I have noticed that a lot of traffic coming to this site happens to be personal finance bloggers who bring their awesome ideas as positive encouragement to meet financial goals. I genuinely appreciate this kind of community and have immersed myself in dozens of other sites, gaining valuable insight from the experiences of others.
Every day I have the pleasure of learning best practices for on-page optimization, technical optimization, off-page optimization, social media, and the power of different types of links. Being in such a competitive space, small details mean the difference between hundreds of thousands of visitors and ultimately millions of dollars.
When I visit other sites, I subconsciously asses the site’s optimization and see everything from large negative issues to relatively small changes that could be made and result in higher search engine traffic and rankings. I receive dozens of spam messages from shady fly-by-night SEO groups and it irks me that they might con a website owner into giving them their hard earned money for a chance to mess up the hard work they put into their site. By the way, NEVER respond to these kinds of people – they are simply spamming out hundreds of thousands of comments for a few folks who don’t know any better.
If you are involved in any blogs or websites at all, you should try to make sure that they are as optimized for Google and other search engines as possible. All of the information you need to optimize your site can be found online, but you have to know which sources to trust. What works today might not have worked last month and what worked last year could get you penalized by Google very quickly. It is hard to stay abreast of all of the constant algorithm changes (largely driven by Google optimizing for max revenue) and ensure that you are adhering to best practices to optimize your search engine traffic. I know that driving organic traffic is difficult and takes time, but I can’t stress how important it is to you as a business. This kind of traffic is free and requires little ongoing effort, allowing you to focus on social, outreach, guest posts, etc. The more traffic you can drive with the least amount of effort is how you can effectively grow your site and spread your ideas.
In the spirit of giving back to the community, though not a comprehensive list, I will go over some key tips for optimizing your site and provide some resources to help website owners keep their SEO on point. If you are thinking about starting a blog, stick to these principles from the start and you will have the advantage of doing it right from the beginning.
Run a crawl of your site:
I personally like to use SEOrch as it is free and it is thorough. You can enter your main keyword if you would like to see how well your site is optimized for it. This will give you a ton of information about your site and it even provides recommendations.
The title, meta description, and meta keywords are all important elements to pay attention to for each and every page. I like to use SEO Mofo’s Snippet Optimizer to see what my title and description will look like in the search engine results page (SERP) of Google. Using appropriate keywords is important in the title and the meta keywords. While Google does not rank you based on the kinds of meta keywords you use (it does still read them), other search engines do utilize them for ranking. Your meta description has no SEO value – but it is visible to the user, sells your site and gets potential readers to click, which affects click through rate (CTR) which does affect your ranking in Google. Though SEO Mofo uses an approximate character length for the optimizer, Google actually bases it on pixels, not character. Screaming Frog did a study and found that the pixel lengths before truncation (the …) vary by operating system and device:
Best practices dictate keeping the title and description short enough not to be truncated. If your titles or descriptions are longer, it really isn’t the end of the world. You want to put your more important keywords towards the beginning of the title tag and make your description enticing. Google ultimately decides what it wants to display, so even if you have your tags squared away it might take a while for Google to actually display them correctly. This is why it is important to have them there immediately when the post publishes. Several WordPress themes and SEO plugins allow you to edit these elements, but I like to use a plugin called Add Meta Tags – it is easy, I can edit those fields in the post, and it generates elements for opengraph, schema, twitter cards, etc.
Site Speed and Mobile Usability
Site speed is extremely important for conversions, users, and search engines. The first thing you should do is to figure out what your site speed actually is. I like to use GT Metrix to see how the overall picture looks. You will want to sign up for a free account and utilize servers close to you and track your progress over time. As long as you are consistent with your server location, you will be able to assess how your speed changes over time. It also provides optimization recommendations with in-depth articles on how you can do things like leverage browser caching, creating CSS sprites, minification of java script and CSS, etc.
One of the biggest speed issues for sites is images and one of my favorite plugins for WordPress is EWWW image optimizer. With this plugin, you can losslessly compress all of the images in your media library and theme folders and it will automatically optimize those that you upload moving forward. Even if you don’t use WordPress, there are sites and programs that you can use to easily and quickly optimize images without losing quality. I also like W3 Total Cache because it is free, feature rich, and speeds up your site.
Slow websites have a lower CTR, higher bounce rate, and are scored lower by Google. Users don’t like slow sites and generally expect websites to load in under 2 seconds. If a site takes longer to load, they usually bounce. There have been several studies about how loading time negatively affects users. This is especially true with mobile use. Google has been pushing ‘mobile friendly’ and has announced that it will soon be a ranking factor. Having a mobile responsive site that loads quickly and avoids elements like flash and iframes is the way to go.
Whatever changes you make, you can immediately see how it affects you in GT Metrix. I like to test the page, activate/install/change something I want to test, re-test the page in a new window and see how it changed. If it changed for the better, keep it – if not, try something else.
XML Sitemap and Robots.txt
An XML sitemap is a file that essentially acts like a table of contents for the bots that crawl your website. Larger sites often split these up into image sitemaps, video sitemaps, etc. but we will just stick to the basics for now. There are various plugins that you can use to automatically generate an XML sitemap and update it when you add a new post or page. I personally use Google XML Sitemaps because it is simple and gets the job done. All you have to do is enable it and make sure you verify and submit your sitemap in Google Webmaster Tools. This is where you will also be able to see things like your crawl rate, how many pages are submitted and indexed, and all kinds of other useful info.
Robots.txt is a file that bots crawl as soon as they hit your site so they know where to crawl and where to stay away from. This is particularly useful if you have an area that you don’t want indexed or want to avoid duplicate content issues by not allowing date archives, tags, authors, etc. to be crawled. It is also important to tell bots not to crawl certain areas of your site to preserve your “crawl budget” with Googlebot and allow bots to focus on the important elements. You can create a simple .txt file and upload it to the root drive of your host and you should add the URL of your XML sitemap at the end of the file. WordPress has several plugins to create a ‘virtual robots.txt’ that doesn’t exist on your host’s server and I would recommend avoiding these. You can check your sitemap by gong to http://www.yoursite.com/sitemap.xml and you can check your robots.txt by going to http://www.yoursite.com/robots.txt.
Getting a New Post/Page Indexed Quickly
Once you add a new post or a new page, it takes a while for Google to index it. Depending on how often Google crawls your site, it could be days or even weeks until it shows up in the organic index. There are various things you can do to speed that process up and generally get it indexed within 24-48 hours.
The first thing that I like to do is to use the ‘fetch and render’ of the URL in Google WMT. This way I can see what the page looks like to Google, it forces Google to crawl it, and you can submit it to the index from here. I also like to head on over to goo.gl and submit it to shorten the link. This also forces Google to crawl the page and encourages it to add it to the index. The last thing that I like to do to make sure it gets indexed is to add social signals. Putting links up on Google+ (Google loves Google products), Twitter, and Facebook add quick social signals and will lead to faster indexing.
Use Canonical URLs
A canonical URL is essentially how you tell Google how you prefer the URL of your site. It prevents duplicate content issues, preserves link authority, and should be uniformly applied by you. Let’s look at some examples:
While all still your site, they are technically different URLs. By setting a canonical URL (rel=canonical) you are able to tell search engines which one you prefer and should show in the SERPs. Search engines like Bing, Google, and Yahoo understand the rel=canonical tag. More info here.
You will want to verify BOTH www and non-www versions in Google WMT and set the canonical to whichever you prefer. Once you have your ideal URL, use it on all of your internal and external links to stay consistent.
Without a doubt, the most important element in SEO is links. You can overcome poor technical or on-page issues with links, but you can’t overcome the lack of quality links with technical/on-page. So how do you know which links are good or bad and how can you use them in your favor?
The most important thing about a link profile is that it has to look natural. So what does that mean?
Natural link profiles aren’t over-optimized. The anchor text (actual words in the link) should not be the same targeted keyword. You should try to use your brand or naked URL for the majority of your links. You also don’t want to add 100,000 links in a day as this is unnatural link velocity and throws up a red flag. Links to your site should have random anchor text as well eg. click here, read more, more info, etc. You also want a mix of follow and no-follow links and contrary to popular belief, no-follow links from highly authoritative sites do carry ranking weight in Google.
I know that Google and the heads of large SEO groups (MOZ comes to mind) simply tell you to write good content and the rest will come – but that just isn’t the case any more. You can write the best content in the world and never get seen in the SERPs because of people who build thousands of high quality links to their pages and content. It is not against the rules to build links, you just want to be smart about it. Any links you build should be contextual and from relevant sites. You don’t want a link from a gaming website to a personal finance blog…you want one from CNN Money or Forbes. Everyone should be building links, whether they are social, blog comments, forum/signature URLs, Wikipedia articles, news stories, university resources, public libraries, etc. you need to be building links. Once you get traction with an audience, links will naturally come but it is very difficult when you are just starting out.
So how can you check your link profile?
Ahrefs.com is my favorite link checking tool, but you should use a variety of tools to get the best picture. Link checkers will all get a small portion of your overall links and it is impossible to see all of them. I use a mix of Google WMT, ahrefs, Majestic SEO, and Open Site Explorer to see what kind of links a site has and whether they are good, bad, or ugly. The more link analysis you do the more you will be able to tell which links are good and which ones are not.
Ultimately, SEO is one of many methods to drive quality traffic to your site. Writing great content, having a passion for your subject, and consistently updating your blog is what will make you successful. Search engine optimization is not something that should be viewed with skepticism or seen as something shady. Unfortunately, there are people who give it a bad name by trying to take shortcuts and doing serious damage to people’s websites in the process. If done correctly and responsibly, focused SEO efforts can lead to awesome gains in organic traffic and finding the right individuals to consume your content.
By taking a few of these steps and getting in the habit of writing proper titles and meta tags, optimizing images, having a sitemap and robots.txt, thinking about your keyword use, indexing your pages faster, increasing the speed of your site, and making the experience better for your reader – you are actively making it easier to succeed. Let me know if you have any questions, I am always happy to help.