I remember the good old days. When I first started out as a developer over 10 years ago to get to the rank highly in search engine results, all one had to worry about was meta keywords and titles. Those were the days!
While these are all still important now, developers have a lot more to consider when wanting to get noticed by popular search engines.
In 2015 the most popular search engine, Google introduced a change to their algorithm that placed emphasis on well-structured HTML. This meant that simply just having a website was not enough. The site had to have modern, semantic mark-up. This was a logical update as newer HTML5 tags give Google a much clearer understanding of the content of your page enabling them to deliver more relevant results to their users.
After that, in 2016, another huge algorithm update placed emphasis on mobile friendly sites. Again, this update made a lot of sense as now over 60% of traffic is done on a smart phone device.
With all of this in mind, here is some top tips to consider to give your website the best possible chance at getting noticed by search engines.
Valid, mobile-friendly HTML
This is probably the most important tip for SEO in 2017. Google’s latest public shakeup of the SEO market was to highly prioritise websites that are mobile-friendly.
CSS has a feature called media queries that can change the way a website looks on different sized screens. If you’re not keen on handwriting mobile styles for your website, there are several front-end frameworks that take care of this for you. Check out Foundation or Bootstrap, both frameworks have great documentation to get you started with responsive layouts that look great on all sized devices.
When you think you’re done, Google has a really handy tool that will give you a score out of 100 on mobile friendliness, desktop speed and mobile speed. This test will flag things like content not fitting on the screen, causing your users to have to scroll horizontally.
Use an SSL Certificate
In 2016, Google publicly stated that it will be favouring websites using https and ranking them higher than non-secure sites.
To get your site to using https you will need an SSL certificate, used to verify your identity and add reassurance to your visitors. In the past, it used to be a very difficult task to configure a certificate, requiring a good understanding of the inner workings of web server.
However today, companies like CloudFlare offer an SSL certificate free of charge with their free tier. CloudFlare are not a hosting company as such, they take a snapshot of your site and serve it to your customers securely on your behalf. Acting as a middleman between your server and your customers.
To get it set up with CloudFlare, sign up to a free account and point your domain over to their servers. Setup is automatic and really straight forward. If a front-end developer like me can do it, anyone can!
Create compelling, regularly updated content
It’s important to ensure that search engines are crawling fresh, relevant content on your site regularly.
There are unconfirmed reports that Google’s March 2017 update, jokingly referred to as the “Fred” update, penalised non-relevant, spam content that was intended for revenue generation rather than actual engagement from visitors. While revenue generation from a website is permitted, it’s important that search engines can see your content is rich and engaging and not just for making a quick buck.
In Google Search Console, there is a feature called Structured Data Highlighter. This can let you tag up certain repeating elements in your pages. This is very useful for people writing articles, or recipes so that Google can identify the elements that make up your page. Items that can be tagged are things like headings, summaries, categories, article images, ingredient lists, preparation times and cooking methods.
Ensuring your content is fresh and tagged up correctly can help set your site apart from the rest.
Submit a sitemap
Submitting an XML sitemap is a great way to let search engines know the total number of pages in your site. These documents are a map of the hierarchy of every page and can be handwritten or generated by a free third-party service.
First, you will need to sign up to the search engine’s Webmaster Tools (sometimes called Search Console) and add your site to the system. After telling the system where your sitemap is located on your server, you can then track the progress of crawling and indexing of the site.
After a period, not usually longer than four weeks, the search engine may then decide to show subpages in search results to help your users.
So there you have it! SEO may not be as straightforward as in the old days, but with these tips, you can give you site the best possible chance of ranking highly in 2017.