There’s nothing better for the health of your online business than to understand and apply SEO best practices. Not only is SEO the best way to increase your organic traffic, it also helps you filter out unqualified visitors and expand your brand awareness.
In case you’re new to SEO, here’s a quick overview:
SEO—short for search engine optimization—is the practice of increasing organic website traffic from search engines by improving a site’s online visibility.
SEO Best Practices and Tips
This article compiles the seventeen most crucial and successful components of SEO. Whether you’re learning SEO for the first time or want to brush up on your SEO skill set, this comprehensive list of best practices will help. Everything you need to improve search engine ranking, generate more traffic, and attract targeted visitors can be found below.
1. Choose a Keyword
Many sources will tell you to start the SEO process with a keyword. What most of them don’t tell you is that choosing a keyword starts with researching your target audience. The best way to begin that process is by developing buyer personas. Each persona paints a detailed picture of a distinct segment that makes up part of your target audience.
Ask questions about your target audience to generate personas and, ultimately, determine which keywords will offer the most value:
- What are they interested in?
- What do they need help with?
- How can you provide solutions?
- How do they like to communicate?
After you’ve created your buyer personas and understand how your business can help them, it’s time to choose relevant keywords. Base your decision on the following three factors:
- Volume of monthly searches for a specific keyword
- How difficult it will be to rank for specific keywords
- Which terms your audience uses when they search online
Other considerations may impact your final choices—for example, keep an eye out for trending topics that could have an increased search frequency for a short period of time.
Approach keyword research from the perspective of your audience and you’ll be able to choose precise, advantageous keywords.
2. Optimize Page Titles
If you want to master SEO best practices, you need to know how to write good page titles. Page titles have two parts:
- The HTML title tag—the first thing you see in search results
- The main heading—the title you see on the actual page
The HTML title tag is arguably the more important of the two, but both need to be optimized to achieve the best ranking possible. The purpose of a page title is twofold:
- To get people to click on your page
- To help you rank for a chosen keyword
Create page titles that compel people to click and are relevant enough that visitors don’t have to guess what the page is about. Incorporate your keyword into the HTML title tag and the main heading. The title tag and main heading don’t have to be identical, but they do need to share the same message.
How the HTML title tag looks in search results:
The HTML title tag will also display on the browser tab of the opened page:
The page title you create will directly affect your click-through rate, so make your keyword and title as captivating and pertinent as possible.
3. Optimizing H Tags
H tags—short for heading tags—are a hierarchy of HTML tags that are used to create headings on a web page. Starting with H1 tags, each subsequent tag is a subhead of the previously numbered tag. For example:
- H1 tag: Main heading (your page title)
- H2 tag: Subheading
- H3 tag: 2nd subheading
- H4 tag: 3rd subheading
Optimizing H tags is one of the most basic SEO best practices. The H1 tag—a.k.a. the page title—is the easiest H tag to optimize. Just incorporate your keyword into the page title and make sure the entire heading clarifies the objective of the page.
H2, H3, and other H tags can be trickier to optimize. You don’t want to use keywords in H tags just for the sake of using keywords. The H tags should be used to improve the visitor’s user experience and help them navigate through your content easily. Only include keywords in H tags when and where they help achieve that goal.
To make your content even more relevant, use synonyms of your main keyword, related terms, and supporting keywords. Don’t use your exact main keyword over and over again. Search engines could consider that keyword stuffing, which will cause your rankings to plummet.
Check out how H tags utilize the keyword Instagram shadowban in the example below:
4. Optimize Images and Multimedia
Videos, GIFs, podcasts, infographics, and more all need to be optimized. Images were the main form of online media for many years, but multimedia is here to stay.
3 steps to optimizing images:
- Create a descriptive file name that incorporates your main keyword
- Good: content-distribution-tactics.jpg
- Bad: FeRDt4362.jpg
- Reduce the file size to improve load time
- Include alt text that gives a short description and includes your main keyword
- Good: Effective content distribution tactics
- Bad: content
5 steps to optimizing videos:
- Save videos as MPG, WMV, MOV, MPEG, or M4V to make it easy for search engines to crawl
- Embed videos from hosting sites—YouTube or Vimeo, for example—so they can be found in web and video searches
- Create an XML sitemap that makes it easy for search engines to index your videos
- Use tags in the file name and description that incorporate your main keyword
- Use copy on the web page that includes your main keyword and explains the purpose of the video
3 steps to optimize audio:
- Create a title and description that include your main keyword and describe the purpose of the audio file
- Name your audio file using relevant keywords
- Use high-quality audio files
5. Customize URLs
Optimizing URLs is another important SEO best practice that helps improve search ranking, link structure, and visitor experience.
SEO tips for URL optimization:
- Include your main keyword in the URL along with a condensed version of your title tag
- Don’t use “stop” words—see a full list of stop words here
- Be as concise as possible
Check out how Backlinko customized the below URL:
6. Improve Loading Time and Responsiveness
Search engines use load time and site responsiveness to help determine a website’s search ranking. Your site needs to load quickly and it needs to be optimized for mobile visits. The longer it takes a search engine to crawl your website, the worse your ranking will be.
Ways to improve the speed of your site:
- Compress files—not just images and videos
- Use a content distribution network to lighten the content delivery load
- Optimize your site’s code—remove commas, unnecessary characters, and unused code
- Cut down on redirects—check out this quick redirect guide from Moz
Use browser caching to improve site speed for returning visitors
7. Create an Amazing User Experience
An exceptional user experience is built on solid SEO principles. Your visitors need to understand the purpose of your content immediately—whether it be a search engine result, landing page, blog post, CTA, or any other aspect of your website. After they’re on the page, your combination of keywords, load time, and titles should set the stage for visitors to effectively consume your content.
A strong SEO and user experience approach to your website should help visitors accomplish three main goals:
- Find the content they’re looking for
- Access the content quickly
- Discover relevant solutions that address their concerns
Search engines give higher rankings to pages and websites with longer dwell time—a metric that determines a visitor’s interest and engagement. Long dwell time correlates with more engaged visitors, which indicates to search engines that your site is delivering value and is worthy of a higher ranking. Clearly, an amazing user experience is vital to your search engine rankings because it keeps visitors on your site for longer periods of time.
8. Build a Linking Strategy
Link building is one of the most powerful search ranking tactics—and one of the most difficult. Link building is the process of acquiring links from external pages that point back to your website. This tells search engines that other websites consider your site credible enough to use as a source.
Link building tips:
- High-authority websites that link to your content can dramatically improve your search engine rankings—Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Inc. are great examples of these types of sites
- Low-quality sites that link to your content can hurt your search engine rankings
The best way to acquire external links is to create high-quality content that establishes your site as an industry authority, and to guest post for respected sites. Most sites that accept guest posts allow you to include at least one link leading back to the URL of your choice. A strategically placed hyperlink in the body of your guest post—or your author profile—can reap benefits for years to come.
9. Optimize Metadata
Optimizing metadata makes it easier for search engines to interpret the information on your website. Once again, you’ll be using your main keyword and focusing on building context and relevancy.
Three main metadata elements:
1. Meta title—the same as the HTML title tag and the first thing people see in search results:
2. Meta description—the snippet of copy that appears directly below the meta title in search results:
3. Meta keyword—your main keyword used in both the meta title and description:
10. Develop High-Quality Content
In 2016, Andrey Lipattsev—a Search Quality Strategist at Google—said the top three ranking factors for Google are links, content, and RankBrain. Creating high-quality content is crucial to the performance of your SEO strategy. You can execute all the other SEO best practices, but if you can’t produce exceptional content you’re not going improve your rankings by much.
Content needs to meet a variety of standards to be considered above average:
- The writing and grammar need to be flawless
- The content needs to be relevant to the site and the audience
- It should address audience needs with solutions
- It should serve as an authority resource in the industry
Identifying high-quality content is easy because it delivers value. If you can honestly tell yourself that your content is helpful, educational, or entertaining to your audience then you’re in the high-quality zone.
11. Use LSI Keywords
Latent semantic indexing (LSI) is a complicated term for a search engine algorithm that draws correlations between words and phrases to accurately match content to a person’s query. LSI keywords can include a variety of synonyms, terms, words, and phrases that are related to your keyword. The main purpose of LSI keywords is to add context that enhances the relevancy of content.
- Main keyword: content distribution
- LSI keywords:
- Content distribution strategy
- Content development
- Sharing content
- Distribution of content
- Content distribution methods
Each LSI keyword must be relevant to your content and the audience. Try using an LSI keyword generator if you’re having trouble crafting synonyms and terms related to your main keyword.
12. Add Social Sharing Buttons
There are two ways social sharing buttons can improve your website’s search ranking potential:
- They make it easy to share content and pages on your website—this can increase click throughs and page impressions, which search engines count as visitor engagement
- They increase the chance of people linking to your content—social shares add credibility to your content which makes more people prone to use it as a resource (see section 8 for more on the power of backlinking)
Placement of social sharing buttons depends on a few different factors, including your website design, audience, and industry. Depending on those elements you may not need to include sharing buttons on every page of your website.
Places that should always have social sharing buttons:
- Landing pages
- Blog posts
- Case studies, ebooks, whitepapers, infographics, and more
- Job postings
Check out the image below to see how we use social sharing buttons on our blog. The buttons are obvious, but not intrusive. Easy to spot, but static so they don’t distract from the content.
13. Refresh & Republish Older Content
One of the most valuable and underutilized SEO best practices of all—updating older content is a veritable goldmine. First, it ensures that your hard work from years past isn’t allowed to die alone and forgotten. Second, Google takes the freshness of your content into account when dishing out rankings. When you republish older content it automatically gets reindexed by search engines as new. The newer your content’s publish date, the better your ranking potential.
Effective methods for improving older content:
- Include updated research and statistics
- Check for better, newer content sources
- Correct grammatical errors that may have slipped through the cracks
- Improve the writing—chances are you’ll be able to reduce wordiness, eliminate redundancy, enhance relevancy, and generally make content more valuable based on your current knowledge
Republish your content after completing the updates and, voila! You have a fresh piece of content that’s already generated some traffic and been crawled by search engines. Once it’s re-crawled there’s a high probability that it will:
- Improve click-through rates
- Increase visitor time on page
- Deliver a better overall piece of content to a fresh audience
14. Remove Duplicate Content
Duplicate content can hurt your search engine rankings. When search engines discover multiple versions of the same content, they choose the version that seems most relevant. This often means that duplicate content receives less visibility because search engines may choose to display each content version in search results at different times.
SEO best practices call for creating unique content every time, rather than duplicating. Avoid publishing replicated content and your site rankings will be much better off.
15. Optimize for Local Search
Local SEO can be a huge differentiator for your business and it’s one of the best ways to establish your brand as the go-to authority in a geographic region. Essentially, local SEO uses custom long tail keywords that make it easy for people to discover your business.
For example, if you own a plumbing business in Dallas, Texas, you could create this list of related keywords to use on your website:
- Plumber in Dallas
- Dallas plumbers
- Plumbing professional, Dallas
- Dallas, Texas plumbers
Check out how we used localized keywords to rank as an inbound marketing agency in Austin, Texas:
Strategically sprinkling local keyword terms throughout your site will enhance its ability to attract targeted, local traffic.
Mastering SEO best practices is at the heart of running a successful business in the 21st century. Enhance your website’s performance and you’ll start to improve its search visibility, which will create a substantial boost in traffic over time. There’s no better way to attract new leads, improve conversion rates, grow brand awareness, and outperform the competition.