A step-by-step guide to making your website SEO-friendly
Covers the basics of how search engines work and how to make your website SEO-friendly.
On average, Google handles over 3.8 million searches every minute. That translates to over 5.6 billion searches every day. Is your website showing up among the search engine results? It wouldn’t unless it was properly optimized for SEO.
Search engine optimization is a household term in the digital marketing space, but the reality is that achieving an SEO-friendly website is no easy task. As of 2020, Google’s algorithm had over 200 ranking factors, each with its unique requirements.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. First, let’s cover the basics of how search engines work and then walk you through the step-by-step of how to make your website SEO-friendly.
What is an SEO-friendly website design?
It’s simply a web design that has been optimized to be accessible and indexable by search engines. SEO-friendly websites have fully implemented proven SEO techniques so search engine crawlers can easily find and access them on the web, and in so doing, rank them on search engine results pages (SERPs) based on the value they provide to online users.
From the definition above, you can see that it’s not just about optimizing for bots. An SEO-friendly website is also optimized to deliver a top-quality user experience and duly satisfy searcher intent. Let’s dig deeper into how search engines work, so you have an idea of how to optimize your website for them.
How do search engines rank websites?
The internet houses the world’s largest reservoir of information. When we need to bring up certain information, we use a search engine to search for it. As of 2007, there were over 140 search engines globally. But if you’re like most internet users, you probably only use one of the big three — Google, Yahoo, or Bing. With 0ver 92% market share in search engines, Google is the top dog, so we’ll base this guide around their search engine.
So how does Google’s search engine rank websites?
Well, the first thing you should know is that when you do a Google search, you’re not actually searching the entire internet. Instead, you’re searching the web pages that Google has indexed. There are several pages and resources on the internet that Google doesn’t index, and so when you search for them, you won’t find them on Google’s search results page. For instance, your email inbox isn’t indexed by Google, so no one can see your emails just by doing a Google search.
So if you think about it, the very first step in an SEO-friendly website design is indexing your website pages on Google. Only then can you start to focus on ranking on SERPs. So when you search for information on the web, Google returns with answers based on their relevance to the search query. Let’s say you searched for ‘AI-powered website designs,’ Google will return answers that are most relevant to the search terms.
Now for the ranking part, obviously, there are tons upon tons of web pages on the internet. The search engine must then figure out how to display the results in order of ‘relevance.’ Every search engine uses its own algorithms to rank websites based on a given set of criteria. But, of course, the actual ranking process is not public knowledge, else everyone would be doing it.
Instead, we have ranking factors and best practices to guide our SEO strategy. These ranking factors are the basis on which websites become SEO-friendly.
What’s the big deal with an SEO-friendly web design?
The main reason is that SEO-friendly websites receive more organic traffic than websites that didn’t bother to optimize for search engines. Organic traffic is the flow of visitors to your website following an organic search. Without website visitors, then what’s the point of having a website? SEO can also propel your website to achieve higher rankings in SERPs, improving its value and contributing in no small measure to your small business’s bottom line.
Other reasons why you should definitely make your website SEO-friendly include:
- It makes your website user-friendly — SEO best practices dictate that your web design center around optimizing user experience. This means paying close attention to its accessibility, loading speed, content relevance, mobile responsiveness, among others.
- It improves brand credibility — One of the primary goals of any marketing strategy is to build brand trust and credibility. An SEO-friendly website helps improve brand awareness and authority, which ultimately leads to consumer trust.
- It helps you understand what your potential customers really want — To succeed at SEO, you must analyze user behavior (how they landed on your website, what device they used to access the site, their geographical location, what web page(s) they visited, etc.). Thanks to tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console, you can obtain and analyze these user behaviors to understand what your target audience really wants and how to give it to them.
- It is cost-effective — An SEO-friendly website can drive targeted organic traffic day and night without you having to spend money on paid online advertising. Its long-term benefits are also much bigger since a single SEO-optimized web page can continue to bring in website visitors for months or even years, all without spending a dime. Imagine the possibilities with multiple SEO-optimized web pages.
- It helps your business remain competitive — There are over 1.7 billion websites on the internet, with around 576,000 new ones being added every day. This means that no matter what industry your business operates in, you can expect a fair amount of competition. An SEO-optimized website can help your small business stand out and maintain its relevance in the industry.
How to make your website SEO-friendly
The importance of having an SEO-friendly website is undeniable, now more than ever. So how do you go about it? Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to help you get started.
If you’re building a new website
1. Start with a great domain name
If you’re just starting out with a new website, your search engine optimization process will usually start from your domain name. It’s always a good idea to introduce some element of SEO into your domain name. For instance, you could include a prominent keyword in your domain name. This makes it easier for people to know what the website is about just by looking at the URL.
2. Choose a quality web hosting
Your web host plays a crucial role in how fast or slow your website loads. It can also impact the security level of your website. A few years ago, an SSL security certificate (HTTPS) was only required for websites that handled direct online payments or stored sensitive information, such as ecommerce sites. Today, however, even a simple one-page website is expected to have an SSL security certificate.
In addition to being a key aspect of SEO best practices, HTTPS websites provide a sense of security to users, which allows them to navigate your site with confidence.
Related: How to secure a website from threats
3. Build your website on a good content management system (CMS)
WordPress remains the most popular choice among small business owners, but feel free to explore your options and find a CMS that perfectly suits your needs. You’ll want a CMS that is wired for SEO at its most basic level. This way, you don’t have to get too technical with the optimization process.
The rest of the process
4. Set up your website for crawling and proper accessibility
This is where you’re setting up the site for proper indexing by Google and other search engines. To do this, you need to make sure search engine crawlers can understand your site.
There are many ways to get Google to index your website. Some of the most common include creating and submitting an XML sitemap, using the “Request indexing” function on Google Search Console, and uploading Google’s HTML file to your root directory. These are meticulous processes, so you’ll want to hire a good webmaster or SEO expert to do them for you.
5. Optimize your website architecture
This refers to the structure of your website. It covers everything from the hierarchy of the web pages to the website navigation and even the content flow and internal links. The aim here is to make it as easy as possible for your website visitors to find the content they need while also making sure search engine bots can crawl your web pages without hindrances.
Some best practices for optimizing your website architecture include:
- Using an SEO-friendly URL structure — This means keeping your URLs short and simple. Include descriptive keywords so humans can easily understand what that particular web page is about. If you chose a keyword-optimized domain name, then implementing an SEO-friendly URL structure becomes much easier.
- Use a sitemap — This makes it easier for search engine crawlers to find your website content.
- Pay attention to your internal linking — Optimize your anchor text(s). These are the words or phrases in the content on which you place your links. They inform users and bots about the content itself and what on the other end of the link. Internal links also help improve sitewide navigation. For example, by linking to other web pages in your homepage content, people don’t have to scroll all the way back up to the header navigation to access other parts of your website.
6. Make sure your content marketing is on point
Every marketing strategy relies on great content. Every piece of content on your website should have a purpose — to inform and educate readers, as well as give them directions on what to do next. There’s no room for fluff and certainly no room for jargon either.
Some best practices for producing quality content include:
- Understand who you’re creating the content for — Speak in the lingo of your target audience. Whatever content you’re producing is for them, after all.
- Make sure every web page is optimized with relevant keywords — Keyword research is a foundational element in every SEO strategy. Keywords are how users find your content.
- Avoid keyword stuffing — This is when you cram several keywords on a page because you want to rank for them all at the same time. Google’s algorithm is smart enough to detect instances of keyword stuffing and will promptly penalize your website.
- Avoid duplicate content — Every piece of content on your website should be unique and original. Google penalizes websites that post duplicate content.
- Get backlinks from only authoritative sites — Backlinks help improve the credibility and authority of your website, which in turn lead to better SEO results. The caveat, however, is that these backlinks must come from authoritative sources. For example, if you run a finance business, Yahoo Finance and Business Insider are great sites from which you can get backlinks.
7. Drill down on the technical stuff
On-page SEO contains a number of seemingly small yet powerful pieces that must come together to uplift your website’s SEO efforts. Here’s a quick rundown of the most important considerations
- HTML title tags — These serve as the page titles, but in computer lingo are referred to as title tags. They’re the main tags that can directly impact your search engine results. As such, it’s important to optimize them with your main keyword while also keeping the length short (around 50 to 60 characters).
- Meta tags — While the meta description doesn’t directly influence SEO results, it’s still important because it provides snapshot information about the web page on the SERP. This can mean the difference between the user clicking on the page or scrolling past it. Meta descriptions should be keyword optimized and straight to the point.
- Header tags — These help structure the content and indicate hierarchy on the page. Header tags follow a number system based on the level of importance. The page’s main heading is assigned the H1 tag, while subheadings are assigned tags from H2 through to H6.
- Image optimization — Image SEO can be a powerful tool in your digital marketing arsenal. The key is to focus on context when optimizing them. Usually, when you upload images on a website, they are stored using their original filenames. But it’s important to go further and include descriptive alt texts, so they’re easily readable by search engine bots.
- Rich snippets — Rich snippets are structured data markup that your webmaster can add to the HTML code of your web pages. On SERPs, they help add visual context for searchers and help search engine crawlers understand what the web page is all about.
8. Mobile-friendly = SEO-friendly
Most people accessing the internet today are doing so from their mobile devices. This means your website must be optimized for mobile users. Websites with poor mobile responsiveness are among the leading causes of high bounce rates. Because if people can’t access your website from the phones or tablets, they’ll simply go back to the SERP and select a different website from the list, most likely that of your competitor.
Bounce rate is an important ranking factor because it tells search engines that your website is not relevant to the searcher. In other words, don’t expect high rankings when you’ve got high bounce rates!
9. Link your social media accounts to your website
This is a great way to increase the authenticity of your website. Plus, you get to syndicate some of your content on these pages, making them easier to find on the web. There are several plugins that allow you to link your social media accounts to your website in just a few clicks. Once completed, remember to add the icons to your website.
The usual practice is to add them on the footer section, but some websites also add them on the header section and even on the sides of the page. The important thing is that they’re there and that they don’t cover the content on the page.
A successful SEO campaign is heavily dependent on having an SEO-friendly website. There’s simply no way around it. The key is to focus on delivering an excellent user experience while also accommodating modern SEO best practices. Take your time, especially during the initial web building phase. Remember that the design options you choose can make or mar your SEO efforts.
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