On Fridays I like to cover topics related to freelancers and today I’m going to discuss some SEO best practices that you can use in your web application projects.
If you build applications that users access on the web you have most likely been asked by clients to provide a SEO friendly website to help drive new customers to their site. You may also have realized that the world of search engine optimization is so expansive that you could spend the rest of your career studying it and you still wouldn’t have it mastered.
With that being said I’ve found that if I follow a set of SEO best practices, the websites I create are search engine friendly and clients are happy with the organic traffic sent their way. Search trends seem to change on a daily basis and I personally don’t have time to keep track of each Google search algorithm change, so instead I focus on SEO best practices and they have worked well for me and they follow search engine white hat marketing practices so that I don’t risk getting penalized by Google or Bing.
SEO Best Practices Tutorial
First and foremost, content is king, unique quality content is always going to be the most important criteria for search engine optimization. Coming from someone who has spent countless hours studying Google’s search algorithm from a computer science perspective I can say that all the algorithm is attempting to do is connect search users with the best, most relevant, content that they’re looking for. All of the nuances to the algorithm such as page ranking, counting links, etc, are all simply ways that Google is trying to automatically find the best content on the Internet. With that being said, quality content by itself is not a guarantee of traffic, but without it you won’t be able to gain search engine traction for very long. One question I get asked quite often is how many words a post should be and my answer is always “let the content determine the wordcount”. A good rule of thumb is to have around 500-1500 words per post, however don’t waste time worrying about hitting a specific word count, focus on creating high quality content and the word count will take care of itself.
Next, make sure that your site has a XML sitemap that you supply to Google and Bing, this will make it much easier for the search engines to index your pages. The best content in the world won’t be found on a search engine if Google’s spider can’t find it.
Third, users and therefore search engines, like seeing images and video on pages. A very important criteria for following SEO
best practices is to have a solid mix of: text, images, and video on a page. This helps not only for standard searches, but also for Google Image search, which can be another great source of website traffic.
Next is site speed, KISSmetrics research shows that sites with slow load times have dramatically higher page abandonment rates, and not only is this bad for business, but your ranking with Google will decrease if your site is slow. In the show notes I’ve included a link to where you can test your site speed and also get tips on how to improve it.
Fourth is a relatively new, but very important SEO best practice, which is site responsiveness. Responsiveness is the ability for your site to dynamically adjust in size and layout based on the device viewing it. Here you can see the devCamp website on a standard web browser, and here is what it looks like on a tablet, and here is what it looks like on a smartphone. Search engines have added responsiveness as a key criteria for site rankings since traffic coming from mobile users has skyrocketed over the past few years.
Next are backlinks to your site. Now this is a dangerous one, backlinks used to be the top criteria that determined a site’s page rank. I remember around 15 years ago when I started building websites that if I was able to get a popular site to link to a site I published, the new site would start getting search engine traffic and would show up higher in search results within 24 hours. However quite a bit has changed and now backlinks aren’t as important as they used to be, however they are still very helpful. I mentioned that backlinks could be dangerous because Google has gotten ridiculously good at detecting users trying to game the system. If you use black hat techniques for acquiring backlinks you’ll soon find your site penalized or even completely delisted from Google entirely. So what I do now for backlinks is to message journalists and other bloggers using tools such as Help a Reporter Out (HARO) and contribute quotes and perform interviews on other sites and in return they will typically link to one of my sites. This is a slower way of building backlinks, however in the long run it’s a good strategy. Google also watches for sites that offer to charge you guest post and link back to your site, so I’d strongly recommend to stay away from those types of services.
Lastly for this list is for your content to be focused. If you are shooting an arrow, it helps to have a target and when you’re writing a blog post or publishing a page it’s important to have a keyword to target. In fact when I’m creating a post I select a phrase and have the entire post revolve around it, for example, the focus phrase I picked for this post is SEO Best Practices. Without a focus word or phrase it will be difficult for your post to gain traction, so make sure you always stay focused with each post that you create.
There are also plenty of great tools out there for ensuring that you’re following search engine best practices, for CronDose I use a tool called Yoast that uses a checkbox approach to each post. As you can see here, each post I create has a status box that shows the full set of criteria that are required for a SEO friendly post and I simply go down the list of tasks until the page is optimized.
If you’re using WordPress I highly recommend installing the Yoast plugin, it will make your life much easier.
I hope that this has been a helpful summary of SEO best practices that you can utilize in your own projects and help you drive more traffic to you or your clients’ sites.