Let’s be honest here. If you’re not ranking in Google’s top 10 results for your target keywords, your site might as well be invisible. HubSpot found that 75% of searchers never go past the first page of search results. This is why it is so essential that you rank on the first page of Google. There are countless strategies and techniques you can follow in order to rank higher on Google. However, if you don’t get the basics right, you’ll likely not make the first page of search results. By following SEO best practices, you will lay the groundwork for your site to increase its visibility in search engines. Once you’ve established a firm foothold, you can move on to more advanced keyword research and link building strategies.
Next, I will share 9 SEO best practices that you should follow in order to achieve higher search rankings. Ready? Let’s begin!
Top 9 SEO Best Practices That You Should Follow
1 – Align Your Content with Search Intent
Search intent (aka ‘user intent’) is the purpose behind every search query. Simply understanding and satisfying search intent is Google’s top priority. Pages that rank on the first page of Google have all passed Google’s search intent litmus test.
For example, let’s take a look at the search results for “how to make chocolate chip cookies.”
The top search results are blog posts and videos, not eCommerce pages selling chocolate chip cookies. Google clearly understands that people searching this specific query are looking to learn to make the treat, not purchase it.
On the other hand, top search results for a query such as “buy chocolate chip cookies” are eCommerce pages. In this case, Google understands that people are in the mood to purchase the sweet treats that their hearts desire. That being said, top results do not include links to chocolate chip cookie recipes, but bakeries and stores instead.
This is why it is essential to understand the SEO best practice of search intent. Furthermore, you must create content that aligns with user intent if you want to rank on Google’s first page.
Types of Search Intent
There are 4 major types of search intent:
- Informational: These searches occur when a user is looking for specific information. It can be as simple as “what’s the weather today?”, which yields instant results. Informational searches can also be more complex in nature, such as “best SEO strategies”, which require a more in-depth explanation.
- Navigational: Here, the user is looking for a specific website or app. Common examples of navigational searches include “Facebook login“, “SEMrush”, and “Amazon store”.
- Commercial: A commercial intent search occurs when the user seeks a specific product but hasn’t made a final decision yet. For instance, “best SEO tools” and “top DSLR cameras” are both examples of commercial searches.
- Transactional: The primary intent here is to buy a product or service. The user has already made a decision to purchase a certain product or tool. Examples include searches such as “buy Nikon d500,” “buy iPhone 11,” and “subscribe to Spotify.”
A great SEO best practice is to always keep the search intent in mind when creating content for your website. For instance, if you want to trank for the keywords “best DSLR cameras,” it is essential that you realize that the search intent here is commercial, not transactional. The user is still uncertain in terms of what DSLR brand to choose.
There is no point in optimizing your DSLR landing page with those specific keywords. Google understands what users want when thy search “best DSLR cameras.” They seek options. They are looking for a blog post or video that lists out the best DSLR cameras, not product pages or eCommerce pages.
Key Takeaway: Create content that aligns with the search intent of your target audience.
2 – Write Compelling Title Tags and Meta Descriptions If You Want to Win the SEO Best Practices Contest
Your page title and associated meta description are two of the most important meta tags on your page. Let’s explore title tags first!
Title tags are clickable headlines that show in search results. They are of great importance in terms of SEO value and your overall SEO best practices.
According to Google:
“Titles are critical to giving users a quick insight into the content of a result and why it’s relevan to their query. It’s often the primary piece of information used to decide which result to click on, so it’s important to use high quality titles on your web pages.”
Search engines like Google tend to display the first 50-60 characters of a title. Google will display the full title of your page as long as you keep your title tag under 60 characters.
Here are a few SEO best practices to keep in mind when crafting your title tags:
- Include your target keywords
- Write a title that matches search intent
- Avoid creating duplicate title tags
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Keep it descriptive, but concise
The second most important meta tag on a page is the meta description. A meta description is a succinct summary of a page in SERPs and it is displayed below the title tag.
While meta descriptions do not directly impact search rankings, they can most certainly influence click-through rates (CTR).
Rather than attempt to explain it myself, let’s go directly to the source. Google explains meta descriptions as follows:
“A meta description tag should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what a particular page is about. They are like a pitch that convinces the user that the page is exactly what they’re lookin for.”
Google typically limits meta descriptions to 155-160 characters, so make sure you provide an accurate summary of your content while keeping it under 160 characters.
Here are a few SEO best practices to keep in mind while writing your meta descriptions:
- Craft unique meta descriptions for each page
- Use action-oriented copy
- Include your target keywords
- Match search intent
- Provide an accurate summary
3 – Optimize Your Images
Images serve a crucial role in improving the overall user experience for visitors on your site. Odds are that you spend a lot of time selecting the right images to improve your blog posts, product pages, and other important pages on your site. However, do you spend an equal amount of time optimizing images on your site? When done correctly, images can contribute to your site’s overall SEO and boost organic traffic. Here are four things you can do to optimize the images on your site.
Choose the Best File Format
Site speed is an essential ranking signal and images are often the largest contributor to overall page size. As a result, you must optimize images for speed in order to improve the overall performance of your site. The first step you need to take is to select the best file format. On that note, let’s compare JPEG and PNG image files.
The most common image formats on the web are JPEG and PNG. Both formats use different compression techniques, which is why the file sizes between these two can be so drastically different.
Given the difference in file size above, it’s easy to declare JPEG as the clear winner. However, it would be a mistake to use JPEG is the automatic image format for your site. While JPEGS look great for photographs (eg the panda above), PNGs are best suited for images that feature text, line drawings, etc. The illustration below from Digital Inspiration neatly sums up the matter.
Compress Your Images
The larger your image file, the longer it takes the web page to load. This is why it is vital that you compress your images before uploading them on your site.
Thankfully, there are several free tools available that can help you compress your images.
- TinyPNG uses smart lossy compression techniques to reduce the file size of your PNG and JPEG files.
- ImageOptim is a prime choice for Mac users. YOu can download and use this free tool for all your image compression needs. ImageOption is a tool recommended by Google as well. It’s by far the best tool for compressing JPEGs, but not for PNGs. You’re far better off using TinyPNG to compress PNG files.
- ShortPixel is great if you run your site on WordPress. You can install this plugin to compress your images. ShortPixel’s free plan allows you to compress 100 images per month.
Provide Alt Text for Images
Even though Google has vastly improved its abilities to understand images, adding alt text is still a necessary step if you want to follow current SEO best practices. Adding alt text to images improves web accessibility and helps browsers better understand images on your site.
This is what Google has to say about adding alt text:
“When choosing alt text, focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and is in context of the content on the page. Avoid filling alt attributes with keywords (keyword stuffing) as it results in a negitive user experience and may cause your site to be seen as spam.”
When writing alt text for images, be concise in your description, and avoid stuffing your target keywords.
Lazy-Load Your Images
Lazy loading is a technique that defers the loading of non-critical resources (images, videos, etc.) at page load time. Instead, images and videos are loaded only when users need them.
Here is how Google explains the link between lazy loading and site performance:
“When we lazy load images and video, we reduce initial page load time, initial page weight, and system resource usage, all of which have positive impacts on performance.”
You can learn more here in Google’s resource guide for lazy-loading images and videos.
4 – Optimize Your Page Speed
If your site takes forever to load, you’ll likely have a ton of frustrated users. This in turn, will cause your rankings to drop.
There are a handful of free tools that can help you check your page speed. Google’s PageSpeed Insights is extremely helpful in certain ways. However, my personal favorite is GTMetrix. This free tool provides insights on your page speed and provides recommendations on the steps you can take to improve your page load time.
5 – Use Internal Linking
Internal links are an essential best practice because they establish an information hierarchy for your website. Doing so also helps Google get a deeper understanding of the content on your page. Internal links can significantly boost your rankings when used the correct way. An SEO best practice is to add internal links from top-ranking pages on your site to pages that need a boost.
6 – Improve the User Experience on Your Website
Google keeps a close eye on how users behave when they interact with your content. That being said, user experience is one of the key factors in improving your search rankings.
Page speed plays a critical role in improving the user experience for visitors on your site (see #4).
Here are a few more tips to ensure that users have an overall pleasant experience when they visit your site:
- Use subheadings: Proper use of subheadings (H1, H2, H3) helps Google understand your content better and makes your text more accessible to readers.
- Make your content visually appealing: Several studies indicate that visuals help people understand your content better. Use relevant images, videos, and screenshots to illustrate your points.
- Avoid using intrusive popups: Popups are not just bad from an SEO perspective, but they also end up annoying your visitors. Since 2017, Google has penalized sites that use intrusive popups. That being said, use popups sparingly. If it is 100% necessary for you to use them to grow your email list, use exit-intent popups, or display them to users who have spent at least 5 minutes on your site.
- Use white space: White space is a fundamental aspect of effective design. According to Crazy Egg, white space between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increases comprehension by 20%. So consider using white space to make your content both more legible and more effective at capturing the attention of users.
7 – Include Keywords in Your URL
URL structure is often overlooked as an SEO best practice. A good URL structure provides both users and search engines with an idea of what the destination page is all about.
Google explains it best:
“A site’s URL structure should be as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans (when possible, readable words rather than long ID numbers).”
On that note, here is how you can create a well-structured URL:
- Use short URLs: A study conducted by Backlinko found that short URLs tend to outperform long URLs in SERPs.
- Use keyword-rich URLs: Always include your target keywords in the URL to increase your chances of ranking better in search results.
- Remove unnecessary stop words: To make your URL look clean and succinct, consider removing stop words.
8 – Focus on Gaining More Authoritative Backlinks
Even though Google’s search algorithm and ranking system have undergone numerous permutations, Google still considers backlinks to be a key ranking signal. Google recognizes backlinks as votes of confidence.
If your web pages have a high number of backlinks, it increases your chances of ranking higher in search results. As a result, it is important that you focus on building backlinks to your website.
That said, not all backlinks are created equal. Some backlinks can boost your ranking for specific search queries exponentially. However, other backlinks can derail your rankings, which is why you should prioritize authoritative backlinks over other types of backlinks.
You should focus all of your efforts on building high-quality backlinks that will improve your chances of ranking higher for your target keywords. One of the most effective ways to obtain authoritative backlinks is by replicating your competitors’ link building tactics.
9 – Publish Long-Form Content
There’s no real getting around it…long-form content ranks better on Google. This claim is backed by several studies, including the most recent SEMrush study on top-performing articles. A key finding in the research suggests that long-form articles (posts with 3,000+ words) get 3x more traffic, 4x more shares, and 3.5 more backlinks than articles of average length (901-1,200 words). All in all, there is a strong correlation between content length and search performance.
This is why you should aim to publish 1-2 well researched, long-form articles that include helpful information to Google users. Google wants you to focus on the needs of the user over SEO. It is the best way to keep readers and ultimately convert. However, we all know that SEO is also important.
When crafting long-form content on your blog, target keywords that strike a good balance between search volume and keyword difficulty.
Long-tail keywords tend to have low search volume, but in some cases, they could help reach the customers you need. If the search volume is just too low, aim for mid-tail keywords with low to medium keyword difficulty.
Final Thoughts on SEO Best Practices
The SEO best practices provided above are all great starting points to garner higher search rankings. That said, the overall competition for the prized first page on Google is intense regardless of the niche in which you operate. Once these best practices are in place, make sure you are sufficiently up to speed with the most current SEO trends and follow other SEO techniques from time to time to stay ahead of the game.