The sheer number of websites on the Internet today is staggering. Search Engines, like Google or Bing, have the daunting task of serving up the most relevant content for their more than 1 billion search queries each day. The search engines use very complex algorithms to weed out the good results from the bad results on their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Everybody wants to be at the top of the first page, but how exactly do you get there? Perhaps you’ve built a shiny new site and excitedly went to Google to see where you rank. You query the search engine only to see page after page of results that are not you! It can be very frustrating. Why can’t I find my website on Google?, you may ask. Let’s take a few minutes to look at why it is that your site may not be appearing.
I’m Using Outdated SEO Techniques
SEO is really about making your site as visible as it can be to Search Engines. The Algorithm that search engines use are ever-evolving as the search engines try to improve their results to displaying the best pages, and as they try to keep ahead of those who are trying to game the system. The SEO techniques that worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so it is important that we understand what search engines are looking for, and how to employ best practices, so that as the algorithm changes, we don’t find ourselves going from the top of the SERPs to sudden obscurity.
The goal of search engines is to evaluate pages the way that a human being would evaluate them. In the early days of the Internet, the search engines were just looking for keywords to be present in a website. The search engines really couldn’t understand context. All one needed to do was stuff a whole bunch of keywords willy-nilly into their site. They could put volumes of text into the metadata in the page’s head section, in hopes of rising up the rankings. Today we need to understand that META KEYWORDS DON’T DO ANYTHING. Search Engines haven’t used them in years because they are far too easy to spam.
There are a whole host of different techniques that have been used over the years to try to inflate rankings. I could write on these at length, but the real take away is that Search Engines are looking for relevant content that reads well to people. When we try to make our site visible to google at the cost of making it readable, we end up hurting our results in the long run. It’s the get-rich-quick scheme of the digital age.
My Content Hasn’t Been Optimized
So rather than keyword stuffing, let us take a look at a better way of optimizing our content for search engines. The search engine is looking at a few pieces of content on each page that help it determine relevancy. These things include:
- Page Title
- Page URL. The URL is the address. Having URL’s that can be clearly understood by people will also be more readily understood by the search engine
- Page Heading (This is H1 tag, it is the most important heading on the page. There should be one, and only one on each page.)
- Sub headings:
- Body Copy: Does your content jive with your title, headings, etc. The search engine may be looking to see if your keyword are in the body copy, and it is a good practice to include keywords near the top of the copy, but just trying to work the term into the copy as many times as possible will do nothing to boost your ranks. Write copy for people, not for the search engines.
- image alt tags: Since google can’t see images, it looks to the alt text attribute of each image to understand what that image is, and if it is relevant)
- Links and anchor text: The links are connections to other pages or sites. The anchor text is the actual text that you click on to follow the link.
If we do a good job of focusing our content, we’ll go a long way in helping our pages rank higher.
My Technical SEO Needs Some Work
Besides your content, search engines look at a few other factors to determine how to rank your site. A great tool I have found to check your technical optimization is www.seositecheck.com, who give a pretty exhaustive check of a large number of items that search engines may be looking for. I don’t have the time or space to get into all of them, but here are a few examples
Recently, Google indicated that it was giving a bump to sites that are using the secure https protocol, rather than it’s unencrypted counterpart, http. This is often referred to as SSL (Secure Socket Layer), which encrypts data being send to and from your site. This has been extremely important for sites that process personal or financial information, but will soon become more commonplace all over the world-wide web. Until recently, SSL certificates were costly, but recently a new open and free certificate authority has made it possible for us all to encrypt our websites. visit www.letsencrypt.com for details.
XML Sitemaps are a tool that search engine crawlers use to find their way around your site. There are tools to generate the site maps. Again, I would mention to WordPress users that Yoast SEO can generate your site maps for you.
You want to make sure that you don’t send the crawler on a wild goose chase. Eliminating links that point to pages that have moved, or that no longer exist will help the search engines crawl your sites more efficiently.
These are a mystery to many, but when multiple pages have almost identical content, the search engine will have difficulty determining which page it should rank, so both pages will fall in the ranks. The canonical link will tell the search engine which page is the one that should be seen as the authority, and therefore the one that will rank higher.
Take a look on SEO site checkup, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of some areas on your site that you might be able to improve in order to boost your search engine rankings
My Page Is Loading Too Slow
I saw an article last week that said that if your page doesn’t render in 10-15 seconds that your visitors may go someplace else. This must be a little dated, because these days that number is more like 3-6 seconds. We’re used to pages loading fast, and we’re unwilling to wait.
A few things that can make a big difference in your sites performance are:
Caching and CDN
Every time a request is made for a page on your site, the web browser has to pull assets from your server and render the page. This can create a lot of avoidable work for the server, and slow it down. Caching allows your server to temporarily store pre-rendered versions of your pages, so that it can serve them up extra fast. That can be combined with a Content Delivery Network (CND) which will have a network of servers around the world, which can serve up resources from a server that is the closest to your site’s visitor. If someone in Sydney visits your site, he or she doesn’t have to make 50 requests to a server on the other side of the world, but can get a cached version of you site from a server located much closer to him or her. This translates into faster load times, and better user experience.
Images are an important part of any website. Your web browser can scale images to fit a layout, but if the image file is way to large, the browser has to download the full image and then resize it. Resizing the images, and compressing them correctly can minimize file sizes without sacrificing quality. Photoshop is the best tool for doing this. There is a Save For Web option. All you need to do is specify a size and file type, and it takes care of exporting the file with an appropriate amount of compression.
My Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly
Google prioritizes mobile-friendly sites for searches made on mobile devices. Making sure that your website adheres to Googles mobile-friendly standards is a good way to make sure that you don’t loose rankings in searches made from smart phones and tablets. If you want to check to see if your site is mobile friendly, you can visit Google’s mobile friendly test
My Site Doesn’t Have Enough (or Quality) Back Links
One of the most important, and potentially frustrating part of search engine rankings is backlinks. Frustrating, because you have little control over them. Search engines look to see how many other sites on the internet are linking to your site. Think of backlinks as references. If you were going to hire someone to do a job, you would want to see references. Like references you would give to a perspective employer, some will carry more weight than others. If someone has references from a large corporation, a government, or non-profit agency, for example, they would carry more weight than a reference from their uncle Gus who owns a gas station. References from unknown sources, or sources irrelevant to your site will not help your case. Some links will actually hurt your rankings, since there are tons of shady companies out there who will sell you links. This is considered spammy, and will be penalized.
There are a few ways that you can build your backlinks, but the best way is to produce content that people will share. If we produce content that gets passed around via social networks, the search engines will take notice, and reward our site in their page rankings.
If you want a better understanding of how a search engine sees your site, the MOZ Open Site Explorer is a great tool. It assigns a domain authority score, which gives you an idea of how trusted a domain is. The higher the domain authority score is, the more likely that the search engine will reward a link from that site. You can also check out their Linking domains test to see which valuable backlinks you have from your site.
Search Engine Optimization is a very broad field with countless facets to consider. It isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. It requires a lot of work, patience, and commitment. There is far more to consider when optimizing your site than the things I mentioned here, but hopefully this will give you a better understanding of the things that affect your search engine rankings. To many of us, it’s a mystery, and perhaps by dispelling a bit of the mystery I can encourage you to investigate a little further, and hopefully improve your site, and your organic search results.
If you have a WordPress site, and you would like some help with your site’s optimization, feel free to visit https://missionbell.net/help/ and let us know how we can be of assistance.