Search engine algorithms have come a long way and become more sophisticated from the times when content, titles and descriptions stuffed with keywords were enough to achieve high rankings in search results.
If you want to learn SEO in 2019, you can’t get stuck in the past. One of the biggest improvements of search engines is that they consider the human factor, in other words, the user engagement.
Don’t forget that SEO is about targeting real people, not only search engines.
Meta tags are a part of the HTML code. They describe website’s content. The most important are meta titles and meta descriptions.
For detailed information, make sure to read the definitions and advanced optimization tips in our SEOpedia both for title tags and meta descriptions.
They aren’t as important as they used to be from the technical point of view.
Meta titles and descriptions packed with keywords don’t directly influence your rankings BUT they remain a strong psychological factor affecting the CTR and overall user engagement.
So don’t get confused by blogs saying that title tags and meta descriptions aren’t important at all. On the other hand, keep in mind that Google changes titles and descriptions to better indicate their relevance to the search query in case your text doesn’t match enough.
There are many tools and plugins (e.g. Yoast for WordPress in the screenshot below) analyzing your content in terms of focus keyword usage in meta title, meta description, headings, overall keyword density, alt image attributes and others.
They offer a lot of hints, yet can hardly follow Google’s algorithm focusing on user experience. Make sure that you consider both technical points of view and user experience when creating meta tags.
On-page SEO checklist
Let’s start with the things you can do in WordPress or in any other content management system.
1. Find out what people are searching before you start writing
Do you plan to write about a topic that people search for? Are you sure your point of view is different, unique? Can you offer new added value to the topic? Is your timing right?
These are the major questions before you start writing and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog or a product landing page. There are many ways how to find out. Keyword research is an inevitable part of it. We talk about how to do keyword research in the 5th chapter.
2. Title tags and headlines
Create an appealing title tag, meta description and headlines. Keep in mind what we mentioned earlier. Your main focus keyword should still be there, so users know what is your website about. Use the meta description as a great opportunity for call-to-action (CTA) emphasis.
Persuade both users and search engines that your website is the one to be clicked on.
Once again, think of the user engagement, so don’t overact by using cheap or too cheesy words. Look at your competitors, analyze what works for them and build your own strategy.
- Google will show the titles if they’re up to 70 characters and meta descriptions up to 155 characters (updated on May 2018)
- Make sure to use correct <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, … structure for good readability and structure
- Check the search results preview in tools such as SEOSiteCheckup or WordPress plugins
3. Use SEO-friendly URLs
Avoid using auto-generated URLs with figures and characters:
Use URLs corresponding to your content and its title:
If you use WordPress, you can set permalinks in common settings.
Some SEO specialists and bloggers say that short URLs ranks better in Google. We think it’s a matter of the user experience. Of course, this doesn’t mean a 20-word URL is alright.
Do you want to engage your visitors? Use images, infographics, charts and videos. They lead to lower bounce rates and a higher engagement. Some things have to be written in the good old-fashioned way but multimedia are a must.
Video streaming has been one of the hottest marketing trends over the last couple of years. Furthermore, they motivate people to like, share or comment your content.
- Optimize images by using relevant file names (how-to-bake-pizza.jpg), alt image attributes and file size
- Embed interactive multimedia such as videos or charts
- Don’t forget to include transcripts so you don’t lose important keywords (the crawlers can’t “read” the video)
5. Outbound and internal links
Using outbound links gives a relevancy signal of your topic to Google. Make sure to link to relevant and authoritative sources.
Internal links are a perfect way to promote your other articles or website sections. It makes easier to visit them and leads to higher engagement. Internal linking also helps the bots to understand the website structure.
- Outbound links may not directly improve your rankings, yet it is highly advisable to use them
- Use up to 2-3 internal links, depending on the content length
- Search engine crawlers scan these links, so don’t try to cheat and watch out for broken links
Technical on-page SEO checklist
We can classify technical SEO as a part of on-page SEO that deals with more technical stuff. It usually demands development skills or a web developer.
1. Search console
Google Search Console (Webmaster tools) is one of the SEO basics. It helps you to monitor and maintain your site’s presence in Google search results.
That includes content submission for crawling, choosing what you want to be indexed and what not, site errors, structured data or code errors.
The Search Console will help you to analyze your keyword rankings, CTRs, possible Google penalties and many other useful data for technical SEO.
- Every property (website) needs to be verified to use Search console features
- Connect Search Console with Google Analytics
2. Website speed
Website speed is one of the ranking factors. Slow website causes that people will leave. It’s known that 50% of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less. If it doesn’t load in 3 seconds, they will leave.
- Test the speed in PageSpeed Insights
- Optimize images, enable GZIP compression, HTML compression, JS and CSS minification and try to decrease server response time
- Quality web hosting plays a big role in the website speed, so make sure to select a trustworthy provider
3. Mobile optimization
Mobile optimization is a must. The world is shifting from desktop to mobile. In fact, running a website that is not mobile-optimized will negatively influence your rankings.
Google started rolling out the mobile-first indexing in March 2018. Mobile-first indexing means that Google will use the mobile version of your website for indexing and ranking.
You can also consider the AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages). AMP is an HTML code extended with custom properties that enable to render static content fast. In 2017, it was one of the main Google’s projects of mobile search. We’ll see if there’s any future for this.
- Test the responsivity of your website in the Mobile-Friendly Test
- Monitor your keyword rankings in mobile search results
- Make sure the mobile version of your website works like a charm
A sitemap helps search engines to crawl your content. It’s a file where all website sections are listed. It’s good to have one especially when you run a large website with a complicated structure or when you use rich media content.
Having a sitemap doesn’t mean your rankings will improve. According to Google, it’s a benefit but you’ll never be penalized for not having one.
- Not all the websites need a sitemap
- The Sitemap shouldn’t contain more than 50,000 URLs and cannot exceed 50 MB
- Place the sitemap in the root directory of the website:
Robots.txt is a file that tells crawlers which website sections you don’t want to be accessed. It’s located in https://example.com/robots.txt and it’s public.
It’s handy when you don’t want some scripts, unnecessary files or images to be indexed.
User-agent: * (e.g. Googlebot) Disallow: / (e.g. /images/pizza.png)
- Don’t use robots.txt to hide content from search engines
- Violating or malware robots are able to ignore robots.txt
Further technical SEO hacks
SEOSiteCheckup is a great tool for on-page SEO analysis. You can analyze one URL per day and download a PDF report without registering.
Use Google Tag Manager for advanced tag management, so you don’t need any assistance from web developers.
HTTPS vs. HTTP: Back in 2014, Google announced they will boost rankings of HTTPS/SSL websites. Today, we know that it’s a lightweight ranking factor influencing a small percentage of search queries.
However, security is a strong psychological factor. Google Chrome, for example, labels a website that is not encrypted with SSL as “not secure”, which influences the user engagement.
URL/IP canonicalization: IP canonicalization is important when a website is indexed under both its IP address and domain name. URL canonicalization means that:
https://example.com and https://www.example.com/ should resolve to the same URL