Your search engine optimization efforts will be less effective if you haven’t built a solid foundation to base everything on. SEO is a never ending process. There is always room for improvement. And what you don’t want to happen is to find out, after a few months, that the groundwork of your project is keeping you from improving your rankings.

Choose your Domain & Hosting

When choosing your domain name, keep in mind that search engines consider it as a ranking factor. A domain name usually shows:

  • The region you are operating in – .com , .co.uk , .de , .fr (Top Level Domain)
  • Your brand name
  • The industry you are operating in

If your domain is not specific to a region you can always enable geographic targeting in Google Webmaster Tools.

Also, choosing a reliable hosting provider will ensure that your website won’t go offline. Stable websites rank better than the ones going offline once in a while (think quality). Also, reliable and fast hosting will improve your rankings, but more on that later.

Action steps:

  1. Decide on your TLD depending on your target audience. If international choose “.com”. Stay away from .biz, .tv, .mobi and co. Buy these only in case you want to secure more TLDs for your brand
  2. Include your brand name and/or keyword you want to rank for in the domain name
  3. Choose a hosting provider with at least 99% uptime
  4. Don’t go for the cheapest hosting plan

Usability & Design

The way your website looks and how people navigate it is an indirect ranking factor. Your authority and influence will depend on how people perceive your website and your brand.

Make your text readable for search engines and people

Search engines determine your relevancy to a search query by crawling your website’s text (code). Make sure both, your visitors and search engines, are able to read it. Search engines can only process text that is written within the code of your website. Text content within images or Flash won’t be readable.

Action steps:

  1. Avoid using Flash
  2. Avoid long texts within images if you can put it elsewhere
  3. Text and background in two contrasting colors (black on white)
  4. Have a mobile-friendly (responsive) website
  5. Avoid auto-play audio & video content

Website Speed & Performance

Your website’s speed is a direct ranking factor. To check your current performance score visit Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

The performance of your website depends on several factors:

  • quality of your hosting
  • amount of data on your website
  • Javascript
  • Caching
  • and many more…

One way of improving your website’s speed is by using a content delivery network (CDN), which helps you by spreading your media files across several servers. Check out our full guide to using a CDN to improve your site’s speed.

Action Steps:

  1. Check your PageSpeed Score
  2. Act on Google’s suggestions
  3. Use a content delivery network (CDN)
  4. Make use of caching
  5. Optimize your images

Your website’s code

A large part of your on-page optimization is getting your code right. Some elements of your code are more important than others. However, optimizing everything will increase your chances of improving your rankings.

Titles

The title tag is a key ranking factor. It provides the search engine with information about the main topic of any particular page on your website. For that reason you should include your most important keyword(s) in your title. Your page titles must be unique throughout your website and be no longer than 70 characters (including spaces and punctuation).

Don’t forget about your readers: your titles must not only contain relevant keywords, but also catch a person’s attention and be informative.

Meta Tags

Meta tags provide search engines with information about your website. They are positioned within the <head> section of your website’s code.

Meta Description

The meta description tag should contain a short summary of an individual page on your website. Although the page description is not a direct ranking factor, it is important for increasing your website’s click-through-rate (CTR) in search engine result pages (SERPs). Your descriptions must be unique throughout your website and be no longer than 160 characters (including spaces and punctuation).

Meta Robots

The meta robots tag instructs the search engine on how to treat your website. Your robots tag should allow search engines to index your site and follow your site’s links. Preventing your website from being crawled blocks Google from indexing your pages, which will result in a drop in organic search traffic.

Meta Keywords

Meta keywords are not a ranking factor anymore. In rare cases they are being used for internal website searches. Leaving them blank will not hurt your rankings and prevent your competitors from seeing what keywords you want to rank for.

Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are navigational elements on your page. They help search engines to determine the structure of your website, which allows for displaying more visually prominent search results, increasing your CTR. Breadcrumbs are not a direct ranking factor.

Page URL

Your page URL should reflect the content of the page, whether it’s a category, page title or topic. Avoid using dynamically generated URLs. For instance, a blog post about SEO should look something like www.example.com/seo-blog-post.

Google Rich Snippets

Rich snippets allow you to add useful information about any particular page on your website to enhance your web search result snippet. Besides increasing your organic result CTR, it also allows Google to understand your content on a deeper level.

Google currently supports rich snippets for the following types of content:

  • Reviews
  • People
  • Products
  • Events
  • Music
  • Recipes
  • Businesses & Organizations

Content is King

The content on your website is what you communicate to your visitors. There are different types of content you can produce in order to improve your rankings: blog posts, infographics (images), videos and audio content (think podcasts).

Text & blog posts

Having a blog is a great way to attract more visitors to your website through organic search. Reasons for blog posts ranking high in SERPs:

  • They receive more links
  • More likely to be shared on social media (more on social signals later)
  • High-quality content, containing keywords you want to rank for

Headings (<h1> to <h6>)

Headings are a great way to structure your content, whether it is a blog post or a static page. They not only make your content easier to read (scan through), but also help search engine to determine the topic of a page. Headings, especially h1, should include your main keywords. Remember not to overdo it (keyword stuffing) and always think of your reader first, search engine second.

Length of blog posts

The length of your articles will vary from post to post, obviously. Your content should be long enough, however, for search engines to consider being a blog post and short enough for your reader to process. When publishing articles, keep them between 100 and 2.500 words in length. A test by Quicksprout has shown that longer posts (2.000+) generally rank higher.

Always thinking about your readers first will ensure that you will stay within the guidelines.

Images

Images are a great way to illustrate your point and/or communicate something to your audience. They can contain valuable information, convey a mood and improve the visual appeal of the content around them.

You can use images to improve your rankings by including relevant keywords in the filename of the image or within the “alt” attribute in the code of your website.

Always keep in mind that the content of your images can’t be processed by search engines. However, Google has implemented a technology, which can, sometimes, determine the content of images, depicting, for instance, landmarks or famous paintings.

Videos

Videos can help you to communicate large amounts of (complex) information to your audience much easier. Also, videos can indirectly help you to improve your rankings. Prior to publishing your video on YouTube make sure to transcribe the spoken text and add it as closed captions to your video, which will include relevant keywords.

When publishing your video on your blog, remember to include the transcript of the video below.

Content Guidelines

There are a few content guidelines you should follow in order for you to improve your rankings:

Content should be unique

Google’s Penguin algorithm update rewards high-quality and penalizes deliberately duplicated content. Your content should unique throughout your website.

Canonical tag

If so happens that multiple pages of your website contain the same text, make use of the “canonical tag” (in the <head> section) to show search engines which page is the original.

Add Value

The content you create should add some kind of value to your visitors. Valuable content is much more likely to be shared socially and be linked to from other websites.

Be consistent

In order to increase your organic rankings and search traffic you should publish content on a consistent basis. When it comes to SEO, consistency is much more important than frequency. For instance, if you have a blog, you can publish new posts multiple times a week or even once a month.

Stay consistent. Publishing a new post every day for a few months and afterwards just twice a week will result in a significant drop in traffic, which will be hard to recover from.

Find the perfect frequency for yourself and never force yourself to write something in order to keep up with a schedule. It’s much better to post a couple of high quality articles a month than mediocre ones every week.

On-Page Links

There are two types of links you can have on your website:

  1. Internal links – from a page on your site to other pages on your site
  2. Outbound links – from a page on your site to pages on other sites

Both types of on-page links can (and will) affect your search engine rankings, and, when used properly, they will help you to improve your positions.

Internal links

When your website is being indexed, search engines will follow each individual internal link on your website in order to fully understand your site architecture. Internal links also help you spread your earned “link juice” (ranking power).

To make sure that all your internal links are being followed and your whole website is being indexed, limit the internal links per page to approximately 150.

Internal links will also increase engagement rates across your website. The anchor text of any internal link should contain keywords relevant to both the page you are linking from and the one you are linking to.

Outbound links

Outbound links are often being overlooked as a ranking factor. Linking to low-quality websites or sites which are not related to your industry will negatively affect your rankings. Prior to linking to another website, make sure to check its content is relevant to the one you are linking from.

Affiliate links

Many webmasters make money with affiliate marketing. Always remember to make your outbound affiliate links nofollow, which will tell Google not to follow the link. Watch Matt Cutt’s talking about nofollowing affiliate links.

Conclusion

Your on-page SEO is something you will build on in the future and continue to improve. Do it right and there will be nothing to prevent you from improving your rankings externally. Stay tuned for next week’s guide to Off-Page SEO!