Optimizing Your Website for the Best Search Results
- Lesson Materials Website Checklist Handout
- Completion time About 25 minutes
"If you build it, they will come."
A great movie line, but unfortunately not true when it comes to your business website. In fact, for new businesses, the only way potential customers will find your website is if it's ranking well in search engines; and the only way you'll earn a top spot in search engines is if your website is optimized.
There's a lot you can do to make sure your site is optimized for SEO. We cover the key items below.
Writing SEO Title Tags and Descriptions
Getting visitors to your website starts with two crucial pieces: the page title tag and meta description. A title tag is an “SEO headline.” The meta description is considered the teaser sentence. These two elements will show up in search results, social sharing copy and crawl data. If these two elements aren't optimized correctly, search engines like Google and Bing won't find your page.
Title tags and meta descriptions are so important, that every page has them. To find it, simply check the page's code source and look for <title> and meta name=description content. The recommended formatting for best title tag optimization is:
Primary Keyword - Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
However, because we're humans and not robots, there are other factors that go into writing title tags and descriptions. A few other aspects to keep in mind include:
- Make it engaging: write a title tag and meta description visitors won't be able to refuse clicking.
- Keep it short: search results won't necessarily show everything you write. As a result, keep your title tags to 50-60 characters and meta descriptions under 155 characters so the wording isn't cut off.
- Keyword placement: keep the keyword you want to rank for at the front of the sentence. This will increase click-through rate which over time can boost rankings.
- Brag about your brand: including your company's name in the title tag or meta description can give it an extra boost in rankings if you have a well-known business name.
Real life scenario:
Sharon wants to buy a gift for her sister who is a huge dog lover:
She selects the following result because she recognizes the popular publication, WIRED:
I bet you notice that the meta description is cut off. This is because the snippet is NOT the actual meta description. The real meta is:
So why is the wrong sentence showing? Google did this because if there is content on your page that is more relevant to a user's query, Google is going to use it. This is why it is recommended that your meta description includes relevant keywords and user intent.
Had WIRED included “gift ideas” and “dog lovers” in the meta description like they did for the title tag, it would have displayed properly. To learn which keywords your top pages rank for, skip to Lesson 4.
Additional reading & free tools for crafting your title tags and meta descriptions:
Structuring Your URLs
Cleaning up your URL structure can do wonders for your rankings. Too often professionals use the URLs suggested in the website builder they are using. The problem with this is that the URL suggestions are typically too long and don't make any sense because a robot wrote them. URLs exist to communicate with servers but they really benefit visitors and search engines because they explain what the page is.
The beginning of the URL should be structured to reflect the site's folder levels. The end of the URL will be similar to the title tag or keyword, separated by hyphens for easy readability. For instance:
Recommended format: domain/folder/subfolder/keyword/
Here, the URL clearly tells the visitor and search engine what this page is going to be about, and how the site is structured. Besides proper structuring, there are a few other things to keep in mind that will improve rankings:
- Keep it short: keep it under 100 characters so users will want to copy and share it.
- Make it memorable: the easier it is to remember the easier it is to share verbally.
- Make sure it makes sense: use hyphens to improve readability.
- Include keywords: like the title tag and meta description, the URL is another area where you can include a relevant keyword.
It's also important to note that structuring your URLs with subdomains isn't recommended. Subdomains are a smaller section of a domain. Unlike the URL structure explained above, subdomains are structured with the section coming first, before the domain URL. For instance, plus.google.com is an example of a subdomain.
Subdomains are treated as unique domains, which means any “link juice” your domain has from being linked to by authoritative domains won't get passed on. Link juice will, however, get passed on through folder-structured URLs.
And another thing: be mindful of your URL parameters. Parameters are the long query strings that come after a question mark in a URL. They are dynamic and change based on the user's action to get to the page.
You'll notice parameters most on ecommerce sites, like Amazon:
To learn how to deal with parameters, subdomains, different case letters or URLs with numbers, check out Rand Fishkin's article, 15 SEO Best Practices for Structure URLs.
Optimizing for Images
The images you chose can also help improve your site's rankings. It all starts with your Alt Text. Alt text code tells search engines what the image is. The code looks like this:
alt=“your awesome alt text here”
You can optimize any image by writing an alt text with a relevant keyword. For instance, in this dog training article on PetFinder, the keyword phrase they are clearly trying to rank for is “dog training tips.”
It's in the headline…
It's in the title tag and meta description…
And it's also in the alt tag of the image…
So when someone is searching for “dog training tips”, Google can tell that this article's focus is that, and rewards it with a good ranking:
A few other tips to keep in mind:
- Pick engaging images: if you can, stay away from Stock photo images and use images that add value and generate emotion.
- Small means fast: keep the image file size below 70 kilobytes so it doesn't slow down your site's page speed, which we talk about later in this lesson.
- Keep it consistent: before you upload an image to your site, make sure the file name is similar to the keywords (if not the same). This can give it an extra boost in Google image search – but not if the file name is “dog23.jpg”
According to Quartz, October 2016 was the first month ever when more web pages were viewed on mobile devices than on desktops or laptops. Mobile search has been on the rise but today, if you don't optimize your website for mobile performance, you are already sinking your business.
Search engines won't penalize your site if it isn't mobile friendly – but they won't reward your site either. For instance, if you're ranking well for a page on desktop, that doesn't mean that page will rank as well on mobile – if it's not optimized for it.
A few things to do to make sure your website is optimized for mobile performance:
- Check for mobile-friendly errors: test your site using Google's mobile-friendly tool. This tool tells you whether the page is mobile friendly and if it isn't, what you can do to fix it.
- Focus on core keywords: in Google's Webmaster tool, you can check what percentage of clicks are coming from desktop and mobile. This will help you determine which keywords and pages you should prioritize and optimize for mobile.
- Promote your app: If you would prefer mobile users use your business app rather than your website, make sure it's prominent when they arrive on your site.
Additional reading & tools:
- Mobile Apps for Small Business: A Great Investment or Waste of Resources? | Grasshopper Blog
- Mobile Website Speed Testing Too| | Google
Testing Your Website
Testing your website tells you how your site is doing, how users are interacting with the site and what further optimizations you should make. There are three core areas you should focus on:
If it doesn't get you clicks, it's certainly not going to get you conversions. Conversion testing is great for testing price options, button colors, call-to-actions, layout and more. Understanding what's working and not working on your site will help you prioritize what needs to be fixed.
There are tons of conversion tools out there. We recommend starting with Optimizely for its robust A/B testing features and inexpensive pricing.
Conversion tests analyze your website copy. Heat maps analyze your website design. If your website is getting a ton of traffic but very few conversions, heat mapping can help you understand how visitors are interacting with your website.
All too often businesses spend hundreds of dollars on building a new website that “looks good”, without taking the user experience into consideration. For instance, you might think your website makes sense, but will a random visitor understand it? Heat map testing can answer those questions.
There are two types of heat map tests:
- Mouse tracking: gathering data from new and returning visitors. It helps you understand how visitors are interacting with your site and where they are clicking.
- Eye tracking: gathering data from a sample group of visitors who are typically unfamiliar with your site. It helps you understand how visitors are reacting to your website.
We recommend Hotjar and Crazy Egg. Both options are inexpensive and provide great reports after your testing is complete.
According to a study done by Microsoft, the average human attention span is less than a goldfish: eight seconds. That means that every page on your website must load fast, both on desktops and mobile devices.
Page speed isn't just important for conversion and engagement metrics, but search engines will actually rank your website better. To test your page speed, check out Google's PageSpeed Tool. There you'll gather insight into what you need to fix.
Moz goes in depth on how you can lower page speed, including reducing redirects and improving server response time.
You've spent so much time creating your business website, making sure it's optimized will ensure you get better rankings and more conversions. Optimizing your title tags, meta description and images, while crafting smart URLs, and improving page speed are just a few actions you can take to win big results.