Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can seem very complex to those unfamiliar with it, and to be fair, it is a topic that can end up being very technical when talking about advanced implementations. However, there are some basic practices that can help you understand how to improve the performance of your website without getting a degree in computer science.
One important factor to consider when thinking about your website optimization is how quickly the site is able to load content for users. This is known as page speed, which is the measurement of how long it takes a page to fully display content. Simply put, the longer it takes for a page to load, the more potential issues there can be for users. A user on a slower connection may not be able to get a page to load, or they may think the page is broken because only part of it loads quickly and the rest is delayed. These types of problems can cause users to abandon the site, which will drive up your bounce rate (the number of users who click on a page and then leave without visiting any other pages) and reduce your performance metrics.
The basic premise to understand about page speed is that if you have pages featuring a lot of large files, it takes longer for the page to load. Start by testing the performance of pages that you want to rank well or where you’re planning to send paid media traffic.
There are a variety of options for page speed tests online. Pingdom has a fairly comprehensive free test. Or, you can use Google’s Page Speed Insights. You’ll find numerous other options as well, if you search “website page speed test” or similar terms.
To improve site performance, if page speed is an issue, the first tactic you should consider is file compression. If you have a relatively small site, you can compress files manually in some instances. A more efficient process, especially for larger sites, would be use file compression software to maintain consistent compression throughout your site.
Two reliable options include gZip and Google PageSpeed. If you’re unsure how to proceed you may want to talk to your website developer and identify which compression software solution would be best for your needs.
Being able to provide a good user experience to potential customers on mobile devices is crucial to digital success. More than 60% of searches are conducted on mobile devices, and according to data from Google, more than 70% of smartphone users turn to search first to find answers to questions. It’s relatively straightforward (and free!) to figure out how well your site works on mobile. A free online tool to check how your site looks on different devices is Am I Responsive, and you can check out your site speed and usability on mobile with Google’s Mobile Friendly Test.
Ranking well in organic search results is decisive to drive sustainable visibility for business without having to spend a lot on ads every month. If you’ve got a website that needs some help ranking better in search, there are a variety of free tools available from Moz (a trusted resource for search optimization and digital marketing information) that can help you achieve your goals. You can find tools to help with keyword research, domain analysis, backlink quality, and more as part of Moz suite of free SEO tools.
Wouldn’t life be easier if you could figure out what your competitors were up to and then respond accordingly with your own strategy? You can use free tools like SimilarWeb or Alexa (no relation to Amazon’s smart speaker) to understand better the reach, engagement and audience size of your competitors’ websites. The free version will give you some helpful basic insights to start with, and then you can choose whether or not there’s sufficient value to subscribe to deeper levels of data.
While image optimization tools may vary from website to website based on content management systems (CMS), there are a few important things to consider when thinking about how your website images can support organic search visibility, website performance and digital accessibility.
When optimizing images, image size focuses on the number of bytes, not the image dimensions. You can have a very small thumbnail image display that is still high-resolution. Ideally, your images should be as small as possible without negatively affecting image quality (blurry images won’t do anyone any good). Focus on the resolution of the image (reduce 300dpi images to 72dpi instead, for example), make sure you’re using .jpg files instead of tiff or eps, and try compressing files in some instances to further reduce size.
Smaller image files helps with load time on webpages since images are usually one of the largest resources impacting load time. In fact, according to HTTP Archive, on average, images comprise 21% of a total webpage’s weight.
Remember more people generally look at websites on their phones now, not desktops.
One common misstep is to use image file names that that came from the default camera settings, such as “1122020_DCM_ja4n9gh432rg0a.jpg”. Take advantage of the opportunity to create image file names that actually describe the content before uploading them into the CMS. For instance, “family-boating-lake-vermillion.jpg” is a better image name than “1122020_DCM_ja4n9gh432rg0a.jpg” because it supports better understanding of the image’s subject matter. This change alone won’t push all your images to the top of search engine results, but it’s part of a holistic effort needed to produce meaningful results.
Alt text exists at the HTML level, not the image level, so it’s something that is added after an image has been uploaded. The alt text is used to describe the content of the image (for both readers and algorithms alike). It appears if an image fails to load, for example, and is also used to describe the image to people with visual impairments who use a screen reader to access page content. Note: If there is no alt text, the screen reader will read the image’s filename instead.
Alt text adds SEO value to your website content, so it should be relevant to the context of the image on the page. For example, a good alt text for the image “family-boating-lake-vermillion.jpg” would be something like “a young family enjoys a summer boat ride on lake vermillion”. If you’re looking for a good general rule about crafting alt text: Focus on describing the content of the image and keep it simple. It’s a good idea to keep alt text relatively short as most screen readers cut off descriptions around 125 characters.
As mentioned previously, what attributes of images you can optimize on your site may vary based on your CMS, but other important fields to include when possible are Image Titles and Captions. These should be utilized when available and can follow similar best practices as filenames and alt text. The title can be a bit broader and probably more similar to the filename (“Family Boating on Lake Vermillion” using our example). Captions can be a bit more descriptive, and are probably more similar to the alt text in structure and length.
When considering image optimization, one additional tactic would be incorporating search data into your strategy in order to identify specific keywords that lead users to a particular page. Then, you could optimize images on that page to be aligned with those search terms. However, without getting too granular, it’s often just as effective to be consistent and descriptive while focusing on the content of the image itself.
More than 20% of all U.S. web searches occur in Google Images, so it’s crucial to optimize images for your website. This means that there’s a huge opportunity for new customers to find you via great images that rank in image search results. Read more about improving digital accessibility of images for visually impaired users, or read about how site performance can impact search optimization of your website.
Digital Accessibility Best Practices
Although less common of an issue than image optimization and file compression, your site may suffer from bloated page-level redirects, especially if it’s an older site that has gone through several changes to the information architecture, or if you have a CMS that automatically updates the URL structure of a page based on changes made to article titles, for example. Having too many redirects can slow down page performance and also reduce the efficacy of Google’s search crawler when indexing your site. While having some redirects are important, especially if you have relocated high-value content to a new URL, you want to avoid having a lot of redirects layered on top of one another whenever possible.
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