Properly optimizing a website is a crucial SEO success factor for 2017. In the days of Penguin 4.0, SEOs who are overzealous with link building to a poorly optimized page aren’t going to see much return on investment.
For better SEO results, it’s time to put the hours in to make existing (and new) backlinks more effective. Focus on key on-page factors to create a stronger semantic connection between off-page authority and on-page relevancy.
Let’s cover some key on-page techniques to help you succeed as an online business in 2017.
Sculpt Your Site’s Index
Make sure your site is optimized for dynamic indexing. Mould the search engine experience of your site to an optimal SEO standard.
Your website is allocated a finite crawl budget (which is proportional to the authority of your site). It’s important to tailor your indexing so that search engines prioritize your most important pages.
- Inspect your robots.txt file and ensure you’re disallowing unimportant sections of your website.
- You should check your HTML headers using a tool such as Screaming Frog. I have seen incorrect directives creep in during development on large sites.
- Crawl your site to see if your URL structure may be susceptible to an over-indexing problem. Excessive URL parameters can force Google to have to choose between lots of duplicate pages. (To fix this issue, use the rel= “canonical” tag to point all surplus URLs to the original page, giving Google the ‘correct’ pages for indexing).
- Don’t let search engines index your development site. This can be overlooked by inexperienced build teams as some CMS ping and invite crawlers when content is published. Noindex the development site and save yourself duplicate content issues in future. Don’t forget to change it back when the new site goes live!
- Check that any 301s are working correctly and are taking people to through to the right pages. If you’re running an ecommerce site with loads of traffic, don’t let out-of-stock product pages 404 – redirect users back to somewhere relevant.
Invest in Speed
Slow sites aren’t good for users or search engines, and won’t do you or your rankings any favors.
In the days of accelerated mobile pages, it’s pretty obvious that there’s an increased need for speedy websites both from a UX and SEO perspective. Site speed can be a complex issue to troubleshoot as it’s affected by three separate layers:
- backend (databases and server side scripting)
- frontend (HTML, client-side scripting)
- network (connection speed, DNS).
To their detriment, people often focus on the frontend and network problems , forgetting to check out their site’s backend for speed issues. In actual fact, sites can get bloated rather fast; databases can easily get out of whack and bad development could be costing you visitors (and money).
Here is Smashing Magazine’s experience of improving site performance through backend tidying up. Well worth a read.
Three steps to a faster website
The recommended load time of a page is a second or less. Start here:
- Get a good hosting provider- worth paying for! I’ve recently switched to one whose pricing is a little high (especially for high traffic sites), but the infrastructure is second to none and the support is great. Check out this in-depth review.
- Enable caching to speed up load time in browsers. Here’s a great technical breakdown of the process of leveraging browser caching for site speed.
- Get a full technical audit of your web database and existing redirects – can you make them better? Remove rarely used plugins and other unnecessary backend bloaters.
Check your site speed now to see how you’re faring.
Prioritize High Quality Content
Great content isn’t going to go away in 2017 – and the focus is increasingly shifting to mobile. A lot is written about content, but at its core – good SEO content is about connecting with your users and helping them complete tasks – whether that be finding an answer to a question, or completing a purchase.
- Google’s recent emphasis on user-journey and mobile micro-moments is a reminder to webmasters on what they need to prioritize – usability.
- Try to answer all your users’ questions in your copy to increase your chances of ranking with relevant content. Break things down into easily-digestible chunks of information.
- Use rich and natural user-friendly language. Use jargon judiciously and get out of the “write for search engines” mentality.
- Great content is worth the investment. You get what you pay for.
Optimize Your Site as a Coherent Whole
Shift from a “landing page mentality” to a holistic site-wide keyword experience. Focus on user intent – not robotic language and keep your content coherent AND comprehensive for the best SEO results.
- You should conduct comprehensive keyword research that covers primary, secondary and longtail keywords; as well as keyword themes & families. Focus on user intent, themes, and conversational language over repeating mindless phrases.
- Keep coming back to your keyword research regularly, updating it and comparing it to current user behavior.
- Extract competitor keywords to improve your ranking chances – but don’t always trust the SERPs to give you the answer. Know the difference between causation and correlation – here is a super in-depth post about how keyword matching in domains, URLs and page affects rankings. (Not always what you’d expect).
Perfect your Meta Data & Schema
Proper metadata and schema management is paramount for SEO in 2017 – don’t forget to tag up content correctly.
- Be backend house proud with your website. Optimize every page on your site with a unique title tag, meta description, and make sure you’ve set a featured image for the page (or the site as a whole) to facilitate social media sharing. If Google doesn’t like your meta description, it will actually write its own instead – so always stick to page purpose.
- Utilize schema.org markup to your advantage and use structured data to give search engines a better idea of what your site is all about. Using schema is easy and it’s a brilliant, cost-effective way to improve your SEO.
- Optimize your image alt texts and EXIF data (more on image schema markup here) for increased relevancy.
Analyze for Intelligent Optimization
Use data to religiously streamline and optimize your website. Here are some key on-page SEO lessons you should be extracting from your analytics:
- Identify key exit pages. Why are people leaving? Have you got a clear call to action, or a defined next step? Improve time on page with better content.
- Low SERP click-through rate could be due to badly optimized page titles and meta-descriptions. Go back and check them for spelling and grammar, primary keywords and value proposition. A strong SERP listing means better click-through rates.
- Low pages per session? Include more internal links and optimize the page structure to encourage deeper browsing. Create sub-categories and sub-pages with strong, unique copy and imagery focused around one subject area.
- High bounce rate? Do a mini usability audit to make sure you aren’t putting users off with the wrong messaging. Consider building out targeted query landing pages if they’re worth it. This will help to ensure the visitors are landing on pages relevant to their search query.
- Old post still getting good search traffic? Include a prominent call to action to bring users back to your money pages.
- Set up goals to accurately track the effect of your work: include both micro and macro-actions.
How do I Know What I Need to Prioritize?
Authority, relevancy, UX… They are all important. But where do you start?
- Look to your budget – what can you manage today? Tomorrow? What do you need to outsource? Work with what you’ve got and outsource stuff you can’t do in-house cost-effectively.
- Focus on both ‘quick wins’ and long term strategy at the same time. Mix up technical fixes with content improvements.
- If you are having anxiety over your rankings in 2017, check out this SEO troubleshooting infographic to help you prioritize your next SEO moves. Realize that the complex nature of the SEO game means that ranking is a dynamic combination of many factors, both on-page and off-page. Don’t focus on one to the detriment of all others.
- Track any improvements, but don’t get obsessed with causation either. Algorithmic changes can be hard to pinpoint.
What do you think is the most important on-page SEO factor for your site right now, and how are you going to tackle it in 2017?
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.