The term “Search Engine Optimization” can elicit many emotions for web professionals. Fear, frustration, anger, and—most often—confusion are all common responses for SEO newbies. While there are some big picture strategies to consider for SEO in 2016 that may take weeks or months to implement (responsive design, semantic HTML markup, consistently publishing fresh new content, etc.), there are also several standardized guidelines for SEO that you can start using today. And BONUS: Most of these tips serve double duty in improving your search engine ranking and making your site more accessible and screen-reader friendly.
Below is a checklist that you can follow to make sure new content you publish follows recommended web standards for modern-day SEO:
Give every page a unique title containing at least one keyword for that page and limit it to 55 characters or less. This is the title that will be shown on search engine results pages (AKA SERP’s) so make sure it is accurate and interesting.
Write a unique description that accurately conveys the content of the page. This should be limited to about 115 characters and provide visitors and search engines with a compelling reason to view the page.
H1 and Other Headings
Give each page one (and only one) H1 heading. Like page titles and meta descriptions, H1 headers should also be unique and contain important keywords relating to the content of the page. Use H2 through H6 headings throughout the rest of the page to organize important sections of your content. Include keywords in H2- and H3-level headers.
Include descriptive and concise alternative text for all contextual images and limit the character count to 125 characters. If using acronyms, add a space between each letter so screen-readers know to pronounce each letter separately. If images are purely decorative, such as a special image used for a bullet point, mark it as decorative. Phase2Technology has a great guide for writing meaningful alt text.
Use user- and search engine-friendly URL’s for each page. Rather than long strings of numbers or random characters, have your URL’s mirror the title of each page so they include the most important keywords for each page.
Include links to other relevant pages on and off your own site. External links to credible sites and internal links within your site can help improve SEO by further signaling to search engines what your page is about, especially when the URL’s and anchor text include your keywords. Just be sure not to include more than 100 external links on a single page, as this can be a red flag for spammy content, and check old links frequently to ensure that they do not break.
Have a dynamically generated XML sitemap that includes links to all pages on your site. When pages are not included in the sitemap, it signals to search engines that those pages are not important or relevant and can cause those pages to be ignored during site crawls.
The noindex and nofollow attributes are used to allow pages to be accessed by users on your site without making them accessible via search engines. This may be the desired behavior for form-protected content and other types of pages but can be detrimental if used improperly. Be sure you are not tagging pages with these attributes if you want them to be found by search engines.
Similarly to noindex/nofollow, you can exclude pages from being crawled by search engines with robots.txt if you so desire. If you want a page to be crawled however, be sure you are not excluding it with a robots.txt file.
The rel=canonical attribute is a way to signal to search engines which page should be indexed if there are multiple versions of the same page (e.g. if you are testing two versions of a page). If used improperly, you may accidentally block all versions of a page from being indexed, making it nearly impossible to find your site via organic search.
Most of these standards can to be managed on a page-by-page basis, which means that if you don’t have a lot of content yet, you can start now with each new page you add. However, if you have already created a lot of pages or you inherited a large, unwieldy site, you will likely need some help getting and keeping the rest of your site in line.
DubBot can help! Sign up for a demo today to learn how we can help you automate the process of finding missing SEO attributes, checking for broken links and misspellings, and making sure your site is accessible and search engine-friendly.