Search engine algorithms are constantly changing and it is often difficult to predict how these changes will affect our website traffic. However, there are some SEO Best Practices that always remain valid and that, if implemented correctly, can promote a good organic ranking of your website.
SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization, a discipline that encompasses all those activities aimed at improving the organic ranking (therefore not paid) of your website on search engines.
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How do search engines work?
Search engines like Google or Bing crawl the web to index its contents and return relevant and consistent results every time a user is searching for something.
To establish the relevance of a web page with respect to a particular search – and therefore its positioning among the results – search engines use complex (and secret) algorithms. Google, for example, uses more than 200 parameters to rank a page, assigning a value of relevance to content and links (both internal and external), and also analysing the reputation and authoritativeness of the website.
Not only we don’t know exactly how search engine algorithms work, but they are also continuously updated and improved, consequently changing the way we do SEO.
However, there are some SEO best practices that can be easily implemented to drive traffic to our website.
5 tips to promote a better ranking on search engines:
1. Long texts work better but don’t forget quality
Users do searches by objectives. And our job is to meet those objectives. In fact, search engines measure user satisfaction by studying users’ behaviour. For example, which links did the user click? Did the user remain on the page or did he bounce back? Did he click other links as well? How many results did the user check in total?
We must therefore understand what is the most searched information and create interesting articles of higher quality about it, that fully investigate the topic, providing relevant information to capture users’ attention. Google favours in-depth and exhaustive texts. But be careful not to become long-winded: filling a text with repetitions just to reach a certain number of words can generate the opposite effect and penalize our page.
The language should be technical but natural (which does not mean colloquial). Opt for the active form rather than the passive one and choose a tone of voice that will satisfy both the expert and the occasional reader.
In any case, before writing, it is important to form an editorial plan and think about interesting content that could meet the users search intent. We need to communicate the practical functionality of our products or services and convey the reasons that differentiate us from the competition.
Some tools that can help us are Google Trends and Answer The Public. The latter, through a simple search for a specific topic or keywords, shows the related searches carried out by users, dividing them into questions, prepositions and comparisons. A good starting point to develop our text.
2. Choose the right keywords but don’t overuse them
SEO is a set of practices but keywords certainly play a decisive role in the ranking of our site in relation to the search terms for which we want to rank.
To find keywords that can attract our audience, we need to ask ourselves what our page is about. Then, we can try typing the answer we gave ourselves in the Google search bar. What results do we get? Are they relevant to what we want to write about? If yes, we are on the right track. Otherwise, it’s better if we review our answer.
In fact, to choose the right keywords it is important to understand the search intent, that is, the user’s goal. Not always the most searched words are the ones most suitable to reach our target or those that will allow us to obtain a better ranking.
For example, let’s say that my web page is dedicated to the sale of women’s running shoes. If my keywords choice falls on generic and highly competitive words such as “shoes”, there is a high probability of meeting my potential customers’ search intent only partially. By opting instead for “running shoes” or, even better, “women running shoes”, I have a better chance of meeting the search goal of those users who are looking in particular for women’s running shoes.
A good strategy would be to divide the keywords for search intent, then selecting:
- transactional keywords, therefore oriented towards a purchase action (e.g. online running shoes, women running shoes prices, best women running shoes);
- informational keywords, those that ask questions with the aim of obtaining a solution to a possible problem (e.g. how to clean running shoes, running shoes models);
- navigational keywords, that is keywords related to something that you already know (e.g. Adidas women running shoes).
Generally speaking, it is a good practice to prefer middle or long tail keywords, therefore keywords composed of 3 or more terms that precisely describe our product or service and that respond to the search intent of our target.
Where to place keywords within a text?
To communicate the exact topic of our content to search engines, it is very important to use keywords:
- in the meta tags (title and description);
- in the page URL;
- in the alternative text of the related images (alt tag);
- in the menu of our site;
- in the body of our content, exploiting also the headers (H1, H2, H3 …) to suggest the hierarchical structure of the page to search engines.
It is a good practice to insert the main keywords at the beginning of the text, not only to facilitate the job of crawlers but also to communicate clearly and directly to the user who happens on our page what we’re talking about.
There is no stated minimum or maximum limit of keywords to be used, but abuse should be avoided. Repeating concepts and writing a text-heavy article only to insert a greater number of keywords is not only counterproductive to capture the attention of the user, who could get tired and abandon the page; but it could also lead to a penalization of our page by the search engines, which are well aware of these techniques, that many abused in the past, when the algorithms were not yet so sophisticated and precise. Rather, go for a natural and fluid language, as well as the use of synonyms and expressions preferred by the target audience.
3. Use unique and descriptive titles
The headline is the first thing people see and read in search results. It is therefore very important to go for a title that can communicate directly what our page is about and that attracts the user attention to the point of deserving a click.
Search engines identify the text enclosed in the HTML tag <title> as the title of the page. Generally, search engines like Google prefer unique and precise titles for each page of the website, which accurately describe the contents of that page and which are relevant to said content.
The advice is to go for titles of about 12 words (50-60 characters, spaces included), placing the most important ones at the beginning, that is the keywords we have selected because they best describe the content of our page.
Good practice is also to include a call to action, inviting the user to complete a specific action, if consistent with the type of content of our page. For example, if we are launching new running shoes models, we could invite users to click by writing “browse the new models!”.
In this case as well, it is important to avoid Keyword Stuffing, that is the massive use of the main keyword. You can use instead the so-called pipe “|”, the dash or the colon – symbols that act as a separator and make it possible to actually create two titles in one in the eyes of the search engines.
4. Use the “Description” Meta Tag
The “Description” meta tag provides search engines with a summary of the page content. It is also very important because it can be used by Google as a snippet to be shown in search results, i.e. that brief description under the title and the link that provides users with precise information on what they will find should they decide to click on that result.
It is therefore important to accurately summarize the contents of the page, using the main keywords. But be careful not to use only keywords! This behavior is expressly not recommended by Google, as well as the use of too generic descriptions (for example, “web marketing page”).
As with titles, the related meta descriptions must be unambiguous, precise and descriptive.
5. Link Building
After having created the structure of our website, the content and having identified the right keywords, the time has come to think about link building.
There are three main categories of links, which play a more or less important role in the ranking of a page:
- internal links, that is those links that lead to other pages of our own site (same domain);
- outbound links, that is those links that point to pages on other sites (different domain);
- inbound links (or backlinks), that is those links on other sites that point to our site.
The latter – the backlinks – are the ones that bring the greatest benefits in terms of SEO. But they are also the most difficult to implement.
And it is not quantity that makes the difference, but quality. Google’s algorithm update Penguin is the one judging the quality of a link that points to our site. Penguin attributes a qualitative value to links based on two fundamental parameters: the authoritativeness and relevance of the site that points to our page. In fact, if a site belonging to a completely different sector points to a page of our site, that link will be judged to be of poor quality and therefore we will be penalized.
There are several ways to implement a link building strategy and opinions about it are often conflicting, especially in defining the lawful and the not-so-correct techniques.
You can submit your content to site managers and ask them to insert a link in one of their pages that points to your site. There’s also guest blogging, that is when an author writes content on other sites in exchange for a backlink. In some cases, practices commonly considered incorrect and generally penalizing (Black Hat SEO) are also adopted, such as the massive purchase of backlinks on poor-quality sites, the creation of fake profiles, spam comments on forums and blogs.
It should also be emphasized that Google prefers natural links, i.e. those links made spontaneously by users (bloggers, editors, forum users, etc.). Moreover, with the implementation of algorithms that increasingly favour natural and sincere behaviour, even SEO is moving from link building to link earning, thus giving more and more importance to links gained rather than built.
How do you earn (or build) backlinks?
Publishing valuable content that offers an added value to the reader should remain the top priority of anyone who wants to do SEO. Building an authoritative and reliable website, consistent with the topics we deal with is another pivotal element. All these factors will certainly contribute to gaining a positive reputation and will naturally favour backlinks to the pages of our site.
Assuming that we are creating quality content, sending our links to sites and authors who deal with the same kind of content as ours and with good user traffic remains an effective way to obtain backlinks.
As a matter of fact, it is up to us (and to our professional ethics) to choose the best strategy to achieve our goals, accepting the consequences, positive or negative they might be.
If, on the other hand, we notice that some links pointing to our site are suspicious or not at all reliable and that consequently could damage our ranking, we can ask Google to disavow the incoming links.
However, let’s keep in mind what Google says:
“This is an advanced feature and should only be used with caution. If used incorrectly, this feature can potentially harm your site’s performance in Google’s search results.”
As it happens offline, it is very important to maintain a correct behaviour and build a good reputation that can communicate reliability and authority online as well.
And sometimes less is more: keywords, headings, links and all the strategies and tools listed so far are all features that can help us improve the ranking of our website but only if used with a grain of salt.
Do some research and test these strategies first-hand: this is the only way to understand what really works and what needs to be revised.
In any case, the general rules to always keep in mind when optimizing content are summarized by Google itself:
- Make your site interesting and useful
- Know what your readers want (and give it to them)
- Act in a way that cultivates user trust
- Make expertise and authoritativeness clear
- Provide an appropriate amount of content for your subject
- Avoid distracting advertisements
- Use links wisely
Last but not least, it is important to remember that optimization must be continuous, through the constant updating of content.
P.S.: Are you on Google?
You can easily check if your site is currently included in the Google index. Use the “site:” operator and the URL of your website (for example “site: bbc.com”). If you see search results then it means that your site has been indexed. The number of indexed pages should match the number of pages of your website.
What if your site doesn’t show up? There are several reasons, including a too complicated structure that makes it difficult for crawlers to scan your website, settings that prevent web crawling, or the site has been recently created.
If you need further information, read more about our marketing cunsultancy services and contact us. Together we can find the best strategy to grow your business online.