For the uninitiated, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) might sound a little sleazy. If you need to use special techniques to help your site appear at the top of Google search results, doesn’t that mean that — in some weird way — you’re cheating?
Not in the slightest.
At the end of the day, Google needs to consider a variety of factors in order to help internet users find the most relevant websites for their search queries. Don’t think of SEO as a cheat code, think of it as a search engine aid. After all, when you’re typing things like “what in the world is SEO” into your Google search bar, articles that tell you just that are exactly what you want to find, right?
Putting up great blog content is just the beginning of your SEO journey. Here are five no-brainer tips to help you optimize your site, even if you’re an SEO beginner.
Find and Use Relevant Keywords
Users frequently type the same phrases into Google when they’re looking for something. Things like “how to make risotto” and “is my dog acting normal?” If all is well in the Googleverse, typing in these search prompts will result in pertinent responses to their queries, like a recipe for risotto or a pet therapist’s site.
Humans, as a species, are not all that different from one another. We tend to type the same kinds of search prompts again and again.
You can identify popular search terms and phrasing using Google Keyword Planner. What Google Keyword Planner does is take people’s search prompts and assign value to each of them.
Simply log in with your Google account and select “Search for new keywords using a phrase, website, or category.” Type something in — say, “risotto recipes” — and a variety of related phrases that Google users tend to search for will pop up. These phrases are called “keywords,” and they are the heart of your blog.
You can use this tool to determine which keywords make high-traffic blog topics. If your blog is about interior decorating, you might find through the keyword planner that “mid-century modern furniture” is currently a hot search term. By incorporating this phrase into your blog — either as a topic or in an existing post about modern furniture — you’re more likely to attract searchers who are Googling this very topic.
Use H1 Title Tags Sparingly
In HTML, H1 stands for Heading One, the largest and most prominent heading on a page. The H1 is one of the first things search engines see after the title of your page. That makes it an incredibly powerful page element.
According to SEO software company Moz’s bi-yearly survey on search engine ranking factors, the titles on your page are one of the nine most important considerations a search engine makes.
It’s easy to add multiple H1 headings to a page, by simply surrounding text with <h1></h1> tags. But doing so can confuse search engines, who will prioritize an H1 heading if there is only one, but treat them as less relevant content if they’re used a lot.
Use an H1 for the biggest heading on your page, and H2 or H3 headings for subheads or section heads.
As for what should be in that H1 title? Something relevant to searchers. You know, like a keyword.
Curious about best practices for jazzing up your site? Here are the dos and don’ts of web design.
Get Yourself Some Non-Spammy Backlinks
Backlinks get a bad rap because overzealous marketers have abused them over the years. But they’re not a dirty word — literally, a backlink is an incoming hyperlink from one web page to another website.
The reason they’re sometimes misunderstood is because there’s a whole Internet underbelly of so-called SEO companies that you can pay to link to your site on their networks of low-quality articles. Don’t do it! This is a move that’s sure to get you on Google’s bad side.
How do you get the good kind of backlinks, though?
Stick to organic linking, not the paid kind. If you provide a service, encourage customers to write reviews on other sites. If you’re a blogger, ask another blogger if you can write a guest post for them and link back to your site in the post or work with micro-influencers. If you use WordPress comments, makes sure your comment username links to your blog.
Overall, backlinks are the number one way Google decides which sites are authorities and ranks them accordingly. After all, if other sites are linking to yours, Google should be, too! If you write good content and participate in online communities, you can develop a healthy ecosystem of backlinks over time.
Get with the Times (New Roman). Your website’s typography can actually make or break your conversion rate!
Create a Sitemap and Tell Google About It
A sitemap is a very basic list of pages accessible to search engine “crawlers” — programs that search the web for relevant search results — and users. Sitemaps are usually written in XML, a metalanguage that crawlers can understand and transmit to search engines.
You don’t need to know any XML to write your own sitemap. You can copy Google’s example or use a variety of free, third-party tools to generate one. Or, if you’re running a WordPress site, simply install the Google XML Sitemaps plugin.
The plugin will automatically notify Google (and dozens of other search engines, for that matter) of this new crawler-friendly way for it to browse your site’s content, as will some of the third-party tools. Otherwise, you need to tell Google about it yourself. The Google Search Console Sitemaps tool will walk you through the quick process.
Above All, Write Content for Humans
You can come up with a lot of ways to catch a search engine’s attention. But setting up your blog or website to appeal to robots ignores why search engines exist in the first place — to help people.
Google and other search engines keep their algorithms mainly secret, both because they don’t want us to be able to exploit their weaknesses, and because they are constantly changing. A search engine’s goal is to match people with the content most relevant to what they’re looking for. That means any short-lived solution for “gaming” a search engine isn’t going to last long.
On the other hand, content that people find helpful is going to have a long shelf life. People will return to the same helpful tutorial or recipe, the same funny list or video, over and over. If they really like something, they’ll link it on their own site or Facebook or email it to friends. And as this content gets linked more and more, search engines will take notice and rank it highly.
So don’t make robots your primary audience. Make your website a place where humans like to land, too.
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