Home / Insights / June 6, 2018

Our Ultimate Guide to SEO, Improve Your Site Today

Created by jack

SEO and Marketing are essential for small businesses and startups. You can build the best product or service in the world, but nobody will buy it if they aren’t aware of its existence. In this post, we promise to teach you how to improve your marketing with tips you can apply today.

We’ve found that most business owners are aware of the importance of marketing, but aren’t sure what they can do to improve their marketing organically and to increase sales for their business.

One question we often hear is “How do I rank first on google?”

If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, then you are at the right place.

Ranking high on search engines is essential for business. With a recent study, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine, and 47% of people click on one of the first three listings.

We aren’t looking to sell you a magical dream solution, as that doesn’t exist. Instead in this article, we will describe organic methods and answers to common pitfalls that your business may be in danger of.

The tips you read in this article aren’t plucked out of the sky, they are straight from the horse’s mouth, with resources to further reading by Google, and other reputable SEO resources.

What is SEO?

SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the term used to describe the improvement of your website’s rank on search result websites (Google, Bing, Yahoo).

Google logo, Bing logo and Yahoo logo

The increase in performance of your site is often a result of quality content, structured in the most efficient way possible, with the correct keywords and relevant recommendations from other sites.

This guide will give you quick instructions to improve your SEO if your site has been developed with SEO efficient frameworks and plugins.

Let’s get started.

Page titles

Page titles are used by search engines to determine the relevancy of your page, comparing the content of the page with the title of your page.

It is critical that your site has page titles set.

Titles help describe the content of a page and are usually the first point of contact a customer has to the contents of your web page.

Say for example your page title is “Top ten reasons why blog posts improve sales”, the content of your page will be compared to the page title. Inherently in this situation, your content should contain keywords surrounding the topic of blog posts, sales and growth.

You can view a preview of how your title will look in Google using the Moz title tool.

Set page titles

So we know what page titles are, but how do we set them, and what should they be?

When creating a page, you will want to settle on a keyword or phrase that encapsulates the core subject of the page.

Once you have decided on a keyword or phrase, you’ll want to include it in toward the front of the page title.

If we reevaluate our original title of “Top ten reasons why blog posts improve sales“, we can identify the strong keywords.

  • Blog
  • Posts
  • Improve
  • Sales

However, our current page title includes the strong keywords at the end of the title.

A better-revised title would be “Improve sales, ten reasons blog posts can help your business”. Here is a more descriptive title, as it positions the strong keywords at the start of the title.

“Page titles should be descriptive and concise. Avoid vague descriptors like “Home” for your home page, or “Profile” for a specific person’s profile. Also avoid unnecessarily long or verbose titles, which are likely to get truncated when they show up in the search results.” – Google

Tools for setting titles

Page titles are usually created using a plugin for your website. If you are using WordPress, we highly recommend the use of the tool ‘Yoast SEO‘. We will reference ‘Yoast SEO’ in the next few sections of this guide.

A screenshot of Yoast SEO configuration for a post in WordPress

The Yoast SEO plugin is specific to WordPress, alternative systems such as Joomla and alike should have plugins similar which provide metadata configuration.

Yoast SEO will generate your page title based on the title you’ve given your page. However, you can go to the page editor and manually update the title with a custom one of your choice.

Use optimal length titles

We often find that a title somewhere between 60 – 100 characters work best for a page title. As long as your snippet preview doesn’t end with ... then you should be fine.

Use unique titles

Avoid repeated or boilerplate titles. It’s important to have distinct, descriptive titles for each page on your site.

Titling every page on a commerce site “Cheap products for sale”, for example, makes it impossible for users to distinguish one page differs from another.

Long titles that vary by only a single piece of information (“boilerplate” titles) are also bad; for example, a standardised title like “NoFace – Blog posts, work, contact, about us” contains a lot of uninformative text. – Google

However, branding links aren’t harmful. consider including just your site name at the beginning or end of each page title, separated from the rest of the title with a delimiter such as a hyphen, colon, or pipe.

If you hover over the current tab of your browser, you’ll see the title of this page followed by ● NoFace. That is the same for all of our pages.

A photograph of a man writing in a notepad

Page descriptions

Page descriptions are displayed in search results and when pages are shared on social media so good descriptions can help improve click-through rates.

Preview of what Yoast SEO will generate on Google search page results

Above is a screenshot of what the NoFace homepage looks like on Google. You can see that the meta description for the page is `Building your bespoke brand through website developments and graphics solutions.`

Set page descriptions

Every page on your website should hold a description that sums up its contents.

Keep it clear, short and concise as to what content the user should expect. Also be sure to include your keyword or phrase that you picked out for your title, consistency is vital.

We utilise the WordPress Yoast SEO plugin for this functionality. It allows you to preview how the description you’ve set for the page will appear on Google, similar to the title preview.

Description field for Yoast SEO plugin

To set the description for the page with Yoast, head over to the snippet preview on your page editor and click the ‘edit snippet’ button. Now you can update the text to whatever you want.

Use optimal length descriptions

The meta description for your page is at most a 300 character snippet used to summarise a web page’s content.

As a good rule of thumb, we recommend somewhere between 100 – 300 characters.

Enough to introduce the user to the content, but not so much it becomes overwhelming.

Use unique descriptions

Identical or similar descriptions on every page of a site aren’t helpful when individual pages appear in the web results.

In these cases, Google is less likely to display the boilerplate text.

Wherever possible, create descriptions that accurately describe the specific page.

SEO screenshot of a website audit showing two descriptions for two pages that are identical and bad for SEO

Above is a bad example of setting different descriptions, as both pages share word for word the same description.

To avoid this, bespoke descriptions should be created for all pages.

Further reading on descriptions

Meta Description Magic: Think Less about SEO & More about Click-Throughs – https://blog.kissmetrics.com/meta-description-magic/

Moz: Meta Description – https://moz.com/learn/seo/meta-description

Photograph of a man typing on a laptop keyboard

Duplicate Content

Duplicate page content should be avoided as you will get less control over how your search results are displayed and how backlinks are consolidated.

Set canonical URLs

If you have a single page accessible by multiple URLs, or separate pages with similar content, Google sees these as duplicate versions of the same page.

Google will choose one URL as the canonical version and focus greater on the metadata and content for that URL.

If you don’t explicitly tell Google which URL is canonical, Google will choose for you or might consider them both of equal weight, which might lead to unwanted behaviour. – Google

Yoast SEO adds canonical URLs to most pages in your WordPress install.

Yoast does this automatically, and in 99.9% of cases, you don’t have to change anything about them.

Avoid duplicate page content

Every page should provide unique content that doesn’t appear elsewhere on the site.

Search engines will penalise or even entirely hide pages that are too similar.

Do not copy and paste content from one page to another to increase the size of the page. You should always try to write original content for each page.

One thing to note is that repeating elements of a site (Call to action, header navigation, footer) is not discouraged, search engines will focus on the core content of the site over the elements.

A photograph of a woman writing in a notepad

Page content

Pages should include valuable, relevant, unique and high-quality content that serves well on mobile devices, as well as desktops.

Avoid thin content pages

Pages should contain at minimum 300 words per page.

Producing compelling and valuable content will likely change your website’s SEO performance more than any other tips you read.

Your audience is looking for content on a subject, hence them searching in the first place. Providing content-rich pages will encourage users to read through the page and explore other pages on your site, as well as promoting your content to their network through social media and direct messages.

Set image ALT text

Every image included in a page’s content will often have ALT fields available. These fields benefit your business and create more accessible content for your users.

The primary purpose of ALT tags is to describe images to those who are unable to view or load the image itself. Consider how screen-readers and similar tools process your page, by adhering to these standards will allow those who are using the tools to observe and understand your content.

The secondary purpose of ALT tags is to improve how search engines engage with your content. Describing an image to the page will allow search engines to understand the content on the page clearly.

SEO guide on how to add ALT text to an image in WordPress

If you are using WordPress, you can insert ALT tags using your media picker.

Set mobile scaling

By default, mobile browsers will display your web pages at the screen width of a desktop. The scaling often irritates your users as they will have to manually configure their device to be at the correct zoom level for their device.

Fortunately, there is a viewport meta value that takes minutes to implement by a website developer which will auto-set the zoom level for mobile devices.

Setting this viewport value ensures that Google recognises your website is mobile friendly and will increase your chance of ranking higher.

Avoid plugins

Google will often use the HTML content of a page to judge whether or not the page’s content is relevant and is high quality for the search term that it ranks for.

To improve SEO, it is recommended that the build of a site does not include plugins such as Adobe Flash, Java, ActiveX and Silverlight.

These plugins are often thought of as outdated web technologies and Google will tend to ignore any content generated using these plugins.

Photograph of two women browsing a computer screen

URL names

A site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible.

Each page should have a well-written URL that is short, accurate and friendly for humans to read.

Use short URLs

It is recommended that URLs contain 100 characters at most.

Short URLs are easier to read and remember for users.

Notice that the URL for this page is ‘ultimate-guide-seo’.

The URL slug has been manually set instead of the auto-generated ‘our-ultimate-guide-to-seo-improve-your-site-today’.

Short URLs are more appealing to users in search results, are straightforward to remember and are easier to type without causing errors.

Avoid underscores in URLs

Words in URLs should be separated by hyphens and not underscores.

Google suggests this strategy for making URLs more human-friendly.

Avoid URL extensions

Avoid appending additional extensions at the end of URLs.

Familiar extensions that appear at the end of URLs are .htm, .html, .shtml, .php, .jsp and .asp.

Extensions are normally associated with what technology is being utilised to serve the page.

Remove URL parameters

Some URL structures include URL parameters.

These often include a query such as ?musicSearch=Pop, instead sites should follow a structure of /music/pop to categorize pages.

Avoid symbols in URLs

URLs should only include letters, digits, slashes and hyphens.

Avoid special characters like %, $, %20%.

Use lowercase URLs

Words that are normally written with uppercase letters should be written in lowercase and you should use hyphens over trying to separate words with capitals.

e.g. /UltimateSEOGuide should be /ultimate-seo-guide

Avoid deeply nested URLs

Google prefers simple URL structures that minimise the number of subfolders used.

Deeply nested URLs such as example.com/community/forum/music/all/ are hard to read.

Instead, structure it as example.com/forum/music/

Photograph of PHP code on a laptop IDE

Code validation

Google has officially come out and said that code validation does matter to your SEO score.

If your developer has done an excellent job, you shouldn’t have many, if any code validation issues.

However, it is sometimes the case that code hasn’t been validated and therefore quality checks have been missed.

Validate your HTML

Your web pages should not include HTML validation errors.

Invalid HTML can cause difficulties to your users as elements of the page may not display correctly.

You may validate your web page with the W3C markup validator – https://validator.w3.org/

Use valid CSS

Again, invalid CSS will likely affect how content is shown to your users.

CSS is what controls the fonts, colours and general layout of a page, any errors in the CSS may break your site for users and look unprofessional.

You may validate your website’s CSS with the W3C markup validator – https://jigsaw.w3.org/css-validator/

Use valid JavaScript

The final language you can validate for is JavaScript.

JavaScript adds functionality to a web page, so that users may interact with features and components.

If JavaScript doesn’t handle errors well or isn’t correctly developed, then it can cause some issues for your site.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any sites you can paste a URL into to verify your JavaScript.

However, if you do have access to the JavaScript code, you can copy and paste it into a code validator tool such as – http://esprima.org/demo/validate.html

Photograph of a boat chain to represent a link

Links are the roads to a city. Without them, users wouldn’t be able to navigate through your site or find content that they are searching for.

When a URL is requested that doesn’t exist, return a 404 HTTP status code, so Google knows the link is broken.

Returning a 404 will let Google know not to crawl the page and continue searching your site for content.

A 404 page is an error page. It is what a user will be met with when they try to reach a non-existent page on your site. You can rely on your server to return a standard 404 page, but it might not be attractive, and won’t be branded with your website.

A screenshot of a custom 404 page that NoFace uses to encourage SEO

A custom 404 page can be branded with your site and provide helpful information. We’ve chosen to include a link to our homepage and a link to the three latest case studies.

All internal links within your website should be tested and working.

Be sure to go through your site frequently (once a month) and test that all of your links are working.

Similarly to internal links, any links to external content and sites should frequently be tested.

External links breaking are more common than internal links.

The reason they break more frequently is that you do not have control or ownership over that content.

A site may shut down, or temporarily break due to unforeseen circumstances, ensure you are linking to reliable sites.

Links to page sources such as images, CSS and JavaScript should all be working.

We recommend hosting images on your site if referencing them, to give your site more reliability on uptime for the picture.

CSS and JavaScript should be hosted internally, make sure the correct path is specified.

Photograph of a star wars character robot on green grass

Robots.txt

Use robots.txt files

robots.txt files are small files that give Google clear instructions on what pages to add to their search pages.

Our robots.txt file contains information on what areas of the site Google should ignore, where it can find sitemaps and more.

Set sitemap locations

robot.txt files generated by Yoast SEO do not contain sitemap locations by default.

First off ensure you have a sitemap file by heading to http://yoursite.co.uk/sitemap_index.xml

You can then append your sitemap location using Yoast by heading over to Yoast SEO -> Tools -> File editor.

Simply add Sitemap: http://yoursite.co.uk/sitemap_index.xml to the robots.txt file and you’re good to go.

Photograph of a hand holding a compass, with the compass pointing north west

Redirects

Redirects often occur when an administrator has updated the slug of a page.

If you are using Yoast SEO for your site, redirects are automatically applied when you update your URL slug.

Avoid temporary redirects

Google prefers the use of permanent redirects (301) over temporary redirects (302 or 307).

If you or any administrator of your site has set up redirects, ensure they are 301 for pages that have moved permanently.

Avoid meta redirects

Meta redirects are implemented using a specific kind of HTML code tag.

Ensure that any redirects are made by the server your site is on and not HTML.

Photograph of a lamp post, with a sign reading the words "Good news is coming"

Summary and Conclusion

Now that was a lot to take in.

I’m impressed that you’ve made it to the end of this guide!

Hopefully, you will feel more confident with SEO and how your website can be improved.

We’ve covered many actionable topics that you can apply to your website today.

Let us know how you get on and leave a comment on this page with feedback on any areas that you would like further assistance with or a more in-depth explanation, and we will do our best to help.