I'll admit, I have no idea what goes into coding the server side of a website. I know that it's part of the backend development and it involves a language that might as well be written in Mongolian (no offense to you if you are Mongolian).
And that's where my knowledge ends.
Fortunately, I don't have to know this part of the job, because I have incredible teammates that do.
What I do know is if your code doesn't communicate the right message, your website won't respond the way you intend.
It's the same for SEO.
When you don't communicate a clear message of what your site is about, the search engines have to guess where to place you in the results.
You don't want that.
You want to send clear a message by optimizing your pages with precisely placed keyword signals so that Google, Bing and the others know what you are about and where you fit in the Search Engine Results Pages (or SERPS, if you want to toss around insider lingo).
That translates to better ranking.
That means more traffic.
And that leads to more conversions, which is the ultimate goal no matter what your business model is.
The following ten fixes are the foundations of a sound SEO practice and will help drive more traffic to your website through better rankings of your content.
It's what Merry Fools does for our clients' websites and it's something you can do yourself, today.
So let's look at those signals, beginning with the most important.
It Starts With Quality Content
I speak often about quality content and its importance to SEO, but let me reiterate that publishing quality content, content that is related to your business and provides substance to your audience, answers their queries and leaves them with a fuzzy feeling inside, will always be the basis of a successful online presence.
Attach a blog to your business website and fill it with content that uses the terms you want to rank for while solving the problems your target audience cares about solving.
Use the Google Planner in Google Adwords to find the search terms for your content subject.
Address the content honestly, with your readers in mind and without forcing keywords in there. Publish often and you're golden.
Google loves to index fresh content and you will reap the benefits of providing constant content yumminess to the Googlebot when it crawls and indexes your site.
You Need a Concise Title Tag
The title tag defines what your webpage is called. It cries out like a self-help mantra, "This is who I am!"
It helps you identify that webpage you were on when you have hundreds of tabs open.
It's how you find that site among the billions that you've bookmarked.
And it's the blue link calling your name in the list of sites of a search results page.
You want this optimized to establish clearly what your content is about and you want to do it in as few words as possible.
Google truncates titles at 70 characters, so if you don't get your main keyword signal in there before that, you've missed the boat.
Your URL Structure Should Be Readable
The bots that crawl your website are like five year olds – they don't always get your slang, so you have to spell things out for them in clear, concise language that they can understand.
When you have a URL like
Not only does it amount to gibberish for your reader, Google doesn't know what it means.
Sure, there are other indicators on the page to clue in on, but you want a readable URL for its clarity. Something like:
One and most importantly, it helps position your page in Search, and two, it helps people identify your topic.
Click-through is vital to get your content read and a readable URL encourages potential visitors to click your link.
Another thing, use hyphens instead of letting words run together or using underscores or another separator.
Google recommends this as underscored words are treated as one word.
Put Keyword Signals in Your Header Tags
A study by the Nielson Norman Group found that a majority of people scan rather than read entire articles.
Makes sense. People are busy. And there is a lot of information out there to take in.
Headings and subheadings make your content easy to scan and let people quickly pick out the juicy bits they are interested in.
It's also excellent for on-page optimization as header tags give prominence to your keywords.
In a hierarchy, with the most important ideas at the top of the pyramid, you start with one H1 tag and use the others as needed.
Per Yoast, here's a cheat sheet for how to best optimize your homepage and internal pages:
On Your Homepage
H1: Your website name.
H2: A tagline if you have one, otherwise a recent posts list.
H3: Recent posts list.
H4: Sidebar content headings and things of lesser importance.
On Internal Pages
H1: Post, page, category or tag title – whatever makes sense for the content.
H4: Your website name, sidebar content headings, etc.
Remember to have only one H1 tag per page. The rest can be used liberally.
Don't Forget to Add Image Attributes
Fred R. Barnard, an early twentieth century ad man, is credited with saying a picture is worth a thousand words.
But the Googlebot can't see images, so you've got to tell it what it's seeing.
The Alt and Title attributes in image HTML codes provide an easy way to indicate with keywords how an image is related to your content.
This is especially relevant for Image Search.
While you're at it, name your image files according to your content. Every leg up helps.
And don't forget the hyphens.
Use Internal Linking As Often As Possible
Getting all the details into one article can create an impossible read for visitors.
That's where internal linking helps.
Text links inside your content that point to other pages on your website can help people navigate to similar topics without going elsewhere for that information.
When I want to reinforce the need for writing quality content, for example, I might mention the Panda and Penguin updates, two of Google's notorious algorithm changes that penalized sites with weak or spammy content.
By using the relevant text "Panda and Penguin updates" as the anchor in the link above, I've:
Helped you and the search engine identify the content of that linked article.
Given you an opportunity to read more information on an important topic.
Improved the navigation of Merry Fools by linking to content that is no longer on the main blog page and would otherwise require more than a couple clicks of the mouse to find.
Spread the authority of this page to the related linked page. Authority is how well your content ranks in search for its topic. High ranking pages can spread their authority to other pages on your website that have dropped in rank or that have never had it.
You can pretty much go nuts with this up to about 150 internal links per page. Beyond that Google gives up the chase.
Canonicalization Makes Sure Everyone Is On The Same Page
Sometimes people access your website with http://www.mysite.com.
Sometimes they just hit http://mysite.com, without the www.
Or maybe you even have something like http://mysite.com/index.html.
While the three of these point visitors to the same page visually, Google reads them as three different webpages.
This means they can each have different ranking authority.
You don't want that.
Canonicalization makes all three variations point to one page, so no matter what's typed into an individual's browser, the destination URL is always the same for everyone.
This preserves the ranking power for the main URL and redirects the authority of the others to it as well.
Include an XML Sitemap
This is a great way for sites with a weak site architecture or a large site with deeply linked pages to get thoroughly crawled and indexed.
It's not a publicly displayed sitemap like you'd normally think of. It sits quietly out of site where Googlebot discreetly peruses its content.
You can build one here, then FTP it to your root domain. Depending on how much content you're creating, you should update it weekly and no less than once a month.
Let a Robots.txt File Tell Google Exactly Where Your Content Is
Direct and to the point, a robots.txt file directs Googlebot to the content you want it to see and index. This should include the location of your XML sitemap.
It is a plain text file that resides on your root domain, just like your XML sitemap.
The contents are simple commands:
This gives Googlebot free reign to scour your site.
You can use the disallow command to specify which pages not to crawl, for instance, everything in your admin section.
Anyway, you get the point. Moz.com has a good cheat sheet for building your robots.txt file.
Optimize Your Page Speed
For some, size matters, but your real concern should be speed. Google likes it fast. Real fast.
And that's not a euphemism.
Google has said unequivocally that it gives precedence to sites that load quickly.
People don't wait around for a site that takes forever to load. Remember, they're busy. They want to consume your consumables and they want to consume them now!
Use the page speed tool on Google Developers and see how your site ranks on load time.
You'll see immediately what's slowing your site down and how to correct it.
That's All There Is to It
So there you have it. Ten things you can do right now to help improve your rankings in Google.
Every algorithm tweak by Google presents new challenges for ranking in its search engine.
But no matter how much it changes, these ten things will always be important cornerstones to any SEO strategy.
These are the practices at Merry Fools and these are the things that are built in to our clients' websites.
Now, if you've read this far (and bless you if you have), I have two extra tips for you.
Social Signals Count Now More Than Ever
Social media plays a larger role in Google's ranking algorithm these days, so don't be anti-social.
Go ahead and put a like button on your page for Facebook fans, offer the option to tweet your fantastic content, let users pin your best posts and most definitely let people plus one your site for their Google+ profiles.
Include a sharing option to whatever social media flavor happens to be popular at the moment.
Seeing share numbers on your site also helps boost the trust of new visitors by showing them your content is valued.
Second, you need to be aware of authorship and author rank.
Having blog content means someone is writing for your website.
Give that person an identity. Seeing a face and offering a quick bio builds trust with readers.
This is best accomplished by creating a Google+ profile where you can claim authorship for the content you write and brand yourself at the same time.
Pop a little Google+ code into your blog post and suddenly the anonymous author behind your amazing article has a face readers can connect with.
Google is giving both of these social signals more and more emphasis, so enabling content sharing helps build author rank for your writers while increasing your website authority in the long term.
Finally, Make Use of Good Meta Descriptions
When you see a link in the search results pages of Google, Bing, or the others, there's usually a brief description under the link title and the page URL.
While it won't help your rankings from an SEO perspective, a smart website owner uses the Meta description to optimize that snippet of text to encourage user click-through.
You have about 155 characters to convince someone your article is the best one in the results page.
If you skip this, Google will pull the first line of your body content. That could easily be a missed opportunity, so don't let it happen.
Optimize and win the prize: better rankings, more traffic, more conversions.
Phil Foxwell is the senior copy writer and SEO consultant at Merry Fools. Follow Phil on Google+ and learn the ONE secret handshake that will get you into any SEO circle. Not really, but it's a good place to continue the conversation.