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Feb 17, 2020

SEO Explained: Part Two

Educational Articles

You can be the top influencer on Instagram or the top content publisher on LinkedIn, but without a website you are missing a huge opportunity to explain to Google what you are all about.

This is a three-part series on how SEO works and what you can do to help improve your SEO.

SEO. Those three letters are thrown around in the digital world more than ‘quid pro quo’ in the political sphere and ‘ROI’ in a business meeting. So what does it actually mean and how can you leverage it to grow your business? In Part I of this series, we’ll outline the basics of SEO and how it generally works. Part II will cover internal SEO – so what you can do on your website to improve your searchability. Part III will cover external SEO – what you can do outside your website, in other places online to increase the likelihood that you’ll appear in targeted search results.

Part II of our series covers internal SEO. By internal SEO, we mean your website. Your website is the foundation of your online presence. It’s where you tell Google who you are, what you do and why you deserve to be ranked higher than other companies who compete with you. You can be the top influencer on Instagram or the top content publisher on LinkedIn, but without a website you are missing a huge opportunity to explain to Google what you are all about.

This may be unnecessary to point out, but nevertheless I will. Google is not a person – or group of people – manually reviewing your website, for obvious reasons. Google utilizes ‘bots’ or ‘crawlers’ to automatically scan your website and measure and rank it against success variables set by Google’s algorithm. This is an important point to remember because, while a website may LOOK great to the human visitors visiting your site (which, of course matters too!), it can be a complete disaster under the hood. And by under the hood, I mean in the code.

Since this series is titled ‘SEO for Dummies’ I feel obligated to ensure readers also have a basic understanding of how websites are built in order to drive home the larger point of this article. Websites are built using thousands of lines of code. Computers read that code and then, based on the direction given in the code, display front-end information such as pictures, content, and animations as well as load data in the back-end to allow users to access unique information within their account, process payments or manage data through a content management system. For more information on this, check out our article: https://www.sidekickwebstudio.com/blog/part-1-understanding-how-software-works-for-non-technical-people

This brings us to the first few internal factors, specifically related to the architecture of your website, that can positively (or negatively) affect your SEO:

1)   Code Quality

Clean code is important to Google for a variety of reasons. What do we mean by clean? A cleanly coded website uses industry-best, Google-recommended practices. Each tag and function has a purpose and should be cohesive and consistent throughout. Poorly written code can most certainly function, but it can have extremely damaging effects to your page load speed, site security and general site functionality.

It can also cause Google to not be able to fully understand your site during the assessment. For instance, if header and title tags are not coded properly, Google will assume an entire page of content is one big chunk of copy. Google knows that people best process ideas when important information is pulled out in headers and sub-headers, and most people will leave a site if they are faced with a giant block of copy. Again, Google can’t SEE the page, so you have to tell Google in the code how the page looks through tools like header tags.

2)   Page Load Speed

Page load speed is one of the most important factors when it comes to SEO. Google wants to provide their users with the best possible experience, and if a page on your site takes more than a few seconds to load – more than likely you will leave and find another resource. So what causes poor page load speed?

Image & Video Size

One of the worst culprits when it comes to poor SEO is image size. Ideally, images should be no larger than 100KB. Images first need to be sized down from a pixel standpoint. Full-screen images should around 1600px wide. Smaller image such as headshots can be as small as 400-500px. After an image is sized correctly, it also needs to be optimized. Image optimization removes an unnecessary data stored in the image file to even further decrease the file size. There are lots of free, online image optimization tools for anyone to use. At Sidekick, we use www.optimizilla.com.

Videos are even larger files, and many times are not able to be sized down and optimized enough to host on the website itself. Best practice for video content is to host it using a third-party such as Youtube or Vimeo, then embed the video into the website. This ensures no SEO damage, but still allows the video to be viewed within the website.

Excess Code

A ton of unnecessary code under the hood of your website can also cause delayed page loading. Excess code can be present for a variety of reason, the most common being the presence of third-party plug-ins used on platforms like Wordpress. The more code the site has to load in the back-end, the longer it will take the page to appear on screen. Sidekick specifically does not use the Wordpress platform because of this.

3)   Mobile Responsive

Over 50% of all website traffic worldwide is generated through mobile devices. Next to page load speed, Google places mobile responsive design at the top of the list when it comes to ranking websites for organic search. There’s no two ways around it – to play the SEO game your website absolutely must be developed responsively. So what does that mean? If your website is coded responsively, it will “respond” to any screen size, adjusting the content accordingly. So if you are viewing the site on an iPhone, a row of three images will be stacked vertically rather than side-by-side as you would see on desktop. This provides a better user experience because it makes content more readable, images better sized to see and the navigation easier to use.

4)   Domain, URL Structure, Sitemap & Meta Data

Unfortunately for new businesses, domain age is a significant factor in SEO rankings. Again, putting yourself in the shoes of Google, the search engine giant is assuming (probably correctly) that a company who has been in business longer is likely more trustworthy, knowledgeable and a better fit to recommend for services than a brand new company. So how does Google know how long you've been in business? Your domain age. The longer you've owned an active domain linked to a legitimate website, the higher Google will rank your business in search results. It can actually take an average of 6 months for Google to fully recognize, crawl and index new websites with new domains.

Google has also specifically recommended to enable HTTPS, and that it is a factor in SEO rankings. HTTPS is an encryption method that secures the connection between users’ browser and your server, providing a higher level of security for visitors on your website. SSL certificates (which allow you to enable HTTPS) can be purchased through with your domain, or sometimes (like with all Sidekick websites) come with the website itself.

While not a huge factor in search engine rankings, your URL structure can play a role in search results. URL structure refers to the address of each individual page on your website. A properly designed URL scheme is clear, consistent and uses keywords to give both Google and users the best possible understanding of the purpose of the page. For instance, this URL on our website tells Google and users this is a subpage of our Services category and will discuss websites.

There are other industry-standard sections built into the code of your website that are there specifically to give you the chance to tell Google what your site is about. The first opportunity to do this is your sitemap. Your sitemap is basically a table of contents for your website. It informs Google about the structure of your site and all the pages that are available for Google to crawl. XML sitemaps are also linked so Google can easily index your site. It is imperative for you to have a sitemap loaded into the back-end of your website during the build of the site to ensure the best possible SEO results. The other important file to have loaded in the back-end is your robots.txt file. This is where you tell Google where it is allowed to look for site information and where it isn't.

Another place you have full authority to tell Google what your website is about is in your meta titles and descriptions. When you search for something on Google, organic search results showing the page name and description appear on the results page. You actually have full control over this content, which can be a huge driver in boosting SEO rankings.The most important thing to know is that there are character limits on both the title and description. Google has a tendency to change these every few years, but as it stands now Google recommends titles be no more than 60 characters and descriptions be no more than 160 characters, including spaces.

Your meta data is a great place to insert keyword-rich copy that is specifically tailored to explain to Google why you should be ranked higher than your competition. Make sure you are accurate when describing each page, but it is recommended to insert your business name, category, services and location into your meta title and description as frequently as possible. You’ll see a sample of our meta data below that is rich with the words website, web, e-commerce, custom, Charlotte, and Denver.

6)   Website Content

The final piece of internal SEO is content. Content encompasses all the words that make up your website. Google’s natural language algorithms have been a huge area of focus in recent years and are now more sophisticated than ever, preventing black hat SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, auto-generated content and geo pages.

Remember the most important point from article one in this series? Google’s customers are the general public in search of legitimate answers to life’s questions. Google’s number one objective is to point their users to a site that is easy-to-navigate, accurate and educational, satisfying their original search query.

Google believes that if the content on your website is naturally written by an expert in the subject matter, it will be keyword rich without necessarily trying. Attempting to insert the word ‘website’ a minimum of 20 times in a single paragraph of copy will make the content sound disjointed and, frankly, weird and unreadable. Google encourages people to avoid stuffing content with an unreasonable amount of keywords, and instead favors content with sensible phrases, conversational sentences and natural language.

The best way to play the content game with Google is to have a section of your site with frequently updated content. This could be a blog, a news section, an upcoming events calendar with descriptions, a menu section, etc. Google likes to see you taking an active role in providing educational and valuable content to users, again assuming that if you are taking the time to educate users, your service and company are worthy of being ranked higher in search results.

The last point to make about content is the rapidly increasing value of non-written content on websites. As humans, we all have different preferences when it comes to consuming information. Some people prefer reading, while others prefer infographics and others video. Google likes to see multimedia content on websites so users have options when it comes to content consumption, with video being the leader of the pack in tipping the scale with Google’s algorithms.

In Part III of this series, we’ll focus on the external factors affecting your SEO, and what you can do outside your site to boost your company in search results.