This is our attempt at a guide on how to perform SEO on your website without creating 1 link, we welcome your feedback.
The idea of “doing SEO” without building links has been tossed around and mentioned by many an SEO these days. Many folks over at seoMOZ state that one should never purposely build links to the target website, you should only improve the user experience of the website and brand. While we don’t totally subscribe to that philosophy, we do respect it. There is no doubt in my mind (or thousands of other people) that building links to a website will increase the position & ranking in a search engine results page. But that is not the purpose of this article. This article will go over several key points that will enable your website to possess the characteristics that it needs for Google and other search engines to deem it rankable.
Please don’t call this article “just another on-page blog post” because it is way more. This goes into almost every aspect of a page, domain, server etc. It penetrates 3 out of 7 layers of the OSI 7 layer model, and therefore is not just another pathetic on-page blog post that will tell you to fix your h1 tags and insert some image alt text.
When I am working on a site, I like to think of a huge scale of 1-100 when looking at it. Its just a mindset, nothing more. I constantly keep a score in my head of where a site is at, or where it should be. It isn’t some lame on-page rating system, it isn’t Page Rank, and it isn’t a PA/DA score. It is an overall score of where your website stands from a domain/server/site/page standpoint.
- A site with 3 pages on a slow server that has not been updated in 4 years and is difficult to navigate would be rated a 1.
- A site with a built in CMS with an active blog on a fast server and frequent user interaction would be rated a 70
- A site with an auto-blog stuffed with keywords and loaded with the meta keywords tag would be given a -30
A Recent Case in Point
My goal is to always improve upon my mental score when dealing with a website. Over the past few months, we have referred more of our customers to a new hosting company than we have in the last few years. Why? Well, in one example we ran tests on their page load time over the course of 1 week and were very alarmed at the results. Keep in mind this was a fairly small website that was not at all resource intensive.
Well, as you can see – we were clearly having page load speed issues, and from our tests we can see that it is not the content causing this load speed issue. So we basically had two choices: upgrade our client from a shared Godaddy server to a VPS, or move the server onto a dedicated box with lots of room for growth. We chose the later. It may not be the most cost effective way to upgrade hosting, but we like to think that all of our clients are going to scale in traffic to the point to where they will need it. Fill the shoes, or something like that.
Getting back on track, we are going to make a checklist of things that you can do with your site in order to gain top search engine placement.
As we stated above, page speed is one of the largest determining factors of on-page SEO these days. Our internal tests have shown that a mere increase in page load speed will in most instances yield an increase in search engine rankings. Page load speed can be effected by many factors, including:
- An improperly configured CMS
- Bloated plugins, addons, or other scripts
- Large image files
- Other large files
- Poor browser caching
If your page is running below a 1second load time you are pretty much in good shape. That is where we like to try to get most of our clients, below 1 sec, unless we are dealing with a monster. If you want a free way to get a breakdown of what is causing the issues with your site load problem, you can checkout Pingdom Tools. It is definitely a tool on my bookmark bar.
Good Content, Fresh Content, and Moar Content
Content written with keywords in mind. We hate using the term “keyword density” because it has such negative connotations, but that is more or less what we mean. Google used to rank sites by taking a look at your anchor text ratio. For example, if you had 100 incoming links and the anchor text was “seo company” in 70 of those links, you would probably rank for “seo company.” These days, Google has had enough with playing the anchor text game with link building and is handing out penalties like a perfume sample at Macy’s. That being said, be sure that they keywords you are attempting to rank for are in the content within your website. Don’t even think about percentages. There is no right answer. If you are trying to make it fit, then you are doing it wrong. The more natural the better.
Don’t forget about synonyms and co-citations. Googles algorithm is getting smarter by the day. It knows that Palm Beach is in Florida. It knows that snickers is like chocolate, and it also know that snickers is like giggles. Utilize this advanced grammatical usage within your writing and see great results in your rankings. The Panda update that happened last year mainly targeted thin affiliate sites and other sites that lacked meat on their bones. Pumping your site full of content regularly is the best medicine against Panda (which is still applied to the Google algorithm on a regular basis, i.e. your site can still get hit with Panda.)
You also want to be sure you have the good old fashioned hX tags on your site, and as much rich content as possibly. 12 point arial font throughout the entire page is great, but spice it up a little bit. Bold words that are important and italicize words that need to stand out a little, underline important points when needed. Don’t do too much, it can be overkill.
Code That’s Not Broke
I could go into this for hours and spend time talking about authorship, rich snippets, code validation, etc but that is another day. This is an overall state of mind with your website. Nothing should be broken, ever. Run all pages through the W3C validator and run your CSS through it as well. Even if you don’t think that Google looks at this stuff, (which I bet every day that they do), it contributes to the overall health and usability of your website, which is exactly what Google is looking for.
WordPress is not the be-all-end-all of solutions, either. If you are lucky enough to have a diverse coder in the house, ask him or her to check out new frameworks such as Twitter Bootstrap that will make your sites FLY.
Titles & Metas (and the usual stuff)
Again, this is one of the ways how Google determines what to rank you for. One should really have the keywords you are attempting to rank for within the title tags and the meta descriptions of your pages. If you are trying to “stuff” keywords in, you are doing it wrong. A good rule of thumb is to target one small group of keywords per page, or preferably one keyword per page. Structure your title tags and meta tags in a hierarchical organization that relates to the sitemap, breadcrumbs, etc. Pages for be identified for exactly what they are, and so should meta descriptions. Your page should be described in the meta description tag in under 140 characters. The rule of thumb for title tags is never go over 70 characters. If your title is not cool and interesting you are missing the point.
Case in point, which title tag do you think will show better CTR’s for the search term “buy designer jeans”
Designer Jeans | DesigenerBlueJeans.com
Get Moar Ladies with our Japanese Denim
Obviously, an exaggerated example but you get the idea. CTR correlates to bounce rate which = rankings.
Get to know and love the Page Rank algorithm. I won’t go into how that works because again, that is a totally different blog post. Pay attention to the number of out bound links you have on your page, and be sure to never ever link out to bad neighborhoods. More content is always better, but never sacrifice quantity for quality.
Your meta description can lead to a better/worse bounce rate (see next point.) These days having a top Google placement does not necessarily equate to getting a ton of traffic. Which title/meta description tag do you think will drive more traffic to your website when listed on the top 2 results on Google:
Red Widgets We have great red widgets that will help you do what you need to do. Red Widgets: The Real Truth Uncovered Dr. Zippity uncovers 4 secrets that shows how red widgets can increase your lifespan.
Just remember this point when you are sitting down writing your meta/title tags. You are not just “doing SEO,” you are writing the search engines! You are defining your website within the search engine results pages.
Check (and constantly monitor) Bounce Rate
Bounce rate on a website is without a doubt the largest determining factor of how “good” your site is. A good bounce rate might be a few seconds or a few minutes. It really depends on what the user action is. For this site, it is usually about a minute on a blog page or 10-20 seconds on the home or contact page. Use a tool such as Google Analytics or our personal favorite: Piwik. We love Piwik because we control and own the data, and also feel like there is a little more control over the metrics. If your bounce rate is outside of the acceptable realm, you might want to take a good hard look at the content on your site as well as the overall design and what you are doing. ABST – always be split testing. We’ve seen time and time again that changing small elements on a website can effect the bounce rate of the user base. Bounce rate is directly proportional to SEO. Bounce rate is a huge usability metric and Google will ban your site faster than you can say Penguin, if you don’t have your act together. Basically your site is perceived as “Well, users spend about as much time on your site as they do a Michael Jackson ringtone site – this must be scammy.” Well, it isn’t that cut and dry but you get the picture.
OGP is Good
Not gonna spend a ton of time on this but definitely look into implementing this into your site if you have or plan on having a large social following. It will basically make you a player in the social game and will help “get you ranked” socially -only reason why we have OGP here is because of that. OGP will also format your data accordingly. Whilst sharing a URL on your average social site, you want to be sure that it formats correctly when Joe user hits share and walks away. Not everyone will make sure that your posts are curated before hitting post, but OGP will.
Image Spriting and Minification (2 words added to my spell dictionary)
As most of you know, image spriting is basically a better way to display images on a website, it makes 1 large image and maps in in your browser, making it so the browser only loads 1 image instead of tons of smaller images. Minification is the process of removing and in some cases rewriting code to eliminate as many characters or lines of code as possibly. This basically makes it so the browser has as little to interpret as possible. These 2 are grouped together because they are fairly technical and relate to each other somewhat.
Kind of different than the above point of spriting, this relates to how you define your image using tags and markup. In addition with aiding in ranking in image search engines, it also helps the overall optimization of your site. Plugging in appropriate image title/alt and description tags always will help add needed ranking power to your website. Use images that are optimized for size as well – i.e. look at the size of the image before uploading.
Server Stabilization and Optimization
There are many different levels of hosting in terms of cost, speed, size and type of server including the operating system your choose on your box. You have shared hosting which is a piece of a VPS, you have a VPS which is a piece of a server, then you have a dedicated server which is your own “dedicated machine.” There are several hosting companies out there that are great, we personally like Liquidweb and Rackspace. Try to choose a provider that has a location near where you are physically located. To take things up a step from that, if you have a situation where you are hosting a ton of files, images and videos, you may want to take a look into utilizing a content delivery network or CDN.
A CDN is kind of like a hosting company, except it basically has the ability to serve files from multiple locations, depending on which location has the shortest route (using advanced routing principles) as well as where you are geographically located. Again, most people don’t really need to go the CDN route, but it can really help those who are serving up a ton of image files and are already flexing a dedicated server to the max.
Pay close attention to your nameserver setup and the amount of domains per IP, and who your neighbors are. There is much debate about this point but for me, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Keep high valued sites on their own IP/nameservers.
The great part about using a CMS is that it makes it really easy to pick a URL naming convention. Like title tags, make your URL structure relate to and somewhat describe the page you are on. If you are on a page about fast boats in Mississippi on your website about food and stuff, your URL should look like:
http://www.paulsfood-and-stuff.info/fast-boats-mississippi and not http://www.paulsfood-and-stuff.info/234fbm.shtml
This will give Google another reason to rank you for a keyword. Never abuse this and always be true to yourself. Stay away from dynamically named pages that don’t make sense, if it is longer-than-a-few-words, add some hyphenation in there so it is a little easier to read when that user does pop open your page and looks up at the location bar. It is always a good idea to add some structure to your site. Most folks do something like domain/category/product but you can do whatever you want. Here at elite-strategies.com, we just keep it real and do what feels right. If you are changing your URL structure (which you should really never do), consider creating some .htaccess rules to point Google in the right direction as to not produce any 404s…
404s, 301s, and other error codes
404s can kill a sites real quick. Improperly 301ing or 2ing a site can also cause harm to your site. There are many things to consider here, we could go on for hours talking about Apache configuration files, .htaccess files and mod_rewrite but that is another topic in and of itself. Eliminate any occurrences of 404s on your site at any and all costs. IF you are looking for a great guide on when, where and how to 301/2 your site then check out the gods over at Moz, they wrote a great guide on this exact topic and can help get you through almost any situation that has to do with the word “redirect.”
Browser Friendly Pages
The word “responsive” is getting thrown around a lot and I don’t like it. Well, actually I do like it, it is pretty cool. In a lot of cases it eliminates the need for a site to have a “mobile version” which was really getting annoying for smaller sites. Make sure that your website is responsive. Load it up in a bunch of different browsers, monitor sizes, devices, and phones. Even load it up in a Blackberry. Your theme should kind of shrink down to a smaller size and adjust to the screen size. Google likes when it does that.
The jury is still out on this amongst professionals but it is still something that we do and bet on every day, and that is adding the ability to share itself within the page as well as making the page format correctly on the page it is being shared to. Faecbook takes the meta description or OGP description from the URL you put into a timeline or a message as well as gives you the option of using a number of images on that page. Does this help increase conversion and drive traffic to your website? YES! Does it help SEO? That is where the jury is still out. The part that makes sense is this: if Google sees users utilizing these social sharing buttons on a regular basis, that equates to usability in action and therefore, good points on my scale.
My final point is that there are tons of more points to optimizing your on-page. Remember that all of these points listed above have already been elaborated on in numerous websites, guides and videos.
After reading this guide and applying all of its principles to your site you could spend weeks doing all of this work, remember – you haven’t even built 1 link yet.