Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is the key to connecting your business to potential customers without paid advertising. That’s precisely why every business owner wants to understand how it works, and what they can do to optimise their website for search engines (Google, mainly).
However, the most effective SEO techniques aren’t that well known. Google don’t tell us exactly how their search algorithm works. Successful businesses don’t just give away their SEO techniques. Then there’s SEO companies who’ll only provide SEO knowledge to paying clients.
The most important thing I’ve learnt about Search Engine Optimisation is this:
There are however smart ways of getting there as quickly as possible, and sustaining your ranking positions for the long-haul.
So to save you from overspending on SEO advice, I’ve put together a list of key factors that helped optimise my own websites for search engines.
1. Buy A Relevant Domain Name
The first thing to do before launching your website is buy the domain name. Start off on the right foot by registering something decent.
So what makes a good domain? Here’s some tips:
- .com is king. Always aim to register a .com domain — even if it means compromising on the name slightly. This extension is associated with ‘official’ sources and established companies. The average web user knows that, and so does Google. If your business is UK based, then .co.uk is also suitable.
- Include your brand name (if you have one). Try to get your brand name into your .com domain. If it’s taken, then consider using a “-” to separate words. Or, alternatively, try adding another key word. For example, I couldn’t get the domain rectrix.com for my Goalkeeping brand as it was taken. I did however manage to buy RectrixSport.com — a good alternative.
- Include keywords (if you don’t have a brand name). If you’re flexible on your domain name, then try to incorporate some keyword(s) related to your niche. It’s not essential, but it helps. Take NicheCarve.com as an example; the words come from the phrase “to carve a niche”. It was the best I could find, and it will help to attract the right audience.
- Keep it short and catchy. Long domain names are difficult to remember, harder to type (especially on touch pads), and don’t look as neat when they’re printed on business documents, or online directories. For my sports blog I opted for Punter2Pro.com, as i thought it was memorable and rolled off the tongue.
There’s also a lot of new domain extensions on the market (e.g. “.xyz”). But they haven’t really hit the mainstream yet. So for SEO, it’s risky to buy one. They’re often expensive, too — so I would stick to the most popular extensions for now.
Keep in mind that the more relevant and professional your domain looks and sounds, the more likely you are to attract visitors. Google’s search engine rewards sites which generate the most clicks, as well as those with the most direct traffic. So don’t let a bad domain name hold you back!
2. Use A Decent Hosting Service
Poor hosting slows down your website and frustrates visitors. It encourages people to leave your site to seek alternatives.
Your site speed, as well as its bounce rates, are considered in Google’s ranking criteria. So a lousy host will negatively impact your search positions in more way than one.
What to look for in a hosting service:
- Reliability: next-to-no downtime. For starting out, I highly recommend Bluehost. It’s fully optimised for WordPress, and packs so much value for the extremely low monthly price tag (see my WordPress Hosting Review).
- Potential for Growth: if your traffic improves, you’ll need to invest more into a hosing service to accommodate the audience. Your best bet is to choose a scalable host from the outset, or one that’s easy to migrate from later on down the line.
- Customer Service: technical issues can severely slow you down. Most cheap hosts offer a very basic level customer service. But if you’re still uncomfortable using web hosts, then it might pay for you to invest in technical assistance on-tap. I cannot recommend WPEngine enough for this.
Ensuring your host is up to scratch is fundamentally important. You don’t get much opportunity to impress people online. So make yourself count by investing in a reputable, reliable host that pleases both visitors and search engines.
Keep in mind that more traffic means more sales and profit.
To deliver a faster user experience for my growing audience, I switched one of my sites from Bluehost to WPengine. The impact on SEO was astonishing. My traffic leapt 19% within the next month, without posting any new content. The faster host (with SSL encryption included) was largely responsible for improving my Google rankings. Plus the migration was seamless.
For more information, check out my post: The Best Hosting Company For Your WordPress Site
3. Develop Your Website On A Recognised Platform
Search engines love a recognisable Content Management System (CMS) — like WordPress.
Unless you require something completely bespoke, avoid developing your website from scratch. There’s so much work and maintenance involved in making a custom-built site fully compliant with search engines. Existing platforms save you hundreds of hours of work, and expense.
Sites like this one fit the mould Google wants. It puts everything in the ‘right’ format. This includes 404 redirects, XML sitemaps, standardised headers and footers, neat code, and the ability to easily configure page details such as meta tags and slugs.
Almost everything on-site that contributes to SEO is automated. Even the latest updates to the software and themes. That’s a huge game-changer for those accustomed to manually developing their sites.
A CMS also makes it a whole lot easier for the developer to focus on creating and managing content — which ultimately attracts new traffic via SEO anyway. This site took only a couple of hours to setup customise. It’s compatible to all types of browsers and various mobile devices. It includes a bunch of preset features, and it looks fairly neat, too. If I want, I can switch the theme in seconds to make the site look entirely different. I’m only focused on content.
There’s tons of CMS’s to choose from. Your best bet is to choose popular ones, with the most support and available plugins:
- Blogging: WordPress is brilliant. For ASP.net developers, Umbraco is a good alternative.
- Online courses: Udemy or Coursable.
- Shopping carts: Shopify or Woocommerce (for WordPress).
It is of course still handy to to have some technical skills — such as HTML, and PHP. But the “semi-automatic” approach — using Dreamweaver or other traditional WYSIWYG editors — doesn’t bring as much to the table as it did in an era when websites looked like this:
Remember that the more professional your site looks, the more likely it is have better (lower) bounce rates. In turn, it’ll perform better in SEO rankings. Yet another reason to opt for an attractive, visually striking CMS template.
Learn more about developing your business website.
4. Make Navigation Simple And Intuitive
Internal links are vital for building an SEO-friendly site architecture.
The overall aim is to allow the visitor — and Google crawlers — to seamlessly navigate to any desired page on your website.
I recommend doing the following:
- Familiarity: Look at what your best competitors are doing with their menus, and base yours around that. There’s no need to be too ‘imaginative’. A recognisable, intuitive format is most effective.
- Cascading items: Include a cascading menu at the top to show users the main and sub categories. I personally like to link these to a filtered blog section (because WordPress makes it easy to do so). But you may have other requirements.
- Widget bars: Use the widget sections at the sides of your posts to draw attention to key pages of your site. This makes it faster to navigate.
- ‘Hubs’: This is a tactic I use when blog categories don’t suffice. I create a page (or blog post) with a broad topic, linking to several other internal pages on the website.
- Anchors: Make the hyperlinked text (as well as the words around it) relevant to the page it’s linking to. This provides the user a quick short-cut to related content. It’s also great for giving search engines some context to your pages.
The most successful sites are the ones where people immediately ‘know’ what they have to do in order to locate the information they want. And the easier your site is to navigate, the more page views you’ll get per person. With more page views comes lower the bounce rates, which leads to Google favouring your site.
…You get all of that just by making intuitive internal links.
5. Incorporate A Site Map To Help Search Engines Crawl Your Website
The menu and internal links are largely for the human visitor. The site map, however, is specifically for search engine ‘crawlers’ — the robots which scan and index websites. These ‘bots’ help search engines like Google to rank the billions of pages on the Internet.
A sitemap is usually uploaded to your host as a robots.txt file. But to make your life easier, WordPress includes a simple site map that’s dynamically generated from within the WP application. There’s also several plugins which enable you to produce and configure your sitemap, such as:
My advice is to install one of them and let it do its thing.
6. Write Relevant Content In an SEO-Friendly Format
Google robots need to be able to crawl your site, read your pages, and work out what you do. This is fundamentally important for SEO.
So if your website has absolutely no written content, then search engines will have more difficulty knowing what searches to rank it for. Not ideal.
The first step for a new website would be to write an ‘about’ page; but this alone is limited. That’s why many companies nowadays opt to create a blog section on their website. This means they’re able to spread a wide net of relevant content in order capture searches from Google.
For example, if you run a plumbing business and want to gain more online exposure, you might publish written content such as:
- The Best Ways To Deal With A Water Leak In Your House
- How To Avoid Hiring a Rogue Plumber (Spotting A Cowboy)
Both of these posts are focused on specific areas of the business, and can be used as a subtle way of showing your visitors (and Google) that you know all about dealing with leaks, and avoiding dodgy plumbers. You establish yourself as an authority on the plumbing industry.
Importantly, your relevant content makes it easier for search engines to understand the purpose of your business, and where to place you in searches.
Writing interesting content is one thing — writing it in the way search engines prefer is another. It’s vital you structure posts in a way that performs best on Google. Check out my guide to writing great SEO-friendly content.
7. Research SEO Keywords You Can Rank For
To truly succeed in showing up in Google searches, you need to research relevant, “search engine optimised” keywords and phrases you want to rank for. Without any focus, you run the risk of never being found.
In the previous example of a plumbing business, I suggested some potential blog post titles related to the business. Writing about what you know about is a good starting point. But you’d also need to know what keywords and phrases are optimal for search engines:
- What are typical terms people enter into a search engines to find posts about that topic?
- How competitive are the keywords you want to rank for? Can you compete?
Often the keywords you think are the best way to find your product aren’t how the average web user reaches that topic. Thus your content needs focus and optimisation to pick up as much search traffic as possible.
Your keyword strategy deserves a lot of attention. It’s one of the core aspects of Search Engine Optimisation. Here’s where you can learn how to research the best keywords for your SEO strategy.
8. Make Your Website Look Prettier With Images And Diagrams
If your website looks too boring then you’ll deter visitors and lose points with Google.
To make your site easier on the eyes, and encourage visitors to stick around, soften your content with some images or diagrams.
Images can also be tagged for search engines. This is yet another factor which gives context to your pages. To do this, you can pack the image ‘alt’ attribute with your most vital keywords. Your site will often start to show up in Google image searches as a result.
It’s important you tag every image on the page. You can label each one each differently, or with the exact same values. I often mix it up slightly, because the not every image on the page has the same purpose as the next one.
And if you’re wondering where to get free images, you’re in luck. I’ve written a post on the best sites for free stock Images.
9. Reach Out To Other Websites To Obtain High Quality Backlinks
You could spend the rest of your life optimising your website internally — but there’s still no guarantee it’ll rank well on Google. So you have to do something outside of your website. This is known as “off-site SEO”.
In my experience, the most efficient way to improve your search rankings is to have reputable links coming into your site. These are known as “high authority” links. Here’s what it means:
Google assigns an authority score to websites. This is mostly calculated using analytics and search data, incorporating factors such as:
- Average time spent on the site
- Visitor retention (what % of people came back to the site)
- How active it is (the frequency new content is posted)
- Age (how well-established the domain is)
- Reliability (the up-time of the site)
- Speed (how fast the site is)
- Security (how trustworthy and well-encrypted it is)
Therefore search engines tend to favour the same websites humans do.
If a strongly-trusted site links to another site, then by association that recipient site will be favoured. Therefore a link from, let’s say BBC News, is the web equivalent of being inducted into the Illuminati.
You need to consider how you can convince high authority sites to link to you. Do you ask them? Pay them? Or do you simply create as much good content as you can, and hope you’ll get ‘organic’ links?
There’s no right answer. Your best bet might be to do a bit of all three.
10. Update Your Website Frequently
Google knows what websites are active or neglected. They monitor how often you post, and how up to date your information is. You’ve given them a site map to do exactly that, remember?
People like active websites — so do search engines. So make yours as engaging as you can by producing new SEO-friendly content, and adapting your old stuff to keep it current.
11. Connect Your Site To Active Social Media Accounts
Unlike high authority back-links, I don’t have any conclusive evidence that Google uses social media profiles to determine the value of your website, or your rankings. It would be too easy to manipulate with fake followers and posts, I guess.
But having multiple social channels referring genuine traffic to you site gives Google reason to think you’re active and important. So growing a social media following is a good habit, and a long-term investment — rather than an SEO priority.
For help in generating leads from social media, read my post on driving traffic from Instagram and Twitter.
12. Secure Your Website With SSL
Ever noticed that little padlock next to the URL in the browser? That means a site is defined as being “secure”.
Some safety-conscious internet users take note of the padlock, and avoid browsing sites without it showing. If your site doesn’t show it already, you need to install SSL certificates.
You can purchase SSL certificates from your host as an upgrade, or follow the instructions provided by free sites like SSL For Free. However, in my experience hosting companies don’t make it easy for you to install free SSL certificates — so if you’re not too technical, you might be better off just paying for them.
Crucially, the SSL certificates go down well with Google. It’ll bump up your credibility score, and you’ll often notice the improvement to your search rankings pretty quickly after the upgrade (as little as a week or so down the line).
Tick All The Right Boxes For SEO Success
Well, I never said SEO was going to easy.
You’ll have to tick a lot of boxes before Google accepts you’re the real deal and starts referring you traffic. Their vetting process works well, though. It generally separates the good from the bad. That’s precisely why people continue to use the search engine.
The best approach is to make your site and content genuinely good. Follow the above steps, read around the topics from the links I’ve provided on this page, and you’ll stand a great chance of ranking highly and competing in your niche.