I bet a couple of your top priorities are learning SEO basics and getting your website ranked highly on Google.
However, if you don’t familiarize yourself with the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), your website is not going to rank on Google or any of the other search engines.
Not on Google. Not on Bing. Not on Yahoo.
Which of course means no traffic, no potential customers and no sales.
When I started my first website I wasn’t all that familiar with SEO.
Fortunately, I was able to get up to speed fast.
Over time, I learned how to get that site to rank high on Google and those other big search engines.
Even today, that site still ranks high and I get plenty of traffic day in and day out.
The SEO basics that I learned were the key to that site’s success, and in this blog post I want to share thirteen tips that I know will help you.
These are proven tips, so get your notebook out!
SEO Basics for Search Engine Success
OK, let’s dive in with our 13 tips…
Oh, and be sure to read down to the end to the Bonus Tip that will help you with four of the tips mentioned below.
#1 – Enable and Configure a Sitemap
A sitemap is a file that you make available to the search engines to tell them what pages you want them to crawl and index.
It’s especially important for new websites, because the search engines may not have found your site on their own yet. Since they haven’t found your site yet, they wouldn’t know to crawl it.
So, by providing a sitemap and submitting it to the search engines, you expedite the process of them finding, crawling and indexing your site.
For example, Google has a tool called Search Console (more on that below) that allows you to submit your sitemap to the Google search engine.
Once you do that, it gets queued up for crawling.
They also have a great resource to help you learn about sitemaps in their Search Console help documentation.
These days most sites use what’s called an XML Sitemap.
Here’s what the XML Sitemap for Online Business Ambitions looked like when I first wrote this blog post:
The first line is an index of posts (blog posts). The second is an index of pages. And the third is an index of categories.
Each line, if you were to click on it, would drill down into the listings.
So, for example, if you clicked on the Post line, you would then see a list of all the blog posts written on the site. Same thing for the Page and Category lines.
This hierarchy of website content is the map of your entire site. And, this map is what the search engines read to index your site and its content.
Once read and indexed, your posts, pages and categories get listed in the search engine results for people to find.
Check out the Bonus Tip below for an easy way to create your Sitemap.
#2 – Make Your PageSpeed Fast
Google takes user experience very seriously and they prefer to see that your site loads and operates fast.
As a matter of fact, they announced in January of 2018 that they would be using page speed in mobile search ranking.
It was already a ranking factor for desktop searches and then in July of 2018 they started the Speed Update rollout to all users.
So, with that in mind, you want to take the initiative to make sure your site’s page speed is up to par.
A great tool to check your site is Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
By using this tool, you can submit your site’s individual pages (including your home page) and see how well it performs.
While there are a lot of different ways to speed up your site, I’d suggest starting with two main areas:
The first one is to make sure you’re running your website on a good hosting platform.
A good hosting platform will help you to minimize server response time, which is how long it takes your host to respond when someone clicks on a link to your site or types it into their browser.
To optimize your site for speed, check out Bluehost and look for their Go Pro package. With that package, your website will be put on a high performance server with a dedicated IP address for a great price!
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an affiliate for them, which means I receive a small commission if someone clicks through my link and orders their service. However, I’m proud to say I only partner with companies that I believe will provide good value to my readers.
The second area to watch out for is the size of the images you put on your website.
Often times, images can be very large (both in visual size and file size). Those large image files are usually very slow to load and decrease your page speed significantly.
So, what’s the remedy?
First, reduce the visual size of the pictures.
For example, in my blog posts like this one, I adjust the width of my pictures down to 696 pixels wide. This alone will reduce the file size but still keep the images big enough to be readable.
Then I use a free tool called TinyJPG to compress the images. This reduces the file size even more but still keeps the image quality high.
After I’ve resized and compressed the images, I’ll put them on my site.
#3 – Enable and Configure Your robots.txt File
Your robots.txt file is a file you enable for your website that gives direction to any bots that come to your site.
That would include Googlebot and Bingbot, two of the main search engine bots that crawl your website for search engine indexing.
Good Bots vs. Bad Bots
Now, it’s important to know that there’s good bots and bad bots.
The good bots (like Googlebot and Bingbot) will follow the instructions you put in your robots.txt file, whereas the bad ones often ignore it.
The bad bots are the ones that do malicious things like scrape and steal your website’s content, try to force logins and overwhelm your website’s server.
Since the bad bots ignore robots.txt anyway, let’s focus on configuring your robots.txt file for the good bots.
Right before the good bots start crawling through your website, they’ll take a look at your robots.txt file to see if there’s any areas you don’t want them to crawl.
Inside your robots.txt file there are two standard directives. The first is User-agent: and the second is Disallow: .
User-agent is where you decide which bot you want to direct.
Disallow is where you decide what you don’t want the bot to see inside your website.
The two directives are paired together.
So, for example, if I don’t want Bingbot to crawl my site, I would put the following in my robots.txt file:
User-agent: Bingbot Disallow: /
A forward slash after the Disallow: directive means you want to block your whole site.
Now of course I wouldn’t do that since I want Bing to crawl and index my site. But, for a simple example, that’s how you would do it.
If you put a directory name after the forward slash, that would tell the bot not to crawl anything in that sub-directory.
For example, if I wanted to tell Bingbot not to crawl a sub-directory on my site called Images, I would specify the following:
User-agent: Bingbot Disallow: /Images
What Should You Do?
Nowadays, the search engine bots have gotten really sophisticated and can “read” your website almost as a human would.
So, unless you have some special reason for disallowing something, I would suggest just opening up all areas of your site to all robots.
In other words, don’t block anything.
Here’s how that would look:
This allows that to happen and is what I’m doing on all my sites now.
Check out the Bonus Tip below for an easy way to turn on and edit your robots.txt file.
#4 – Ensure Your Site is Mobile-Friendly
Over the years I’ve been watching the traffic that comes to my website.
Back in 2012 when I first started, most traffic was desktop traffic. i.e. People sitting at their computers and visiting websites.
In 2016 things changed.
Mobile vs. Desktop Traffic
Right around that time, I noticed a tipping point where more people were visiting from their mobile device vs. their desktop computers.
I expect that trend to continue and with mobile devices getting more and more sophisticated, it’s in all of our best interest to jump on the mobile-friendly bandwagon with our sites.
Mobile-Friendly Website Themes
So, when you decide on a website theme, be sure to choose one that’s mobile-friendly.
Check out my resources page for the WordPress theme company I suggest. All their themes are mobile-friendly.
When you use a mobile-friendly theme your website will look good on all devices and will dynamically adjust itself based on the device your reader is using.
As an example, take a look at this site (the one you’re reading right now) on a mobile phone, a tablet and a desktop.
You should see that no matter what device you’re on, the site is easy to read.
#5 – Ensure Your Site is Configured for HTTPS
Back in 2014, Google announced HTTPS as a ranking signal.
Since then, many websites converted their sites from HTTP to HTTPS so that their rankings wouldn’t decline.
HTTPS makes for a more secure site and Internet in general. The ‘S’ in HTTPS stands for secure and the HTTPS protocol encrypts communication between your browser and your website.
That’s a good thing!
Much like moving to mobile-friendly, the time has come to jump on the HTTPS bandwagon as well.
In order to do so, many hosting platforms, including Bluehost are now offering a certificate authority called “Let’s Encrypt” which was developed by the Internet Security Research Group (ISRG).
With that, you get a free SSL certificate that will allow you to run your site using HTTPS and instructions on how to install it on your website.
Checking Site Security
You can tell which sites are secure by their URL. For example, if you look up at the URL for this site, it starts with https:// and not just http://.
You may also see a padlock (in Firefox) or a padlock and the word Secure (in Chrome) for sites that are secured with HTTPS, right next to the URL.
Since browsers are constantly changing the way they display this, you may need to click around inside the URL box of the browser you’re using.
Then, look for something saying the site is secure, to the left of the URL.
Always Go With HTTPS
Going with HTTPS is well worth doing and especially easy when you’re first getting started, since you don’t have to convert from HTTP.
Converting from HTTP to HTTPS is more tricky, however.
It’s important that after the move, you have correct redirects in your htaccess file.
Those correct redirects help to ensure you don’t lose rankings from the search engines.
You want the search engines to be able to find your new URLs and the redirects accomplish that.
Not There Yet?
If your site is still HTTP and not HTTPS, check out my guide to migrate your site from HTTP to HTTPS.
It includes a great checklist that I created and used when I successfully moved Honest Wine Reviews to HTTPS.
Now that site is secure on all browsers. And, the above mentioned redirects are correctly in place.
#6 – Test for Site Issues
As you build your site, you’re bound to make some mistakes or accidentally do something that confuses the search engines.
This could be things like a link that stopped working, forgetting to add a meta-description here and there, messing up your robots.txt file, incorrectly redirecting a URL, and more.
Unfortunately, the search engines pick up on these things and they prefer to see sites that don’t have these kinds of errors.
So, what can you do?
Crawl and Fix Your Website
I use a free tool called Screaming Frog that is essentially an SEO spider that looks for problems on your site.
The first time I ran it, I found a lot of things that were broken, which was a good education on what to watch for.
Now I just run it every now and then, to check to see if I’ve broken anything recently.
After you run it, you get a report back on what’s broken (and not broken) on your site.
Then, just go ahead and fix those things and rerun it to make sure everything’s all set.
#7 – Read Google’s Guidelines
Google provides guidelines for webmasters to follow when building your site.
Reading those guidelines will definitely give you a leg up in understanding what’s important to them when it comes to SEO.
#8 – Monitor Algorithm Changes
Google continually updates their search algorithms and it’s a good idea to keep aware of the changes they make.
Many updates are small and go unnoticed, but every now and then they’ll make a big update that affects a lot of websites.
They rarely announce ahead of time that they’re going to make a change.
But, there are plenty of sites and resources that monitor this and they pick up on changes very quickly.
The good news for site owners is, if you pay attention to some of the sites that monitor Google, you can keep aware of algorithm changes as they occur.
I’d suggest regularly visiting Search Engine Roundtable, which is a site maintained by Barry Schwartz.
I think of all the sites out there, he does the best to stay on top of things.
Plus, he curates information from other good sources and also does a great job of communicating with people at Google.
#9 – Use Google Search Console and Google Analytics
With Search Console, you’ll get great information about what keywords are resulting in impressions and clicks to your site. You’ll also see what other sites are linking to yours. Plus, much more.
With Analytics, you’ll get a ton of information about who visited your site, where they came from, their demographics, their behavior on your site and more.
After you sign up for those services, you’ll need to verify your site with them and install a bit of code to get everything working correctly. It’s easy to do and highly worth it.
#10 – Include Your Keyword in Your Titles
Up to now, these tips have mostly been focused on off-site SEO basics. With this tenth tip, let’s shift the focus to actions you can take on your site. And in this case, on your posts and pages.
When you are creating a post or page for your site, give thought to what someone might search for (on Google or Bing) to find your content.
The search term they enter in the search engines is called a Keyword.
Let’s say you’re creating a blog post about that keyword’s subject. When you do that, you want to include that subject’s keyword in the title of your blog post.
By doing so, you’ll help the search engines understand what that blog post is about.
You’ll also make it more likely that post will show up in the search engine results, when someone enters that keyword.
As an example, take this blog post you’re reading right now.
The keyword I’m targeting with this post is SEO Basics. If you look up at the title of this blog post, you’ll see that keyword in the title.
Simple as that!
#11 – Ensure Your Written Content Starts Above the Fold
Another thing that Google likes to see, is that a user doesn’t have to scroll down to get to the content of the post or page they’re reading.
So, as you’re developing your website and creating content, look to see that the text of your content starts above the fold.
Above the fold means that a user doesn’t have to scroll down to see the text of your content.
The term “above the fold” comes from the newspaper world, where newspapers are folded in half horizontally. Content that is in the top half is considered above the fold because it’s the first thing you see without having to unfold the newspaper.
Tips for Starting Written Content Above the Fold
I usually try to make sure there’s a good amount of text appearing above the fold in my blog posts.
Also, if you have ads inside your posts, be sure that the reader doesn’t have to scroll down past a bunch of ads to get to the first paragraph of your post.
Google has a great article on this called the Page Layout Algorithm Improvement that explains this really well.
So, avoid penalties and follow what they say.
#12 – Set Your URL Structure Correctly in WordPress
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect and on my wine review site, I’ve been guilty of violating this tip.
When you first setup WordPress, go to Settings -> Permalinks.
Under Common Settings, be sure to set your permalink structure to Post name.
Here’s what that looks like, using this site as an example:
The biggest thing you want to avoid is a permalink structure that has dates in it.
That structure will cause searchers not to click on older posts since they will assume the post is old and out of date, even if you’ve kept the post up to date and relevant.
This is because the URL will stay the same with the old dates in it, effectively “dating” your posts.
#13 – Write Enticing Meta-Descriptions
The meta-description is the description that the search engines read that describes what your post or page is about. You specify this when you create your post or page.
A good meta-description should entice a searcher to click on your post or page in the search results.
Try to write a meta-description that briefly explains what your content is about and states the benefit of what the reader will get by viewing your content.
Basically, give the searcher a good reason to click on your post or page.
It’s OK to include your keyword in the meta-description, but be careful not to stuff it in there multiple times or make it sound out of context.
Google May Not Always Choose Your Meta-Descriptions
It should also be stated that Google may ignore what you put in your meta-descriptions and put something different in that they feel is better. That happens often.
In that case, Google will take text from your post or page and put that in the meta-description instead.
Be sure to check out the Bonus Tip below for an easy way to edit your meta-descriptions.
Pin to Save:
No discussion of SEO basics and WordPress would be complete without mentioning the Yoast SEO plugin.
When it comes to getting your site as SEO ready as possible, no other plugin compares.
Install it before creating any content.
It will help you greatly with tips 1, 3 and 13 above.
Plus, it will help you with so much more and by taking a look at the plugin you’ll soon see how powerful it is.
I use the free version, but there’s also a paid version with more functionality.
Want even more SEO tips to improve search engine traffic?
Check out my blog post below:
I hope you enjoyed these 13 tips on SEO basics.
Now I want to hear from you.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below…