Why and how would you optimise your website for search engines?

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Search engine optimisation, or SEO for short, is the process of improving the content and presentation of a website to boost its ranking in search engines. Search engine optimisation makes it easier for search engines to find, index and display your content to relevant users.

Why marketers optimise their websites for search engines

You may be wondering why marketers optimise their website for search engines. After all, they want their website to be seen and used by real people, not some random search bot that crawls around online.

So, wouldn’t it make more sense to improve the content and performance of the website for the marketers’ target audience?

The simple answer is yes. The user experience matters much more than whether a search engine ranks your website in the 4th or 5th place in its search results for a particular keyword. That’s because the extra traffic from Google won’t help if visitors leave in the first few seconds.

Instead, you want to make sure they stick around, by offering value through your website. You can use your website to share helpful information about a topic, business or product, or to entertain your audience.

But even if you have a great website – you may notice that few people find it. And that’s when search engine optimisation can come into play.

How people find your website

Most people find and access new online content via search engines, such as Google, Bing, Ecosia, DuckDuckGo, Brave, Yandex, among others. They can also reach your website directly, by typing its URL in the top of their browser, or by clicking a link on social media.

But when people have a specific question, they often use a search engine. The search engine helps them find and filter relevant content and gets them to an answer quickly.

Now suppose you offer an answer to a question or problem that people have. You will probably want to optimise your content, so search engines can understand it and present it to the right people, at the right time in search results.

“Why optimise your content? So search engines can understand it and find the correct position for it in search results.”

What is the goal of search engine optimisation?

Contrary to popular belief, the goal of search engine optimisation is NOT to trick search engines into placing your content at the top of search results.  It’s not about gimmicky tactics designed to improve your ranking, or false promises that lure people to your website.

All those techniques can work in the short term – but they may cost you business as soon as the next search algorithm update. So instead of gaming the system, focus on using your website and technical resources to deliver the best value to your users.

The one question I would ask when starting search engine optimisation is: how can I make my website and content better for first-time and recurring visitors?

Can I make ….

  • the page load faster?
  • the writing easier to understand?
  • a blog post more engaging?
  • … and this in-depth guide more helpful?

3 things to avoid when optimising your website for search results

  1. Misrepresenting your website and business

Many online marketers use less-than-ethical techniques to push the competition out of the top spot in search results. These techniques include buying backlinks, offering different content to search engines than to users, and using reviews from fake review sites, among others.

Another common way in which marketers try to rank higher in search results is through keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing involves filling your site with white (and thereby invisible) text that contains relevant keywords – but won’t ever be read by the user. This can actually be counterproductive as users come to your website with an expectation, and then become disillusioned as that expectation is unmet, and turn away from your site.

Therefore, I highly recommend being as honest, clear and transparent as possible in all of your SEO and website communications.

2. Prioritising algorithms over people

As you learn more about SEO, you may study different ranking factors and ways to optimise your website. But when diving into the data, analytics and research tools, it’s easy to forget who your website is truly for: real people, just like you and me.

Don’t fall victim to the analytics and algorithm – and resist the temptation to change your site just because someone tells you that’s what search engines currently want. Your main priority isn’t what search engines like, but what is best for the user.

Avoid duplicating content and filling pages with boring and repetitive info as much as possible. Focus instead on offering value to visitors who come to your website. And when doubt, ask yourself: would this change benefit my readers or does it just appease the SEO overlords at Google?

3. Focusing only on the words

A great user experience is about so much more than the words on the page. It’s also about the layout, readability, navigation and speed. After all, it should be easy for people to use your site.

And while do don’t need to hire a super-fancy designer or an SEO specialist, you do need a website that people can use and get what they want from. For this, the layout, readability, navigation and loading time matter as well. So, get a few basics down: give your site a clear menu, avoid fonts and colours that clash, and make sure the page loads quickly.

Great. So now you know what not do, but where do you start when you want to optimise your website for search engine? Well, here are …

6 questions I ask when beginning to optimise a website for SEO

  1. Does each page have a headline or introductory sentence that tells the reader what they can expect?
  2. Does the content on each page deliver on the promise made at the beginning of the page?
  3. Does each page have a meta title and meta description that tells search engines what text they can use as a preview in search results?
  4. Does each page on your website load in less than 2 seconds on a slow Internet connection?
  5. Do your URLs and navigation follow a logical, human-understandable structure?
  6. Are images, video and other media embedded in such a way that they load quickly and can be understood by search engines?
Six Steps to optimise your website for SEO

BONUS: Step-by-step instructions to start optimising your website for SEO

How to write a decent headline or introductory sentence for a webpage

A decent headline tells a reader what they can expect on a given page. It should give a person enough context to choose whether they want to continue reading or look elsewhere online.

For example, my recent blog post “What is covert marketing and how does it work?” tells the reader that they can expect to learn more about covert marketing. If they are interested in the topic, they will probably continue reading, whereas another reader might look through my blog section for another article.

But how do you write a headline like this? Here’s a quick 3-step checklist I use to brainstorm headlines and blog post introductions:

  • If this page answers a question that a reader has, what would that question be?
    (For example, “How can I contact you?” is the question behind a contacts page.)
  • If this page could make one promise to the reader, what would that promise be?
    (For example, “here are 5 e-mail templates you can use to win new customers” might be the promise of a sales and marketing training course.)
  • What is the most accurate and precise way I can describe the content on this page

Just ask yourself these questions, and you should have at least 3 different headline options to choose from. Choose the best one and then answer the question in the first sentence on the page – or provide the necessary context for a more in-depth answer later on.

How to deliver on the promise you made at the beginning of the page

First, identify what promise you made to the reader at the beginning of the page. It might be as specific as “how to bring positivity to the office” or something more general like “3 ideas on search engine advertising”.

Then, check go through the page and check whether your headline and content line up – if you find something is missing, or feel like a question or promise remains unresolved, you have two options:

  • Update your page to include what the reader would want based on your promise
  • Change your promise to match what you can offer

For example, if you had a page called “8 factors to consider when choosing your marketing channels”, but you only have seven unique points, you can either write about an extra factor, or change the promise to “7 factors to consider when choosing your marketing channels”.

How to write a meta title and meta description for search engines

Meta parameters, such as meta titles, meta descriptions and meta keywords, tell search engines what content they can expect to find on a page. Search engines often display meta titles and meta descriptions you set for your page in search results.

For example, in this screenshot, the meta title for https://aquarianmarketing.com is “Aquarian Marketing – Spiritual advice for your brand”.

The meta description is “Aquarian helps you develop holistic marketing and communicate authentically with customers using traditional and spiritual techniques.

You can set a meta title and meta description directly in the HTML code of your page or use a no-code solution offered by your content management system.

To add meta parameters in your code, just go to the page’s head, and add:

<title> whatever your title should be</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”whatever your description should be”>

If you use a content management system like WordPress you can install a plugin like the SEO framework (or one of the many other solutions available) where you can directly type your meta title and description for each page without touching a single line of code.

How to check your page load time and make your page load faster

You can check your page load time using a free online tool such as Pingdom or Google Pagespeed. These tools will usually recommend steps you can take to improve the load time of a particular page.

But in general, you can increase page speed by:

  • compressing images and videos and/or removing dynamic on-page elements
  • Splitting long and bulky content across multiple pages OR using lazy load to prioritise loading of content that the user will see immediately on the page
  • Favouring light-weight scripts over bulky tracking and analytics plug-ins
  • Removing superfluous information and features from individual pages
  • Using a content delivery network to reduce the transit time from server to browser
  • Using browser caching to reduce load times for repeat visitors

How to structure your URLs and top-level menus

You can structure your URLs by grouping related pages or ordering them sequentially based on the date of publication.

Here at Aquarian Marketing, I use 4 main categories to group these pages: astrology, business, spirituality and flowcharts. For example, this post is part of the “business category” so its URL looks something like this: https://www.aquarianmarketing.com/business/why-optimise-your-site-for-seo/

If you have a lot of news-like or time-sensitive content, you can also group pages by the date of publication. The student newspaper at the University of Warwick organises articles by the year and month in which they were published, which (in their case), looks like this: https://theboar.org/2024/03/why-you-should-go-on-a-year-abroad-2/

I recommend using no more than a category and subcategory per URL. This makes the link easier to read and copy and helps search engines process your webpages better.

In addition to the URL that goes in the address bar of the browser, you should also consider how you build your menu for visitors who navigate your site. Ideally, visitors can reach the most important pages with 1 or maximum 2 clicks.

The design of the menu should also follow a logical structure, that matches how your audience thinks about your site. Suppose you have an online shop that sells organic vegetables, fruits and spices. In that case, it probably makes sense to split your produce into those 3 categories, with perhaps another subcategory of fresh vs. durable goods. In your navigation, you could then have a top-level menu item for the shop, with ‘vegetables’, ‘fruits’ and ‘spices’ as sub-items under the shop header.

How to embed media for quick loading and proper indexation in search results

Embedding images and files

You can upload images and other forms of media (e.g. PDF files) directly to your website’s server or content management system. If your file is large, you probably want to compress it to reduce the time it will take to load on the page.

When uploading media, it also makes sense to include HTML tags that provide more context around the type of file and its contents. For images, you can specify an “alt text” to give search engines and viewers with accessibility issues a brief description of what is depicted. The alt tag will also be displayed if an image or file cannot be rendered due to technical issues.

Embedding videos

The easiest way to share videos on your website is to upload them to a third-party platform and then generate a piece of code to embed them on your site.

There are a range of free and paid video hosting platforms, but some of the easiest and fastest to use include Vimeo, YouTube, Odysee and Rumble. When you use these platforms, they will host your video for you and offer a media player to viewers that automatically adjusts the quality of the video to the viewers’ internet speed.

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