Top 10 SEO Best Practices
Here’s a hard truth: If your target keyword isn’t ranking in Google’s top 10 results, your website might not be visible on Google either.
There are several strategies and techniques you can follow that may increase your chances of ranking.
However, if you don’t get the basics right, like your on-page SEO, your chances of ranking on the first page of Google are slim.
By following SEO best practices, you’ll lay the foundation for your website to increase its visibility in searches. Once the foundation is laid, you can move on to more advanced keyword research and link-building strategies.
In this article, we’ll review nine SEO best practices you should follow to improve your chances of ranking well for your target keywords.
What are SEO best practices?
According to HubSpot, 75% of searchers never make it past the first page of search results — which is why ranking on the first page of Google is so important.
You can show your best performance by following SEO best practices.
According to Google, SEO best practices are tasks that “hope to make it easier for search engines to crawl, index, and understand your content.”
Let’s dive into some of the most important ones.
Search Engine Optimization Best Practices
Align your content with search intent
Once you understand what SEO is and how to find the keywords to target, it’s best to think deeply about search intent.
Search intent (also known as “user intent”) is the purpose behind every search query. Understanding and satisfying search intent is the ultimate goal of Google. Pages that rank on the Google homepage pass Google’s touchstone for search intent.
For example, look at the search results for “how to make oatmeal cookies.”
Top search results are blog posts or videos, not e-commerce pages selling oatmeal cookies. Google understands that people offering this particular search want to learn, not buy.
On the other hand, the top search results for queries like “buy oatmeal cookies” are e-commerce pages. Because in this case, Google understands that people are in buying mode. Therefore, the top results do not include links to oatmeal cookie recipes.
For this reason, if you want to rank your page on page 1 on Google in 2021, you need to understand the concept of search intent and create content that aligns with user intent.
There are four common types of search intent:
Informational: When a user is looking for specific information, a search is an informational intent. It can be a simple search like “what’s the weather like today?” that provides instant results or something complex like “best SEO strategy” that requires a more in-depth explanation.
Navigation: In this case, the searcher is looking for a specific website or application. Common examples of navigational searches include “Facebook Login,” “Semrush,” and “Amazon.”
Commercial: When a user is looking for a specific product but has not yet made a final decision, the intent behind the search is commercial. For example, searches like “best SEO tool” and “best DSLR” are commercial searches.
Transaction: Here, the intent is to buy. The searcher has decided to buy a specific product or tool. Examples include searches such as “buy a Nikon d500,” “buy a Macbook Air,” and “buy groceries online.”
Semrush can also identify search intent in a variety of keyword research tools, taking the guesswork out of it for you.
An SEO best practice is to always keep search intent in mind when creating content for your website.
For example, if you want to rank for the keyword “best DSLR camera”, you need to realize that the search intent here is commercial, not transactional. Users have yet to decide which DSLR brand to choose.
It doesn’t make sense to optimize your DSLR landing page with these specific keywords. Google understands what users want when the search query is “best DSLR camera.” They are looking for options. They’re looking for blog posts or videos listing the best DSLRs, not product pages or e-commerce pages.
Bottom line: Create content that aligns with your target audience’s search intent.
Write a compelling title tag and meta description
Your page title and meta description are the two most important meta tags on your page. Let’s first introduce the title tag.
- title tag
- title tag description
Title tags are clickable titles that appear in search results and are very important from an SEO perspective.
According to Google:
Titles are critical for giving users a quick idea of what the results are about and why they’re relevant to the query. It’s often the main piece of information used to decide which result to click on, so it’s important to use a high-quality title on your page.
Search engines like Google usually display the first 50-60 characters of the title. As long as your title tag is 60 characters or less, Google will display the full title of your page.
Here are some other best practices to keep in mind when creating title tags:
- Include your target keyword
- Write a title that matches search intent
- Avoid creating duplicate title tags
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- keep it descriptive but concise
- meta description
The second most important meta tag on a page is the meta description. A meta description is a summary of a page in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) displayed below the title tag.
Meta descriptions don’t directly affect search rankings, but they do affect CTR.
Google explains it best:
“Meta description tags should generally inform and intrigue users with short, relevant summaries to understand what a particular page is about. They act like propaganda to convince users that the page is exactly what they’re looking for.”
Google generally truncates meta descriptions to 155-160 characters, so make sure you provide an accurate summary of your content while keeping it under 160 characters.
Here are some best practices to follow when writing meta descriptions:
- Write unique meta descriptions for each page
- Use action-oriented copy
- Include your target keyword
- match search intent
- Provide an accurate summary
Optimize your images
Images play a vital role in improving the user experience of your visitors on your website. You can spend a lot of time choosing the right images to enhance blog posts, product pages, and other important pages on your website.
But do you spend the same amount of time optimizing the images on your website? When used in the right way, images can contribute to your site’s overall SEO and increase organic traffic. Here are four things you can do to optimize your images.
Choose the best file format
Site speed is an important ranking signal, and images are often the largest contributor to overall page size. Therefore, you need to optimize your images for speed to improve the overall performance of your website.
The first step in optimizing an image is to choose the best file format, let’s look at JPEG vs PNG. compared to WebP.
The most commonly used image formats on the web are JPEG and PNG. Both formats use different compression techniques, which is why file sizes can vary widely between the two formats.
Displaying JPEGs and PNGs – Image Optimization Best Practices
Looking at the difference in file size above, it’s easy to declare JPEG the clear winner. But using JPEG as the actual image format for your website is wrong.
While JPEGs look great for photos (as in the panda image above), PNGs are best for images that contain text, line drawings, etc. This illustration from Digital Inspiration proves my point.
JPEG vs PNG
WebP is another option, which Google breaks down:
“WebP is a modern image format that provides superior lossless and lossy compression for images on the web.
Compared to PNG, WebP lossless images are 26% smaller in size.
At the same SSIM quality index, WebP lossy images are 25–34% smaller than comparable JPEG images. “
Learn more about how to use WebP in this Google guide.
The larger the image file, the longer it takes to load the web page, which is why the image must be compressed before uploading it to the website.
Fortunately, several free tools can help you compress your images.
TinyPNG: TinyPNG uses intelligent lossy compression technology to reduce the file size of PNG and JPEG files.
ImageOptim: If you are a Mac user, you can download and use this free tool for all your image compression needs. ImageOption is also a Google-recommended tool. It’s by far the best tool for compressing JPEG files, but not PNG files. For compressed PNGs, TinyPNG is best.
ShortPixel: If you run your website on WordPress, you can install this plugin to compress your images. ShortPixel’s free plan allows you to compress 100 images per month.
Provide alt text for images
Although Google’s ability to understand images has improved, adding alt text to images is still a necessary step. Adding alt text to images improves web accessibility and helps browsers better understand images on your site.
Here’s what Google has to say about writing alt text:
When choosing alt text, focus on creating useful, informative content that uses keywords appropriately and is relevant to the content of the page.
Avoid stuffing alt attributes with keywords (keyword stuffing) as it leads to a negative user experience and can cause your site to be seen as spam.
When writing alt text for an image, keep it concise in the description and avoid stuffing your target keywords.
Lazy load your images
Lazy loading is a technique for lazy loading of non-critical resources (images, videos, etc.) when the page loads. Instead, images and videos are only loaded when the user wants them.
Here’s how Google explains the link between lazy loading and website performance:
When we lazy load images and videos, we reduce the initial page load time, initial page weight, and system resource usage, all of which positively impact performance.
To lazy load your images and videos on WordPress, you can use the free a3 Lazy Load plugin.
Optimize your page speed
If your website takes a long time to load, you will have a lot of frustrated users and your rankings may drop.
Several free tools can help you check your page speed, including Google’s PageSpeed Insights; you can learn how to improve your Google PageSpeed Insights score on Semrush.
The tool I recommend for this task is GTMetrix. This free tool provides insights into your page speed and advises on steps you can take to improve load times.
You can also use Semrush to perform site audits and fix any performance issues with your site. Methods as below:
Login to your Semrush Dashboard and navigate to Projects → Add New Project → enter your domain
Enter all details here and click “Start Site Audit”
Semrush will generate an audit report showing all the on-site issues you need to address to improve your site’s overall SEO health
From the audit report, navigate to Site Performance and click the View Details button
Semrush site audit report data
Now you can see any performance issues on your website that are preventing it from loading faster and take action to fix them.
Semrush site audit report showing performance issues
A quick and easy way to increase page speed is to compress images.
In addition to image compression, there are a few other things you can do to help your pages load faster:
- Enable browser caching
- Remove unnecessary plugins
- Reduce server response time
- Reduce the number of redirects
Build an internal linking structure
Internal links are important because they create a hierarchy of information for your website, and they also help Google gain a deeper understanding of what’s on your page.
When used properly, internal linking can improve your rankings.
For example, NinjaOutreach increased organic traffic by 40% by optimizing internal links.
An SEO best practice is to add internal links from top-ranking pages on your site to pages that need a boost.
You can also use Semrush to identify and fix internal linking errors on your website. The internal linking report in Semrush’s site audit tool is very useful for identifying issues with your site’s internal link structure.
- Run a site audit for your site on Semrush to generate an audit report
- Navigate to the internal link and click the “View Details” button
- Semrush site audit report showing internal linking data
- Now you can review any internal linking issues on your site and start fixing them.
- Internal Linking Issues Shown in Semrush Audit Reports
Improve the user experience
Google pays close attention to how users interact with your pages. Therefore, user experience is one of the key factors to improve search rankings.
As mentioned above, page speed plays a vital role in improving the user experience of website visitors.
Here are some other SEO tips to ensure users have a great experience when they visit your website:
Use subheadings: Proper use of subheadings (H1, H2, H3) helps Google better understand your content and makes your text more accessible to readers
Make your content visually appealing: Several studies have shown that visuals can help people better understand your content. Use relevant images, videos, and screenshots to illustrate your point.
Avoid intrusive popups: Popups are not only bad from an SEO standpoint, but they also end up annoying your visitors. Since 2017, Google has penalized sites that use intrusive pop-ups, so it’s best to use them sparingly.
Use white space: White space is an essential aspect of good design. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, white space (or negative space) improves legibility, branding, and focus. So, consider using whitespace to make your content more legible and grab the user’s attention.
Make your site mobile-friendly: When it comes to user experience, mobile-friendliness is critical because Google uses mobile-first indexing. You can use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to see how your site is performing.
Make URLs SEO-friendly
URL structure is an often overlooked aspect of SEO. A good URL structure lets users and search engines know what the target page is all about.
Google explains it best:
The URL structure of a website should be as simple as possible. Consider organizing your content so that the URLs are structured in a logical way, and in a way that is most human-readable (using readable words instead of long ID numbers if possible).
With that in mind, here’s how to create a well-structured URL:
Use Short URLs: A study by Backlinko found that short URLs tend to outperform long URLs in the SERPs.
Use keyword-rich URLs: Always include your target keyword in the URL to increase your chances of ranking better in search results.
Include categories or subfolders if necessary: If you’re selling items, you probably have a “shop” subcategory, as shown in the image below. This helps users and search engines navigate your site.
Remove unnecessary stop words: Avoid stop words to keep your URLs concise and easy to read.
See an example of a good URL and an example of a not-so-good URL above.
Get authoritative backlinks
Despite some changes to Google’s search algorithm and ranking system, Google still considers backlinks to be a key ranking signal. Google treats backlinks as a vote of confidence.
If your pages have many authoritative backlinks, they are more likely to perform well on the SERPs.
That said, not all backlinks are created equal. Some backlinks can exponentially improve your ranking for a particular search query, while others may be considered “toxic”.
Google doesn’t necessarily penalize you for backlinks from poor-quality sites. However, if you participate in link programs or buy backlinks, you may be penalized by Google.
You should focus all your energy on building high-quality backlinks to improve your chances of ranking higher for your target keywords.
One of the most effective ways to gain authoritative backlinks is to copy your competitors’ link-building strategies.
You can use Semrush’s Backlink Gap Tool to analyze the backlink profiles of up to five competitors to uncover untapped link-building opportunities.
Navigate to Gap Analysis -> Backlink Gap
Enter your domain name and up to four of your top competitors’ domains and click “Find Leads”
The Backlink Gap Tool will return a graph depicting the comparison between the five domains’ backlink profiles. This chart can give you a quick overview of your competitors’ recent link-building activity.
To identify link-building opportunities for your website, you need to select your domain in the drop-down menu above the table.
Semrush Backlink Gap Tool Data
This list will include sites linking to your competitor’s domain, but not yours.
Armed with this knowledge, you can launch a campaign targeting your competitors’ most authoritative backlinks.
You don’t even need to leave the tool – just click the “Start Outreach Button” to send leads to the link-building tool.
Of course, you first need to build reliable content worthy of links.
Create useful content
Unfortunately, no single piece of advice will skyrocket your content to the top of the SERPs.
However, it is better to put quality first. Of course, there is also user intent.
Here are some content-specific best practices:
- Find the right keywords to target
- Identify user intent
- View Competitive Content
- Keep the link structure in mind
- Gather raw data
- Include visual effects
- Optimize titles and meta tags
Note that there is no mention of content length. Outdated SEO advice often states that longer content is better; however, this is not always the case.
The content should first adequately answer the user’s search query. Sometimes this may require longer pages, sometimes shorter pages are sufficient.
As long as your content is well researched and aligned with the user’s intent, you’ll be in a good position.
Choose the right keywords
Long-tail keywords tend to have lower search volume, but in some cases, they can help attract the customers you need. If the search volume is too low, target mid-tail keywords with low to medium keyword difficulty.
You can use Semrush to determine the Keyword Difficulty Score for all the keywords you want to use in your content.
Enter your keywords into the Semrush search bar and click the “Search” button.
The Keyword Overview tool will provide key data, including total search volume, keyword difficulty score, and more.
Semrush Keyword Overview Report Example
You can scroll down to view keyword variations, questions, and related keywords.
Click the “View All” button under each section to see the different variations of seed keywords as well as helpful keyword metrics.
Semrush Keyword Overview Variations, Issues, and Related Keywords report
With this data, you can determine which keywords are worth targeting as you create your content.
You can also use the Keyword Magic tool to gain a deeper understanding of the results by using filters and seeing the search intent behind your selected keywords.
The SEO best practices outlined above are a great starting point for achieving higher search rankings. That said, no matter what niche you operate in, competition for Google’s coveted homepage is fierce.
Once these best practices are in place, make sure you’re fully informed about the latest SEO trends and follow other SEO techniques from time to time to stay ahead of the curve.