Written by Sascha Hoffmann
SEO is a beast most people don’t think about when creating a website. In most cases, presenting the products and services in a neat and elegant way is their top priority when launching a website. But more often than not, neat doesn’t mean effective. In this article, let’s discuss SEO basics and look at the most common mistakes.
One thing most people don’t know is that SEO is not just the content on the page – the words that are written down. It has a technical aspect to it: On-Page or On-Site SEO.
Before we get started, let me explain how SEO or Search Engine Optimization works in my own words: Google (and other search engines) crawl the web and analyze unknown amounts of data points to make a connection between the search term someone typed into the search bar (aka keyword) to the results they provide. In short, how related is your website to the search term someone is looking for? In order to rank as high as possible, your website needs to be read correctly by those crawlers. They read the code on the page, not the neat content layout.
In this blog post, I will be covering 3 aspects that often get forgotten when building a website, and we will go over some fundamental SEO basics to help you get started.
- Site Structure Principales
- On-Site SEO basics and most common mistakes
- Content on the page
1. Site Structure Principles and SEO mistakes
Sitemap & URL Structure
Please, think about your site before you get started. What pages do you want to create, how are they organized, how are they related, how can someone find the pages? Most people forget that the URL holds the SEO history and power. Changing a URL is like starting from scratch with your SEO work (not really from scratch but pretty much).
To crawls pages, Google uses a tool called Sitemap.xml to help them understand the site layout. Think of this like a map that navigates your site.
If you offer three services you could add a services category or navigate from the homepage.
home. com / services / service1 vs. home. com / service1
Neither is correct or wrong – but please don’t do this:
home. com / services / service1
home. com / services / service2
home. com / service3
Another area where this happens quite often is the blog. I suggest having all blog posts organized in a /blog URL. BTW, this also helps you in Google Analytics to drill down in content statistics.
Bonus tip for URLs
You want to keep your URL as relevant to the keywords as possible but I recommend not using any numbers or dates in the URL. For example, you have a blog post about 3 tips for SEO Optimization. You want to be ranked for 3 tips in 2021. Your URL could look like this:
home. com / blog / 3-tips-for-SEO-in-2021
Great for now, but what if your blog post is still relevant in 2022 or 2026? What if you have updated it to 7 tips by 2026? This would be much better:
URL: … / blog / best-tips-for-SEO
The sitemap and URL structure is one way to help Google and other crawlers to navigate your site and determine if you are relevant to the search term. Another crucial part is the links.
Links for SEO
Incoming and external links are very important. Not just links but also the ‘way’ they are displayed. More on that later.
In a nutshell, Google follows every link on a page and also sees the links pointing to a page – whether this is from an internal (your domain) or external source.
Let’s not focus on backlinks in this blog post, but please know the more – relevant – and higher the Domain Authority (DA) of the linking website is, the higher the juice for your website.
Anyways, we are in the planning stage of the website and the structure, so let’s take a close look at Inlinks. Every time you link from one page to another on your website it’s called an Inlink.
Inlinks show crawlers that the pages are connected. The more pages of your website point to one particular page, the more important and influential this page becomes.
For example, if every blog post points to the home. com / services / service2 page, search engines identify this URL as a more relevant and important page for your site visitors.
More so, it’s crucial to understand how Google views a link. For instance, let’s take the following post on byvi.co: best free tools to learn SEO content writing. The following is a link to Yoast’s keyphrase suggestions from the text:
<a rel=”noreferrer noopener” target=”_blank” href=”https://yoast.com/suggest/”>keyphrase suggestion</a>
Let’s break this out:
<a rel=… href=….> is the link – Yoast’s website received a backlink.
The link is a hyperlink of the words “keyphrase suggestion”. Which is in the code here: >keyphrase suggestion</a>
This is also called anchor text.
Why do I mention all this? When thinking about your page, please think about your linking structure but also about your anchor texts.
For Google the link was read as <a rel=”noreferrer noopener” target=”_blank” href=”https://yoast.com/suggest/”>keyphrase suggestion</a> with the anchor “keyphrase suggestion”. Google associated the keyword “keyphrase suggestion” with the link.
If the author would have said, “Sign up for Yoast’s tool here.” and linked the “here”, the link would have been like this:
<a rel=”noreferrer noopener” target=”_blank” href=”https://yoast.com/suggest/”>here</a>
Google crawler understands the link with the keyword “here’. Less relevant, right?
The same goes for your website. If you want Google to understand that your page is about service2, please use a relevant keyword as an anchor text.
Most common mistakes:
- Linking to non-relevant pages
- Using non-descriptive anchor text or no anchor texts like “Read More”, “Here”, “Click Here”
Non-descriptive anchor texts are not just a waste of opportunity; Google also penalizes you for an SEO error. They hate going down a rabbit hole of links and not understand the connections.
Make it as easy as possible for site crawlers to understand your website!
What a great segway to the next topic.
2. On-Site SEO basics snd most common mistakes
Knowing that Google reads the code of the page, it is now crucial to understand On-Site SEO basics, most commonly known as title tags, H1 tags, and meta descriptions.
When building a website, please create pages that follow the guidelines of On-Site SEO basics. It will help you improve the SEO ranking for your targeted keywords in two ways:
- Your keywords relevancy is higher
- You aren’t penalized for On-Site SEO errors
The same concept of crawler readability applies here. Make it easy for crawlers to understand your page and implement the keywords so Google knows that your page is relevant.
SEO Title Tag
The title is what appears as the “clickable link” in search results but also in the browser window:
The title tag is one of the most important tags in SEO, and it should be click incentivizing and unique across the entire website. The keywords in the title tag are highly valued by search crawlers.
Don’t duplicate words within the tag, and keep it between 35 – 57 (max 60) characters long.
The meta description (highlighted in blue above) is a brief description of what the page is all about.
The meta description itself doesn’t impact SEO anymore in terms of keywords. From a sole SEO perspective, it doesn’t matter what you write there as long as it is within the character limits and unique to your page. However, it’s crucial for the Click-Through-Rate of your search result, and you should pay attention to it. Think about your own browsing behavior – would you click on this search result if you don’t know what it’s about?
The meta description should be unique, not empty, and between 50 – 160 characters long.
Headings and H1 Tags
‘H’ or heading tags are the headlines in the HTML source code. The H1 is the highest-ranked heading and, therefore, most important for your keyword optimization. It relates very much to the title tag. A well-implemented H1 tag should have the following:
- Have the same main keywords as the title tag
- However, is not 100% the same as the title tag
- Between 20 – 70 characters long
- The keywords of the H1 should be covered in the content of the page
Most common heading errors:
- More than one H1 tag on the page
- No H1 tag on the page
- Duplicate heading tags – that means literally the same tag twice
- Heading level skipped: for example, no H2 but H1 and H3. I always tell my clients to organize a page like a table of contents in a book. You wouldn’t jump around from an H2 to H5.
Other common mistakes:
- Bold/Strong Tags: Something that can be easily overseen. Only highlight important words/phrases in bold once and not more than 70 characters at a time. Don’t overuse strong tags. Implemented correctly, they can emphasize the importance of certain keywords. My recommendation. Always make your main keyword <strong></strong> one time.
- Images: Most common are missing alt attributes and even titles. Please name your images correctly: img363843463438.jpg doesn’t help your keywords. Use alt attributes to describe the image so a web crawler understands it, too.
- Missing or non-descriptive anchor texts for links (see above).
- Redirect chains: Often pages have a 301 redirect because the URL has changed or people link to the wrong page like http:// vs https://. Avoid this and always link to the final destination.
- Broken links. You have to audit your site constantly. Broken links to external destinations hurt your site.
- Page speed/load time: Please keep the number of scripts and files to a minimum. It also helps to minimize the image sizes.
- Too little content/code-to-text ratio: See below
3. Content on the page
Now that your site is clean of On-Site SEO errors and well-structured, let’s talk about the words on the pages – the content.
Nothing beats the content on the page. This is the most important part. That being said, you can’t expect to rank high for a service page that only has 120 words on it.
I get it, though. You still want your website to look clean and neat. But without keywords on it, it simply won’t rank. Just do a quick Google search for the keyword you want to rank for and see what the first 10 pages are about.
Length: 500+ words. Code-to-text ratio: 10+%
If you don’t want to add more content to the page, think about creating content on the blog and link back to the product page.
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About the author
Sascha is a marketing professional with 4+ years in the heart of Silicon Valley, London, and Germany. He started his Lifecycle Marketing consultancy in September 2020 and has helped small and medium-sized businesses with their digital marketing in SEO, Paid Media, and Marketing Automation. Connect with Sascha on LinkedIn and let him know you come from this article.