A high-performance website functions as a calling card, a showcase for your work, and a central hub through which clients and interested parties can communicate with you. But to maximise a website’s usefulness, you must first make sure that it’s as visible as possible on the web.
The key to doing that, of course, is to perform search engine optimisation (SEO) on your website. Getting it right can involve some changes to your site, some of which are subtle, and others less so. For a beginner, this can be a daunting task. If you’re ready to get started, let’s dive in.
An Overview of the SEO Basics
Before making any changes to your website, the first thing you’ll need to do is to get an idea of what it takes for a website to stand out on search engine results pages (SERPs). And while you may be tempted to believe the results you get on those pages are the outcome of a simple popularity contest, you must first understand that nothing could be further from the truth.
That’s because search engines like Google use a complex algorithm to determine results placement on their SERPs. That algorithm considers an estimated 200 (and possibly more) factors when ranking each webpage it encounters. Some of the things Google considers aren’t even on your website and therefore are outside your control. So, that makes it all the more important for you to make the right changes to the things you can control to improve your site’s SERP performance.
The types of site changes we’ll be focusing on fall into the following major categories:
- Improving accessibility for web crawlers (so search engines can accurately scan your pages)
- Making your website technically sound
- Using a responsive design
- Adjusting page titles and metadata
- Adding structured data to take advantage of additional results placement opportunities
As you can probably tell, some of these categories will require more work than others. For the purposes of this guide, though, we’re just going to help you get started in the right direction for each, using Google as our primary optimisation target. And by the end, you’ll be well on your way to an organic search engine optimisation strategy that will make a world of difference in your site’s search performance.
Improving Web Crawler Accessibility
The first step in a basic SEO process is to make sure that the search engines can access all of your site’s pages to add them to their web index. If they’re unable to do so, none of your other SEO efforts will matter, because your pages will be rendered invisible to the search engines.
The good news is that Google has a vested interest in knowing all they can about your website. To make sure they can do that, sign up for a free Google Search Console account and add your website domain to it.
Once your site is added, the console will identify any problems Google’s having when crawling your website, and may even suggest ways to fix the problems.
While you’re waiting, however, you can help Google along by creating an XML sitemap that includes relevant details of your pages. This will allow you a measure of control over what information Google’s web crawler picks up when scanning your website.
Making Your Website Technically Sound
Google isn’t just interested in the information your website presents; they’re also interested in the way it presents it. Factors like loading times and responsiveness play a big role in how well your website will rank on any SERP. Here again, Google provides a simple way to see how well you’re doing. Simply run your website through the PageSpeed Insights scanner. If your results are in the green – you’re in good shape.
If they’re not, begin by addressing the problems the scanner has identified. Most often, it’s going to ask that you further compress images, minify scripts, and combine CSS stylesheets to speed up page loads. In some cases, the tool might even suggest eliminating certain page components that are slowing things down. If it’s feasible to do so, every little bit helps.
Using a Responsive Design
After completing the previous steps, you may have noticed that Google’s webmaster tools all seem to view your site from the perspective of a mobile device. That stems from a decision made in late 2019 by the search giant to lend additional weight to websites that prioritize the mobile experience. That means if your website doesn’t work well in a mobile browser, your SERP placement is going to suffer.
The solution is to make sure that your website follows the basics of responsive design. In most cases, you can make some simple changes to your existing webpages to make sure they render correctly on various screen shapes and sizes. Doing this will allow you to maintain a single website that works on any device, instead of having to maintain separate mobile and desktop versions, as had been the norm previously.
Adjusting Page Titles and Metadata
Believe it or not, you have more control over what information about your pages Google will display on a SERP than you might imagine. If you’ve ever noticed that some search results contain what seems like a random snippet of text underneath them, while others have what looks like a purposeful paragraph, you’ve seen that control in action.
To use it, you have to adjust all of your website’s pages to include title tags that are unique, concise, and closely match the page’s content. The better your title tags are, the more likely Google is to use them word-for-word on their SERPS. The same goes for the text snippets. If you add a short, comprehensive description of each page within a meta tag, there is a very good chance Google will use it rather than constructing their own from the page’s contents.
In the end, though, Google will make the final decision as to how to display your pages on a SERP. This is a good thing. Since there’s no way to know every conceivable search term that someone might use to find you, it’s impossible to write one-size-fits-all titles and meta tags. So, make sure you focus them on each page’s content, but with an eye toward the search terms you’re hoping to rank well for.
Add Structured Data
Over the past few years, Google has rolled out several improvements to its SERPs that are intended to deliver richer results to its users. They’ve prioritised video results, added image carousels, and even embedded items for sale right in line with other results. And they’re not doing it haphazardly.
Google generates those rich results by looking at websites to see if they have structured data embedded in them to specify certain types of content. The sites that do now receive preferential treatment on many SERPs. At last count, there were 30 different rich results that you can target by adding some additional code to your website.
The good news is that Google provides an easy-to-use tool to help you implement structured data on your website. It’s called the Structured Data Markup Helper. All you have to do is tell the tool what kind of rich content your page contains. Then, you’ll have to point and click at each relevant part of your page and tell the tool which category it belongs to. When you’re done, the tool will provide you with the HTML code you need to add the right structured data markup to your page.
Taking the Next Step
The SEO techniques detailed here are only going to help you build a solid foundation to get started on the road to SERP success. You’re also going to have to add high-value, relevant content to your site and make efforts to draw people’s attention to it. For most applications, it’s not enough to rely on search engine-derived traffic to gain visibility for yourself and your brand.
What these steps will do, however, is to improve your odds of getting noticed by your target audience when they need something you might specialise in. And, if you convert those visitors into opportunities for yourself, you’ll have an advantage over your competitors. And for any freelancer looking to build a client list that others will envy – every lead is a valuable one.