DIY SEO for a better website
Table of Contents
- Google Analytics
- Canonical URLs
- Alt Attributes
- Internal Links
- Page Speed
- Broken Links and Error Pages
- Dodgy SEO
- Wrapping Up
Whenever we review a site for SEO or PPC work, we always like to check the basics are in place. A lot of these things are very simple and all help to make a positive change to your website. If your website has a content management system such as SilverStripe or Wordpress, you can probably do them yourself. All the suggestions below should be possible in these, and other, content management systems.
If you don’t have any kind of analytics on your website, stop reading this and set up Google Analytics now. Analytics data is invaluable for seeing how your website is being used and provides the information you need to make decisions in future.
Keywords refer to the words or phrases people type into search engines to find answers. Your keywords could be your brand name, a product you sell, or a service you offer.
Simple, right? Sort of… sometimes the words you think you should be good keywords aren’t, sometimes words you don’t expect to be good keywords are. A service you offer might be called “Residential House Sales”, but your potential customers only know it as “Estate Agents”. Some keywords might achieve many visitors with no results, some may gain few visitors with great results.
This is what keyword research is all about, establishing volume, difficulty, and opportunity for keywords. It’s a big topic, this article on Moz has some good thoughts on the matter: Keyword Research.
Metadata is data that describes other data, you can view the meta data for a web page by viewing the source code. In the context of your website and SEO, the main things to look for with metadata are the meta title and meta description. These are mostly used by search engine results:
The topmost text (in blue) is the meta title. Every web page has one of these and it should be unique for each one – a common mistake is to have the same meta title on many or every page. It should describe the page and using keywords is recommend, though not at the expense of being nonsensical. The recommended length is 50-60 characters for Google to display it in full.
The bottom text in black is the meta description. Think of it as a call to action i.e. why should someone click this link and not one of the others? Including keywords is a good idea as search engines will highlight them if they match the search. You don’t always need to provide meta descriptions, though it’s good practise to have them on key pages. The recommended length is 150-160 characters.
If you share your site on social media, you’ll often find they also use this data. However Facebook and Twitter allow you to specify separate titles and descriptions which is worth looking into if you do share your website on social media frequently.
If you have a page on your website that can be viewed by using different web addresses (URLs), how can you tell search engines which one should be treated as the definitive version?
An example of where we often see this with blogs, where a post can be accessed via two different URLs, that might look like this:
The technical reason behind this is that the first link is using things called “rewrites” to show the content of the bottom link, with a more user-friendly web address. Search engines can’t tell that though, they get confused as to why you have two identical pages on different URLs.
The fix is easy, just add a meta tag that looks like this:
<link rel="canonical" href="http://www.website.com/blog/cool-stuff/my-post" />
Semantics is all about how your content is structured. Just like a Word document, your website should have headings and subheadings to break up the page. This is good for readability and good for helping search engines understand your content.
A page should have a single Heading 1, or H1, which is the main title for the page. There are exceptions… they’re complicated, so it’s best to stick with one. It should contain keywords, while making sense of course.
Thereafter, the page can contain any number of Heading 2 (H2), Heading 3 (H3) etc., the only rule is they should go in order and of course don’t forget about keywords. So, you would never put an H3 before you had an H2 – remember the headings are not just for appearance, they give meaning and structure to your content.
Another important semantic feature is lists. Never just type numbers or asterisks, your content management system should give you options for bulleted or numbered lists, be sure to use them.
Also (incorrectly) known as alt tags, an alt attribute is the text that describes an image should it not be visible.
Why might an image not be visible to a user?
- Their slow internet connection hasn’t loaded the image yet
- They rely on assistive technology to browse websites
- The user is not a human (search engines for example)
Most content management systems will use the file name as the alt attribute by default, however DSC1074.jpg isn’t very helpful. By adding an appropriate alt attribute to each image, you can help users and search engines better understand your content.
A simple descriptor is enough e.g. “Red car”, no need to go overboard with “Red Ford Mondeo parked at a slight angle in Tesco car park on a Wednesday afternoon”.
If the image is purely decorative, it’s still appropriate to have an empty alt attribute to indicate this.
Internal linking helps build context by indicating where content relates to other pages. As an example, this post is about ways to improve search engine optimisation, so a link to our search engine optimisation services page helps establish that there is a relationship between the two.
Search engines aside, internal links are a great navigation tool. If Page A refers to Page B, why not put a link in? Again, don’t get carried away, a couple of links per page is plenty.
Lastly, avoid internal links such as “click here” or “read more”. Your links should stand out visually without needing an instruction, and a good link makes sense out of context by describing its destination. For example:
- Bad: We often run training courses, click here to find out more.
- Good: Find out more about our regular training courses.
Googles Pagespeed Insights is a free tool that test your website page speed and can make suggestions to improve the speed of your website.
Some of the suggestions can be quite technical (leveraging browser caching for example). Also, as this is an automated tool, some suggestions may not be practical or worthwhile unless you receive 1,000s of visits a day. That said, you should try to address all points where possible.
Broken Links and Error Pages
Broken links within your website can negatively affect rankings. Fortunately it’s easy to check for broken links using free tools, here are our favourites:
Another thing to check for is missing pages, these can be caused by changing links within your site or external websites linking to old pages. Google Search Console can help you identify these, once you have added and verified your website you can look under “Crawl” to see any errors Google encountered indexing your website.
Where possible you should fix these by redirecting the link to a suitable page, if this isn’t relevant i.e. the link references a page that has no equivalent, you can still redirect it to your homepage. Once you’ve done this, you can tick off the boxes in Search Console and mark the links as fixed.
If your site has been around a few years, you might have inherited some SEO tactics that could now be having a negative effect. The most common ones we come across are:
The classic white text on white background. It’s easy for search engines to tell if you’re hiding content as they can compare the code to the result. Even if they miss it, if your site is ever subject to a manual review, expect to be punished for doing this.
Creating a page for every county in the UK and swapping out the names of cities used to be a semi-successful tactic for ranking locally. Now it earns you a nice drop in rankings.
Overkill footer links
Internal linking is good, linking to every page of your website from every page of your website is not, at least not if your website has more than about ten pages.
Search engines are good at identifying natural language. If your content is loaded with keyword repetition to the point of unintelligible, chances are it’ll get picked up and you’ll earn your golden ticket to SERP oblivion.
Bulk directory submissions
All links used to be good links. Then bad links stopped counting towards rankings. Next, bad links actively harmed rankings. Identifying bad backlinks can be partly automated using SEO tools, however if you suspect your site is suffering from this then a manual website review is what you need (we can help).
Everything we’ve covered should all help with your search engine success. Depending on your skill level and website setup, they should be reasonably easy to implement and take a few hours to work through.
If you’re interested in improving your website and aren’t confident in taking matters into your own hands, please do get in touch and we can assist.
18th April 2017
by Colin Richardson