This does not mean that you should give up on SEO, but it simply emphasises the fact that clean/ethical/white hat SEO is now even more important than ever. Do not over optimise, do not buy links, think quality more than quantity.
With this in mind, now is the perfect time to get your onsite optimisation right (or review it)
The onsite/offsite optimisation debate
In the past 5 years, link building has taken more importance in the search algorithms, so much so that some figures suggest that it now accounts for 60 to 70% of a website's rankings. The incorporation of social signals and development of new social networks has accelerated this trend further in the past 2-3 years.
While no one can argue with these numbers, I have observed a worrying trend with a lot of my clients recently: they seem to completely neglect onsite optimisation at the benefit of link building.
Ideally for a natural organic growth, both activities need to be undertaken at the same time, and without good onsite SEO, it is very likely that your website will not rank well in search engines, especially if you're a new/growing business without a lot of brand recognition/awareness.
So my advice has always been the following: get your onsite SEO right or it will cost you. And from a resource standpoint, it is much easier and often quicker to get your site optimised than it is to acquire good quality backlinks.
Onsite Search engine optimisation - where do I begin?
Simple answer to that one - keywords! If you don't know which keywords you should optimise for, how are your customers going to find you?
Once you have your keywords, you can start work on your site. There are many different factors to take into account, and here's a shortlist of what you should definitely do:
- Title, description and keywords tags - these are placed in the HTML code of your page and are usually easily accessible from most CMS (content management systems) tools. They should be unique for each page of your site and their ideal length should be 70 characters for titles and 155 characters for descriptions. As a rule of thumb, try and incorporate your core keywords at the beginning of the tags for maximum SEO impact. I also usually include the brand name at the end of each title.
- Alt tags - Alt tags represent the alternative text that is displayed by web browsers if an image cannot be shown properly. Search engine spiders read this text when indexing a page and it is therefore important to have keyword rich alt tags for each image on the site.
- Image file names - Whenever possible, try and give your images files a keyword rich name rather than just using "image1.jpg"
- Link title tags - Link titles are sometimes used on websites for accessibility purposes but they are also a good way to refine a website’s optimisation. They basically give search engines an idea of where a link is going and they also appear when a visitor puts their mouse over a link on a page. Located in the html code of the page, they are often neglected but can have an SEO impact in combination with all the other elements.
- URL naming conventions - ensure your URLs are search engine friendly and include keywords. Avoid long automatically generated URLs with "?" or numbers as they carry no SEO value
- URL canonicalization - your website should only display for 1 URL (for example www.mywebsite.com). if it displays for the non-www versions too or for www.mywebsite.com/index, make sure these URLs are 301 redirected to the main URL to avoid duplicate content issues. More on canonicalization
- Navigation - Your website navigation should of course be logical and user friendly for usability purposes, but it should also ideally include keyword rich links to the most important pages of your site. This will make it easier for search engines to index key pages
- Sitemaps - what I usually recommend is to have 2 sitemaps for a website: 1 xml sitemap which is automatically generated by your CMS each time and page is created. The URL for this sitemap can hen be submitted to your Google Webmaster Tools. 1 HTML sitemap, or to put it simply a page with html links to all of the website pages. ideally you should put a link to your html sitemap in your website templates
- Content structure and header (H) tags - As the SEO saying goes "Content is king", so make sure your website follows some basic copy writing rules for maximum SEO benefits. Your content should ideally be laid out as follows:
Main title (H1)
Keyword rich copy with keywords and links
Bulleted lists wherever possible…………
Subtitle 1 (H2)
Keyword rich copy with keywords and links
Subtitle 3 (H3)
While the points above are key elements in any SEO strategy, there are also other elements to take into account. However, following this structure should allow you to get up and running and focus on offsite optimisation (link building) knowing that you have done as much as possible on your website.
SEO has never been and will never be an exact science, but with some patience and clean implementation you should see your website perform better for your chosen keywords over time. So whatever you do, do not focus only on link building and social media activities. Yes they are really important, but remember that you're very unlikely to achieve good rankings in search engines without good onsite SEO too.
- The Google Algorithm Change History on SEOMoz
- Search engine optimisation in 2012 - Mahon Digital Marketing
- SEO on a shoestring (I'll update this one again soon)