If you learn anything about SEO, the first thing you probably will hear about is keywords. Keywords are the terms Google picks out in queries and runs through their algorithm to find sites that relate to those words. Choosing the right keywords is the first step to ensure your website gets seen by the right audience.
But site rankings are not built by keywords alone! Google also has several internal measurements in its algorithm to weigh how valuable and accurate the information on a website is. Google also rewards sites that make it easy for their search engine spiders to do their job. The key to getting a high ranking on search engine result pages is to prove to Google that your site is the best one for a given keyword set.
Some of these factors are beyond your control, like the length of time that your site has been active. But there are many things you can do right now to improve your website in the eyes of Google. We want to share ten things that you can check on your site right now that could make a big difference in how well your site gets ranked.
1. XML Sitemaps
Google loves sitemaps. An XML sitemap is like an address list for your website. It tells Google’s spiders how your site is organized so it can crawl your site more effectively. XML sitemaps also give the spiders metadata about your pages such as the last time a page was updated and how important one page is to the rest of the website. Sitemaps can also be used to identify photos and videos, as well as tell Google which parts of your site are designed for mobile.
Sitemaps are very easy to generate using third-party tools, and Google has a helpful page on how to build a sitemap at this page. Many CMS systems have plugins that will automatically generate a sitemap and keep it updated as well.
2. Site Audit
Speaking of basics, there are several tools you can use that can crawl your website to find basic search engine optimization errors. These include things like duplicate content, missing meta tags, duplicate header tags, too long of title tags, and broken links. These things confuse Google’s spiders and makes Google rank your site lower.
Moz.com, one of the granddaddies of SEO and site auditing, has a ludicrously detailed list of things you can check in a site audit at this webpage. Depending on what you find, fixing what was found on your site audit can be a breeze or take a really long time to complete (looking at you disavow tool.)
3. Site Speed
Yes, Google measures your site speed too. The web is no longer the World Wide Wait (remember that?) But this is a minor SEO boost compared to the other tactics in this list. Still, if particular pages on your site load very slowly then they will get knocked down the search rankings. Loading speeds are especially important for mobile sites, so if that’s your target audience you may want to bump this one up in priority.
A very easy way to measure site speed and ways to improve it is to install the YSLOW extension. It’s available for all modern browsers except IE. This extension will measure the speed for a page and tick through a list of 24 things to check that can improve loading speeds, then give suggestions on how to fix the problem.
A more serious approach to ensuring your site performs properly around the world is to use a Content Delivery Network (CDN), i.e. a global network of strategically positioned data centers that shortens round trip time and decreases page load time by bringing your content closer to your website visitors.
4. Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools
If you have a website, you should get it signed up with both of these useful tools from Google. Google Analytics tracks how users interact with your website. Google Webmaster Tools tracks how search engines view your site and how you can boost your SEO.
Signing up on both sites has another beneficial feature. Both sites require you to put in a bit of code into your webpages so Google can track your site. When Google’s spiders see these, they know that you are taking a deeper interest in your website and lets Google’s algorithm know. Google really likes it when you use their products on your website, even invisible ones.
5. Social Sharing Buttons
One of the big changes that Google has made to its algorithm is measuring social signals. Google believes that social signals like sharing a post in G+ or talking about it on Facebook is a sign that the information is relevant and useful. Therefore, it makes sense to have ways to share your content with other social media sites through a convenient button click.
However, the presence of social sharing buttons alone won’t boost your SEO. You still need to generate content that is relevant and interesting enough that people will want to share it. Still, making this as easy as possible to do is a good idea.
6. No Spam Links
Anyone who has been in SEO for a little while knows that a bad link profile can get you killed in Google. When Google released their Panda and Penguin updates it totally changed how SEO worked. Prior to this time, it was possible to trick the system into reading link spam as legitimate backlinks, the core marker Google uses to rank sites.
Now if Google detects you have poor-quality spam links you’ll be knocked way down the list. You may even be sandboxed, which means you won’t appear at all! However, there are ways to find out which links Google has a problem with, get them removed, and then report back to Google that you’ve removed your spam links. There are even companies that specialize in helping sites get relisted back on Google after they’ve been sandboxed.
7. Unique Content
Google does not like duplicate content. It makes it difficult for its spiders to decide which copy is the authoritative copy. Sometimes a simple problem with site configuration in your CMS can make Google think you have multiple web pages that say the same thing. A site audit will be able to detect this.
Even more important, you should make your own content be unique and not a copy or a badly-disguised spin of other content. Google would much prefer to catalog something new and rank it highly than something it has seen over on a bunch of other pages.
Robots.txt is a little file that sits on your web server that gives directions to webcrawlers about which pages they can crawl and which they cannot. During the development of a site this is a great tool to prevent search engines from indexing your site before it is ready. It is also useful if you have an internal site and an external site on the same server and you want to prevent Google or any other search engine from indexing your internal site.
However, you should also make sure that you aren’t disallowing the webcrawlers from crawling your site once it has gone live. This is a rookie SEO mistake, but fortunately it is easy to fix. You will have to wait a while for the webcrawlers to crawl your site again though before you can see its effects. To make sure your robots.txt is formatted correctly and to learn more about the file and its uses, here is a page from Google on the topic.
9. Internal Linking
Your sitemap tells webcrawlers where all of your pages are, but that doesn’t mean that your site is as easy to navigate for people. Google also examines how your pages are linked together inside of your website. Sites that are more user-friendly and better organized are ranked higher than others. A good internal linking system also tells Google which pages you prioritize on your site over others.
Ideally, you should be able to access any page on your website within three clicks. For more information on internal linking, MOZ has a good tutorial at this page. There’s a free internal linking plugin to make your job easier.
Finally, Google likes to see a site that is updated regularly. We’ve all ran into old sites that haven’t been updated in years. Google prefers to rank newer information higher than old information. An abandoned site will slip down the rankings into irrelevance.
Adding new content and keeping your site map regularly updated are two ways you can show that your site is staying up to date. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to force Google to recognize that a change has occurred and that your site needs to be updated. Using Google’s tools to keep up with your site is another way to let them know you’re paying attention.
Building a good external link profile is still the best way to rank on Google’s search engine, but if you’re down in the 9th place and can’t figure out why you aren’t moving into the top three, check out these other SEO factors as well. Every little bit helps when the goal is achieving maximum visibility on search engines.