Search engines look at hundreds of data points before deciding to show a set of search results matching a searcher’s query. Google considers 200 factors to rank a website. Obviously, not all ranking factors have the same weight. The following are six essential things that you should absolutely do for your SEO.
1. Make content accessible
Search engine bots crawl billions of web pages, looking for content to store and organize in their databases. This organization of content in a search engine database is called indexing. Out of all the indexed pages, search engines strive to serve the content that best matches a user’s query.
To know whether Google has indexed your webpages, do this:
Enter the URL of your domain with “site:” before it. For our news website with a domain name source.colostate.edu, it looks like this:
2. Implement sitemaps
Sitemaps are lists of URLs available to either your website visitors or to search engine bots for easier website navigation.
A XML sitemap, built for a search engine bot, ensures quick and efficient crawling of your website’s most important webpages.
A HTML sitemap, usually present in the website footer, enables a user on your website to navigate to a potentially important page. An HTML sitemap provides opportunities for search engine spiders to crawl linked pages, in addition to being a great user experience tool.
3. Implement Robots.txt
Robots.txt is typically the first page that a search engine bot reads upon landing on a website. This text file has some instructions for the search engine bots on what content to index and what not to. It is located in the root directory of the website, and looks like this:
Learn more about robots.txt file and how you can use it for your website.
4. Conduct keyword research
Keywords are at the heart of any SEO strategy. Keyword research ensures that you know what words or phrases your consumers use to find your content. It helps you gauge the most searched queries for your business domain or industry.
Most keyword tools in the market determine search volume for a keyword, and a difficulty level for that keyword to rank. Keyword Planner is a great keyword research tool from Google that gives an estimate of highly searched keywords in your industry and location.
5. Build content for humans, optimize for search engines
That old adage ‘Content is King’ rings true for SEO. As content creators, you should aim to produce content that provides value to your website visitors. The time visitors spend on your website, along with bounce rate, are ranking signals for search engines.
Some content practices that search engines really give importance to:
- Refreshing content periodically. Google scores webpages on their freshness of content, so it becomes important to refresh old content with new information. Also, any old content that is no longer relevant should be archived.
- Generating unique content. Scan the resources available on the internet in your business domain or industry. Users have a wide range of search intent – from seeking information to buying a product. Identify content gaps that you can fill, covering all possible search intents.
- Focus on direct answers. Google and other search engines are increasingly displaying answers to direct questions that users are asking. Create content in such a way that it answers a probable search engine question, and your website might show up in Google’s answer box.
Creating high-quality, keyword-rich, unique content is just one half of the SEO puzzle. The other half is optimizing it.
- Avoid keyword stuffing. While we want our content to be keyword-rich, we definitely do not want it to be unnatural and difficult to comprehend. Keyword-stuffed content may create a bad experience for the user, resulting in low time on the website, bringing your ranking down.
- Optimize HTML and meta tags. HTML tags and meta information provide structure to a webpage, and they describe your web content. Aim to have unique meta information for every page on your website. Title, Description, Headings, and Alt Tags are among the most important HTML and elements that you should optimize. Learn more on optimizing HTML tags and meta information.
- Use internal linking. Search engines discover related content on your website through links. Internal links assist in website navigation and help define the hierarchy of a website. It is best practice to use naturally readable anchor-text links when cross-linking. Read more on internal linking best practices for SEO.
6. Be mobile-friendly
Last year, Google updated it’s algorithm to ‘mobile-first index‘. This means Google will first consider the mobile-friendliness of a website before deciding to rank a website. This is consistent with the year-on-year increase in mobile traffic being reported across the globe and across different industries. For CSU Social Blog, we had over 50% increase in mobile traffic over the last two years. So if you have not yet thought about investing in a mobile-friendly website, now is the time to do so.