Your website can only do its job if people can find it. SEO (search engine optimization)—a collection of tactics website owners can use to increase your ranking in the search engine results—is one of the best ways to make sure your audience can find you.
But on-page SEO is challenging. And many website owners struggle with the question of how to improve SEO for their websites.
The search engines are fairly tight-lipped about how the algorithms that determine how search engine rankings work. But between the information they have shared and an analysis by SEO experts of what the ranking web pages have in common, we have a pretty good understanding of how to improve Google search results.
Improving SEO involves a mix of things you can do on your own website and offsite strategies.
How to Improve SEO on Your Website
On-site SEO is mostly about two main things: making sure Google can tell what your website is about, and ensuring the site has a good user experience for users. To do that, there are eight main steps you should take.
1. Review your website analytics.
If you already have a website, then your first step is to review your website analytics to better understand how people find and interact with your website now. If you haven’t set up Google Analytics for your website, do that now! You won’t have any data to review to start, but you can come back to this step once you do.
In Google Analytics, you’ll learn how much traffic you’re getting now, and what share of it is coming from Google (labeled “Organic Search”). The Acquisition section gives you an easy snapshot of how often people are finding you through Google now.
In addition, you can find a list of any keywords you rank for now and what your average ranking is. Click on Acquisition, Search Console, and then Queries.
This gives you a good understanding of where you are now in terms of your SEO strategy. That’s helpful in setting goals for where you want to be, and working out a plan to get there. And any relevant keywords you rank for now (even if you’re not on page one) are a good place to start your optimization efforts, since you already have a headstart.
2. Identify your keywords.
Keyword research is the cornerstone of SEO. Before you can do any of the other steps involved in SEO, you need to know what keywords to target. Sit down and write every word or phrase you can think of that’s relevant to your business and products. Once that’s done, use keyword tools to figure out how valuable the terms on your list are, and build out your list further.
Google’s free Keyword Planner provides data on the average number of searches a keyword has, and how competitive it is. It also provides suggestions for long-tail keywords relevant to your website that you can use to build out your list. To get new ideas, start by plugging either your URL or a starter list of your main keywords into the tool. You can export the list of long-tail keywords they suggest to better organize it based on relevance, popularity, and competitiveness. Using these keywords throughout your website or a blog post will help tremendously when trying to drive organic traffic.
Google’s tool may give you enough information, but many businesses that have an SEO strategy go further and use paid SEO tools that provide more detailed keyword information. With these, you can learn what keywords your competitors rank for, and get more analysis on the value of a keyword based on factors like the search engine results page (SERP) features, level of competitiveness, and the number of clicks the top results are likely to get.
3. Optimize every page on your site for SEO.
Once you know what keywords to target, it’s time to get to work on your website. For each page and blog post of your website, determine the most relevant keyword from your list you want to rank for. To optimize the page for the selected keyword, look for natural ways to include it in these parts of the page:
- The URL – Always edit your URL so it’s relevant to the content of the page and uses your primary keyword.
- The heading tags – Using headings and subheadings (in the HTML, these look like <h1>, <h2>, etc.) break up your page copy for readability and provide more opportunities to naturally get your keywords onto the page.
- The image names and alt tags – Before you load an image to a page, give it a name that includes your keyword. Then add an alt tag that includes it as well.
- The title tag – Write a short title for each page (50-60 characters) that uses your primary keyword.
- The meta description – The meta description is what shows up underneath your link on the SERP. Like your title tag, they don’t directly affect rankings, but they can increase your click-through rate (CTR). Write a meta description for each page that describes what’s on the page in under 160 characters, includes your keyword, and has a call to action that encourages people to click.
- The page copy – Look for opportunities to use your keyword in the words on the page where it makes sense naturally.
Google wants to deliver relevant results for every search. All of this helps signal to Google what the page is about so they know what keywords it makes sense for it to show up for.
4. Create relevant content.
Creating and publishing content on your website accomplishes a few important things for SEO:
- Fresh website content signals to Google that your website is current and active—they don’t want to show outdated results.
- It gives you a chance to create more pages optimized for more of the keywords on your list.
- It gives your visitors a reason to stick around, and time on site is a metric that signals to Google that people like what they see when they visit your site.
- When you publish valuable content on your site, it gives other websites more of a reason to link back to you.
Creating high-quality content that’s relevant to your audience is therefore an important part of good SEO. Use your keyword research to help guide your content strategy. Knowing what topics people are searching for tells you what your audience is interested in.
Before you write a piece of content, do some research to learn what’s on the SERP for it. Seeing what’s ranking there now shows you what Google likes for that keyword and what you need to beat. In addition, if there are rich results on the SERP for a term, you want to know so you can optimize your content to claim them.
5. Update your old content.
This is a step many people skip, but a regular content audit can be really valuable for improving your SEO. Make a point of returning to your old content to update it periodically. Google likes content that’s fresh and up to date, so changing outdated information can go a long way to making sure the search engine (and your visitors) still see an old piece of content as valuable.
6. Use internal linking.
An internal link is any link on a page that goes to another page on the same website. Google’s algorithm factors a link’s anchor text into its analysis of what a page is about. The anchor text is the words that are hyperlinked, the part that usually shows up in blue with an underline.
For internal links, you get to choose the anchor text. That gives you another opportunity to use your primary keyword and signal to Google what keywords to associate with your page.
7. Make your website mobile friendly.
While Google keeps a lot of the details about its algorithm under wraps, one of the things they’ve been upfront in telling people is that mobile matters. For the sake of both SEO and your visitors—many of whom will be visiting your website on a mobile device—make your website mobile friendly.
8. Improve your site speed.
Speed is another ranking factor Google has told people about outright. They know people care about how fast a website loads, so Google does, too. Taking steps to improve your site speed will both improve the user experience of your website, and improve Google search results for your site.
How to Improve Google Search Results Using Off-page SEO
Many of the steps involved in on-site optimization require a lot of work, but the harder part of SEO happens offsite. In order to determine a web page’s value, Google pays attention to how often other websites link to it, called backlinks. A link is seen as an endorsement of what’s on the page. When a lot of websites with authority link to a particular page, it suggests that whatever’s on it is useful.
Building backlinks is challenging because you can’t control the decisions other people make about what they put on their websites. But there are a few strategies you can use to encourage other websites to link to yours.
1. Promote your content.
Publishing great content is only worth the work if you get people to read it. Make promotion part of your content strategy. Share your pieces on social media. Send them to your email list. Highlight industry influencers in your content and let them know when it’s up. Consider paid promotion like pay-per-click (PPC) or social ads if you need that extra boost.
2. Sign up for relevant directories.
This is one of the easiest ways to build links, but it’s important not to abuse. Add your business information to sites like Yelp and Google’s My Business. Research industry organizations that have member directories, and consider joining local organizations like your Chamber of Commerce that have one.
Only sign up for directories that are legitimate and relevant to your business. A lot of links from low-quality directories will look spammy and could hurt rather than help you.
3. Guest post.
A guest post on a blog in your industry is a good way to bring awareness of your brand to a new audience and gain a backlink to your site at the same time. Identify blogs that cover topics relevant to your business that accept guest posts, and start pitching. It takes time, but it can pay off in both links and new traffic.
4. Become an expert source.
Whatever your business does, you’re an expert on it. When a blogger or journalist is writing a topic that relates to your expertise, providing a quote or interview will often result in a link back to your site. You can hire a PR consultant to help you find these kinds of opportunities, or sign up for email alerts from Help a Reporter Out to find opportunities yourself.
5. Develop industry awards.
People (and businesses) love getting awards. The recognition feels good and is something they’re likely to talk about on their own website. Handing out awards for your industry is therefore a good strategy for earning more links. It’s one employed by successful internet businesses like TripAdvisor:
Figure out what categories to include in your awards. Research businesses doing good work in each of them, or open them up to nominations. When you’ve decided on nominees and winners, alert them to the award. Create a badge they can share on their website to encourage them to post about it with a link back to the awards page on the website.
6. Create a relevant certification program.
This requires a lot of work, but is a good way to position your business as an ultimate expert on what you do as well as a strong link building strategy. Anyone who completes your certification program will want to let others know they’ve done so. As with awards, create a badge people can add to their websites to show they’re certified.
7. Do broken link building.
Some SEO tools will help you find links around the web with your target keywords in the anchor text that no longer work. These are a link-building opportunity. If you track down the website owner, you can alert them that there’s a broken link on their website that needs fixing, and propose the content you have on the topic as a replacement. Because you’re helping them fix a problem they have at the same time that you’re asking something of them, it increases your chances of getting your desired response.
Improve SEO with Less Work
SEO is difficult and time consuming. You know you want better SEO results, but reading over a list like this may have you feeling hopeless. How will you find the time for all this? While there’s no good shortcut to getting better Google search results—someone has to do the work—that someone doesn’t have to be you.
You can hire the skilled SEO professionals at HostGator. We know how to implement all these SEO strategies and more to get your website to start showing up for your target keywords. It saves you time and work, and will also net better results since they come to the job with more knowledge and experience.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.