The list of approaches you could apply to your SEO strategy in the hope of increasing rankings are endless.
However, it’s important first to get the basics in place. These are your SEO best practices, and they will create the foundation of your SEO strategy.
It doesn’t matter what kind of website you have, or if you optimize your website or your clients’ website. You should be following each of these best practices.
Once you have these in place, you can explore other options to help boost your organic position even more.
Without further ado, let’s jump into my 13 SEO best practices!
Use keyword research to find topics to write about
You might have an idea of the content your audience wants. However, using keyword research shows you more about what your audience is interested in, taking this idea one step further.
Keyword research will give you tons of content ideas and make it easy to prioritize what you include on your page and in what order to create new pages.
I recommend using Ahrefs Keyword Explorer tool, which shows keyword and topic suggestions and calculates traffic potential.
It’s also worth running a content gap at the page level. Content gaps are where you compare what a page on your site ranks for with your competitors.
Doing this in Ahrefs is as simple as heading to Site Explorer > Content Gap and then entering multiple competitor URLs.
To figure out what pages to add, search the primary keyword you’re optimizing for and copy a few page topics from the SERP.
SEO, PPC & Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist, Bowler Hat Internet
Whilst keyword research can help us find new topics, it can also help us strengthen existing pages and target advanced SERP features.
For instance, if we conduct keyword research and review the SERPs for our target keyword, we see various People Also Ask results, then the content of these may well make for solid FAQ content that we can add to the page.
This does a few things for us in that it helps us ensure our page is the best of the pages we are competing with – which should be SEO priority #1. It also gives us content that we can mark up with FAQ schema to help us potentially get an improved SERP listing with the FAQ entries shown in the SERPs. This can increase engagement and clicks, and most certainly, improves SERP real estate.
The takeaway here is that think about keyword research and content on the macro and micro level and always, always, always be looking at ways to ensure the page you are trying to rank is better than competing pages. As Google puts it in the Webmaster Guidelines: “Think about what makes your website unique, valuable, or engaging. Make your website stand out from others in your field.”
Perform a SERP analysis to match intent
There are two primary types of user intent: to learn and to buy.
If someone is looking to buy a food processor, you want to direct them to a product page rather than a blog post about recipes you can make in a food processor and vice versa.
If you search “mens jeans” in Google, you will see within the SERP the intent behind the search, and this will direct you on what kind of content you should be creating.
As you can see from the top search results, Google is listing sites with products for sale.
This SERP is a clear sign to target this term, and should be creating a product or category page to rank.
Sometimes, this might be obvious without even checking the SERP:
- Searching “buy” will usually lead to product or category pages, because the intent is clear.
- Searching “what”, “where”, “how”, “who”, “tips” and so on will usually mean the intent is to learn.
Other times, it’s not always so clear.
For example, if someone searches “things to do in spain”, are they looking for activities to purchase, or guides covering all the things they could see or do?
In this example, they are looking for a guide.
Creating the right type of content from the start is a big time-saver, so it’s worth doing this research.
Astrid (Jacobi) Kramer
Corporate SEO Consultant, Astrid Kramer Consulting
User intent is the core of modern SEO. There is no point in paying attention to the search volume of a keyword, for example, if the underlying user intent does not match your offer.
It is crucial to identify the keywords that match the user intent and to write excellent content for them. Kevin Indig has written a great article about user intent.
Write unique, compelling, and optimized copy
Make sure your content is easy to digest.
There is nothing more off-putting than clicking on a page only to find it is full of text with no paragraphs or images to break it up.
Adding lists, tables, images, headings, and paragraph breaks makes it a lot easier for the user to scan the copy to find what they need, as well as making it more engaging.
Throughout your copy, make sure to use keywords variations and long-tail queries people are using to search.
Variations should look natural; don’t merely add keyword after keyword to every sentence. You’ll find Google will penalize you for this, as the content appears spammy.
Senior SEM Manager, Circulate Digital
Writing unique, compelling, and optimized copy is something you will hear a lot about when it comes to SEO best practices, but is often one of the most overlooked areas.
The benefits of actioning this are two-fold. Search engines love unique copy that allows them to provide a variety of content to searchers, whilst ensuring it is optimized obviously helps them identify your copy and show it for all relevant search terms.
The other benefit focuses on your users themselves. When you provide users with unique, compelling copy, you satisfy their needs.
Offering them information that isn’t always readily available elsewhere helps answer any questions they may have and satiate their intent, whilst ensuring it is compelling will ultimately improve your conversion rate.
So when creating your copy, you must tailor it to search engines and have a user-centric mindset.
Keywords are critical, but so is creating unique and quality content.
A well-researched and helpful 500-word piece of content will perform much better than a quickly written 1500-word piece that doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Excellent copy is more likely to rank organically, but it is also more likely to be linked to and shared by others.
Try to mention your primary keyword higher up on the page, such as in the introduction.
Hopefully, you’ll be doing this naturally.
An introduction should:
- Draw in the reader’s attention
- Tell the central message of your content
- Make the user want to read more
If you manage to do all the above in an intro without mentioning the primary topic you’re talking about, color me impressed.
Journalists tend to use this style of writing; it’s called an inverted-pyramid structure and works exceptionally well if you’ve got a key stat in the message you’re trying to convey in your content.
Optimize titles, headings, and URLs
It’s common knowledge that to rank, you need to scatter keywords throughout your content thoughtfully.
However, one big decider on your ability to rank is how well you’ve done your on-page SEO. That includes how you’ve optimized your titles, H1s, and URLs (importance in that order).
Optimizing these elements is pretty simple; here is an example if your primary keyword is “site speed tips”:
Title: Site Speed Tips: 30 ways to improve your speed | Brand
Heading: 30 Site Speed Tips
Ensuring your title tag is optimized correctly is critical if you want to guarantee it’s performing as best as it can.
I’d recommend starting your title tag with your primary keyword as this tends to work well for both CTR and rankings.
For example, if you’re looking to rank high for “men’s jeans”, it would make sense for your title tag to start with that phrase:
- “Brand – Men’s Jeans – Free Shipping”
- “Free Shipping – Men’s Jeans”
- “Men’s Jeans – Free Shipping | Brand”
Make sure when doing this that your title tag still reads well. If not, adjust the sentence and include the keyword as early as you can.
One way to adjust your title is to put your primary keyword at the start of the tag, followed by a pipe.
For example, if my article targets “site speed tips” and my article title is “30 tips to improve your site speed”, I could do the below:
- “30 tips to improve your site speed | Brand”
- “Site Speed Tips: 30 ways to improve your speed | Brand”
Power words are a great way to improve the CTR of your content.
They entice the user by making your content sound exciting and compelling.
Of course, only use power words if they are relevant. Examples of power words are “limited”, “free”, “today”, and “cheap”.
One thing to avoid is “keyword stuffing”; this is simply when you repeatedly add a keyword into the title tag in hopes that this will increase your organic ranking. It won’t and may have a negative impact:
- “Spain Holidays – Spain Holiday Deals – Holidays Spain | Brand”
- “Spain Holidays 2020 – Holidays Deals | Brand”
I’d still recommend testing adding keyword variations, just don’t repeat the same keywords over and over:
- “Flowers Shops London – Florists in London | Brand”
Head of SEO/SEM, Delante
When optimizing title the crucial thing is to include and highlight a keyword the page is aiming for. Pairing it up with a well-constructed meta description can really contribute to increasing organic traffic on your website. Remember – meta description isn’t directly contributing to the SEO process so always optimize it for boosting CTR.
My personal advice would be to try out using emojis in both title and meta description – it catches the attention of users. This way, even when you didn’t make it to the top of the SERPs with your page, you get the chance to make users visit your site!
Use headings throughout your page to structure content
Headings are crucial to get right, to allow people to scan your content.
And let’s face it: most users will be skimming your content.
Headings make it easier for users to find what they are looking for in lengthier content, especially if you provide jump to links.
Doing this is pretty simple; just use a correct heading structure like the following.
Also, use headings to match long-tail keyword variations.
Headings break up a piece of content and allow a user to digest it, but how do you compartmentalizing your content and summarise it in a heading?
My two tips for headings are to amalgamate competing headings for a search query and to explore related entities for a search query.
To look at competing headings, you can either do this manually, or there’s a brilliant tool called Frase that can do this for you.
To understand related entities for a search query, look at image tags in Google Images, or use the fantastic Natural Language API from Google to extract salient entities from a piece of competing content.
Headings will also help you to optimize for featured snippets.
Featured snippets are more likely to be present on the SERP for a recipe, a question that has a specific answer, or a comparison (e.g., of products).
If there is a specific keyword that you want to rank for within a snippet, then first follow the above advice using headings to replicate search queries closely.
Next, answer the question as concisely as you can. I’d recommend within 40-50 words.
If the Featured Snippet you’re optimizing for currently shows a list or table, rather than a paragraph of content, summarise following the format you see in the snippet.
In cases where appearing as a featured snippet is possible, ranking for position one is no longer the be-all and end-all.
It gives you an excellent opportunity to achieve position one without using traditional SEO tactics.
Above I mentioned jump-to links, these are a great way to improve user experience and also help you capture fraggles.
Fraggles are simply jump-to links that come from that actual Google search result.
Want to learn more? Builtvisible has a great guide on how you can create these within your pages.
Search Engine Optimization Analyst, Parkfield
The best way to find headers to add to your copy is to treat your page like a poem and find its spine.
If you studied poetry, this is familiar. You take all the lines of the poem and cross out those that do not move the piece forward. Then you’re left with just the bare bone essentials of what the poem is about.
You can do the same thing for your page copy. Just use the topic sentences for each paragraph. Crossout the ones that don’t support or directly relate to your thesis statement.
And voila! You have headers that you can now optimize and add to your copy.
Keep URLs readable
To achieve this, keep your URLs short and succinct.
Here’s what you don’t want your URLs to look like:
That URL is messy and unreadable, making it hard for users to understand what page they are on.
Instead, it is clearer if it looks something like this:
Once you have a good structure in place, you can use this as a template for the rest of your URLs.
Optimize your images
Not only can images make your page more aesthetically appealing, but they can also play a part in helping you to rank.
Often, image search has a lot of untapped potential due to it being a lower-priority SEO task.
As an example, some simple alt text optimization took a blog I work on from around 1,000 clicks a month from images to about 18,000!
Nowadays, featured snippets also show images from multiple sites, so you can even capture some traffic from a snippet without showing in the text.
The most important thing to consider to optimize is your alt text.
Alt text is extremely helpful for Google Images — if you want your images to rank there. Even if you use lazy-loading, you know which image will be loaded, so get that information in there as early as possible & test what it renders as.— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) September 4, 2018
Outside of that, you will also want to:
- Provide a descriptive filename
- Making sure your images are a high resolution
Here is an example:
Alt text: Eiffel Tower from a distance
The visually impaired also use alt text on screen readers to understand what the image is, so it is essential to include them if possible.
SEO Manager, Seeker Digital
Optimizing your images for search has two benefits:
- Improves your on-page SEO
- Provides a secondary source of organic traffic via Image Search
Optimizing your images for search is particularly important for websites that are more likely to drive traffic via Image Search, for example, Ecommerce websites.
But it isn’t all about SEO, your users are important too, and that’s why you should also optimize your images for accessibility. Users who use screen readers to access the web rely on the alt text to understand the image if they are unable to view it. The screen reader will read the image alt text aloud, alerting the users to what exactly the image is meant to show.
Image alt text is also shown when browsers aren’t able to render the image, which benefits all of your users.
How to optimize your images for search and accessibility:
- Use images that are relevant to the page content
- Create unique images to stand out
- Use custom file names that accurately describe the image. Avoid using generic file names like IMG_2493.png, and instead, use ‘wooden-white-chair.png’
- Write user-friendly and SEO friendly alt text. The image alt text should accurately describe the image, e.g., White Wooden Chair with a Black Cushion
How to optimize your images for page load time:
- Choose the right format: JPEG 200, JPEG XR, and WebP often provide better compression than PNG or JPEG, which means faster downloads and less data consumption.
- Use SVGs for logos, icons, and simple animations
- Use image compression tools, such as Tinypng, ImageOptim, and Squash, to reduce an image’s file size.
- Serve scaled images. For example, if a page only needs an image that is 200×200, don’t upload an image that is 600×600 and resize it in CSS. Instead, upload an image that is 200×200.
- Specify image width and height dimensions in the HTML <img> tag or in CSS to allow for faster page rendering
Improve internal linking
Internal linking optimization is improving how you are linking one page on your site to another.
By doing this, not only does this help keep the user on your site for longer by providing more pages for them to browse, but it also organizes your website in a way Google can understand.
Internal linking also helps you reap the benefits when another site links to you.
This is because the PageRank you accumulate on one URL is shared among the other URLs it links to.
Here is a simplified view of how PageRank is distributed via links.
There are three main things to consider to improve internal linking.
First, make sure you’re setting out a plan for how you are organizing the pages on your site. I usually do this by setting clear taxonomies for the site’s structure.
And then if required, topic clustering related pages into groups.
By doing this, you’re 90% there with internal linking.
One other key consideration is ensuring high-authority pages on your site link to high-traffic-opportunity pages.
This way, the PageRank accumulated on your high-authority URL is shared between other URLs that have the potential to drive traffic to your site.
Homepages are one example of this, as they tend to accumulate the most referring domains on your site.
To easily find high authority pages on a site, I use Ahrefs. Enter the domain into their Site Explorer tool and go to the “Best By Links” report.
Filter for 200 status codes only and pick out a page with a high URL Rating (UR).
Now, find high opportunity URLs you want to link to. I usually use my quick-win keywords Data Studio dashboard.
You can find other relevant URLs by doing a “site:[domain] keyword” search in Google. In this case “site:framesdirect.com women’s eyeglasses”.
Want more site structure tips? Follow my in-depth guide on-site structure.
Freelance SEO Consultant, Notprovided.eu
For every website I begin working on improving rankings, I start with this quick win activity. You can do it for both small and big sites. I run a crawler like Botify or ScreamingFrog to collect all data to get an idea of the current internal link relationships. Most crawling tools have metrics that calculate an internal PageRank value.
Then I combine this data with the actual rankings at URL level in Google (and other search engines if available).
Next, I focus on the pages that are currently ranking between positions 3 and 10. Define actions you can take on adding more links to the pages that can benefit from more internal link value. Simple steps can include adding these pages to the main navigation elements, or you build out a new widget that adds certain links on specific pages.
To make this analysis a bit more understandable for the less knowledgeable stakeholder, you can try to visualize the internal link graphs with a tool like Gephi. Make one graph before the changes to the internal links and one after (or one from a staging environment) to compare the impact.
Changes to internal linking may need a few months to get results in search engines, so schedule this every 3-4 months.
Internal linking is invaluable for SEO. A good tip is to crawl a site using a tool like Screaming Frog, which provides a count of “unique inlinks” pointing to each page, and the “crawl depth” a page is from the homepage.
I find that charting this data in a spreadsheet is an excellent way to visualize internal linking to identify where it can be improved, especially for larger sites. You can also use the custom search feature in Screaming Frog to find related content, where you can place relevant internal links.
Be strategic about the content you write.
Ideally, you’d be able to rank well for any quality pages that you produce. Unfortunately, if you’re competing with the seriously big players (think Amazon, Wikipedia, and Google), then it’s most likely not going to happen.
Pick your fights and create content for topics that are possible for you to rank well for instead of wasting your time and efforts for highly competitive keywords.
Scan the SERP and pay attention to the number of referring domains to the URL and domain for each site on the search result.
Also, check the domain-level and page-level link metrics the tool provider you go with uses to evaluate the competition.
In the above example using the Ahrefs toolbar, it’s also worth noting the keyword difficulty metric at the top.
It’s handy for a top-level view, but I also like to do a manual SERP analysis to understand competition better.
Another tip is to check whether title tags have been well-optimized and include the keyword you are targeting.
If they aren’t, maybe you’ve found an opportunity to create a well-optimized page on that topic.
Use Google Search Console to revisit your optimizations frequently
I highly recommend thinking of Google Search Console as an essential resource. It’s a handy tool that enables you to see how your site is performing on the SERPS page in real-time.
By monitoring your pages through Google Search Console regularly, you’ll be able to identify if there is anything your page is ranking for that could be better optimized.
I usually automate finding optimizations opportunities with Data Studio.
But if you don’t fancy setting that up, you can also head to the performance section and filter by page.
Then check if there are any high-impression keywords that rank well that you could give a boost to by updating the page.
I’ve highlighted above high-impression well-ranking URLs that do not get many clicks. These are the types of pages you want to explore further to see how you could better optimize.
SEO & Content Lead, Nextiva
GSC is our go-to tool when it comes to validating search intent. We routinely keep tabs on traffic, CTRs, and of course, conversions for every landing page at Nextiva.
With SERPs constantly changing, it’s likely that the search queries that drive traffic to your best pages keep changing, too.
Systematically monitoring these traffic-driving queries and refreshing your content is what’ll help you stay ahead of competitors.
No amount of backlinks or CRO can bump up ranking unless you have a pulse on the search queries (thus, intent) most valuable to you.
An obvious but key one, use HTTPS.
HTTPS simply makes your site more secure, and it’s something I always make sure is there before continuing on any website. It’s straightforward to implement, with most hosting companies offering a one-click free installation.
You’ll know if a site has HTTPS as there will be a lock symbol right before their URL.
If you have yet to comply with this, don’t panic! You simply need to install an SSL certificate. These are easy to get hold of, and you’ll often find your web host can provide one.
Increase website speed
Whilst not the largest ranking factor, site speed is a critical aspect of how well your site will perform.
Users are expecting more and more for pages to load quickly, so if you have a slow-loading site, you aren’t going to be providing a great experience.
You can easily check your site speed by using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. Enter the page URL you want to check, and it will provide a score between 1-100. The lower the score, the slower the site speed.
Ideally, you want to be within the green 90-100.
PageSpeed Insights is especially useful as it reveals your websites’ Core Web Vitals.
These are the key metrics Google suggests you should be using to measure the experience on your site.
Google also announced that Core Web Vitals are becoming a ranking factor. We aren’t yet sure its significance, but it is worth improving them now so you are prepared.
Some useful tools/resources for improving site speed are:
- Wattspeed – An Advanced Web Ranking tool for monitoring speed that utilizes Lighthouse.
- Site speed tips – An ongoing resource curated by me that highlights possible ways to improve your site speed.
- Web.dev – A Google-run site that has a whole host of speed optimization resources.
Boost link building
Once you’ve ticked off your on-page SEO to-do list, it’s time to look at how you can further support your SEO strategy by taking it off-page.
Creating an evergreen, shareable piece of content with a hook is more likely to gain natural pickup. By being evergreen it’ll still be relevant year after year with need for just minor adjustments.
There are various ways you can then build backlinks with this piece of content but a couple of my favorite tactics are:
Research top-performing pieces of content that have attracted a high volume of backlinks. Then simply create an even better piece of content and outreach to those that have linked to see if they’d like to update the link to your content instead.
This works well because sites always want to be sharing the newest and best pieces of content with their audience.
Broken Link Building
If a website has a broken link, you’re at an advantage here because you’re not only providing them with that knowledge but also the solution with an alternative resource you own.
I’d recommend running these on resource pages within your industry. They tend to have a lot of links so it’s likely you’ll come across some broken links. Once these have been established, you can get in touch with the site owner and let them know about your replacement page.
Remember, build links from sites that have good authority and that are relevant to your industry. Building a plethora of low-quality links won’t perform nearly as well as a smaller amount of high-quality links.
So there you have it, my top 13 SEO best practices! While this isn’t always enough to get you ranking where you want to be, it’s a great starting point to set you up to perform well.