Your buyers are looking for you on the Web, but are they finding your business? A properly optimized site gives you the best chance at connecting with these buyers, yet many small business owners aren’t confident their site would make the cut. Luckily, SEO doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with these 10 basics and you’ll be well on your way to maximizing your business’s organic search traffic.
1. Have a Tool
One of the factors that can make SEO seem overwhelming is that there’s so much information to track. Take every page of your website, all future pages that you’d like to build, and multiply by at least 5, and that’s a conservative estimate of how many optimized items you’ll need to monitor over time.
Many organizations manage their SEO using only Excel, but one way to keep it simple is to look beyond the spreadsheet. Yoast, for example, is a wonderful plugin that works on Drupal and WordPress platforms. It automatically checks each page against a specified keyword to make sure you’ve optimized everything correctly for that particular phrase. Yoast will also helpfully check to see if you’re optimizing multiple pages for the same keyword, creating potential ranking conflicts.
2. Have a Process
Unfortunately, optimizing your website isn’t a once-and-done deal. It’s an on-going practice, so consider how you’re going to make it part of your process.
You’ll want to look at your current process for optimizing new pages or posts. Who will take on the duty of researching and assigning keywords to new pages? Who will make sure they’re optimized? Who will regularly check the site to make sure there aren’t any errors or non-optimized pages that slipped through the cracks?
One method is to do very thorough keyword research and compile a list of 25-50 long-tail keywords you’d eventually like to rank for, then drawing from this list for all future pages and posts. A tool like Moz can help you track your rankings, site errors, backlinks, mentions, and more at a very reasonable price point.
After six months, update the list. By that point you’ll also have an idea of how hard or easy it is to rank for certain types of terms.
3. Create and Submit an XML Sitemap
For Google to read your site and make sure it’s mapping all of the pages correctly, you should submit an XML sitemap. If you’re using WordPress, there are plugins that will do this for you; just search XML sitemap in the WordPress Plugin Directory. If not, sign up for a Google Webmaster account, then use a free tool to create your sitemap. Once you have the sitemap file, add it to the domain root or robots.txt file of your website, then submit the URL of the file to Google within Webmaster Tools.
4. Image Size and Site Speed
Site speed is an oft-overlooked aspect of SEO. As researched by Kissmetrics, every second counts – slower site load times lead to an increase in page abandonment, and 79% of those who abandon due to slow load time are unlikely to give your site a second chance. Also, the Google Webmaster Guidelines list a short load time as a best practice.
So how do you speed up your site? One of the easiest ways to do this is to make sure your image file sizes are as small as possible. Resize images prior to uploading them to your site rather than changing their dimensions on your site after the fact. For example, if you need a 700×200 pixel header image, don’t upload a 1400×400 pixel image – resize it first, then upload.
Another method is to install an image compression plugin. There are many to choose from, so check out this list and choose the one that matches your goals and the file formats you use most often.
If you’re site isn’t already responsive, find a way to make it responsive as soon as possible. The search engine provider’s goal is always to create the best possible user experience for their searchers, which is why sites that aren’t mobile-friendly have been docked so heavily. Nobody wants to zoom in and swipe around anymore – we expect an experience customized for our devices.
You can find responsive themes for just about every well-known CMS. With a little bit of patience, you can install one of these themes, which will take care of making every single page, post, and image mobile-friendly.
One of the strengths of the Yoast plugin is that it allows you to determine the meta-title and meta-description. The meta-title and description are the title and description you see when Google returns a search result to you. For example:
The first search result has both ‘small business’ and ‘drip marketing’ visible, while the second title is cut off. To ensure that your title displays properly, keep your meta-titles under 55 characters. Make sure it includes your keyword or the entire keyword phrase for which you’re trying to rank.
In the example above, the second meta-description is jumbled and difficult to comprehend. With the first description, you know exactly what you’re getting (5 tips) and why drip marketing is valuable. Both descriptions are cut off.
The optimal length for a meta-description is 155 characters. Make sure it includes your keyword, and is written in a compelling way to make sure people want to click on it.
Headers are like an outline or hierarchy that show Google the most important topics on each page. For this reason, use your keyword in the title and at least one sub-header (H2) within your copy.
It’s worth knowing whether or not your theme automatically marks the title of your page or post as an H1 header. Most themes do, and so just by putting your keyword in the title of your page, you’ve put the title within an H1 header. It’s critical to know, as each page should have only a single H1 header. This means that if your theme DOES mark the title as an H1, you should not place any H1 headers within your page.
9. Keyword Density
In your body copy, you’d ideally use your keyword enough times that the search engine can clearly tell ‘hey – this is the core theme of this page’ without alienating human readers. An ideal keyword density to aim for is 0.8-1% of total copy, or about 2-3 times for every 300 words. The Yoast plugin mentioned above will calculate this for you automatically.
10. Image Alt Tags
In addition to making sure images are compressed for rapid load times, they should also have an alt tag. The alt tag should be descriptive, in case the image doesn’t load, or in case your visitor is visually impaired and using a screen reader. For this reason, alt tags should be written as a short sentence (less than 8 words) containing your keyword. For example, if your image is of a girl wearing a white hat, and your keyword is white summer hat, you could write something like, “white summer hat worn by young girl.”
We hope this article has provided clarity around how to optimize your site. Let us know how you approach SEO, and the results you’ve seen on your organic site traffic, below in the comments!