Search engine optimization, also known as SEO, has historically been defined as the process of optimizing a website’s structure and copy for the purpose of ranking high on search engine queries that relate to the purpose of the site.
Today, that definition for SEO is still true however it has expanded to also include the optimization of a company’s overall digital presence. SEO is especially intertwined with the topic of content marketing. This expanded definition reflects the importance of generating high-quality backlinks that drive referral traffic, as well as developing a robust social media community, in addition to strategically developing website content and the website structure.
Below is a quick overview of 10 factors that impact SEO:
1. URL: URL stands for uniform resource locator and is a fancy way of saying web address. Get a big SEO boost by using a keyword that relates to the purpose of your site as the first word in your homepage URL. Also, create a homepage URL that is less than 256 characters in length, and does not feature symbols, nonsensical number sequences, or spaces. When adding additional pages to your site, include a descriptive word in the URL to indicate the purpose of each page. For example, the blog on this website uses the word “blog” in the web address, as you can see here: https://astute.co/blog/
2. Sitemap: A sitemap lists the pages of your website, and makes it easy for search engines to index the pages. Create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. To do this, you can use XML-Sitemaps.com or the Google XML Sitemaps WordPress Plugin. Also, declare your sitemap in the Robots.txt file.
3. Title Tags: Title tags provide a brief summary of each page for search engines, and are also publicly displayed on search engine results pages (SERPs) as well as other places on the web. Here is great tool to help you write effective title tags.
4. 301 Redirects: If you change the URL for a web page, move a page to a new category, or completely remove a page, use a 301 redirect to direct traffic to the appropriate page on your site. If you don’t use a 301 redirect, and instead allow visitors to land on a page that says 404 Error, search engines will eventually decrease your ranking, due to a less than optimal experience for visitors.
5. ALT tags and file names: Before you upload an image to your site, give the file a descriptive name, and reduce the file size as much as possible without sacrificing the quality of the image. Once the image is uploaded, write a descriptive Alt Tag (alternative attribute) for the file. Search engines crawl Alt Tags and file names to determine the purpose of the image. Each image ultimately impacts how search engines interpret the purpose of the page, and even the entire website.
7. Website Copy: Even if visitors can navigate your site without on-page descriptive copy, you should still include some words on each page of your site so search engines can verify the purpose of each page. Use keywords in a natural way, and don’t forget to also include synonyms so your content doesn’t read like a robot wrote it.
8. Blog Content: A blog is one of the number one ways to develop and maintain search engine optimization. Consistently update your blog with content that relates to the overall purpose of your website. Like website copy, your website content should use important keywords and synonyms in a natural way. The overall goal of blog content is to provide valuable information, not to repeat keywords. Search engines are now advanced enough to tell the difference between real content and content that is stuffed with keywords. Aim to add at least one new blog post of at least 300 words every week. The headline of your posts carries extra SEO weight, so try to write a unique but accurate headline to indicate the post topic. If you add videos, images, PDFs or other enhancements to your blog posts, your SEO points will increase, because these additions are considered to be a value-add for visitors.
9. Referral Links: Whenever a reputable website features a link to your site, search engines count that as a vote in your favor. Look for ways to get noticed by the leaders of the best websites in your industry. If those leaders decide to mention your website, or feature some your content, a little bit of their clout will rub off on your site. Recently referral links got a bad reputation due to the abundance of spammy sites that did nothing but feature links for the purpose of SEO. If you steer clear of any sites that are not legitimate, you will be fine. Just remember, SEO takes work, so if a referral link seems too easy, it probably is. Do your homework and research all linking opportunities before risking your precious SEO. Gaining high quality backlinks is worth your time because they carry significant weight for search engines.
10. Social Media: The more likable you are on social media platforms, the more search engines will like you. Similar to referral links, social media engagement must be legitimate and high quality. There are many ways to shortcut the social media element of SEO; for example, some services will sell you fake social media fans. Search engines are smart enough to catch these shortcuts, though. Make time to be active on at least one social media platform, and you will eventually gain real social media fans. To get the biggest SEO boost out of social media, create updates that inspire to people to take some sort of action, such as liking or sharing your updates.
Conclusion: While the 10 SEO factors listed above are a great place to start building a strong search engine ranking, they are just the tip of the SEO iceberg. For example, in 2015, your site must be optimized for mobile devices, or you will suffer severe search engine ranking consequences. According to some estimates, there are at least 200 factors that affect the search engine ranking of each website. Ultimately, the best way to get ensure your site is properly optimized is to work with a seasoned and reputable SEO professional.
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