Markus Nykänen // February 20 2018
The 5 Most Crucial Aspects of SEO
I have been working in the field of Search Engine Optimization (a.k.a. SEO) for almost 8 years. Over the years, the definition and practical implementation of SEO has constantly changed (and is still changing). When I started back in 2010, the hot buzzwords were link farms, keyword density and titles. As Google has evolved into being more sophisticated, the term has broadened to contain much more and, on the whole, SEO today deals with all aspects of marketing, both on the Internet and in the real world.
Still, SEO has 3 key components that are:
– A technically optimized website that can be read by Google
– Content that is written for the users
– Links from relevant sources
However, in order to work concretely with the above, they should be broken down to several tasks to be manageable. To give you some perspective, a couple of years ago one of the most widely-read blogs about SEO and Internet marketing, Moz.com, asked 128 SEO professionals their opinion on what the most important aspects of SEO are.
The results looks like this:
So, where to begin?
Below I have put together what I believe are the 5 most crucial aspects to consider when it comes to SEO and visibility on Google, and how you can start improving your visibility yourself.
1. Metadata – for an attractive result
Metadata is certainly a term you’ve heard about earlier in SEO contexts. Defined, metadata consists of several different html tags with different functions: using metadata you can, for example, define who wrote the content but also how a shared link should appear when shared on social media platforms.
However, in SEO, the main tags you want to work with are called “Title” and “Meta Description”. These two are the main elements that control how the Google hits are presented in the search engine results page (SERP).
The Google hits are important to take into account when working with SEO, as Google still weighs this element strongly in the calculation of what the page is about. But above all, the purpose is to make the Google hits as attractive and relevant as possible so that potential customers click on your results (and not your competitors).
To exemplify, here’s a dummy hit where metadata is not taken into account (a website selling Bluetooth speakers) and how it is presented in the Google result:
A more optimized and inviting hit could for example look like this:
You should prioritize optimizing your Title and Meta Description-tags. If you want to take your Google results even further, there is another technical markup that you can use to enhance your Google result: microdata (or schema.org markup). I won’t go deep into the details in how to do this, but on some queries Google chooses to provide more information, if elements are tagged correctly in the code.
Here’s an example of a even more optimized search result:
(Image, stars, number of reviews, cooking time, date are tagged with schema.org markup)
To do: check what your current meta-tags are containing and improve them if necessary.
2. Redirects – when developing a new site (and url structure)
A mistake I often encounter in web development contexts is that an old URL structure has not been redirected to the new one. In short, redirects mean that both Google’s spider and the users browser tell the user that the page is deleted, but can be found in another location.
Visualized it looks like this:
It is very important that so-called “301 Redirects” (the HTTP response 301 stands for “permanent redirect”) are implemented when changing structure, but even if a single page’s address is changed. This is done so that visitors and Google will not be met by a 404 page (page not found) when trying to visit your website from the Google search result. In addition to the user experience and crawlability, previous ranking value is transferred to the new url, which means that you do not have to “start over” in the competition to appear high up on important key search terms on Google.
To do: Research how urls are being handled today. If you are planning to change url-structure, make sure 301 Redirects are in the deployment plan.
3. Keyword Research – use the same language as your visitors
Performing a keyword analysis is the basis of editorial SEO work on a website. In short, it’s about compiling a list of keywords that your potential customers use when searching for your products and then adjusting your content based on the findings.
By analysing the terms and the search volumes you can then prioritize and gradually improve your content, which opens up the possibility to rank on terms that are interesting to you to be found on.
For example, consider that you are selling Bluetooth speakers online. Which search terms are your target audience using? Are you guessing that your customers only search for “bluetooth speakers” you are wrong! People today tend to use very different search terms, often looking for the same thing. This means you need to write content in the same language as your visitors use.
To start your keyword analysis there are a number of tools. One of these is Google Keyword Planner. Here you can enter keywords you guess your audience uses, but in addition to this you will also receive suggestions based on your input. This is a very powerful tool to help you get a grip on how your potential customers use Google.
Screenshot from Google Keyword Planner:
Simply put: when writing content for the category page Bluetooth speakers, I would base the content on the above keywords (these are search volumes in the UK, make sure to pick the right country when using this tool!)
To do: analyse what keywords your target audience uses when searching for products or services you provide and adjust your textual content based on the results.
4. Crawlability – Make sure Google finds your content
Crawlability means Google’s ability to find and review the content of your site. It is very important for your rankings that Google finds all information in an effective way. When working on improving this, there are several aspects to consider as issues with crawling can be very different.
Common technical issues I often see are:
- Slow response time from the web server
- Wrong configuration of robots.txt
- Internal search results being indexed
To determine if your site can be crawled efficiently there is a tool that can simulate a Google spider. This tool is called Screaming Frog SEO Spider. Through the tool you can find pages that are broken or have slow load times, images that are unnecessarily large and broken links, among many other things relating to SEO. Performing a crawl with Screaming Frog is therefore a good first step in evaluating (and improving) a site’s chances of being crawled (and finally indexed) by Google.
Here’s how it looks inside the tool:
Another tip to track Google’s crawling is to have a sitemap.xml (usually found here: https://digitalist2017.wpengine.com/sitemap.xml) and submit this to Google through the Google Search Console tool. Through the tool, you get a crawl report, which tells you if there are any problems with crawling your site.
I highly recommend you to signup for Google Search Console, as there is more functionality and it’s also the only platform where Google directly communicates with website owners.
To do: download Screaming Frog SEO Spider and crawl your site for issues. Also signup and submit your sitemap.xml into Google Search Console. You’ll find both link at the end of this blogpost.
5. Relevant Content – Answer your audience’s questions
As mentioned earlier, it is important that you write texts to your site based on keywords that users use. But besides this, it’s important to build your pages with the users experience in mind.
The first question you should ask yourself is:
“How are people searching?”
But the most important question is:
“What do people expect? How can I adjust my content to exceed their expectations?”
Here is another example from Moz.com on which elements a page should contain to create value for the user:
In the image above, Moz has highlighted the elements:
- Title + Meta Description
- H1 (heading 1)
- Share Buttons
- H2 (heading 2) with additional information about the subject
- Endorsements / Reviews
In the example, the content is written targeting the search term “chocolate donuts”.
To put it simply: if you build a simple page containing only a short description of what a chocolate donut is, you are most likely not going to rank very high on that search term.
If you instead build a page with 1) a recipe with detailed instructions, 2) images, 3) where to buy the ingredients, 4) endorsement and 5) high quality images, your chances of being put high up in the results increases dramatically, as you are providing far more value to the user.
It’s an understatement that Google likes this a lot, as they want to send their visitors to qualitative and extended information of subjects their visitors search for. Wikipedia tends to rank very high, mostly because of this reason.
Can you think of ways in applying this way of thinking to your pages?
To do: try to improve your most important pages and add images, testimonials, share buttons and more relevant information. Use the Moz example as a guideline.
As stated in the introduction text, SEO is a very broad topic that involves many parts of a company’s marketing and web development efforts. There are many more aspects you need to keep in mind if you want to succeed on Google, but the above list is a good start if you are new to SEO.
If you are interested in learning more and get an more extensive knowledge of how Google values and ranks websites, you can read Google’s own “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide”.
You can find the web version here.
- Check what your current meta-tags are containing and improve them if necessary.
- Research how urls are being handled today. If you are planning to change url-structure, make sure 301 Redirects are in the deployment plan.
- Analyse what keywords your target audience uses when searching for products or services you provide and adjust your textual content based on the results.
- Download Screaming Frog SEO Spider and crawl your site for issues. Also signup and submit your sitemap.xml into Google Search Console.
- Try to improve your most important pages and add images, testimonials, share buttons and more relevant information. Use the Moz example as a guideline.
Sources and resources:
Google AdWords Keyword Planner (AdWords account needed)
Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools)
Digital Business Developer