There are many reasons to create a website. Maybe you built an amazing product that you’re ready to sell online. Maybe you’ve written your magnum opus, a personal essay that will certainly win the Pulitzer once it’s uploaded to the internet. Maybe you just want to share your hobbies with the world. Unfortunately, none of that matters if no one visits your website.
If you want people to discover your website, search engine optimization (SEO) is a must. SEO is a blanket term for the processes that webmasters use to boost their sites’ chances of ranking well in search engines, such as Bing and Google. Whether your site is running on a shared, VPS, or dedicated server, you should leverage SEO so that your site (hopefully!) appears on the first results page after someone keys a term into a search engine. The following SEO tips won’t guarantee superb results placement, but they’re essential for helping search engines—and people, by extension—find your site.
Build a Well-Designed Website
If your site is new, large, or contains many multimedia files, considering creating a sitemap. That’s a file that provides search engines with the information they need to swiftly crawl and index site pages, video, and audio. Google has a useful sitemap generator. Bing does, too. In fact, your website must contain a sitemap in order to appear in Google News.
In addition, your website should encourage visitors to explore and share your content. Selling products? Your homepage should spotlight at least a few optimized product images (more on that later). Running a blog? Link to your latest posts and marquee essays. These actions appeal not only to visitors, but search engines, too. It shows them what you consider important.
On the backend, your website’s title field should distill the entire site down to its name and relevant keywords, as that’s what appears in search results. So, carefully choose your site’s name and keywords to attract people and spiders. We’ll show you how to do that in just a bit.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of an attractive website. If your site looks like an old GeoCities page, people will leave, never return, and search for a more professional-looking competitor. That’s lost visitors, valuable external links, social media buzz, and revenue. Our recommended website builders give you the tools to quickly build an attractive, functional website.
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Focus on a Specific Topic
Search engines want to point people toward the most authoritative and correct results. So, if you’re an expert in a particular topic that you wish to explore, your website’s content should reflect that. Want to share your recipes with the world? Then food should be your site’s focus. Don’t blend pancake content with, say, metalworking. After all, it’s unlikely that your website is a massive multinational corporation or a large news organization that needs to be all things to all people.
Specificity is also key. If you’re a fisherman with an excellent perspective on fly fishing, as opposed to deep-sea angling, that’s what your website should be about. Lean into what you bring to the table; it’ll help your web presence.
Pick Relevant Keywords
A focused topic makes it simple to pick your site’s keywords. What are keywords? They’re the main words that lead people to your site. To properly use keywords, you take your website’s various elements—articles, images, videos, podcasts—and summarize them in SEO-friendly terms. You’ll also want keywords in your site’s URL, header tags, meta descriptions, and alt attributes. Simply access your website’s backend and place the terms in the keyword fields (if you’re using a website builder) or edit code (if you prefer entering a web hosting service‘s backend and tinkering with HTML).
You should optimize keywords to match people’s searches. If your website sells hand-knitted scarves, then “scarf” and “knitting” should be your keywords. As you probably guessed, those same keywords will pull up other sites when someone performs a search. As a result, you should back up standard keywords with long-tail keywords, which are more specific searches.
Using our earlier example, a relevant, long-tail keyword would be “best hand-knitted Pokemon scarves.” That’s a particularly specific search that you can leverage to make your site stand out from the pack. Google has a tool, Keyword Planner, that helps you find potent keywords. Don’t get too obscure, though; you don’t want to use keywords that few people key into search engines.
Create Quality Content on a Consistent Basis
Content quality factors into SEO, too. For example, a blog about car engines needs to answer questions or illuminate niche topics. Rather than rambling on about engines, it’s best to go in-depth with information-packed articles, such as “The 5 Fundamentals of Transmission Repair” or “Things You Might Not Know About Carburetor Cleaning.”
Search engines prioritize websites with fresh, changing content. You don’t want to copy and paste content from another site. In fact, search engines will penalize your site for that. Focus on high-quality, original material.
In addition, you need to update your website consistently, whether that’s in the form of new articles, art, or products. Visitors want a reason to return to your site or share your content to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other social media networks. Search engine spiders are eager to check out fresh content, too.
Establishing off-site links is necessary for building valuable authority. Search engines look for links to your site from other trusted sites, which include those aforementioned social media networks or other highly trafficked websites. If your site offers focused, quality content that results in a link from The New York Times, search engines will see your site as noteworthy and boost its rank.
You can’t make this happen artificially, though. Know your stuff, put that knowledge front and center, present it clearly, and update your website on a regular basis. Assuming it’s information that people crave, your site will eventually gain SEO traction.
Create Attractive Page Titles and Headlines
A page title and headline are similar, but distinct, ways to name the same website page. The former is a keyword-centric title designed to appease the search engine gods, while the latter is designed to please people who click through to the page.
For example, “2021 Honda Civic Review” is a tight, SEO-friendly page title that only appears in search results. After all, page titles are written for Bing and Google love. “10 Reasons Why the 2021 Civic Is Honda’s Best Car” is a great, on-page headline that encourages shares and returning readers. That’s good SEO, too. Of course, pages and headlines can have the same titles. Experiment to see which method works best.
As a precaution, make sure your page title and headline accurately describes what’s on the page. Don’t name a page “2021 Honda Civic Review” if the content doesn’t reflect that. That’s lying to the reader, which Google and other search engines frown upon. You’ll lose trust, authority, and SEO rank.
Optimize Your Images
On the web, images are the way we color inside the lines; bright, clean images make a website inviting. Beyond that, images highlight the product or services that you want to sell, and break up large text blocks to keep readers engaged. Images are important, so you should take time to optimize them.
The first step in optimizing your images for the web is to shrink them down to a manageable size. You should keep each image under a megabyte in size; even smaller if your have an image-heavy page. Resizing images to a maximum 1920 by 1080-pixel resolution and using the JPG or WEBP formats will help your pages quickly load. Search engines do not like slow-loading sites.
Make sure that your images have proper Alt attributes, too. Google, for example, can’t actually see the images that you upload to your site, but Alt attributes help the search giant categorize your photos. Alt attributes should be a description of the image, but not too long. Aim for around 125 characters, maximum.
Content management systems (think WordPress) typically have Alt fields, so you can easily type in an image keyword. If you prefer to edit HTML, the alt attributes work like this:
<img src=”https://www.pcmag.com/how-to/cool_dude.jpg” alt=”Man typing an article” width=”1920″ height=”1080″>
Get into the habit of adding this clarifying text to all of your website images.
Reduce Your Website’s Load Time
According to Google’s market research, 53 percent of mobile audiences leave a site if it takes more than three seconds to load. Their time is valuable, so don’t encourage them to bounce with a slow-as-molasses website.
You can analyze your site’s speed with Google PageSpeed Insights, Google’s Test My Site, or Pingdom. These tools offer detailed information on how you can best improve your website’s load time. This includes replacing images or scripts that might be taking a while to load.
If you’re using WordPress, you’ll want to remove any plug-ins that aren’t critical to your site. You should also check out WP-Rocket, a WordPress plug-in that caches pages for faster load times.
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A meta description, also known as a snippet, is a small paragraph within each of your page’s HTML code. Meta descriptions appear in search engine results beneath page titles, and explain a page’s purpose in a more in-depth fashion. It’s here that you can write longer descriptions (approximately 150 characters!) that wouldn’t fit in page titles. Warning: don’t throw all your keywords in there. That’s keyword stuffing, and search engines frown on that. Instead, write your meta description in simple language.
If you’re comfortable editing HTML, drop the meta description in each page’s “Head” section. Here’s an example.
<meta name=”description” content=”Free Web tutorials”>
<meta name=”author” content=”John Doe”>
Note the meta tags for description and keywords. They are the primary areas where you should focus your SEO efforts.
Many content management systems let you edit the meta descriptions without digging into the HTML. If you’re using WordPress, there are a number of different plug-ins, such as All in One SEO Pack or Yoast SEO, that let you add meta descriptions without dealing with code.
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Address Your URLs
Yes, you must apply SEO tactics to URLs, too. Search engines consider the keywords in your site’s URL just as much as they consider the keywords on a page.
Does your website use dynamic URLs, addresses that rely on numbered pages? If so, replace them with static URLs. Take this hypothetical blog post, for example: http://thebestsiteever.com/post/detail?id=27869. The number at the end of the URL represents that specific post, but it’s not at all descriptive.
To fix that, dip into your site’s backend and enable static URLs, so you can add important keywords to your site’s address. With static URLs, that same post about smart cars will appear as http://thebestsiteever.com/post/smart-cars. Search engines love this more informative URL structure. Remember, brevity is key, so don’t make the URL a keyword-packed sentence. Lastly, use hyphens to break up the words in the URL, instead of cramming them all together.
Master Internal Linking
Your site gains search-engine authority when other sites link to it, especially if those external pages are seen as trustworthy and popular. These are called backlinks, and the truth is that you don’t have much control over them. Put your best work forward, and hope they come your way.
On the other hand, you have full control over internal linking. You want to link related articles to drive visitors deeper into your site. Generally, you want to link to anchor text, the words that visitors click to move from one page to another. For example, if your site has a post about spark plugs, and you want to link to it from a post about engine maintenance, use the hypothetical “replace your spark plugs” anchor text for additional SEO juice.
Internal links should be natural and sparingly used. A paragraph that’s nothing but links isn’t very readable, so search engines will dismiss it. You should also make sure your links work. Broken links indicate that you’re ignoring proper site maintenance, so search engines will penalize your site. If you need help scanning your web site for broken links, visit Dead Link Checker.
These 10 SEO tips are just the tip of the search engine optimization iceberg, but they’re an excellent starting point. Ranking well in Bing, Google, and other search engines won’t happen overnight, so be patient as you apply these tips to your website. And return here often! We’ll update this page with more useful SEO tips on a regular basis.
For more on web hosting, check out How to Register a Domain Name for Your Website and The Best Courses for Learning How to Build Websites.