What are your search engine optimization excuses?
Low budget, not enough time, no idea where to start…
There are a lot of excuses we can make that prevent us from improving our website’s search ranking today.
Sure, it can be hard and frustrating, you may not see immediate results, and you may have little experience.
…good things are rarely easy.
…digital marketing, like business, is a marathon, not a sprint.
…the “world wide web”, is only in its 20’s. Everyone is still relatively inexperienced.
To make things just a bit easier for you or your team, we put together a list of 10 FREE things to do today that can improve your website’s search presence.
You won’t accomplish this list in one day, so bookmark this link, post it in Evernote, or share it amongst your team to work on later. We simply wanted to give you a list of things to come back to during your businesses growth.
So let’s get started!
1. Improve Site Speed
When was the last time you exited out of a site because it didn’t load fast enough? Yesterday right…?
Google rewards sites that offer great user experiences, so what better way to evaluate a great UX than by timing page and post load times?
The good news is that Google give us the tools to diagnose page load speeds AND some recommendations on how to improve our results.
Try pasting your site URL into Google’s Page Speed Insights tool.
You’ll see that Google scores your site speed using a scale of 0-100. 100 being the fastest possible of course.
To give you something to shoot for though, try improving your site speed to over an 80/100. When you start getting above an 80, there’s typically only small improvements left to be made that often are not noticed by the average site visitor.
You or your webmaster could spend months testing new site speed improvements, so settle for consistently good speed and don’t worry about being ‘the fastest’.
If you’re site is built in WordPress (most blogs and websites are these days), a great first step to increase your websites speed is to install a plugin that can cache your sites database and provide a faster CDN (content delivery system).
The plugin we use for all of our sites and the client websites is called WordPress Cache Plugin.
NOTE: If you don’t use wordpress, you can find other plugins or helpful resources geared toward your chosen content management system.
Install the plugin and adjust the settings to begin caching you sites content. This may already provide significant improvements to your sites speed, so go ahead and test your URL using Google’s Page Speed Insights tool.
Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t speed things up though. There’s still plenty to of tools and strategies to use for site speed improvements.
Next, install the WP-Optimize plugin. Combined with the WordPress Cache plugin, these two tools are the most used and recommended programs to optimize a wordpress website for search. Used on over 1.5 million websites!
WP-Optimize will clean up your sites database in the background, instead of you or your webmaster having to manually clean up the database.
It affectively makes more space by removing unnecessary data like trashed, unapproved, or spam comments, stale data, ping backs, and expired options. All very technical optimizations, but accomplished for you behind the scenes.
There are certainly more plugins to test on your site to improve website speed, but we’ll only recommend one more for now.
One final free tool is Google’s Mobile Friendly Test. Similar to the page speed insights tool, you’ll past your chosen site-link and run the test.
Although this program doesn’t provide actionable steps to improve mobile-friendly fixes, it does provide a simple “yes” or “no”, whether you should consider a mobile optimized website redesign.
If you’re not sure what is and is not, “mobile friendly”, here is some helpful information.
2. 404 page Optimization
How often have you clicked a link on a website and you’re taken to a “404 Page Not Found” message? Maybe a few times a week? Perhaps more if the sites you frequent are quite large?
It’s a bit of a buzz kill isn’t it? Unnecessary interruptions to our website path is abrupt and leaves users with a negative feeling toward the website/brand.
Prevent these bad user experiences on your site by considering your site’s 404 Pages as an opportunity in disguise.
Calls to action, linking to high converting pages, or even a simple surprise and delight tactic can provide incredible value for the user and drive real search engine results.
Look how MODCLOTH turn their 404 Page into a simple window shopping experience.
Viewers can choose whether the product shown to them is something like and want to buy or not exactly their style. By clicking “Not For Me”, the product photo swipes away and a new product is shown. After clicking “I’m In ♥”, a new browser tab opens up directly to the product page.
Nosto.com’s blog is another great example of a 404 Page that has a purpose and provides value.
Instead of hoping the visitor doesn’t exit the site, Nosto provides viewers with recommended articles the user may by interested in. This should keep users on your site longer and provides them with more value than a normal 404 Page Not Found message.
A simple way to adjust your 404 page is by installing the 404page Plugin. This simple plugin will allow you to create a custom 404 page as if you’re building a normal wordpress page.
It simply redirects to your custom page when there is a broken link on your site.
3. Compress and Optimize Images
Website image optimization should always start with your designer. Proper size, format, and compression of images can have another multiplier affect on your site as it grows, so take the extra time yourself or with your designer to upload web optimized images.
Here is a great resource that can guide you through image optimization later on.
If you’re playing catchup on image optimization and/or want a bit more help, try using these WordPress plugins;
With the click of a single button, WP-Smushit compresses multiple images at once, saving you ton of time. It even shows you how much compression was achieved.
Plus, it automatically compresses images as you upload them for new pages and posts!
The next plugin doesn’t compress images, but it does slow the loading of ‘below the fold’ images. With Rocket Lazy Load, your pages and posts will only load the images seen by the user immediately, allowing the other images only seen after scrolling to load later.
4. Schema and Microdata Update
As the searchable internet expands in scale, entities like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft have created their own vocabularies, coding languages, programs, etc… to increase market share and reach new customers. This has been incredible for information access and the introduction of new business opportunities, but with an increase in scale and size means an increase in complexity.
We like to use the Babylon metaphor to imagine how diverse and complex the internet has become. The story of Babylon of course referring to the chaos which ensured within Babylon due to the lack of understanding between the inhabitants who spoke hundreds of different languages and dialects.
To address this issue on the web, schema.org was created to “provide a collection of shared vocabularies webmaster can use to mark up their pages in ways that can be understood by the major search engines”.
What this does is allow us to place specific pieces of content or code on website pages that allow search engines to scan and recognize things much faster, giving more context to unique web properties.
This blog post is large enough as is, so we won’t go into very much detail on schema or micro data additions, but you can learn more about this tactic at schema.org.
For now, we want to showcase two tools to help you easily place a rich snippet and additional micro data to your site. Both accomplish similar things, but if you were to choose just one, begin with the wordpress plugin.
Start by installing the All In One schema.org Rich Snippets Plugin to your wordpress site. This will add a simple form to your pages and posts section, so you can add the necessary information based on content type.
You have undoubtedly seen rich snippets in action without noticing it during your Google searches. Small little tidbits of additional information added within and below your searches normal title, link, and description format.
Information like; reviews, breadcrumbs, events, images, hours of operation, contact info, and even videos.
Google values these little tidbits when ranking your site AND they provide the reader additional information from which he or she can judge the validity of your link. All of which helps increase the click through rate of your site’s pages, giving your site even more potential for organic growth!
Start by adding basic things like contact info, images, and reviews to your site’s primary pages.
When you’ve added a snippet to a page, be sure to test it using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. This allows you to paste the link and run a test, showing you exactly which structured data was added and if there are any errors to address.
The last tool we’d like to mention is Google’s Structured Data Markup Generator.
You could dive into schema.org and never stop learning about what and where to place unique pieces of micro data, so Google made it incredibly easy to see what micro data opportunities exist on a specific page or post AND show you exactly where to place those unique code snippets in your sites HTML.
Simply paste your chosen page or post URL into the markup generator, select what type of content that URL is, and click start tagging.
Once you’ve marked up your URL with all of the necessary labels, click the red Create HTML button to automatically generate the correct HTML code. This will show you exactly what micro data code to add AND where exactly to add it within your sites HTML.
WARNING: If you don’t have experience working with HTML, please work with a reputable webmaster or marketing agency to prevent mistakes. It can be easy to make mistakes that turn into larger problems.
5. Turn Dead Weight Into Remarkable Content
A major contributor to a site’s lack of search engine authority can be the dead weight of outdated, underperforming, and duplicate content.
Remember, a site that updates frequently, expands with great content, and keeps visitors engaged and moving deeper into the site is much more favorable in Google’s eyes than a static site contributing nothing to society.
Start by removing duplicate, unpublished, or outdated pages. Take a meat cleaver to your site every 4-6 months. Google Analytics and Google Search Console, which should already be installed on your site is a great place to find these useless pages.
Ask yourself which pages have actually contributed to my business goal in the last 6 months? Be relentless in your search for dead weight. There’s no room for nostalgia or hope when it comes to improving site performance.
If you do find yourself questioning whether to remove a page altogether, your next question should be; How can I update this page to make it actually work for my business goal and search presence?
Maybe your About Us page is lacking because there isn’t anything entertaining or engaging to keep visitors on the page or interested in learning more.
Nobody cares about your Company History page if it’s simply a timeline that ends 5 years ago because no one has updated your site since then.
Be intentional with every single page of your website and you’ll be rewarded in multiple ways.
Next, take a deep dive into your blog post content.
We’ve browsed thousands of prospect websites and more often than not, the last blog post published on the site was from a few years ago. Many sites have a decent backlog of editorial content that sits idle and continues to harm a website’s search authority.
The good news is you don’t have to simply delete that content and start over with fresh ideas. We love taking the existing blog posts and flipping them into massive evergreen posts that Google will re-index and rank much higher than a normal 500 word posts.
Start by pasting the existing posts into separate word documents. Highlight the best parts of each post and delete the rest. Combine the remaining post content into related categories. Expand upon each post with new, relevant, and entertaining information to make these new posts into content worth sharing.
This strategy is a bit like the Skyscraper Technique, one of the leading authorities in search engine optimization recommends. There’s no reason why you can’t take the best ideas within your industry and flip them into long-form blog content.
Once you’ve flipped your historical blog posts into new and more relevant posts, delete the old ones to remove the dead weight.
6. Don’t Neglect Local Search
If you have a brick and mortar facility, local storefront(s), operate within a specific geographic territory, or simply want to make it known where your home office is, location specific optimizations are a must.
Consider searching on Google for a local plumber. Perhaps you even use the specific city within your search like hundreds of thousands of people do every day. For this example we’ll use Milwaukee plumbing service.
If you are a plumber in the Milwaukee area, your hope is that your website ranks #1 right? Well, although #1 is nice, it’s a bit of a pipe dream.
Pun very much intended.
As you can see below, Google typically gives the top search results on mobile devices to those businesses paying for search engine advertising.
Beneath the ads though, Google showcases Google Places with a map and a handful of business listings.
The wise plumbers have made sure that their physical location, website, phone number, reviews, etc… are used within their Google My Business listing.
If you’re a business that depends heavily on location specific traffic, like a restaurant, retail store, or home service, you should take care of this immediately!
Here’s the link again – Google My Business – Go take care of this right now and come back.
If you have a listing already, be sure to add it to your list of 4-6 month updates. Even if you haven’t moved locations or changed your phone number, go check to make sure Google hasn’t added new functionality that you can take advantage of.
Google updates things frequently and they haven’t shown any sign of stopping when it comes to Maps or location specific information.
Next, let’s make sure Google’s regular search algorithm recognizes your website’s locations specific data. Yes, Google My Business will take care of the majority of location specific identification, but there are many businesses that have multiple locations or would rather identify their geographic location without giving a full address.
With this tactic, we’ll need to go back to recommendation #4. Schema and Microdata.
Using the same tools listed above, you can add location schema and micro data to your website’s contact us page or location pages.
So now, a multi location organization could create a specific contact us page for each location, adding more pages to the website, but also providing Google with even more context for the business.
Or a business that prefers to keep its address unlisted but still wants to showcase country, state, or city of origin, can choose to add only those pieces of micro data they choose.
All possible now with the help of schema.org.
The final location specific recommendation uses a tactic that has slowly decreased in value over the years.
Backlinking used to be a great way to show Google just how important your site is. The theory being that if more sites or higher authority sites link to my site, Google will increase my sites authority, and there are plenty of case studies to prove this.
Well, Google has caught on to this tactic after black hat SEO’s began trying to trick Google through very…. mischievous means.
Now, before you pass over this recommendation for something that may not have diminishing returns, let me pose a quick question.
In your business, how important is it to your customer, clients, or investors that the business participate within its chosen industry events and forums?
You attend conferences, sit on panels, participate in ground breaking research, or even join forces with competitors to lobby for favorable legislation. All can be valuable for your businesses reach and appearance.
Now why not consider online forums, industry specific sites, local and national chambers of commerce, etc… just as you would those in-person events and forums?
First, forget whether a backlink to your website is going to be valuable in the eyes of Google. Instead, consider how valuable your link will be to those individuals doing research for a job, looking buy your product or service, or hunting for organizations to invest in.
Expanding your sites backlink profile will be helpful in all of these endeavors, so don’t neglect these local, state, or national website linking opportunities. Some can be submitted via website, some may take a quick email to the site owner, and still some may take a little in-person convincing.
Take the time to find the right sites and organizations, and you’ll be rewarded.
Here are a few places to start;
7. Make It Easy For People To Share – And Don’t Forget To Ask Either!
Creating something your site visitors think is worth sharing is incredibly hard to do. It takes research, creativity, execution, and a bit of luck.
Plus, once you’ve published this content worth sharing on your site, you’re only 50% done.
What most marketing agencies neglect to tell you is that content website building and content creation is simply not worth it if you don’t put the time and effort into distributing and promoting your assets.
We’ve seen countless businesses spend thousands of dollars on a new About Us video, blog series, or website redesign, but spend little to no money on bringing awareness to that new creative asset.
Please don’t make this mistake!
Two of the easiest things to forget when publishing new brand creative is (1) a mechanism to make it easy for viewers to share that creative, and (2) a call to action to share, comment, learn more, submit their email address for updates, etc…
Consider a local photographer or videographer’s website. The creativity is there, the drive to promote/showcase his or her work is certainly there, but the execution is lacking.
How many websites have you visited, loved, and wanted to share the photo, video, or information with someone you know, but were not given a share to Facebook now button?
We must strive to close the loop. Give site visitors every opportunity possible to, promote the business for us.
Be shameless when it comes to asking for email addresses, blog comments, social shares, Yelp reviews, etc…
8. Edit Page & Post Meta Information To Increase Click Through
If you don’t know what meta information is, that’s okay. You’ve seen it hundreds of thousands, if not millions of times.
When you do a Google, Bing, or Yahoo search, the bold title, blue URL, and standard text beneath, is what’s called meta information. These are typically auto populated by search engines based upon a web page’s title, URL, and content.
But you can edit these unique pieces of information to work for you! Here is the customer meta information we created for this blog post.
Let’s make one things abundantly clear before we dive into meta information best practices though.
Similar to recommendation #4, when we stated that Google has decreased the value of back links, they have done the same thing for meta data over the years. Eager digital marketers tried to game the system by stuffing keywords into meta titles, tags, and descriptions, in an effort to rank their pages and posts higher.
So don’t stop reading this post and think you’re just going to go update your meta information with the 3-4 keywords you really want to be ranked for.
It won’t work.
What we can do, is use meta data in a way that actually helps the reader during his or her search query and get’s individuals to click through to your website at a higher rate.
Higher click through rate is our goal when updating meta information. Google may not factor meta information into it’s ranking factors, but they certainly do factor click through rate. CTR’s show Google that your website pages are valuable and users want to read more.
But first, you’ll want to install one of the best WordPress plugin’s available, which makes meta data updates extremely fast.
Yoast SEO Plugin does much more than help you make meta updates, but we’re going to save all of the other details for another blog post.
After you’ve installed the plugin, you’ll be able to navigate to whatever page or post you want to optimize. Beneath the content section of the page or post you’ll see a Yoast SEO box similar to the screenshot of one of our older posts.
To open the editing function, click Edit snippet.
Beneath the snippet preview you’ll find the SEO title, Slug, and Meta description boxes, which represent exactly what a viewer will see if Google places your page or post in a users search. Simple right?!
The next part might take some time due to character count restrictions, focus keyword placement, contextual factors, goals, and stop words, but it’s worth the effort.
Editing Meta title’s, slugs, and descriptions should typically start with an analysis of that specific pages goal. Is it a product page with the goal of increased sales, an About Us page with an interactive history of your business, or is it a blog post addressing several recurring questions your clients have?
If you focus on the reader, you’ll be rewarded with higher click through rates.
For this example, let’s use a simple blog post as blog post pages will typically outnumber standard web pages on your site.
Starting your meta title with the focus keyword you wish the reader to notice first is always best. For instance, if your blog post focuses on human resources and is titled; “How To Energize Your Workforce In The New Year”, you may want to focus on the word ‘Workforce’, or even something similar like ‘Employees’, ‘Staff’, or ‘Organization’.
These similarly focused words are what’s called Latent Semantic Indexing, which we’ll talk more about in recommendation #10.
Your goal for the meta title is to be specific early on within the title, calling out the unique topic of interest. Then expand upon the topic later on in the same title.
For Example: Employee Engagement – How To Energize Your Workforce In The New Year
Yes, you could just use your blog title as the Meta title, but search engines allow us to customize this meta information, so why not optimize for increased click through?!
Slug, AKA URL
The slug is technically just the portion of the URL after the / in your main URL. For instance in lemley.media/10-Free-Ways-To-Optimize-For-Search-Today the slug is simply the 10-Free-Ways-To-Optimize-For-Search-Today
Most people are familiar with calling it a URL though, so we’ll stick with that.
Customizing your URL is important because your title may be quite long, it may contain what’s called Stop Words, and it also can be considered a “third title”.
When a reader sees your link listed in search, he or she will typically only read the meta title. But a small percentage will see the URL as a way to mentally narrow focus on the content he or she is really searching for. Providing additional context is a great way to flag more concepts or ideas based on your blog or page content.
Structure your URL correctly and you’ll reap the benefits!
Remember, left unedited your meta description will likely auto-populate, using your page or posts content. Usually the first 160 characters of text. So don’t miss out on this opportunity to showcase exactly what the reader will find on the webpage.
Keep these 5 things in mind when writing descriptions:
- Keep it between 135 and 160 characters
- Write in an active voice.
- Add a call to action if possible.
- It should match the content of course!
- Use the focus keyword just once.
Additional meta information tips
The highest click through rate content tend to have the following words within their meta-titles and meta-descriptions:
- How to
- [List-related numbers]
- Blog post
Use the Yoast SEO’s Analysis recommendations that show up beneath the meta information editor. It provides you with exact steps to improve your on page and off page content, so why not follow their instructions and get better results?!
9. Engage With Online Communities
Let’s talk about dwell time.
Also known as ‘time on site’, this factor can contribute to incredible increases in search ranking.
Why do you think we write such long blog posts?! 😉
But this recommendation is titled “Engage With Online Communities”…why are we talking about dwell time?
Well let’s start by talking about referral traffic. Referral traffic is those website visitors that have come to your site via link from another site. Pretty obvious right?
The next time you’re taking a look at your sites analytics, whittle down to view just your referral traffic data. You may have very little referral traffic…what a bummer!
But more often than not, your referral traffic will be spending more time on your site than any other traffic source.
Why is that?
Consider your own website browsing habits. When you visit one of your favorite sites and within the article or page, the author provides a link within the context of the topic, a product recommendation link, or reference link to another article. You may not click those links often, but when you do, are you not confident that the author is giving a solid recommendation to keep digging?
Well maybe not…but if you trust the author, you’re likely to take his or her word.
After clicking one of those links, you may discover something interesting about the new site or content. Taking your time to learn more. Dwelling on the new site for a while.
Discovering new information, websites, videos, and people is one of the most addictive things about the internet. How many hours have you spent diving into a subject because the black hole of cross linking between sites seems to never end?
The discovery process and cross linking of sites rarely just happens organically.
This is why engagement within online communities is helpful to give your site and content a bit of a nudge. You’re already engaging with like-minded people in person, so why not take things online and give your website and content more opportunities to be seen?
Here are a few sites to begin engaging unique communities:
NOTE: Each site has it’s own standards of engagement, context, and rules, so don’t dive headfirst into community building unless you’ve spent time learning the ‘social norms’ of the site. We can’t emphasize this enough! There’s nothing worse than a socially awkward user, spamming the hell out of the community.
Start by monitoring topics within these groups, asking questions, and answering questions only if you can provide valuable knowledge or help.
Show the community you’re knowledgeable and willing to help, with no ulterior motive to add links to your own site(s) or sell your products or services.
Take your time, help build the community, and reap the benefits of good will much later on.
10. Latent Semantic Indexing
Most SEO professionals will talk to you about keywords all day long. They may even sell you on the idea of keyword research and optimization.
NOTE: If a digital marketing firm focus solely on a ‘keyword strategy’, RUN! It’s probably the only thing they want or will to do for you, and it will end up being a waste of time and money.
Yes, keyword research and optimization are both important, but Google’s search algorithm has gotten much smarter over the years. Plus there’s so much more to SEO than a heavy keyword focus.
Google now uses latent semantic analysis.
In a way this helps search engines ‘think’ more like humans.
This means that your content shouldn’t try to appeal computers at all really. You should now write as if both user and search engine read and understand in the same way.
For example, if the title of your page is “Kitchen Plumbing”, the search engine as well as the reader will expect to find words relating to that subject, as well as words like “remodeling”, “appliances”, “Kohler” (brand specific), clog removal, etc…
Please note though, Latent Semantic Indexing is only something to keep in mind while copywriting. Your primary focus should be to provide high quality and relevant content for a unique audience.
What we recommend is you consider latent semantic indexing within the framework of recommendation #5 and #8. When you go back to turn old blog posts into updated and better blog posts, and begin editing meta information on a regular basis. Take the extra time to consider synonyms, concepts, and additional information that will benefit the reader.
If you’ve worked through this entire list, optimizing your site for search and begun providing more valuable content for your site visitors, you should be on your way to incredible business growth. But remember, your work never ends when it comes to search engine optimization, user experience best practices, or conversion optimization.
There’s still more to test, Google’s algorithm’s are continuously changing, consumer interests shift, and your business isn’t the same as it was 6 months ago.
We’re constantly staying on top of the SEO and Digital Marketing industry, so don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or service inquiries.