Foundations of SEO

Although SEO is not an exact science, and there are plenty more factors that can affect the popularity of your website, it’s pretty well understood that you aren’t going to get far if you don’t have a few things in order.

1. Keywords

Many people like to say that keywords aren’t as important anymore, or they should be used less to avoid penalization. I don’t really see it this way, it’s really that Google has changed the way it values keywords. In the early days of search engines, the trick was basically just to try to make sure that a few relevant keywords appeared as often as possible. If you sold coffee mugs, your homepage content might have looked like this:

“Here at Coffee Mug Central, we have the best and biggest selection of coffee mugs for everyone who likes to drink coffee out of a mug because coffee mugs are the most essential part of the coffee process. Get sports team mugs, funny mugs, romantic mugs, or any other kind of coffee mug you can imagine because you can submit your own coffee mug design…”

Ok it might not have been that bad, but you get the point. That kind of “keyword stuffing” doesn’t get you very far these days, in fact it’s seen as spammy and can severely damage your rankings. The Google algorithm has been developed to the point of being able to judge content as a whole, rather than just scanning every page for whatever words you typed in the search bar. It can judge readability, relevance and a whole bunch of other factors that relate to the user experience.

I recommend using the Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool to do keyword research, because it allows you to type in a main subject (ie, coffee mugs), and then it lists dozens of related suggestions based on how frequent it’s searched for and the level of competition you’ll have with other sites using the same term. You’ll want to compile a list of at least a dozen words, preferably even more, that you can then sprinkle into the various places for content, which I will discuss now.

2. Page Titles

Google generally displays the first 55 characters of whatever title you choose, so just make sure it’s concise enough so that no information is cut off. Be sure to also include keywords in your page title, preferably at the front because search engines judge the first words of a title to be higher priority. For example, instead of “Your One-Stop-Shop for Original Coffee Mugs,” use something like “Coffee Mugs with Popular and Custom Designs.”

3. Meta Titles and Descriptions

Meta titles are the underlined headline links that you see listed on a search results page, descriptions are the blurbs of text that you see under the title. As a site owner, you have control over this text, so you want to write a concise summary of the page being linked to.  The trick here is that you only have 160 characters, so you have to get creative.

As with the title, use keywords to help the search engine bots interpret what your page is about. But ultimately, your goal should be to write for the reader. Google’s algorithm has advanced to the point of being able to tell when you try to just awkwardly list a bunch of related terms that pertain to your page.

4. Header Tags

Header tags form a hierarchy to highlight headlines and titles for search engines. H1 is your main headline (usually also the page title), H2 is the subheadline, H3 would be sub-subheadline, etc. One of the biggest mistakes store and blog owners make is overusing the H1 tag, which confuses search engines as to what the main subject of the page is; thus causing ranking issues for your site as a whole. You should use it at the top of your page to describe exactly what your page is about.

Another mistake many people make is to not have H2 or H3 tags at all. This is because many sites that provide you with templates such as BigCommerce, Shopify and SquareSpace automatically tag your page title with an H1 tag, which means you have to manually go into the back-end of your HTML code and enter sub-headlines yourself. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it’s well worth a quick google search to figure out how to do it on your individual platform. This is because the google algorithm scans H tags before actual page content, and it’s a bit more forgiving of brevity and keyword use considering H2-H3 headers should be no longer than a sentence or two. So basically you’re missing out on a great opportunity to use more keywords.

For example:

<h1>Funny Coffee Mugs</h1>
<h2>Guaranteed to get you countless laughs around the office as they bask in the glory of your humorous coffee cup!</h2>

5. Images and Alt Tags

Obviously stores have to make use of images for products, but information pages and even blog posts can benefit from integrating optimized images. Google and Bing are more and more starting to reward sites for having diverse media content. A few things to consider when using images:

  • They must be in the right format. Use JPGs for higher quality images like photos and PNG for graphics.
  • Save the images with a file name that describes what the image is about, and use hyphens between each of the words. This is yet another great time to use keywords you may want to rank for.
  • On that same note, include image alt text. Remember that search engine bots cannot see your images, so this is all they have to go off of when deciphering what the image is about. To include this, you simply add alt=”your alt text” to your image tag in the HTML code.
  • Consider using a tool like Image Optimizer to ensure you are not uploading files that are too large, which could cause your page to load slowly. In this day and age of everyone needing things as quickly as possible, that can seriously hurt your page rankings.

6. Internal Linking

Internal linking is just linking to other pages of your website within the content on your web pages and blogs. This benefits you because it helps improve navigation for readers by sending them to relevant pages (not to mention it should help improve your time on site numbers).

In the past, it was recommended that you use keyword-rich anchor text, but Google is moving away from that now and prefers more natural or branded anchor text. For example, it’s better for me to say “here is a list of satisfied customers” in order to take you to our portfolio, as opposed to the link text being “click here for our partner portfolio.” The move toward natural-looking anchor text integration came about mainly because too many companies were building poor quality backlinks specifically for SEO purposes and not to help readers.

Keep in mind that these are just foundational techniques, not an exact formula to immediately shoot you to the top of every search results page. It requires constant upkeep as far as monitoring the popularity of your keywords, not to mention quality content writing that finds the balance between brevity and long-windedness.

Good luck!