SEO (search engine optimisation) – the way that search engines view your site and then rank it in search results – is something that we hear a lot about, but not everyone knows how it works. It’s an incredibly complex world that can be very intimidating for the beginner. We’re not SEO professionals here at Big Ideas Machine, but we’ve done a lot of research and reading over the last few months to improve our site as well as help clients – so here’s ten useful tips for SEO beginners to help you drive traffic to your site.
It used to be the case that you could do some technical tips and tricks to ‘fool’ Google into ranking, known as ‘black hat SEO’. This was usually done by hiding keywords in your code or getting companies to list your site you on hundreds of directories to create back-links. Google got wise to this in 2012 with their Penguin and Panda updates, designed to penalise sites that were using underhanded techniques. These and pretty much every update since has therefore been developed to rank your site as a legitimate destination that people want to visit and look around. The lesson here? There are no shortcuts to an SEO-friendly site.
Even though Google stopped people using fake ways to build links to your site, it still ranks incoming links – but based on quality rather than quantity. This means you’ll often get SEO juice from creating content that people link to on social media or even from high traffic news sites. The more respected a site that links to your web content, the more SEO ‘juice’ you will get.
There are also some easy ways to boost your link quality legitimately. Having a Linkedin and Twitter profile can be good, as is making sure you are listed on respected directories such as Crunchbase. Don’t forget that YouTube is also the second biggest search engine in the world – so if you produce videos, make sure you tag them correctly, embed them on your site and ensure that they index properly.
The bottom line is, the more quality inbound links you have from other quality sites, the more Google likes you.
3. Analyse your site
Google wants sites that load quickly and are optimised in several different ways. The good news is that there are a lot of free tools to check your site. The best way to check your site speed is to see firstly what Google thinks of it at Google Page Speed Insights. Just type in your website URL and Google will give you a score based on your site’s desktop and mobile speed and how to improve it. You should also benchmark your site speed at Pingdom against other sites. For a more detailed analysis of your site’s SEO friendliness run it through the free tool at Woorank.
4. Speed your site up with caching and compression
There are a lot of simple things you can do to improve your site speed, and if you build your site in WordPress, there are a lot of great plugins that can do this for you. Caching saves parts of your page in a visitors browser so they don’t have to reload the entire page every time they visit the same page. WP Rocket is a fantastic plugin that will help you cache your site as well as compress parts of the code; you should see an immediate speed improvement after you’ve installed it.
5. Enable CDN (content delivery network) on your site
CDN is great for SEO because it speeds up the loading time of your site regardless of where in the world it’s being viewed from. Instead of your site being served from one location that may not be anywhere near your visitor, it creates multiple copies of your site and then works out where the visitor is and serves them the site from their nearest server. It also means your site’s uptime will be much better because if one server is down, it will serve the site up from another. An affordable solution is to sign up to a service like Cloudflare or KeyCDN or even better, host your site with a specialist such as Siteground that includes Cloudflare as part of its service.
6. Choose a good hosting company
A good web hosting company can make the world of difference to your site and its performance. After a lot of research we chose Siteground which is optimised for WordPress and, as we’ve mentioned, it also includes Cloudflare. Their customer service is also excellent. If you’re a low to medium traffic site their monthly $5 charge is insignificant, and if you have a WordPress site, then they’ll even do the migration for you. Just make sure you update your MX files for your mail to point to the new host if you do move sites – otherwise, your email will go down (as we discovered the first time we tried to do it!)
7. Use an SEO plugin and generate an XML sitemap
If you use WordPress, then there are some great plugins out there that will work hard in the background to optimise your site for SEO. We use the free All in One SEO pack that’s highly rated amongst SEO professionals. It’ll take care of lots of things that beginners like us would not normally have a clue about, such as canonical URLs. It’s also essential that you’re generating a sitemap for your site. A sitemap tells Google exactly what’s on your site, and a good SEO tool or plugin will send the latest sitemap to the major search engines every time you update your site so it can be indexed. Yoast’s SEO tool will do it all for you, but if you want to generate a sitemap separately then we recommend Google XML sitemaps.
8. Use Google Search Console
Most people have heard of Google Analytics, which gives you a mass of information on who is visiting your site, but not many people will necessarily have heard of Google Search Console, which is an excellent way to see how Google views your website. Once you’ve linked your site, then you can see how many pages Google is indexing as well as the keywords that it ranks you for. This is essential for understanding if Google sees your site as your would like it to be seen.
9. Create relevant, quality content
We like to think there are two sides to SEO these days – technical (page speed, loading times, etc.good) and content. Google has changed its algorithm to favour sites that have real, authentic content that people want to read. If you’re driving traffic to your site via social media and people are sharing what your site is giving them then it gets you some valuable link juice. This is why we’ve seen such an explosion in content marketing in recent years because people want Google to know that their site has legitimate and compelling content that people want to share (ahemmm…a bit like this article). If you want to know more about putting great content on your site, then we thoroughly recommend the Content SEO ebook from the experts at Yoast. Content can take many forms – blog posts, embedded YouTube videos, podcasts, downloadable research papers and more. If you want to know more about content creation, then take a look at our A-Z of content Marketing here.
10.Be mobile friendly
At the time of writing this post, Google will soon be implementing its next algorithm update which will reward sites that are mobile friendly and possibly penalise those that are not. A shocking amount of companies still display their desktop sites to mobile devices when there are now more people searching on mobile than desktop. A comScore report in 2014 said smartphones and tablets combined accounted for 60 percent of all online traffic up from 50 percent a year ago, and this will have increased again in 2015. You can make your site more mobile friendly by first checking it with the Google tool here. Optimise your website by ensuring that the design is responsive to mobile devices (most good WordPress themes are responsive these days) and compressing images and ensuring the site loads quickly.