If you’re intimidated by SEO, you’re not alone. Simply put, SEO is the practice of using technical and creative elements to make sure search engines can understand your website, with the ultimate goal of improving rankings and driving more traffic.
It may sound easy, but it’s not—and it changes often. There are hundreds of factors involved in Google’s algorithm, but to keep things simple, these are the four most important ranking factors:
- Technical Errors
- Website Speed (especially for mobile devices)
- Content and Keywords (including on-page SEO factors)
- High-Quality Backlinks
In this post, you’ll learn how to approach the four ranking factors mentioned above to make improvements that can boost your SEO rankings.
1. Check for technical errors
Technical errors can include issues with your site’s content, usability, and even security. The issues can range in severity and complexity, but here are a few of the most common technical errors we see and how you can fix them.
No original title tags and meta descriptions. Google uses title tags to help decipher what your page is about, so missing this crucial bit of information can negatively affect your rankings. We’ll talk more about how to fix title tags and meta descriptions in the on-site SEO section of this post.
Pages are returning 404 errors. If many of your pages are returning 404 errors from broken backlinks, you can set up 301 redirects to fix the issue. This redirect will point visitors to a functional page when they click the broken URL. This is a common issue with sites that recently migrated to a new URL.
Some pages aren’t being indexed. Your website can’t rank if Google can’t crawl it. To see if all pages on your site are being indexed, you can simply type your site name into Google to see which pages have been crawled.
If you find that many pages aren’t indexed, you can:
- Make sure your robots.txt file is set to allow Google to crawl the site
- Check to see if your developer removed NOINDEX from the code when the site went live
- Write and submit an XML sitemap to Google. This will also improve your internal linking structure, making it easier for Google to crawl and understand your website
The website has duplicate content. If many pages of your website have the same (or very similar) copy, you could be getting dinged for duplicate content. To fix this, you can use rel=canonical tags to tell Google to essentially treat multiple URLs as one.
Expired SSL certificate, or no SSL certificate. Google doesn’t want to send visitors to a non-secure domain, so it’s crucial that your website has an up-to-date SSL certificate. Migrating from http to https is equivalent with a URL change, so you’ll need to make sure you have 301 redirects set up.
2. Test your website speed
Website speed has become increasingly important in how Google ranks your website, especially for mobile devices. You can test your website speed by using Think With Google. This tool will give you average load speed on a 3G connection, along with estimated visitor loss due to load time.
You can also get a free report that includes fixes you can implement to reduce load time. Again, some of the more advanced fixes may require the help of a developer, but there are plenty you can do on your own, like compressing images.
3. Improve use of keywords and on-site SEO elements
Content is incredibly important for SEO because it appeals to both search engines and humans. To see which keywords you’re ranking for, just create an SEMRush account and type in your URL. You’ll receive website traffic estimates, a backlink report, and a list of all keywords you rank for. SEMRush is a paid tool, but you can use it free for a limited number of requests.
Using this information, you can begin to formulate a content strategy. Are you ranking for the words and phrases that you think best describe your business? Or for the words your customers are using in search? If you’re surprised to find that you’re not ranking for many keywords, or not ranking for the ones that you think matter for your business, you can create user- and search engine-friendly content centered around those keywords. Blog posts are a great way to incorporate more keyword-centric copy into your website without having to add pages or alter your navigation.
If you’re not sure which keywords and search phrases visitors/potential customers are using, you can use Google’s Keyword Planner to get a better idea of what people are searching for. You can also simply type a search phrase into Google and scroll to the bottom of the search engine results page (SERP) to see related searches. You won’t be able to see search volume, but these related searches are a great way to see the what content you should create based on what people search for.
You can also improve the following on-site SEO elements to help boost rankings:
- Title tags are the blue page titles that appear on SERPs just above the URL. These should be descriptive and incorporate keywords.
- Meta descriptions are the descriptive copy just below the title tags and URL. These should provide more information to help encourage visitors to click.
- The URL structure should be simple and straightforward, mimic your website’s navigation, and include keywords if possible.
- Alt image tags describe the photos on a page, and should include keywords if possible.
Check your backlink profile and plan a backlinking strategy
Google looks to backlinks as signals that your website provides quality information about a certain topic. If a lot of reputable websites genuinely mention and link to your website as the authority on a topic, Google will take notice of this and it will show in your rankings.
You can use the backlink report in SEMRush to see how many backlinks you have and where they’re coming from. The report provides a lot of detail, but we recommend starting by checking out the list of backlinks. On this report you’ll see the source (who’s linked to you), target URL (what page they linked to), and the anchor text (what word or phrase they hyperlinked).
To leverage backlinks as a means to improve SEO, create useful and targeted content that’s shareworthy, then publish it either on your own website so others can link to it, or promote it (with relevant anchor text) to other website owners. Keep in mind that more is not better here. If you go this route, focus on creating quality content and securing a few quality backlinks a month over farming out hundreds of low-quality backlinks. You can also approach link building as digital PR and focus on building relationships online instead of just placing links.
Once you’ve implemented these strategies, you can track changes either by checking growth in organic search traffic in Google Analytics, or by checking your website URL on SEMRush on a regular basis.
Have questions about the tactics we’ve recommended here? We’re happy to help. Just drop us a line or leave a comment!