There’s a lot of components to search engine optimization, frequently referred to as SEO. It’s understandable why SEO consultants get paid the big bucks because they have to be aware of so many variables. And it’s easy for us, as creative entrepreneurs, to get overwhelmed by all of the tedious tasks that go along with correct SEO.
However, there are a few things you can do as a blogger or business owner, that will set yourself up for success with search engines that require little to no maintenance in the future if you make sure they’re done correctly from the beginning.
So here it is, my list of five things you can tweak right now for better SEO.
1. Proper usage of heading levels
When writing content for a page or a blog post, most people use the Heading 1 and Heading 2 options to break their content up into chunks. This is good practice! It improves readability and guides search engines and visitors on what information is on the page. However, there is a right way to do this and a wrong way.
There should only ever be one Heading 1 per page or post. Using multiple h1 tags confuses the robots (aka search engines) about what your site is actually about.
The best way to use heading tags is to think of them as a book with a table of contents.
An h1 is your book title, h2’s are the chapter titles, and then h3’s, h4’s, and h5’s are further subheadings you can use to break content up further.
Yoast SEO has a great post on the importance of headings for your blog SEO; they also give some excellent examples of to how your blog posts and pages could look.
Don’t use headings for aesthetic reasons
If you’re using an h1 for aesthetic reasons, such as size or color, then you need to take a look at your design and adjust the way your headings look. For example, create a CSS class selector and apply that to the heading so that regardless of the level, it can look however the class rules are applied. (More on CSS classes in another post.)
For the most part, your WordPress page/post template includes h1’s, which means you should only really be using h2’s and smaller throughout your content. There are exceptions, but this is a good rule of thumb.
2. Meta tags
What the hell are meta tags? Glad you asked. They are the behind-the-scenes magic that feeds search engines and social media networks information about your website.
Out-of-the-box WordPress and Squarespace sites try to do a good job of this, by using the title of the page/post and the excerpt of the page for the search result. However, these are not optimized, and it’s a damn shame because it’s so easy to do!
My favorite is the free Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. Just install this bad boy, and you’ll have a new meta box at the bottom of each post/page where you can adjust the meta information. You should always modify the page title and meta description in my opinion, because you don’t just want your search result to say “Home” you want it to say something like “Unique websites for creative entrepreneurs” or something that draws visitors into your site.
3. ALT text
ALT text or alternative text is another piece of hidden magic that is important for SEO. It’s the hidden caption behind your photo that search engines index as more content. Kind of amazing right?
ALT text is primarily used by visitors with screen-readers or who have image loading turned off. It’s descriptive text that displays in place of the photo if it doesn’t load, or in the case of a screen-reader, it will read it to the listener.
You can edit the ALT text of each photo in WordPress from within the media library, and while this might seem tedious, I promise this will help tremendously by basically doubling the amount of content on your site that search engines see.
Since this is something that might be read aloud to a visitor, it’s super important that you write these as if they were a typical sentence. ALT text should be brief but informative. And bonus, the more you write for humans with your ALT text, the more search engines approve of it. Robots just want to be human after all.
4. Page Load Time
Have you ever been on a website that took more than a few seconds to load and you were already bored and clicked the back button? Well, search engines do the same thing. The longer your site takes to load, the more they will penalize you in search results.
For this reason, it’s super important to keep an eye on how quickly your page loads. You can use tools like Pingdom’s Website Speed Test to see how fast various pages load. The goal is to keep things at 2-3 seconds and definitely below 7 seconds. Anything higher than that and marketers can tell you about the exponential drop off in people visiting your site.
How do you fix a site that loads slowly?
The easiest way is to start with images. You can use an image editing program like Photoshop to export and compress them down, or an online tool like Compressor.io, to make sure that your images are already in a good place when you upload them.
I also recommend installing WP Smush or another image compression plugin on WordPress to help further save on space and load times.
Another aspect of page speed is going to be the number of plugins you have running on your site.
I’ve already mentioned two or three that I think you should have, but if you have a plugin for share tools and a slider and an Instagram feed and Leadpages and MailChimp, and all of this other stuff, you’re slowing your site down really badly.
The better way to handle this is to use only the plugins you need and then find other means of achieving the other stuff, like embedding an HTML Mailchimp form instead of using a plugin.
Finally, use a caching tool like W3 Cache and a CDN like Cloudflare to speed things up further. These resources keep a copy of the site loaded at all times so that visitors don’t have to reload items every time they come to your site.
5. All the links!
Inbound, outbound, internal… these are all different kinds of links that you need to utilize throughout your site.
Outbound links are when you link to external sites, like Amazon or someone else’s blog post. These links help Google legitimize your content, like citing sources in a term paper. If you’re linking to correct, credible sources, Google and visitors on your site are going to think you know what you’re talking about, so you move up in search results.
The same goes for internal links, which is linking to your content, like an old blog post that talks about something similar. Internal links draw the search robots deeper into your site and make searches more relevant.
Inbound links are the hardest to cultivate, but also the most important. These are when other people link to you. Inbound links are a huge indicator to Google that you’re a good result to show people and not a spam site that they want to push down.
You can force inbound links by commenting on other people’s blog posts and including your website URL (called back-linking) or doing this in a service directory. But this treads a dangerous line of lousy SEO habits that search engines frown upon.
My suggestion for cultivating inbound links is two-fold:
1. Use Pinterest to share your blog posts and content. Pinterest might advertise as a social media network, but it’s really a search engine, a visual one. Although their links are technically “no follow,” meaning it shouldn’t influence search rankings, Google and other search engines do index pins which can show up in search results. Ergo, Pinterest pins to your site can show up and lead traffic to your site.
2. Pitch yourself as a guest author on other blogs. Ask your business besties to collaborate on a blog post series with you and take turns writing for each other’s sites. Or pitch yourself to people who resonate with you. You don’t have to have anything special to do this; a few well-written articles are usually enough to do the trick. Or cross-post your content to sites like Medium, and link back to the original article on your website.
If video/audio is your thing, pitch yourself as a guest on a podcast. Usually, they’ll include a link to your site and social networks in the description or show notes, and that counts as an inbound link!
SEO can be overwhelming, and it’s a constantly evolving beast, so we’ve just scraped the surface here. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from being an entrepreneur, it’s that you have to start somewhere. And with these tips, you don’t even have to hire a marketing team or copywriter to do it!
And if you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. You can download my free website planning guide, which can walk you through each of these steps to optimize your new or existing website for improved search engine optimization.