Website development is a combination of artistic creativity with function and purpose. The site needs to be well-designed to make an excellent first impression and attract users. It is even more critical that it is functional and fulfills the goals for which you created it. The role of the website is realized only in interaction with users. With users – the site is valuable. To make it accessible, we must optimize the site so that users can find it through search engines. Next, we need to make the site attractive and valuable for users. Site optimization is a set of guidelines that help us create site content recognizable to search engines, receptive to users, and thus productive to owners.
What does SEO mean?
SEO is an abbreviation coined from the initial letters of the English words Search Engine Optimization and loosely translated means optimization for internet search engines. This acronym indicates a set of activities that we carry out to increase the volume and quality of traffic on the site by achieving higher positions in unpaid (organic) search results on Internet search engines.
Why do we do SEO?
SEO, i.e., site optimization, is done primarily for the users, the people we created the site. A high position in the search results is not a goal but a way to increase the number of visitors to the site through greater attractiveness and exposure to targeted users. Optimization assumes that we recognize how users search the Internet and that we understand how search engines rank in response to those queries. Once we know that, we can adjust the content and form of our site to provide the best answers to targeted users’ searches and achieve a high position in the search results.
What is an SEO strategy?
An SEO strategy is a program of measures and activities we implement to attract a target audience through organic search. We generally divide optimization into on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO. On-page SEO refers to all actions we can take on website pages, including site content. Off-page SEO is all activities that take place outside your site and affect its performance. Technical SEO is focused on architecture, code quality, and back-end optimization.
- On-page SEO – optimization on the site page
- Off-page SEO – optimization outside the site page
- Technical SEO – optimization in the background of the site
On-page SEO – optimization on the site page
On-page SEO consists of elements for site optimization that we can directly create and control ourselves. Everything is in our hands, from quality to make it easy for users to consume content. This optimization aims to make our site’s content accessible, transparent, and relevant for Google and our target users.
Relevant content is the foundation of successful optimization, so that means, first of all, that we have to create content aligned with the search intent of our target users. So, if the topic or keyword for which we create content indicates an informative search – we will write a blog post. If the keyword leads to a transactional search – we will create a product page. Simple.
Creating multiple pages for the same keyword is a pure waste of time. Google ranks pages highly when it determines that they provide the best answer for a given search. That’s why we should focus on one page per topic and create content that Google will recognize as a better answer than what it currently answers to that query.
How to create content
A simple formula for creating content from an SEO perspective implies that:
- Search for keywords for which we want the page to be ranked,
- find pages that rank highly for those keywords,
- let’s examine what qualities those pages have,
- we create content that is better than that.
Better content is content that offers more added value to users. Among other things, we can create content from an angle that no other site offers on the same topic, explain the problem in more detail, and present new methods or research results. Also, we must make an effort to complete the content with photos, graphs, videos, or infographics, that is, to present it in the form that the target users prefer.
In essence, content SEO is about creating unique valuable content that we can offer users so that our page is recognized as more relevant than those currently ranking for the targeted keyword.
Title tags – page titles
An HTML element called a Title Tag specifies the title of a web page. Page titles are displayed in search results as a blue link to our page. Also, they are displayed at the top of the web browser and are especially useful when we have several browser tabs open. The title tag is not displayed on the site page itself.
The title of the page plays a significant role in forming the first impression of a web page and is very important in attracting attention when people are choosing between the search results offered. The more attractive our title is in the search results, the more visitors it will attract to our page – possibly at the expense of better-ranked content.
Google displays 50 to 60 characters as a page title, so we have to choose words wisely and adjust the length of the title. It is beneficial to keep a few more recommendations in mind when coming up with a page title:
- Put the most crucial keyword to which the content refers at the beginning of the title,
- do not exceed the length of the title displayed by Google, as a shortened version will not be attractive in search results,
- If appropriate, insert our brand name in the page title,
- We only use one of the original titles for each web page.
Although page titles are important for SEO, they are primarily intended for users. In addition to optimization and keyword usage, it’s crucial to consider visitors’ overall user experience when creating your website titles. The title tag is the first interaction a visitor has with our brand when they find it in search results and should convey the most positive and accurate message possible.
Meta tags – page descriptions
Meta tags are HTML elements that briefly describe the content of a page in search results. Page descriptions are not visible in the web page’s content or titles.
Meta descriptions, while not tied to search engine rankings, are extremely important for attracting users from search results. These short paragraphs allow us to present the content to people searching and give them a chance to decide before opening the page whether the content offered is relevant and contains the information they are looking for.
Google generally truncates snippets to 155 to 160 characters. It is best for meta descriptions to describe the content of the text as briefly as possible and not to exceed 160 characters. Other recommendations are similar to writing the page title since it is okay, if appropriate, to end the page description with a call to action.
As they display our page title, social networks typically use our page description when content is shared on their sites. Without a formulated page description, social networks use the first text they can find for the description. Depending on how the text on our page begins, the description they use may not create the desired image of our content for social media users.
Headline tags – titles and subtitles
Headings and subheadings (H1, H2, etc.) are pieces of HTML code that allow certain words to stand out on a page. They help us to scan the page, especially with longer text, and select the parts we want to read. We usually write the main heading (H1) in a larger font than the subheadings and text on the page, which is displayed as the main heading for the content on that page. Headings and subheadings are not shown in search results but only on on-site pages.
Since both page titles and H1s serve the same broad purpose, it’s easy to understand why people need to differentiate between them more. Furthermore, the fact is that many content management systems are set to set the same page title and H1 heading automatically.
The main difference between page title tags and H1 titles is where they appear. Page titles are displayed in browsers and represent a hyperlink through which the user will reach the page. They also appear in the title bar at the top of Internet browsers and are the default title used to mark tabs. Page titles do not appear on the web page itself.
H1 headings are what users will see on the web page itself. It is usually highlighted in font size and represents the content’s title. H1 headings typically do not appear in search results.
Hierarchy of headings and subheadings
Headings have a hierarchy from top to bottom, from H1 to H6. First, H1 is used to define the most important heading, while H6 is used to define less essential subheadings. Google uses headings and subheadings to make it easier to understand the content of our page. If we have set up the structure well, it will help Google to better match our content with the search phrases and show it higher in the search results.
More importantly, proper use of headings and subheadings contributes to a better user experience for our site visitors. The heading and subheading structure works the same way on the web as in print. In an abundance of information, Internet users look at headlines to see if they are interested enough to stop at one and spend time reading the entire content or just some important parts for them. Headings and subheadings help them find what they are looking for on the page.
URL is an acronym of the English words Uniform Resource Locator and indicates the location or address of certain content on the Internet. As well as page titles and descriptions, Internet browsers display URLs in search results. Therefore, the naming and formatting of URLs can influence a user’s decision to visit our site. Also, search engines use URLs to evaluate and rank pages in search results.
If our page targets a specific topic or keyword, it must be included in the URL. However, we must not overdo it by trying to type in more keywords purely for SEO purposes. It is recommended that we also follow the following tips for a good URL structure:
- We use descriptive URLs to give users an idea of what awaits them on the page,
- Let’s avoid redundant directory levels, which make the whole site and the URLs themselves long and unreadable,
- We do not use special characters that are unclear to search engines when formulating URLs.
We facilitate user movement around the site and indexing by Internet browsers with an excellent internal linking structure. When we link a term on one page to other pages on our site, we ensure that search engine crawlers can find all relevant pages and transfer ranking power to linked pages on the site. Also, we make it easier for visitors to find content that includes a concept that interests them.
We can also use anchor text for internal linking. We should always use the same keyword to link to the target page. In this way, we indicate to the search engines that exactly that page is the most relevant on our website for that keyword. If, on the other hand, too many links to different pages use the exact anchor text, Google may interpret this as unwanted behavior.
We adapt the website over time to new needs, which includes removing or renaming pages. In those cases, we must update all links leading to the old, now non-existent URL, remove them or redirect to new, relevant content.
If the link leads to a non-existent page on our website, users will end up on a 404 error page; hence it puts our effort to build great user experiences at a dead end. Additionally, search engines don’t like it when they find these error pages.
Off-page SEO – optimization outside the website page
Off-page SEO includes improvements for better ranking in search results and better user perception of site quality that are not carried out on the site page itself. We can do this through backlinks from other sites (especially reputable and trustworthy ones), mentions of our brand, sharing of our content, and user referrals made outside our website.
Building backlinks is at the heart of on-page SEO. Search engines use backlinks as indicators of the quality of related content, so content with many high-value backlinks will usually rank higher in search results than similar content with fewer backlinks. Backlinks, also called inbound or inbound links, are created when one website links to another. A link from an external website is called a backlink.
Before we start building backlinks, we need to create link-worthy content. In principle, it can be the home page of our website. However, we often and easily build links to targeted content, such as blog posts, illustrations or infographics, diagrams and charts, various instructions and research results, and the like. It is tough to build backlinks to low-value pages. On the other hand, building links is much easier if we create content people find valuable and worth sharing.
We distinguish between three main types of backlinks, depending on how we achieved them: natural links, manually created links, or links that we create ourselves:
- Natural links are created without the direct involvement of the site owner. For example, a site’s blog directly quotes content from ours that it finds interesting for its visitors;
- Manually built links are created through link-building activities. This includes actions such as inviting customers to link to our website and share its content or building relationships with influential sites to share our content;
- We create self-created links by adding backlinks to online directories, forums, blog comments, or publishing PR tasks… Some self-created link-building tactics tend towards so-called “black hat” SEO and risk being penalized by search engines, so be very careful to apply.
Quality of backlinks
Search engines closely evaluate the quality of backlinks. Regardless of how the links are built, the most significant SEO contribution comes from links from reputable and well-ranked pages. If a very authoritative page links to an article on our site, it conveys a certain amount of its authority by trusting the linked page. Several factors positively contribute to the transfer of value significant for the ranking of related content, including:
- The popularity and authority of the page and the website it links to,
- the relevance of the linked content,
- the number of backlinks to the linked page,
- link point on the page,
- Tracking attributes: “track” or “do not track.”
We already know that content is the key that is unlocking backlinks. But publishing content alone is usually not enough to attract quality backlinks. That’s why we have to commit to building those connections. Some link-building techniques give better results than others; some are more suitable for our content and way of working, while some seem too aggressive to us. In any case, here are a couple of more straightforward techniques that lead to a connection:
We create content relevant to the work we do and publish interesting data, interesting studies, or other content that is worthy of attention and for which there are subject websites that will probably want to link to it. We send an email with information about the content to people dealing with that topic on the targeted site and offer them to use the content in their posts, with a link, of course.
Listing and participation
Joining internet groups relevant to our business and registering in important online directories and databases also generate backlinks to our site. Also, participation in various offline events, such as conferences, fairs, lectures, and the like, gets promoted on the Internet. The list of participants and texts about the event generally contain links to the participants’ websites.
Connecting broken links
This technique involves finding broken links on sites we are interested in linking to and offering to link the broken link to our content. Broken links on websites, if any, can be easily found by adding Check My Links or Atomseo applications to the Chrome browser. By alerting site owners to a broken link and offering appropriate linking content, we add value to our site and theirs.
Articles on reference sites
Writing articles for reference websites, such as online magazines, is an excellent way to build backlinks and gain a reputation as an expert in the field.
Working on getting backlinks from external sites is considered the most important activity in the implementation of an off-page SEO strategy. However, almost any additional activity related to the promotion of our website, even when it does not help improve our site’s position in search results, can be considered off-page optimization work. This includes activities such as:
- Marketing through social networks;
- Registration on Google My Business and display on Google Maps;
- Campaign email;
- Brand mentions by influential sites without direct linking.
The result of each of these activities is to create somehow a reference to our site somewhere else on the Internet – whether it is a link itself, a mention of our brand or website, all the way to user recommendations.
To build our websites on a sound foundation and make them accessible to humans and crawlers, we need to understand the basics of technical optimization. Since the technical structure of a site can have a massive impact on its performance, it is crucial to know how technical SEO can help us build a better website.
Site structure defines how we organize its content. The website consists of different content focused on specific topics. Page structure deals with how this content is grouped, linked, and presented to the visitor. If we structure our website well, it will be easier for users to find their way to the content they are looking for, and Google will index our URLs better. Taxonomies, such as categories and tags, internal linking, navigation, and breadcrumbs, are very useful for structuring a website.
The site’s structure is the product of careful thought, functional design, and precise organization. The best time to define a good site structure is before we build it. However, even when we redesign our site, we can still reorganize some elements to improve structural SEO.
The organizational structure of each site falls into one of four types: hierarchical, ordinal matrix, or organized as a database.
For most websites, a hierarchical structure is best suited. The information is ranked and presented in a logical order and is easily accessible. This structure is currently the most popular model on the Internet. A hierarchical structure aims for the least necessary number of links between the home page and any page on the site. By doing it, we allow the main page’s ranking power to be transmitted throughout the entire website, thus increasing the ranking potential of each page.
For the correct organization of the hierarchical structure, it is good to follow some basic rules:
- The hierarchy should be logical and straightforward for ease of searching and indexing. Each main category should be unique and special. Each subcategory should refer to the main category under which it is located;
- It is recommended that the number of main categories be between two and seven. The main categories highlight the topics to which the site’s content relates. If we have more than seven, perhaps we should rethink the organization of the site;
- It is good to equalize the number of subcategories within each category. The structure is slightly unbalanced if one main category has ten subcategories while another has only three.
User experience experts say that we need to make it possible to find any page on the website in just three clicks. However, we use this information more as a guideline than a rule.
Breadcrumbs – navigation crumbs
We can highlight the website’s structure using the so-called breadcrumbs, i.e., breadcrumbs. Navigational breadcrumbs are clickable links, usually at the top of a page or post. They help visitors see precisely where they are on our website and quickly go back to a higher level if they want to. Crumbs improve the user experience of visitors as well as the SEO of our site. It is easier for Google to find the necessary information from the structure of our website with the help of navigation crumbs. Also, crumbs provide an excellent benefit in search results, where they display our URL in a friendly way, especially on mobile devices.
Each page on the website should be unique in its content compared to other pages and be uniquely valuable to users, i.e., provide users with the value they seek and want. However, sometimes that level of uniqueness isn’t recognizable enough to search engines, so we have to give them a little help to figure it out.
If we have duplicate versions of some content on the site and they make sense for some reason, for example, a print-friendly version of an article, a regular version of an article, and a mobile version of an article, we should do canonicalization. We are not declaring anyone a saint, but the canonical URL tag indicates to the search engine which of the URLs is more significant and should appear in the search results.
If, on the other hand, there is no meaningful reason and additional benefit from duplicating content, which is often the case, the solution is code 404. You should delete the less valuable page and redirect any links to a more valuable page.
The goal is for Google to index every significant page of our website. Some pages do not have internal links pointing to them, making them less accessible to search engines. An XML sitemap is an overview of a website’s pages, which ensures that Google can find them.
A sitemap can also contain additional information about each URL, such as when the page was last updated, how often it changes, how important that page is compared to other pages on the site, and more. This information allows search engines to index the site more correctly. Consider using a sitemap because it will improve SEO and has no side effects. An XML sitemap is especially recommended if:
- we have pages on the website that are dynamically created (e.g., e-commerce pages);
- the website is not well structured or not well connected with internal links;
- the site has few external links or is new;
- the website is large and has a lot of archived content that may need to be better linked.
Adding our XML sitemap to Search Console helps Google find our sitemap quickly and allows us to check the sitemap for errors.
Page speed can be described as page load time (the time it takes for the content on a particular page to be fully displayed) or time to first byte (how long it takes your internet browser to receive the first byte of information from a web server).
Page speed is essential to the user experience of site visitors. Pages with longer load times have higher bounce rates and lower average time on page. Longer load times also negatively affect conversions.
Google has identified speed as one of the important criteria followed by its page ranking algorithm. Presumably, Google measures time-to-first-byte particularly closely when considering page speed. In addition, if pages load slowly, that means that search engines can search fewer pages in the time allotted for indexing, negatively affecting the indexing of slow sites.
A handy tool for evaluating our page speed is Google’s PageSpeed Insights, which analyzes the content of a web page and then generates suggestions for speeding up that page. Some of the ways to increase page speed are:
Photos often have the largest share of the size of your website. Optimizing images and graphics is the most important and simplest thing we can do to improve page load speed. Photos must be optimized so that they are no larger than necessary for display, are in the correct file format, and are compressed for the web.
There are numerous tools for optimizing the size of photos, and one of the easily available and very effective is TinyPNG.
Deleting unnecessary plugins
Many plugins are available to help us improve elements of our website, mainly if we use WordPress. However, every plugin we add to our site consumes resources and thus delays response and increases page load time. Some extras are necessary, but many of them we can leave out.
More redirects create more HTTP requests and increase load times. We should check for broken links and fix them immediately. We don’t even need to introduce unnecessary redirects.
Caching is a function that allows users to store copies of elements of individual pages of our site in their Internet browsers. When users return, browsers use their cache instead of reloading all page elements.
Improving server response time
Our server response time is affected by the amount of traffic we receive, the resources each page uses, the software the server uses, and the hosting solution we choose. To improve server response time, we should look for bottlenecks, such as slow databases, slow routing, or lack of adequate memory, and fix them. The optimal server response time is below 200ms.
Responsive design uses fluid grids, flexible images, and CSS media queries to make the content of the page load properly on any device: smartphone, tablet, or computer. This design allows the web page to adjust to the screen size, orientation, resolution, and operating system in real-time. Responsive design is a recommended Google design pattern!
Mobile friendly – friendly for mobile devices
We don’t just mean speed and responsive design when we talk about mobile-friendly websites. We also discuss how the site looks and functions on any mobile device. The website should be both sized and code-friendly for an easy interaction on mobile devices so that:
- that the text is easy to read – the font size and type are adapted to mobile devices,
- buttons and links are large enough to be touched with a finger,
- the overall user experience is pleasant
The majority of users visit our site via mobile devices. We can check how friendly our site is to mobile devices and their users with the Google Mobile-Friendly test.
Security of users on the site
A technically optimized site is a secure site. Today, the basic security requirement on the Internet is to ensure the privacy of users interacting with our site. The HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) protocol provides that content sent and received via this protocol is private and secure. To implement the HTTPS protocol, we need a so-called SSL certificate. SSL (Secure Socketed Layer) is a security technology for establishing an encrypted connection with the server.
In addition to user security, we use an SSL certificate because Google ranks sites with SSL and uses HTTPS better in search results. On the other hand, as internet browsers mark websites with no valid SSL certificate as insecure, traffic to such sites drops drastically. Since most hosting packages include a free SSL certificate, the question is no longer whether to install it but what level of security to provide for our website users.
Therefore, SEO, i.e., website content optimization for internet search engines, is not limited to short-term activities with which we want to improve the ranking in the search results quickly. On the contrary, SEO is a constant process by which we constantly improve the site in terms of all parameters – technical and content, so that it better meets the growing demands of the users for which it was created. Only a well-optimized site is accessible and attractive to visitors, and only a visited site achieves the results.