55 Search Engine Optimisation Tips
I recently started getting back into SEO in a serious way. Years ago I used to be elbow deep in SEO but I guess as you move away from development the nitty-gritty of SEO becomes less critical. But lately I had cause to get back involved with SEO for a project and whilst the basics of SEO haven’t changed much, the tools and peripharal techniques have moved on in the past few years.
The plethora of tools that have become available to SEO fanatics since I first started optimising for search engines has exploded, and that’s great, especially if you want to (shock! horror!) actually measure the impact of your efforts. But whilst some of the tools available have changed, the basics - for me at least - have clearly stayed the same.
Attitudes to SEO have always intrigued me and in my experience many organisations seem to spend a hugely disproportionate amount of time agonizing over SEO when compared to the potential payback on other marketing activities.
I’m not saying SEO isn’t important, it is, but it is also unlikely that SEO, even in a global economy increasingly dominated by new media companies, will make or break your company. Think about how you first heard about Hotmail, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, in fact, the vast majority of successful companies that you deal with on a day-to-day basis, and then think about how important SEO was to you discovering that company.
My guess is that SEO didn’t play a huge part in you discovering many companies, but that’s not the same as saying that SEO is useless.
SEO should only ever be a part of an overall marketing mix. Spending a disproportionate amount of time focusing upon on a single aspect of what you do – like SEO – to the exclusion of other things that you should be paying attention to – like social media, like a nicely designed website, like, maybe offering great products and services and making sure your customer is delighted with what you do for them – is not healthy.
That being said, I’ve compiled together some tips. Some of them you might even agree with. Enjoy.
1. Decide the keywords you want to target, but first research potentially popular alternatives using the Google Keyword Tool.
2. If you don’t already have a domain name you are tethered to, try and get a domain name which contains at least one of those keywords that you thought up earlier. Don’t sweat it if that’s not possible.
3. When writing content, write for people first, search engines second.
My gut instinct is to even ignore attempting to optimise blog articles for SEO. It’s too easy to get caught up in the long grass of probably useless technicalities like ‘ratio of keywords to content’ and ‘ratio of HTML to content’. Just write something interesting and compelling. I’ve written my own fair share of out-and-out link bait, but if you are trying to apply a magic SEO-friendly formula to content to garner better SEO rankings, chances are the content - and it’s underlying message - will suffer.
Not enough people realise that simply writing good content is one of the best SEO ‘tricks’ you can pull.
4. Unless you have a large team to support you and lots of time to spend, don’t register multiple domains and build apparently separate websites trying to get a spread of keywords.
Of course, huge conglomerates do build multiple sites on multiple domains all the time, but that’s all part of a larger marketing plan. For instance, Sony has a dedicated Playstation site, and a separate dedicated PSVita site. That’s reasonable, and transparent.
Unless you have a lot of resources, building multiple sites on multiple domains will stretch your time and resources to breaking point. Truly authoratative, successful and respectable people and organisations don’t hide behind multiple different fronts; they present a single unified and ethical presence on the web, like Martin Lewis over on http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/
5. Get a Google Analytics account. Measure what your site does and what effect the changes you make have. Learn from the experience. Repeat as required.
6. Get a Google Webmaster Tools account to analyse what kinds of things you might want to fix or change on your website. Learn from the experience. Repeat as required.
7. Get a Google Adwords account. Even if you don’t want to spend money advertising on Google. Use the Keyword Tool to figure out what keywords you should be targeting.
8. Speed is a ranking signal. One quick way to speed up your site is to use caching. If you use a Content Management System like WordPress, you should be able to find a WordPress caching plugin to help speed your site up. I’m sure there are equivalent cache plugins for Drupal.
9. If you aren’t able to find a caching solution suitable for your particular CMS flavour, or your sysadmin is anal and won’t install it for some obscure reason, or you are running a larger, enterprise scale website, consider using a Content Delivery Network, like CloudFlare, which offers a free account to get you started, and has some security benefits too.
10. Optimise your HTML code. Get rid of extreaneous code. Not just in the name of speed, but also in the name of elegant code.
11. Make sure your HTML code is valid, W3 Validator is probably the best free tool to use, and make sure you check all your site pages, not just the home page.
12. Optimise your CSS. This will increase your chances of having valid CSS that works across multiple browsers and, if you optimise or reduce CSS code, it could also speed up your site. Luckily, W3C have a free CSS validation service.
15. Stop using frames. Just stop it. Yes. Even those natty <iframe> tags. Frames are the spawn of satan.
The search engine robots that come and crawl through your site used to not be able to get past those frame tags and into the content, nowadays they can, but a direct link from a search engine results page into a web page that should be contained within a frame set will be confusing. Plus. frames are just bad design anyway.
Here is an excercise that will highlight how useless frames really are. First. List your top 10 favourite websites. Now, list how many use of those 10 sites use frames. Not many, huh?
16. Keep Flash to a minimum. By all means have a flash minisite, or a Flash game or interactive element. But don’t go overboard.
I love Flash as much as the next guy, but unless you have a recognised brand or lots of money to spend on advertising, avoid building your entire site in Flash. Sure, Google can index Flash to some extent, but why make it difficult unless you are making a real statement?
17. Get canonical. Just like in Highlander, there can be only one. One version of your website that is. SEOmoz has a good article on Canonical redirection.
18. Check your links work with Xenu and/or Screaming Frog. Fix any ‘404 File Not Found’ errors.
19. Check that there is no duplicate content on your site - this includes multiple pages with the same meta tag content, not just the stuff that people read. Google Webmaster Tools will help with this.
20. Get a corporate Facebook page. Be active on it.
21. Get a corporate Google+ page. Be active on it.
22. Get a corporate LinkedIn page. Be active on it.
23. Get a corporate Twitter page. Be active on it.
24. You already know added good content is the best kind of SEO, but do you add it frequently enough? You still need to aim for quality content rather than just slapping up brief pieces clearly designed to improve your SEO rather than being interesting and informative.
25. Contribute articles to other websites and try and get a short biography of yourself and a link back to your website in your article. This will build your inbound links.
27. Have a site map that people can read, because search engines will read it to and if it’s got links to at least your main pages, this will make things easier for the crawlers.
28. Use deep linking to point people to those hard-to-reach places of your site.
29. Cull content. Yes. I said it. This doesn’t count for blog posts, which you should leave alone regardless of if they appear to be doing well or not (they are a window into what you are thinking, and should form a consistent historical document). Use your Google Analytics account to figure out which pages are not getting any visitors, or which have high bounce rates then just cull them. Or if you must keep that page, consider changing it. If it’s not adding value, why not? But don’t forget to put a 301 redirect in place if you do delete the page.
30. Get a YouTube account. Actively contribute towards it. Yes. This might take some effort.
31. Optimise your robots.txt file. SEO Book has a good article on robots.txt files.
32. Have social bookmarking tools on your site to make it easy for people to like your pages and quickly spread the word. Trending on Twitter isn’t exactly SEO in it’s purest form, but getting inbound links from other peoples social media accounts and articles linking to you can only be a Good Thing.
33. Building quality external links is fine, but make sure to cultivate a wide variety. Don’t keep going back to the same well over and over again. Keep an eye out for interesting new sites, and niche sites that fit what you are trying to do.
34. Add ‘alt’ tags to your images.
35. Use heading tags, <h1>, <h2>, and so on. Make sure some keywords are in the headings.
36. Make sure URLs are crawler friendly. That means not using underscores in directory file names, but using dashes instead. So, not http://www.somedomain.com/some_directory_name, but http://www.somedomain.com/some-directory-name.
37. If you used Xenu to check the links on your site, you may well have come across a 404 Page Not Found error or two. If that’s the case, take a look at that 404 error page. Does it do something useful like direct users, or search engine spiders, to useful content in your site? If not, redesign that 404 page.
38. Don’t use CSS to hide content from the human eye that you expect search engine robots to index. I’ve seen this on a few sites, none of which I grew to respect, or bought from, or ever went back to. If you are trying to game Google, what does that say about you?
39. Monitor your website, know when it’s gone down. If it’s not available to you, it’s probably not available to Google, or anyone else. Take a look at siteuptime.com, but there are lots of site monitoring services out there.
41. Submit your site to DMOZ.
42. Link to authoritative sites from your site. That’s right. Spread the link love. No man, or web site, is an island, and if Google can see you are linking to sites and pages with high authority and popularity, this reflects well on your site. Just don’t go overboard.
43. Pick your site host carefully. It might cost more to use a respectable host but the pay off is that your site is more likely to stay live and you are less likely to be in a “bad neighbourhood”.
44. Always sense-check, spell-check and grammer-check your content before it goes live. If you don’t have a team of content writers and editors at your disposal then just write the content. Do something else for a day. Then come back and re-read it with fresh eyes.
45. Avoid dynamic URLs. The page http://www,somesite.com/page.aspx=1435867904 is less search engine friendly than http://www,somesite.com/contact-us.aspx.
46. Avoid using the Meta-Refresh tag to re-direct users. This could be construed as a spammy tactic. If your content has genuinely moved then use a 301 redirect rather than the Meta-Refresh tag.
47. Give files (web pages, images, PDFs) descriptive names, like, my-seo-ideas.pdf, rather than myseoideas.pdf. This is as good for humans as it is for search engines.
48. Let woorank.com scan your site, it’ll give you a few hints and tips.
49. Test your site with http://www.webpagetest.org/, it’ll show you where you can improve.
50. Take a look at your own site, and those of your competitors in spyfu.com it could give you some useful information about keywords and competitors.
51. Use Open Site Explorer to view your site and compare it to competitors, are they doing something you are not?
52. Don’t make too many changes all at once. Make a few changes. Monitor and judge the results for a time, then make a few more changes. Making incremental (“little and often”) changes gives you the opportunity to understand better how important certain aspects of your site, and SEO strategy are performing.
53. Confirm the authors of your website - in particular blog posts - using the rel=”author” tag.
54. Confirm your organisation as the publisher of your website. It’s not too different from confirming the author.
55. If someone is offering a sure-fire way to get to the top of search engine results pages, smile politely then take a step back. Then take another. Then another. You get the idea.
There you go. Don’t expect immediate results, keep trying, keep learning, keep updating your site and keep measuring your progress. Contribute usefull stuff to other sites and social media, but don’t dedicate so much time and effort to SEO that other marketing opportunities are lost.
It’s not rocket science. Really.