SEO Articles

Why best practice is important for SEO

There is no getting away from the fact that there are so many differing opinions about what works best for a website. I am an advocate of internal linking, others believe the key is link building, and you had better believe there are dozens of other strategies that you can try.

The beauty about following best practices is that you don’t need to be a seasoned SEO consultant in order to implement them. All you need to do is follow what Google wants to see from a website.

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But best practice is always best practice, right?

Well, yes.

Internal linking? Yes, Google says they want this.

Make your pages as good as they can be? Yes, Google also wants this as well – as well as fast pages, well-targeted pages, amazing content, enticing page titles, great meta descriptions, Schema and hundreds of other factors.

But what happens when you can’t chase everything? Do you ignore it and just hope that some links will help? OK, links are needed and Google says this (not getting into a discussion on how best to acquire them though…).

I am fortunate to be working with a very niche client at the moment and outside of an audit to fix some issues, the only other thing I am doing is making sure each of their pages are as good as they can be.

Take this result…

SEO results from best practice campaign
There is no denying that Google loves a site that follows their guidelines.

You can see where some technical fixes were introduced to the site towards the end of October 2018 and a nice little spike 2nd November.

When I check today, I see a lovely big spike pushing the page from 20th to position 6. I have checked and either yesterday or Friday they had made the changes to the page that I recommended. And not an internal link to be seen!

These are not 30k+ search terms – almost all of those for this client are <500 monthly searches, but very competitive. None are just 1 or 2 words, but they are also not really long-tail either.

How was this result achieved?

I simply followed a very basic ‘good page’ design. The trick is in knowing how to knit it all together…

  1. Corrected the page title
  2. Corrected the meta description (although very unlikely to be playing a part in this)
  3. Introduced a wide range of keywords that were missing
  4. Corrected and added H1 & H2 header tags
  5. Removed superfluous content
  6. Added descriptive supporting content
  7. Added images with strong ALT and captions

It just goes to show that if you follow best practices, then you will see some benefits.

SEO Best Practices for 2019: Top 10 tips

This is something that has been asked (and answered) many times, but as SEO evolves, so must your campaigns and strategies, so here are my top 10 best practice SEO tips for 2019.

1 – Title Tags

This probably won’t come as any great surprise, but page titles are still considered one of the most important individual signals to Google. You can get the full low-down over here if you wish to take a look.

It used to be that title tags were meant to be no longer than 55 characters, but Google changed this and you are now measured in pixels, which makes it a bit more awkward to gauge. If your page title is too long, then it will be truncated (cut short) which can have an impact on the message you are trying to give.

Title Tag Best Practice

  • Only one keyword/phrase per title. This reduces page duplication.
  • Form your title correctly. It is still advisable to format your page titles like this:
    Primary Phrase | Secondary Phrase | Brand
    But there are times when you can write a short, compelling sentence that will do a much better job than keywords alone. Which of these sounds and looks the best?
Image showing example of a page title
Page titles are still a hugely important SEO signal

or…

2nd Image showing alternative example of a page title
Spend time making sure your page titles are as good as they can be

2 – Keyword Research

It’s a bit difficult to really focus your pages correctly without doing at least some level of keyword research, which is why tools like SEMRush are so popular.

Without the correct level of research, you might be missing important content that helps explain a concept or be expected in a page description. Google have said that

Keyword Research Best Practice

  • Understand your page and be clear with your messages
  • Try and stick to “one page, one product”. This has multiple benefits
  • Use a keyword research tool that is going to give you suggestions
  • Spy on your competitors and see what phrases they are going after

3 – Content

Content is the cornerstone of any website and can either work for you or against you. You want it to work for you, obviously, but it is very easy to get things wrong and end up shooting yourself in the foot.

By following content best practices, you can give the required signals to Google, while also satisfying the needs of those searching.

Content Best Practice

  • Stay on target. Don’t stray and change a targeted page into something that tried to discuss different points.
  • Use your researched keywords. Google expects to see some words or concepts discussed on a page. By missing these, you might be missing important information.
  • Get to the point. No-one wants to read a page that skirts around a subject. This can lead to poor page performance, and with that, poor search results. Write just enough to keep people interested and satisfy requests.
  • Hire a professional. If you are not a competent writer, never be afraid to hire someone that is. The benefits can be enormous.
  • Use a spellchecker. Tools like Grammarly are great to help keep your writing clean. If Google spots a poorly written page full of spelling errors, they will not favourably at it.
  • Use a proof-reader if you want a human view over a tool.
  • Never copy other content. Plagiarism is rife across the ‘net and copied content rarely offers any benefits
  • Use Images and captions. “An image is worth a thousand words” – this is true and they can be a great way to explain a concept.

No site is really complete without backlinks. Despite claims that sites can be ranked on content alone, these tests seem to be few and far between – and then only for low monthly searched phrases.

A backlink, when acquired organically, is one of the best signals that a site can get. It is like the ultimate vote of confidence where a site is saying “I really trust what they are saying”, but there is also an enormous market for purchasing backlinks, which is often frowned up, but in fact, many people do this.

So what is the right thing to do? I am not here to tell you that, but I can tell you what you need to do, no matter which route you take.

Link building Best Practice

  • Every backlink profile should be as natural as possible. This means having a mix of dofollow & nofollow links from a range of sites. No link profile is going to consist of DA70 links that are all dofollow.
  • Vary your anchor texts, but favour brand and URL-type anchors as opposed to all money keywords.
  • Never build links too fast. This looks unnatural.
  • Never openly ask for links as this goes against Google’s TOS and can land you in hot water.
  • If you do have spammy links, consider disavowing them so they don’t count against you.
  • Check your backlinks using Ahrefs. There are others, but I consider Ahrefs to be the best.

Something I have spent countless hours testing and deploying to great effect, Internal Links power sites in ways you really can’t imagine. It is possible to rank pages even more highly by performing this alone.

However, you need to have a site with enough good content in order to be able to power your primary hub pages.

Internal Linking Best Practice

  • Vary your internal anchor texts and be as descriptive as possible. This is very different from backlinks.
  • Research your keywords carefully and don’t dilute them by going for many different ones.
  • Don’t overdo the numbers. Try adding 10 internal links at a time and wait until you know Google has crawled all of these pages. A week to 10 days is ‘normally’ enough.
  • Stay well focussed – if you are trying to create a silo, don’t cross-contaminate.

6 – Images

Often overlooked and underused, images can help bring a page alive. They can explain concepts that can take paragraphs if you were to write them and help see what a page is about while skim reading (we all do this).

Choose images that mean something to the page and try to avoid using tired/overused stock images – they will do nothing for Google or the page.

Images Best Practice

  • Choose images that will help explain an idea
  • Add captions because when you see an image, you will also read the caption. It should be bite-size and reinforce the point. Never make it so long that is required too much reading.
  • Optimise your images so they are small and quick to load and if possible, have them delivered to your site from a CDN.
  • Don’t forget your ALT text. This is how you explain an image if it weren’t to load or for accessibility purposes. Never fill ALT text with spam or lots of money keywords.
  • Make your images your own. Google can see images and knows if you have something unique or that appears on hundreds of other sites.

7 – Site Speed

In the new era of Mobile First, site speed is probably more important than it has ever been. People expect sites to load fast, and if not, then they will come back out and visit your competitors instead. This is bad for you, and a negative signal for Google.

Although Google has said that site speed isn’t a direct ranking signal (some refute this), user satisfaction is a signal:

Caption taken from Google on user experience.
User experience is a ranking signal for Google – https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/algorithms/

Site Speed Best Practice

  • Test your site using GTMetrix or  Webpagetest.org to check for issues.
  • Make sure your web host isn’t causing bottlenecks. Consider moving to a specialist host like Siteground if you are using WordPress.
  • Optimise and compress your images to keep them as small as possible.
  • If using WordPress, try some of the optimisation tools that are available. There are plenty and some offer specifics to tackle particular jobs.
  • Employ a specialist to help consult on this if you are struggling to make real improvements.

8 – Header Tags (H1, H2, H3+)

Another hidden gem that is hugely underused are the trusty ‘Hx‘ tags. Most sites that I see do use them, but not to their full potential. This is another chance to really tell Google more about your pages.

Remember, Header tags are there not only for heading style, but to explain components of a page.

Header Tags Best Practice

  • Only 1 x H1 tag per page, unless the page is split up into distinct sections that require a second (or more). But this isn’t that common.
  • Don’t just copy the page title. Your H1 can be longer and is a good way to further expand on what the page is about. Use it to your advantage.
  • Where you can, use your primary keywords and variants in headings, but never shoe-horn these in. If it fits, add it – if it doesn’t move on to the next. Never substitute usability for a keyword.
  • Use H2 headings as primary page subheadings. Use h3 as H2 subheadings. Keep your page ordered so it makes sense to the user, and to Google.
  • Headings break up the page and give it a usable structure, so plan your pages if you need to.
  • Heading tags are shown to be favoured by Google when it comes to featured snippets. Read more on H-tags here.

9 – Competitor Research Methods & Analysis

This is almost always missed or only given a passing glance, but competition research is very important. Without it, how do you know what you need to be doing to beat the current winners?

When performing this, use crawling tools to help you see what your competitors are doing, but it doesn’t stop there.

Competitor Research Best Practice

  • Identify your top 5-10 competitors.
  • Use any of these tools to see what competitors are doing: SEMRush, Screaming Frog, Netpeak SoftwareSitebulb, DeepCrawl, OnCrawl – all will help you dig into what is being done.
  • Try and uncover the keywords they are focussing on
  • Look at the content they are producing, the frequency and the length of articles.
  • Are they making use of video? Images? Press Releases? News? Blog Posts?
  • How active are they on Social Media? Do they get a lot of interaction from their followers?

10 – Site Usability & User Satisfaction

As I showed earlier, Google takes this very seriously. They want to make sure that they results they are showing are from sites that will provide a pleasing user experience. They don’t get it right 100% of the time, but why would you not want to ensure your site visitors are happy?

This impacts so many different areas that it is hard to say one point is more important than the other and there are definite crossovers between site usability and other areas of best practice.

Usability & User Satisfaction Best Practices

  • Make your site as fast as possible. Spend extra time ensuring you are doing everything you can. Never worry about hiring a specialist to also spend a few hours looking for additional changes that could be made.
  • Use tools like Yandex Metrica, Hotjar or Crazy Egg to create live user recordings or people moving around your site. These are great to show where improvements can be made.
  • Never assume you know best. Just because something makes sense to you, doesn’t mean it will make sense to site visitors. Do you testing…
  • Get to grips with Analytics. This is another great way to see how people are using your site and where there may be issues.
  • Create easy-to-use menus to help people navigate your site.
  • Don’t create huge pages just because you think they are best. Understand what market leaders are doing and follow suit – then improve on what is already out there.
  • Simplicity is everyone’s friend. No-one wants a site that is over-complicated. Don’t be afraid to remove images and content if they offer no value.
  • Make contact with you easy. Don’t bury your contact options away in amongst multiple pages – keep it simple.
  • Manage expectations. Take the time to understand what people want and if delivery of an item takes 5 days, for example, state this. Don’t leave them to guess.

Why did Meta Descriptions not make the top 10?

You might have noticed that when looking at your search results, your description tends to change based on what Google deems as the best result for the searcher. This is something they have been doing for a long time now, but it absolutely doesn’t mean they should just be left blank.

Imagine for a second that you write an outstanding description and Google deliver it in the SERPs because that fits best for most of the searches performed. If you pass on this, you lose the ability to give this message to prospective clients and customers.

If Google does end up re-writing it, then it will be because of a variation in the search performed, and they will try and pick something suitable from the page. You really can’t do anything about this, but if it is happening regularly for your key search, consider re-writing it so that Google doesn’t try (and possibly mess it up).

Do you have some tips?

I would love to hear what tips you have that could be added to this list to improve it.

Leave a note below.

My name is Andy Drinkwater and I am a seasoned SEO professional now into my 19th year. I specialise in technical SEO, reversing Google penalties and have a particular love for internal linking and website architecture.