Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an ongoing process that must be a priority to reach the top of search engine results and maintain those rankings. Proper design is the foundation for SEO efforts, but design alone cannot deliver the maximum results.
You may have heard or read about the need for a “search engine-friendly” website, but what makes a website search engine friendly?
A search engine-friendly structure makes it easy for Google and other search engines to crawl your site and understand what it’s about. This may not be enough to shoot your page to the top of the search results, but it’s the necessary foundation.
What Makes a Website Search Engine Friendly?
Let’s look at some specific factors that should be considered and addressed.
1. Clean Code
Clean HTML and CSS coding will help search engines to be able to accurately read the code and decipher the contents of your page. The harder the search engine spiders have to work to crawl through your code, the less likely they will find all of your pages and understand each of them.
2. Effective and Accurate Page Title Tags
Each page on your website should have a title. The title tag strongly influences search engine results and is displayed on the search results page (although sometimes Google modifies the title).
Titles should accurately describe the contents of the page and should include your target keywords for the page whenever possible.
It’s also essential that each page has a unique title tag and that you’re not reusing the same title tag across multiple pages. The title tags should be unique for the search engines to accurately understand each specific page.
3. Headers and Sub-Headers
HTML includes specific tags for headings (h1, h2, h3, etc.). Some websites create the visual effect of headers and sub-headers by using bold text and larger font sizes. Although the look can be accomplished either way, using proper heading tags helps to show the search engines that a certain word or phrase has added emphasis.
The headers and sub-headers also allow search engines to understand the structure and organization of content on the page. Typically, the page title (or blog post title) will be the h1, the next level of sub-headers will be h2’s, and so on. Think of the outline of a book and apply the same concept to your page or post.
As a general rule, each page should only have one h1 tag.
4. Clean Site Structure and Navigation
Because search engine spiders crawl through your pages from link to link, dead links can stall the process and prevent all of your pages from being indexed. Pages with excessive dead links are also not helpful to visitors and may suffer in the search engine rankings as a result.
Your website must have a clear structure to the organization of pages. The structure is especially important for sites with hundreds or thousands of pages. Think about a large blog, for example. Blog categories provide structure and help search engines to understand how the content is organized and relates to other pages on the site.
Links also provide search engines with information about the pages that are linked. The anchor text (the wording part of the hyperlink) is considered representative of the page that the link is pointing towards. For example, a link that says “Quality Website Design” indicates that the page is about website design. Keywords should be used where appropriate in anchor text. A link like “click here” is not user-friendly for search engines or human readers.
5. Meta Description
Meta tags are invisible to the viewer but intended to provide information to search engines. Some search engines use the description meta tag on the search results page to describe the website. Sometimes the meta description is ignored, but because they’re typically displayed on the search engine results pages (SERPs), every page should have a description.
When you write a description for your pages, remember that it will determine how many people will click through to your site from the search engine results page. Descriptions should draw attention and create interest.
6. Alt Tags
Every image can have an alt tag, the text appearing when the mouse hovers over the image. Alt tags are important for several reasons:
- Disabled users may rely on alt tags rather than being able to see the image.
- Search engines read alt tags, so using keywords or related words and phrases within alt tags is a good practice.
You don’t want to stuff your alt tags full of keywords that aren’t relevant to the image, but you can find natural ways to include keywords and phrases when possible.
7. Engaging, Useful Content
The goal of Google and other search engines is to provide the best possible search results that help users find what they’re looking for. To have success with SEO, your website must have high-quality content. Your content should be written for human readers, not for search engines. You can certainly follow SEO best practices to give your content the best chance of ranking, but SEO should not take priority over human readers.
8. Updated Content
In addition to helpful content, that content should be updated as needed. Even if you’re publishing blog posts, updating them is a good practice. (This article was originally published over a decade ago and has been updated a few times.)
9. On-Topic and Relevant
Your website or blog should cover a specific topic or a group of related topics. Websites that are niche-specific or tightly focused on a particular topic will generally have a better chance to rank well for those topics.
Search engines prefer a niche approach rather than websites that publish content on all sorts of topics. Stick to the topics relevant to your site and your target audience.
10. XML Sitemap
An XML sitemap exists for search engines. It’s simply a list of URLs for the pages of the website. When a search engine spider crawls the XML sitemap, it can easily find all of the pages on a site. Without the sitemap, the spider has to find pages by crawling through the site from link to link. The XML sitemap makes it easier on search engines and ensures that they know about your pages.
If your site is built on WordPress, the popular Yoast SEO plugin includes XML sitemap functionality. You could also use several other plugins to automatically generate the sitemap.
11. Fast Load Times
Page load speed is one of many factors used by Google to determine search rankings. Even though it’s not one of the most significant ranking factors, it is one of the ranking factors, so it shouldn’t be ignored.
One of the most effective ways to speed up your site is to use a high-quality web host. We use and recommend Rocket.net.
Creating a website with these points gives you a strong foundation for search engine optimization efforts. SEO is an ongoing process that includes link building and the continued development of quality content, but it all starts with having a search engine-friendly website.