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In This article, we'll discuss the six fundamental questions you should ask yourself when trying to optimise your website for Search Engines. (And where you should focus your attention.)
What traits do well-optimised websites have?
There are many factors which affect how well your website is likely to perform in search engines. But there are 6 fundamentals which have stood the test of time:
1. Google must be able to index your website
2. You must have keywords to optimise for
3. Your onsite content must be optimised for your keywords
4. You need to have internal linking between your website pages
5. You need good quality inbound links to your site
6. Your web content should be unique and valuable to its readers
Q 1: Can Google Index my website properly?
It is critically important that before you get stuck into content optimisation, you carry out a technical audit on your website. This is to ensure there are no technical problems which would effect Google's ability to index your website.
The kind of things you are looking for are:
SEO Health Checks, as I call them, are worth their weight in gold and can mean the difference between website optimisation heaven and website optimisation hell.
Q2: have I got a set of keywords I am targeting?
Keywords are the foundation of Search Engine Optimisation. It is, after all, what people type into the search engine isn't it?
So, it's important to have a keyword strategy. It doesn't have to be unwieldy; a list of target keywords is a good start. Take a look at the Query Report in your Google Webmaster Tools Account to see which keywords are giving you results in the SERP. It also gives the average position for each query so you can see where you might need to improve things a bit.
If you want to get a bit smarter, use the Google Keyword Planner tool to figure out which keywords are the most relevant to your business and how competitive they are to target (ie difficult).
You can then cross reference them against the Search Query Report and figure out where the quick wins are versus the longer-term opportunities.
Q3: is my website content optimised for my target keywords?
A target keyword list is pretty useless if it's just sitting on a spreadsheet somewhere. Having keyword-optimised website content is a must for all Search Engine Optimisation projects.
Every SEO Specialist has an approach to optimising website content. Essentially, you want to ensure that there is at least one page on your website focusing on each target keyword. Ideally, each page's content will be exclusive to that keyword (and no others) but in reality this isn't overly practical.
Try and ensure your keyword is inserted into the:
Q4: do I have good internal linking?
Internal linking is an extremely important factor to consider when optimising your website. Google's Search Engine Spiders love web pages (URLs) that are linked together in a logical hierarchy starting from broad categories getting progressively more specific.
In fact, if a page on your website is not linked to (and has no back links coming in from other websites), Google simply won't find it and it won't go into the index!
The easiest way to understand internal linking is to think about how you would navigate your way around a website that you are unfamiliar with.
Example of internal linking
Note: take a look at the illustration below which visualises this user's journey.
Say, you started on the homepage (not a given by any stretch) of an online retailer selling ladies' fashion. Let's say you're doing a spot of online research for a pair of red, toe-less stilettos.
The first thing you would probably do is scan the page for text or images that indicate the content you are looking for: shoes.
Perhaps you would click on the big promotional image or find the navigation menu item for shoes. Whichever method you choose, they would both ultimately link to a category page listing each of the different brands of shoes available.
The shop sells three brands of shoes and each brand has two product variations. As you can see from the sitemap illustration below, all of these pages are linked together in a logical and ordered hierarchy.
This is important for three reasons: 1, a visitor to the website could visit any page directly or indirectly from any other page making it easy for them to navigate around the site without getting to any dead ends 2, Google bot can potentially index every page starting from the home page (which it typically does) and 3, the linked pages begin to create themes of content around your target keywords which strengthens their association with your website in Google's index.
Boosting internal links to strengthen keyword themes
Page Rank is one of over 200 factors (according to Google) that are taken into account when determining where your website page is placed in the SERP.
Note: see how Google explains Page Rank here.
Two important factors affecting Page Rank are the number (and quality) of links pointing to any given website page and how related the content on these pages are to the page being linked to.
This includes internal links.
If we look back to our shoe example, if the online shop was optimising its content for the "Designer Shoes" category, it should probably rename the 'shoes category' page "Designer Shoes", make sure that the link was present on the home page and ensure that each of the brand and product pages included keywords around the "designer" theme linking back to the category page.
Q5: do I have good quality inbound links coming into my website?
Inbound links (often called backlinks) are links to pages (or images/files) on your website from external websites.
Backlinks are extremely important in building a well optimised website for search engines. Each link into you website from a reputable source is effectively a vote of popularity. The more votes (links), the more popular your website is in Google's eyes and the better chance it has of getting ranked.
However, we aren’t just interested in the volume of links. What we're looking for is quality links as it is this factor that will have the greatest potential impact on rankings.
There are many factors which impact on the quality of any given link to your website including:
Please only do'white hat' backlinking
Over the last 18 months Google has released several ('Panda') updates to its algorithm which have been designed to squirrel out dodgy backlinking practices (often called 'black hat'). The net effect has been a lot of websites (legit and not so legit) dropping rankings.
Whatever, you do, don't ever purchase links from websites or dodgy SEO companies which make false promises such as a 'guaranteed number 1' position in the Google SERP.
It could all end in tears.
Q6: is my content unique and valuable to readers?
Okay, when all is said and done your website should first and foremost be designed, written (exist even!) for the benefit of human beings.
The best way to ensure good performance in Search Engines is to make sure your website has unique, compelling content that is genuinely useful to readers. The more valuable it is, the more likely it is to appeal to your prospective customers and the more likely they are to share it with their peers.
This also makes it more likely that channels and other third parties websites will want to link to your website (organically) and share content with you.
Don't put off making a start on your SEO
It's never too late to make a start on optimising your website for Search Engines. Small changes made over time can make a huge difference especially for small businesses where the lion's share of their site traffic comes via organic search.
At the very least, try and do your keyword research and get the keywords (appropriately) into your site content. You might be pleasantly surprised with the difference it makes.
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Author: Laurie Turnbull
SEO & Digital Marketing Specialist based in Auckland NZ
Laurie is an SEO Specialist with a passion for helping small and medium sized business succeed online.
Need help with your SEO?
Give me a shout atLaurie@digitalcontentmarketing.co.nz