Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has developed a reputation as a complicated and technically challenging process. While it’s true that there are some tricky elements to SEO, you can save yourself a lot of time and energy by implementing the basics throughout the planning and development phases of your website project. If you get your SEO right from the beginning, you’ll launch your website with the foundations in place to give your business the best possible start on Google.
Set SEO foundations with a sitemap
Good SEO starts with user-focussed website structure
Your website should be easy to navigate while gently guiding customers through to your most important pages. This is where your sitemap comes in. A sitemap is a visually interactive diagram that establishes the hierarchal importance of your pages for users and SEO. It displays a holistic representation of your content and acts as your roadmap throughout the development of your entire website. An SEO-friendly sitemap will represent a user-first flow of content and will outline some of the finer SEO details such as planned URL structure.
Use clean, SEO-friendly URLs
URLs are often the first thing a user sees when they visit your site. Properly constructed page URLs provide easy-to-understand information about the page in question and tell Google what to expect from content. Automatically generated character strings can leave you with spammy looking URLs eg. https://site.com.au/cat?cid=7890. These are unsightly and should be changed into static URLs that include a logical folder structure and descriptive keywords eg https://site.com.au/page-title. An SEO-friendly URL will use hyphens to separate words rather than underscores or other characters, will clearly reflect the content within the page and will avoid keyword cramming.
Tip: For every change to an existing URL, a 301 redirect should be put in place to avoid 404 error messages.
Responsive design rules
It probably comes as no surprise that more than half of all searches online are now conducted via a mobile device. Because of this, the team at Google have announced that their search engine index will primarily use the mobile version of a website’s content when it comes to answering search queries by users, and that responsiveness will be among their ranking factors for a website. But what does responsive design really mean?
Responsive web design centres around the creation of the best possible viewing experience across all types of devices. Desktop computers, mobile phones and tablets should all offer a common user experience that is quick to load, easy to read and navigate and avoids blocking factors such as Flash and pop-ups.
TIP: If the text isn’t displaying properly or it’s hard to navigate, your site is not as mobile friendly as it could or should be.
Tip: Check whether your website is meeting Google’s responsiveness requirements using the Mobile-Friendly Test https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly. This quick and easy test will give you a clear indication of your site’s mobile performance and will provide a list of improvements and recommendations for your website that can be handed to your developer for action.
Keep your site running fast
The selection of the right web host for your business can make seconds of difference to your load time. A host server should be located as close as possible to the majority of your site visitors to deliver the fastest possible service.
Speed is just one of the areas where ‘ready-made’ website templates or themes have the potential to lose points from an SEO perspective. The extra features, plugins and code can lead to a slower, less responsive site. In contrast, a custom design ensures that you only use the required CSS and HTML code that you need and use, and that your website delivers in an efficient and responsive manner.
Tip: Check your website speed using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool <https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/> or the Pingdom Speed Test <https://www.pingdom.com/feature/website-speed-testing/>.
Find the right keywords for your audience
Basic keyword research will help you to understand what your audience is looking for online and the topics that they want to learn more about. The keyword research can be completed by your SEO Agency or your web development company as part of the website build.
Each page of your website should have one focus keyword that relates to your page theme and a list of related synonyms. This can often be called “Keyword Mapping”. Where these keyword clusters are created, based around your business segments. Each cluster is mapped to one page – This forms the keyword targeting for your web page, that is then used by your content production team to create SEO friendly content around those targeted keyword clusters. (Usually a primary keyword to target, with the related synonyms as secondary targets.)
Create user-friendly content with Google in mind
In order for Google to deem your content as valuable, you need to create content that reflects the needs, challenges, questions and interests of your users. Once you understand what your audience is looking for online and the topics that they want to learn more about, you will be able to provide value and solutions to their problems.
Each page of your website should have one focus keyword that relates to your page theme and a list of related synonyms. These keyword/keyword phrases can then be weaved throughout your copy in a natural and organic way. Overusing your keywords is considered ‘spammy’ and you may end up with a slap on the wrists from Google if you take this approach. There is no specific ‘ideal’ length or word count for your copy. But whatever you put on the page must add value. Thin content is pointless and won’t score you any SEO points.
Tip: Use a content roadmap <hyperlink to content roadmap article> to create a structured and optimised content plan for all of your pages.
The ever-changing nature of search engine algorithms means it’s important to adopt a longer-term approach to SEO. The above-mentioned considerations are best implemented in the planning phase of the site development process and are the starting point for a ‘big picture’ SEO and web strategy.