The complete guide to optimizing your website

Back in the good old days if you were blogging and using a focus keyword that was 90% of the battle, but now it's more like 10%.

What changed?

Google got smarter, their success as a search engine depends on the quality of results they return for any given question so you can bet they're paying close attention to the quality of your website when it comes to determining how to rank it.

Website optimization can be an intimidating subject. We've covered a lot of the SEO basics on our site however, we have not talked too much about how to structure your website to make it stand out as Google and other search engines analyze it. Here's our complete guide on website optimization to ensure your content is recognized and ranked by Google.

If you rely on blogging as a core component of your marketing strategy or are just starting out, these tips will be helpful to you.

How to optimize your website

Website optimization is a broad topic. There's much further down the rabbit hole that you can go than this article.

We want to keep things simple and practical, with some good best practices you can go very far and pick up new tactics as you go. At a base level, you should approach website optimization with the following themes in mind:

  • Structure
  • Technical performance
  • Content quality
  • Link quality

When we work with clients, these are the broad themes that we explore. Each theme has its own set of tasks to dive into, so we'll look at these one by one through the rest of the article.

Optimize for site structure

First, you need to make sure your website is well-structured for search. There are a few things to consider here that we'll walk through.

Make sure your website has a sitemap

A sitemap is a list of URLs on your website, it it is absolutely critical to your SEO success.

If it sounds technical, don't worry! If you are using a standard website builder like Wordpress, HubSpot, SquareSpace or Wix then these are all provided for you out of the box. You can find your sitemap by adding '/sitemap.xml' to your homepage URL. Check out our guide to managing your sitemap for more information.

Make sure your site is well-structured for SEO

The structure of your website can make or break your SEO.

Seriously, it can. A poorly structured website sets you at a major disadvantage and can hurt your chances at ranking.

In terms of architecture, creating a clean website with organized subcategories will help Google understand who you are and the topics you want to cover in your blog. Here's a helpful graphic from Google's support page on a good site architecture for a website that sells baseball cards:

The navigation of a website is important in helping your site visitors quickly find the content they want - but it also helps search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important.

To Google, your home page is the most important part of the website. By keeping pages close to the home page (having a flat architecture) you give your site a better chance at being crawled.

Optimize for technical performance

Make sure your site is fast

Google rewards websites that improve user’s experiences on the web. Slow-loading websites lead to frustration, but if you site is faster than your competitors it makes for a better experience, and therefore better rank.

Google even officially announced that as of 2021 page experience is going to be a ranking factor.

However, you might be wondering how can I tell the speed of my website? Google has a free tool PageSpeed Insights that allows you to enter any URL from your site to see how well it loads and what you can do to improve it. Some of the suggestions can be pretty technical though and are something you'd want your web developer to implement as a heads up.

Write unique and descriptive page titles

The title may be one of the most critical ranking factors for each of your pages. It tells your site visitors, and Google, what your content is all about and it is also what someone sees when your article appears in a Google search.

A well-crafted and clear title is critical to how well the content is understood and ranks as a result.

Google search results allow for 60 characters, so a good SEO title will aim to be under 60 characters otherwise it gets cut off. Yes you can change things up with a more flashy/eye-catching title to rack up those social shares, but a best practice to fall back on is 60 characters of fewer. A balance between brevity but eye-catching is an important goal to set for your team.

It's also important to think about the keyword your content is focused on. What are the current ranking sites for that keyword? How do they use it in the page title? These are important questions to answer as you optimize your content and try to rank as well as stand out from the rest of the pack.

Write engaging and unique meta descriptions

The meta description appears under your article’s URL in a search engines result page.

Many website platforms allow you to set a meta description/preview text for your content. This brief text summarizes the contents of your article. Typically, your meta description will also include your keyword to optimize your site for peak performance.

Your meta description should contain a valuable insight from your post that entices the reader to click on your article. Meta descriptions can assist with your click-through rate and the perception of the quality of your entire website. A meta description is typically less than 155 characters as this is the max character count that Google shows in search results before cutting it off.

Leverage structured data

Structured data is code that you can add to your sites' pages to describe your content to search engines, so they can better understand what's on your pages. Google analyzes millions upon millions of pages each day, primarily looking at the actual text of the page though structured data is also extremely helpful.

Structured data is also helpful in influencing what actually shows in the Google search result for your page - things like reviews, prices, operating hours, dates of an event, anything that are relevant:

Image showing a search result enhanced by review stars using structured data.

For example, if you've got an online store and mark up an individual product page, this helps Google understand that the page features a bike, its price, and customer reviews.

Keep your URLs simple

Ever see a url that ends in 102008.html or something weird? Don't do that.

Keep your URLs as simple and human-readable as possible. This goes ensures your site is easy to navigate for visitors, as well as Google.

If you have a blog with a series of posts, make the URL something simple like the /title-of-your-post rather than a series of numbers or characters. The URL is displayed in search results so having something that is easy to read and understand goes a long way towards encouraging potential visitors to click through to your site rather than pass it by. Check out our guide for how to write SEO-friendly URLs for more info.

Include image alt text for accessibility

You should always use images in your content, a thing most people forget though is setting alt text for their images.

Image alt text is a way for Google to crawl an image on your post in the same way that Google crawls the text of the post itself. Alt text is a bit of text that appears if the image fails to load, or for screen readers to relay to a site visitor (such as if your visitor is visually impaired). It goes a long way towards accessibility as well as telling Google what the content of the image is.

Optimize for content quality

Site optimization isn’t all technical though, there are a few considerations to keep in mind when reviewing or creating content.

Make your content is comprehensive and authoritative

We've written on the EAT principle before - EAT is an acronym for 'Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness' and it matters a great deal when it comes to your rank.

Google also values the authority of your voice on topics. Remember their job is to show the best content to answer the questions that get typed into your search box.

If you blog repeatedly about one topic - and create quality content on your blog - Google will see that you are an expert on it. The more frequently you blog on a topic, the greater your SERP ranking will be.

Post length

It used to be that 300-500 words was enough to rank, but we're starting to see that this simply isn't the case anymore.

Google has said that word count is not a ranking factor, as a higher word count does not intrinsically mean that the content is better than other content that already ranks. That said, studies have shown that longer content performs better as longer content leads to more links, and more links do impact your ranking.  

Writing blog posts ranging from 800-1000 words or more shows other people that you have a lot of valuable insights to make on a topic - and as a result Google will notice that. Obviously, you will want to think of a blog topic that is not too brief that you can discuss it in less than 800 words but not long enough that you will lose the interest of the reader or require an eBook to cover the topic adequately.

Optimize your content structure

Use headings to break up text

Beyond word count, content quality also has to do with the structure of your post.

Returning to what we discussed before about website architecture, a blog post should contain one h1 heading, usually reserved for the title of the post, as well as h2 headings to break up content into sections. The last thing people want to read is a massive wall of text. Break up your content so that site visitors stick around rather than bounce off your site to read something else.

Structuring your website in this way allows your website to be crawled more easily and provides a service to your audience. By breaking up the flow of your written text, your audience will digest and remember the information.

Beyond headers, you could also consider using bullet points, numbered lists, images and links to other articles related to the topic.

Use a focus keyword, but not too much

It's important to have a focus keyword in mind but remember to avoid a trap known as “keyword stuffing.”

Using a keyword repeatedly in the post, i.e. greater than 3% of the time, will work against your goal of optimizing your site for Google. However, this fact does not mean that keyword research is unimportant. On the contrary, keyword research is one of the most important components of SEO. Selecting the right keyword is valuable because it is what you expect someone to be searching for when they look for your latest blog post.

While keyword research is a topic unto itself, one last tip regarding keyword research is to consider your intent behind using a certain keyword. For example, beyond simply predicting what your audience might search for when they look for your blog post think about the ways in which a keyword unlocks the potential to discuss more aspects of the word itself.

Avoiding keyword stuffing can be achieved if your topic is broad enough that you can discuss its various components. For example, this article described site optimization but as you can see this topic is broad enough that we must discuss it in its entirety!

Optimize for link quality

Use descriptive anchor text for internal links

Internal links are links from one of your website pages to another - we'e used a few internal links in this post already!

One of the worst things you can do is use non-descriptive anchor text (the text that is linked) when linking to one of your pages. Often we see links like "read more" or "learn more" in blog posts, but these are a major missed opportunity. Google pays attention to the anchor text, and using keyword-rich anchor text can tell Google what that page is about and help it rank for that keyword.

Don't overdo it though, Google can tell when you are abusing anchor text. Just make sure that your links are as descriptive as possible.

Monitor inbound links

Inbound links, also called backlinks, are all hyperlinks that direct users to your page from elsewhere on the internet.

This ranking factor is important for site optimization because the more websites link to your content, the more Google is going to realize that people trust your content and expertise on a topic. One way to strengthen your inbound links is to talk to customers or business partners in your area of knowledge to link to each other.

Start improving your rank today

As you can see optimizing your site for Google can be a laborious process with many important steps to remember.

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