteria, your common sense and judgment are gold.
For the last two, more quantitative criteria, there’s the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. There, you’ll find search volumes for your different keywords. You’ll also be able to gauge their competitiveness.
Make your Final Selection
At the end of the keyword research process, you’ll need to select one or two primary keywords per page and a few more secondary keywords.
Your primary keywords are the ones for which you’ll be pulling out all the stops to increase your chances of ranking. So you’ll want to select your very best one or two from your shortlist, using your criteria.
Again, “best” doesn’t necessarily mean the most heavily searched. The potential search volume will do you no good if you haven’t got a hope of ranking for the term. Or if the person behind the search isn’t really who you want to reach.
Optimize your URL
Your URL, or page address, is an important element to optimize. A few best practices:
- Keep it short
- Include your primary keyword(s)
- Use natural language that tells users, not just Google, what the page is about
- Avoid ‘stop words’ like ‘in’, ‘and’, ‘of’, etc.
- Use a separator – like a hyphen – between the words in your URL
A word of caution:
It can be tricky (and not always worthwhile) to change a URL once a post has been published. That’s because your old URL may have already started to earn incoming links and authority in the eyes of Google. If you’re going to change a URL after a post has been published, make sure to set up redirects from the old URL to the new one.
Optimize your Page Title
Your page title is the text that is displayed at the top of your browser bar. More importantly, the page title usually appears as the clickable link to your site in search engine results. It may or may not also be displayed at the top of your page.
Here are three things to consider when you optimize your page title:
- Make sure your title is compelling.
An enticing title will make it more likely that searchers will click on your link when they find your site among their search results.
While debated, there is strong evidence that the click-through rate on your search result can impact your rankings, for better or worse. Click here to read insightful musings on the subject by my friend, and esteemed SEO, Dave Davies from Beanstalk Internet Marketing.
And when your post is shared on social media, your title will by default appear on the social post. A compelling title will mean that people are more likely to click on the post, to like it and to share it with others.
- Include your keyword in your page title.
Although it’s not as all-powerful as it once was, the page title is still an important ranking factor.
- Give every page a unique title.
Optimize your Meta Description
When Google shows your site on the search engine results page (SERP), it also displays a description of the page. If you write a Meta Description for your page, Google will use this as the page description.
(And if you don’t, Google will scrape the page for copy to use as a descriptor. Believe me when I tell you this can sometimes lead to very unexpected and undesirable results.)
Here are some guidelines to consider when writing your META description:
- Keep your Meta Description to a maximum of approximately 150 characters. Any longer, and Google will shorten it for you in the search results. That isn’t what you want.
- Include your keyword in your META descriptions.
It’s doubtful that including your keyword in your META description will actually help you rank. Having said that, it’s still a good idea. Why? Let’s explain it with an example.
Imagine someone is searching for “chocolate bunnies”. And let’s say your Chocolate Bunny page appears in the results. If the words “chocolate” and “bunnies” are in your description, Google will display them in bold.
Why is that good? Because that’s likely to attract the attention of the searcher. Your searcher is also more likely to read your description and to assume your page will be relevant.
- Write a powerful description.
To me, this last one is the most important consideration. Think of your Meta Description as a free ad on the search results page. Choose your words as carefully as you would if you were buying an ad. Focus on winning the searcher’s click, and on planting the seed for conversion once they reach your site. Include:
- A strong call to action
- An emotional appeal
- Assurances (e.g. “money-back guarantee”)
Optimize Your Images
Optimize your Image Filenames
Image file names are an important factor when it comes to optimizing your images. Google can’t see your images but it can read their filenames. Make sure your filenames are descriptive and include your selected keywords. This is a lot easier to do when you are first uploading the image than it will be after the fact.
Optimize your Alt tags
Alt tags make your page more accessible. For one thing, Alt tags are read aloud by screen readers for the visually impaired. But Alt tags can also help Google index your images properly. For every image you add to your page, make sure to include a highly descriptive and keyword-rich Alt tag.
Reduce your Image’s File Size
Image files can be massive. And massive files can have a negative impact on page load times. We know that page speed is a ranking factor used by the Google algorithm, so make sure to keep your image file sizes as small as possible.
The good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice image quality in order to keep the file size in check. TinyPNG has plugins and a free online utility to reduce file sizes without compromising quality.
Another SEO best practice is to include your keywords in your headings, especially your H1 and H2 headings. Popular opinion suggests that, at the very least, Google uses headings to get a sense of what your page is about.
At best, including keywords in your headings will help you rank for those keywords. A few tips to consider:
- Use a single H1 heading to describe the content of your page.
- Use multiple H2 headings to describe the different sections of your page.
- Write enticing headlines.
Many of your site visitors won’t have the time or patience to pore over a long post (like this one). Strong headings will lure content skimmers into delving into your copy and sticking around for a while.
Here are some of Neil Patel’s tips on how to craft the perfect H1 tag.
Optimize Your Copy
In the early days of SEO, we worked hard to try to pepper our page with the exact keyword we wanted to rank for, as many times as possible. But it’s a whole new world now. Those old practices now seem as spammy and are frowned upon by Google. Good thing, too, because keyword stuffing creates a shoddy user experience.
Instead of writing for the search engines, write for the people who visit your page. Use natural language. Yes, include your primary keywords where it makes sense. But also use synonyms, plurals and long-tail variations of your targeted keywords.
Links to your page help Google find the page and gauge its importance. Quality external links – links from sites that are not your own – tend to carry more weight with Google than links to from other pages on your site.
Having said that, internal links are a best practice of SEO. A page on your site that receives a high number of internal links is seen by Google as an important page on your site.
Create links TO other pages
Whenever you write a new piece, make sure to link to related pages or posts on your site. This will elevate the content you link to. More importantly, it will:
- Be helpful to your visitors.
- Keep your visitors from leaving too quickly, by giving them more interesting content to peruse.
By extension, it’s not a bad idea link out to external sites that you’ve hand-picked for your readers. It’s certainly better than having them hit the Back button, and find a competitor’s site instead.
Pro tip: set a “_blank” target on your links. That way, users who click on the link will see the site open in a new tab. When they close the tab, you’ll still be there, vying for their attention.
Create Links FROM other pages
With each new piece you produce, look for older pages and posts from which you can insert links to this new piece.
Optimize Your Anchor Text
Another important aspect of internal links is the anchor text – i.e. the text that the hyperlink is on. If you have many links to your Chocolate Bunny page with the “chocolate bunnies” anchor text, that tells Google your page has something to do with – you guessed it – chocolate bunnies.
So, by all means, include your keywords in your anchor text. But as with everything you’ve read so far, be measured in your approach. In some cases, place your links on the text “chocolate bunnies”. In other cases, use “chocolate bunny” or “bunnies made of chocolate”.
(Why am I suddenly craving a chocolate bunny?)
Before you declare your SEO done for the page, there are a few last checks to complete.
Avoid Duplicate Content Issues
Duplicate content is a no-no. If Google considers your content very similar to content on another Web page, it could impact your rankings. With that in mind, avoid using the same language on your page from what you’ve used on other pages.
If you have good reason to reproduce the same content on two pages, no problem: There’s something you can do to make that A-OK in the eyes of Google. It’s called the Rel Canonical tag.
With a Rel Canonical, you’re essentially telling Google which of the duplicate pages to rank. I won’t go into the nitty gritty of how to implement the Rel Canonical, because you can hear it from the horse’s mouth right here.
If you’ve taken my advice and installed the Yoast plugin, you’ll find that setting up a Rel Canonical is a piece of cake is a piece of case.
Check Your Page on Mobile
Before you declare your page ready for prime time, you’ll want to make absolutely sure that it is easy to use on mobile. First, a good mobile experience is in the interest of an ever-increasing number of users who access the Web through their mobile devices. But mobile friendliness is increasingly important for Google, too.
You can test your page from your own device. On Chrome, you can use Developer Tools to see what your page will look like on a variety of devices. You can also use Google’s mobile-friendly test.
If your site uses a fully responsive WordPress theme (like Avada, my personal fave), you probably don’t have much to worry about. Your pages should work just fine on mobile.
Over To You
How much attention do you give to optimizing the content you produce? Have you learned anything new from this post? Have I missed out on anything important? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Me? I’m going to find myself a chocolate bunny to snack on.