When we say ‘SEO-ready’ we mean a website which is structured in such a way that search engines will find it, understand it and potentially rank it well. An SEO-ready website gives you the perfect foundation for your ongoing search engine marketing (SEM) activities, such as creating keyword-targeted content that also encourages backlinks.
A stable foundation
In constructing a website there are six key SEO techniques we employ to create the perfect foundation to build your website upon.
When a Google search is carried out from a mobile device, websites that are mobile-friendly are given favourable rankings over non-mobile-friendly ones. So if your competitor has a mobile-friendly website and you don’t, they could well be beating you to customers.
2. Search engine friendly URL structure
Ideally a website’s URLs should contain keywords which are important to your business, and it’s useful to note that search engines can clearly see the hierarchical nature of URLs. This means that, in the example below, search engines can tell that the ‘nose fillers’ treatment is part of the ‘dermal fillers’ category.
Breadcrumbs are navigational links seen on all internal pages, showing the current page’s place in the site structure.
They can be used by search engines to understand websites which do not have helpful URL structures and they are sometimes shown in search results.
4. Canonical links
A ‘canonical link’ is declared in a web page’s source code indicating the primary source of that content. This is important where content is duplicated on more than one page (by design or by accident) and avoids PageRank problems due to duplicate content.
5. Semantic mark up
Websites should be marked up semantically, which means each element on a web page has the appropriate HTML tag. This is particularly important with headings and sub-headings, and means that search engines can give appropriate weight to keywords found within them.
6. XML site maps
An XML site map is a file created for search engines to help them visit all the pages and understand the site structure. It is also useful to ensure that search engines can find pages which can’t be accessed through following links, for example if you have an advertising landing page which isn’t linked to from your main website.
Time is money!
Page load speed is used by search engines in ranking. Where there are two websites deserving equal rank, their page load speed is compared and the fastest site might get the higher rank.
You should always aim to keep your page load speed within expected norms. These three SEO techniques can help support this objective.
1. Page caching
When a page is requested by a visitor, that page is dynamically built by the web server. This involves processing thousands of lines of PHP code, with multiple queries to the database, and then outputting the result as the requested web page. Whilst this all happens in the blink of an eye, it can still result in a momentary pause in between the page being requested and delivered. And bear in mind this action takes place for every single page requested by every single user. If the website is busy, that pause can become more noticeable.
This problem can be avoided by using page caching. When a page is requested by the first user, it is saved (cached) on the server and subsequent requests by other users avoid the ‘dynamic building’ and the saved version is served instantly.
When a page is updated by the webmaster the cache is emptied so the latest version of the page is served up, rather than the old saved one.
2. Image size
All image file sizes should be kept as small as possible, without compromising quality, as images, particularly photographs, are often the source of slow page load times.
Photographs should always be JPG format, as it allows for a significant file size reduction, without an obvious reduction in visual quality. Specialist software such as Photoshop is required to optimise the photo.
Illustrations normally work best in PNG format, as low file sizes are possible without any loss in quality. PNG format is replacing the older GIF format (the latter being limited to 256 colours), although animated GIFs are still in use.
Image dimensions are important too. Before being added to a website, images should be resized to the dimensions of their placeholder on the website, as opposed to being uploaded “as is”. For example, a photo straight from a digital camera might have dimensions of 4000 x 3000 and a file size of 5MB, but this would be much larger than needed for a website, and take a very long time to load, possibly giving the impression the website has stopped working. Using software such as Photoshop, the photo could be resized and optimised, resulting in a file size of just 100K, for example, and therefore a big improvement to load speed.
3. Content delivery network
The main benefit for a UK-centric business is that server load is reduced as the files come from elsewhere, contributing fractionally to speed of load – and every little helps!
Little things that mean a lot
Minor changes to your website can make a significant difference to your search engine optimization.
Here are our four top tips which we recommend for your website:
1. <title> tag optimisation
A page’s <title> tag is probably the most important SEO check point and plays a part in ranking. To your users it’s visible as the title of the page shown in your browser tab.
Your title tags should be keyword-rich and relate to the content of the page they represent. Don’t just copy the same title tag across all pages, this will do nothing to help your search engine ranking!
2. <meta description> optimisation
A page’s <meta description> is the two line snippet shown in search results. Whilst not a search engine ranking factor, it does influence click through rates.
Each page should have a <meta description> which is clear and concise, and effective in attracting users to click on your link. And, like <title> tags, your <meta description> should be tailored to each page, not just copied across them all.
3. Image optimisation
How you deal with images can give you small SEO advantages (and every little helps!). The filenames you give to images on your website should be meaningful and relate to the content of the image. Images which assist with the understanding of, or navigation around, the website should always have an ‘alt attribute’ to explain what they are of or for, which is also important for visually impaired visitors using assistive devices such as screen readers.
For example if you’re a coffee shop then a photo of a cup of coffee on your website might have the filename ‘flat-white-coffee.jpg’ and, if it’s used as a click through to more information about your services, the alt tag ‘Find out more about our flat white coffee’.
Please note that where an image is purely decorative (for example a flourish used to separate sections of text) then the alt attribute should be left empty.
4. Separate your services
If you have a range of services, these should ideally each be presented on a different page of your website. This will not only help users find the service they want, but it’s also important to ensure that search engines acknowledge each service individually.