Is your SEO strategy primed for success in 2023 and beyond?

Here, you’ll find:

  • Quick wins for optimizing your website
  • The must-have elements of quality content
  • The latest Google features to leverage
  • New SEO tips and trends to keep an eye on

It’s like the classic saying goes: An SEO pro’s work is never done.

…OK, so maybe I made that up. But the sentiment holds true.

With the ever-changing algorithm and constant advances in technology, optimizing your website for organic search engine results is (and should be) an ongoing process.

The good news? Putting search engine optimization (SEO) best practices into place now can set you up for success months and years down the road.

These tactics will ensure you’ve got a top-notch site that drives conversions and add value to your overall brand. They’ll also show prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.

A well-rounded SEO plan can improve your click-through rate (CTR) and includes both on-site (elements on your own website) and off-site (things like backlinks and social media) optimization. 

While you have more control over your on-page SEO, there are things you can do for both categories to get your site as much exposure as possible.

HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

Think of an SEO audit like a wellness check for your website. (Image: Unsplash)

SEO best practices for 2023

Eager to know what the best tips are for search engine optimization? Here’s an overview of the top 12:

  1. Plan regular SEO audits
  2. Create (or update) your content strategy
  3. Embrace video marketing
  4. Build an internal linking strategy
  5. Get your site up to speed
  6. Don’t underestimate good visuals
  7. Monitor your reviews
  8. Create content hubs and clusters
  9. Examine your structured data
  10. Own and manage your backlinks
  11. Build a social presence
  12. Implement image optimization

1. Plan regular SEO audits

Multiple factors go into making sure your site is optimized for the search engine results page (SERP). That’s why it’s a good idea to conduct an SEO audit at least once a year.

This process will give you a holistic view of where your SEO currently stands.

The steps to conducting a thorough SEO audit are:                                        

  1. Perform a technical audit using a site-crawler tool
  2. See what pages are indexed in search engines
  3. Review mobile friendliness
  4. Test page speed
  5. Analyze on-site user behavior to ensure the design is user-friendly
  6. Revisit your personas and audience
  7. Conduct keyword research
  8. Audit your content strategy
  9. Analyze your link profile
  10. Review backlink and internal linking strategies
  11. Check for duplicate content 
  12. Create an action plan for tackling any issues uncovered

There are other elements of your site that can affect SEO. Things like your domain’s security (especially if people log in or are asked to submit their info on places like landing pages), long-tail keywords, URL structure (clear and concise is best), and compressed media files are factors as well.

A content audit can also help identify topic gaps to fill. Which themes related to your business have you not covered? Which related search queries are your competitors outranking you for?

Often, these chosen topics relate to the products or services your business offers. Narrow them down, then use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to determine the popularity and competition for these keywords.

Want an idea of where you stand before conducting a full SEO audit? You can use a website grader tool that’ll instantly tell you how your site’s SEO stacks up.

Pro tip: Conduct regular site audits with SEO tools like Google Analytics and Screaming Frog to identify and fix broken internal links (use 301 redirects if the pages were moved permanently) and discover new linking opportunities. This will help maintain an effective internal linking structure over time and improve your website’s overall SEO performance.

2. Create (or update) your content strategy

The more content you create, the more data you can gather, the more topics you can cover, and the more opportunities you have to optimize your site for search engines.

Your content strategy serves as a high-level look at your content goals and how you plan to achieve them. Plus, it’s one of the most effective SEO best practices you can adopt.

Whether you create a doc, a slideshow, or go old-school with pen and paper, your content strategy should include:

  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Target personas
  • Tactics
  • Creation process
  • Projects

Your strategy should also include how often you plan to publish content. It’s wise to have a content creation checklist to ensure each published piece is SEO-friendly and consistent before it goes live.

Optimized content generally features elements like:

  • Headers and subheadings
  • Title tags
  • Internal and external links
  • Meta descriptions (title tags between 40 and 60 characters get the highest CTR)
  • Sentences and paragraphs that are easy to digest
  • Images with alt text
  • Keywords (without keyword stuffing)

Pro tip: Stay organized with a content marketing calendar that includes details about published pieces and those you want to publish in the future.

We’re here to help

At HawkSEM, we help companies across dozens of industries build and execute SEO strategies. Our SEO services help businesses improve their search rankings and traffic. 

For example, Moneta Group, a wealth management firm, wanted to improve its SEO and generate local organic visibility in four key markets. Plus, they desired to attract more marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) to its marketing content. 

After bringing us aboard, our SEO team established Moneta Group’s local SEO in four key markets, built geo-specific web content, developed citation profiles, and researched keyword gaps based on competitor research. 

The outcome: 

  • Increased organic keyword portfolio by 326%
  • Grew organic keywords in positions 1-3 by 164%
  • Elevated Google Analytics goal completions by more than 23%

This was all possible using our senior industry experts and proprietary software, ConversionIQ, to identify keyword opportunities based on what converts. 

3. Embrace video marketing

There are plenty of reasons why video belongs in your marketing strategy. It’s fast becoming a highly effective content tool. Plus, it serves as a great way to increase page time and boost engagement.

Wyzowl reports that 87% of marketers say video gives them a positive ROI.

Once you’ve mapped out a strategy and created your first video, don’t forget to optimize it. You can maximize your video success with SEO best practices including:

  • Choose an engaging thumbnail image
  • Create a thoughtful title and meta description
  • Optimize the page itself that the video is hosted on
  • Explore paid ad options for promotion
  • Include captions or subtitles within your video

Pro tip: It’s a good idea to create a YouTube channel to host your videos. YouTube is a (free) Google product, which means these videos often perform well in the search engine’s algorithm.

4. Build an internal linking strategy

An internal link is a hyperlink that points to a different page on the same website. Implementing an effective internal linking strategy offers numerous benefits for your website.

For example, it:

  • Helps search engines understand your site’s structure
  • Passes authority to other pages on your site
  • Helps users navigate between relevant pages
  • Improves user experience by showing relevant content on the right pages

Now, there are several types of internal links you can use on your website, including:

  • Navigational Links: Live permanently on your main menu and serve the primary purpose of helping users find what they want. Example: Home, About Us, Contact Us
  • Footer Links: Appear on every page of your site at the bottom of the page. Example: Privacy Policy, Terms of Service, Copyright Notice
  • Sidebar Links: Often used to direct users to related content. Example: Recent Posts, Popular Posts, Categories
  • Contextual Links: Usually placed in the main body content of a page and direct users to other related content. Example: “Read more about this topic here.”

Curious about adding internal links to your SEO strategy? Here are best practices to help you along: 

  • Identify your site’s pillar pages and create topic clusters using internal links
  • Choose the descriptive anchor text that clearly indicates the target page topics
  • Identify your site’s authority pages and support new pages with internal links
  • Use a site audit tool to fix broken links and find new opportunities
  • Select internal links that provide value to users and enhance their experience on your site
HawkSEM: Best Practices to Boost Your SEO

Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform even better — like, ahem, this one. (Image: Unsplash)

5. Get your site up to speed

Speed remains a vital part of following SEO best practices. Not only is it a factor in Google’s Core Web Vitals ranking metrics, but a slow-loading page can lead to a high bounce rate.

Images and video are two features that can affect page speed since these tend to be larger files. More — and larger — files mean more HTTP requests, which means more load time.

Make sure the files you’re uploading aren’t bigger than necessary (they don’t need to be magazine-quality high-res photos to look good on your site). And consider enabling compression, so your files are compressed (aka smaller) and take less time to load.

Enabling browser caching can also help, as this means the page isn’t loading completely from scratch each time it’s visited.

6. Don’t underestimate good visuals

Visuals don’t just catch the reader’s eye. They also help bring your content to life.

Our in-house experts recommend using at least two images per blog post, whether that means photographs, well-designed graphics, or something else.

But don’t just slap a couple of photos into your copy and call it a day. The images you choose should make sense for the topic you’re covering, and the look should feel in line with your brand, even if you’re using stock imagery.

By now, you probably know what’s coming next: optimizing!

Once you’ve found some high-quality photos and compressed them to the proper size to keep your page speed and formatting on point, make sure to include proper alt text and alt tags that correspond to the image.

This is what will show up if someone has images disabled on their device, or potentially if they hover their mouse over the image. Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform better.

7. Monitor your reviews

Brand sentiment is part of what the algorithm takes into consideration. Because of this, it’s wise to keep a close eye on your reviews across your Google Business Profile, Facebook page, and other various review sites as part of your regular SEO best practices.

Negative reviews should be publicly addressed, if possible, as long as the comment seems authentic and not like spam (you should be able to tell the difference).

Do what you can to turn this disgruntled customer’s opinion around. It could be as easy as:

  • Offering a refund
  • Getting them on the phone with a customer service rep to sort out an issue
  • Appealing to their emotions and making them feel heard
  • Apologizing for a miscommunication, misunderstanding, or mixup (which could result in the person deleting their negative review entirely)

But don’t just respond to the negative reviews. SEO best practices suggest acknowledging and thanking someone for a positive review makes your happy client feel seen and valued. And, as we know, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools around.

Pro tip: Consider adding reviews to your homepage to add social proof and credibility to your site. It can also increase trust, so visitors stick around longer, which is great for SEO, since it reduces your bounce rate.

8. Create content hubs and clusters

Content hubs and clusters aren’t new. But they continue to be a powerful way to organize and structure your website’s content. Plus, it builds off the previous tip about designing a cohesive internal linking strategy.

A content hub is a central page or section of your website that acts as a resource for a specific topic or theme. And clusters are a group of related pages that link back to the content hub.

This model creates a more organized and focused approach to content creation that aligns with searcher intent and helps search engines understand the topics you want to rank for.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify a core topic or theme for your content hub. This should be a broad area that your audience is interested in, such as “digital marketing” or “healthy living.” And if it has keyword phrases with high search volume and search intent, even better. 
  2. Create a content hub that serves as the main resource for this topic. This could be a pillar page that covers all the key aspects of the topic in a single page, with subtopics listed out as links. 
  3. Develop clusters of content pages related to the content hub. Each content page should cover a specific aspect of the topic in-depth and link back to the content hub. By linking all related content pages to the content hub in a sensible way, you’re signaling to search engines that the content hub is an authority on the topic.

Benefits of content hubs and clusters

There’s a reason brands like HubSpot and Hootsuite use long-form content pillars and clusters. Here’s an overview of the various advantages that come with building them for your website: 

  • Improved search engine visibility: By focusing on broader topics and creating clusters of related content pages, you’re more likely to rank for a range of long-tail keywords (search terms between 10 and 15 words get 1.76x more clicks) and improve your overall search engine visibility.
  • Better user experience: Visitors can easily find what they’re looking for and navigate between pages on related topics.
  • Higher engagement: Visitors are more likely to stay on your website longer, consume more content, and engage with your brand.
  • Increased social sharing: By creating in-depth, high-quality content, you’re more likely to attract social shares and backlinks, which can further improve your search engine visibility.

Tips to create content hubs and clusters

We know — pillars and clusters are the bee’s knees. But before you get buzzing creating your first piece of content, keep the following tips in mind: 

  • Choose broad, high-level topics that your audience cares about
  • Use keyword research to identify relevant subtopics that you can cover in-depth
  • Create a content hub that serves as the central resource for the topic and includes links to related subtopics
  • Create clusters of related content pages that link back to the content hub
  • Use internal linking to page content within the same cluster
  • Use descriptive anchor text when linking between pages
  • Continuously monitor and update your content to ensure it’s up-to-date and relevant to your audience
  • Promote your content through social media, email marketing, and other channels to attract backlinks and improve your search engine visibility

After identifying your target audience and their needs, begin keyword and competitive research. Find a few key topics you want to rank for and behind creating content that comprehensively covers that topic. 

Start with the easier long-tail keyword and work toward the more competitive terms. Create relevant internal linking structures that support all primary and secondary pages. Once your content cluster is fully created, branch out to another topic and repeat the same process.

Want even more expert tips to up your SEO best practices game? Let’s chat.

9. Examine your structured data

Structured data, also called Schema markup, is one way search engine bots crawling your site can understand your website content. This is an important part of healthy technical SEO: the better bots understand your content, the better your chances are of higher search engine rankings.

Schema is a type of vocabulary with tags you can add to the HTML markup of your web pages and emails.

One of Schema’s biggest benefits is that it can enhance the snippets that appear below your page title on the SERP. It allows you to add enriching content like a publish date or rating, rather than simply the meta description.

Pro tip: There are hundreds of Schema types. Those unfamiliar can use Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper to add structured data to their sites.

10. Own and manage your backlinks

Oh, backlinks — one of those SEO best practices that’s as valuable as it is elusive.

While there’s no real shortcut to getting quality backlinks, by putting in the work, it’s still possible to begin seeing SEO-boosting results. The first step is to measure up your site’s current backlinks, then compare the results with those of your competitors.

Sites that will link to your competitors are likely to link to you as well — if your content is optimized, high-quality, and relevant. (It’s also a good idea to link to relevant, high-authority sites.)

When reaching out about backlink opportunities, it’s key to prioritize personalization, show the value you’re offering, and focus on building a relationship with this business vs. asking for a favor out of the blue.

Some ways you can encourage backlinks to your site include:

  • Publishing unique stats, research, or findings
  • Guest blogging on other sites
  • Leveraging industry influencers
  • Reaching out to sites with directories (like a site’s resources page)

While link building important, it’s worth noting that — as our experts point out — it’s not necessarily a numbers game. Quality will win over quantity, and backlinks are just one of many ranking factors that search engines take into account.

11. Build a social presence

In 2023, social media usage is expected to reach 4.89 billion. So to say nearly half the world is on social media isn’t an exaggeration. 

If you don’t already have a brand presence on any of the popular platforms, then you’re losing audience share to competitors that do. Having one doesn’t just position your brand in front of your target audience, it also helps to build a connection in a way ads never could. 

For example, some companies use their social platforms to make a stand for a cause. That’s what Dove did by celebrating women’s beauty in its #BeautyBias and #DetoxYourFeed campaigns.

Others use it to promote products, services, and content. Netflix used social media to promote its show “Wednesday” by creating a dedicated Twitter account for the show. It amassed over 200,000 followers, which it now cross-promotes upcoming shows to. 

Wondering how you can build a social media presence and following, while also boosting SEO? Matt Smith, associate director of SEO at HawkSEM, offers the following advice: 

“Identify the social platforms where your users are, create a complete profile with your contact information (consistent on all platforms), and create engaging social posts that link back to pages on your website. This pushes social signals to search engines that help complement your backlinks.”

12. Implement image optimization 

Search engines don’t just index text content. If you’re not optimizing your image content properly, you’re closing the door on an opportunity to drive additional organic traffic to your site. 

Remember, some folks like to conduct image searches for topics — a Jumpstart report shows over one-fifth of web searches in America are on Google Images.

This sheds light on the value images hold for your SEO strategy. People are visual beings and desire photos, infographics, and other image formats to consume information.

So as you add this content to your website, optimize them, so they’re easy for people and search engines to find.

Here are 10 tips to help you achieve this:

  1. Choose the right format: PNGs offer better quality but larger file sizes. JPEGs have smaller files with potential lower quality. Opt for PNGs, and convert them into WebP files for maximum compatibility.
  2. Optimize alt text: Make your images readable by search engines by including descriptive alt text. Instead of “IMG_1234.jpg,” use “golden_retriever_playing_fetch.jpg.”
  3. Compress images before uploading: Speed up page load times by compressing images without sacrificing quality. Use a tool like TinyPNG to shrink file size before adding it to your site.
  4. Choose the right file name: Opt for descriptive file names that clearly represent your image content and include target keywords. Instead of “DSC_0987.jpg,” use “vintage_wedding_dress_shop.jpg.”
  5. Avoid using copyrighted images: Steer clear of copyrighted images and always credit the source if needed. Check out licensed stock photos from sites like Unsplash or Pexels.
  6. Use a responsive design: Make your images adapt smoothly to different devices by using responsive design techniques. Use CSS techniques like “max-width” property to ensure images resize properly on mobile devices.
  7. Leverage image sitemaps: Improve image discoverability by listing all images on your website in an XML sitemap. Submit an image sitemap to Google Search Console for better indexing.
  8. Use lazy loading: Implement lazy loading for off-screen images, so they only load when users scroll down, improving page load times. Add a JavaScript library like lazysizes to enable lazy loading for your images.
  9. Add captions and titles: Enhance user experience and provide context by using captions and titles for your images. Use a brief description as a title and a longer explanation as a caption for an infographic.
  10. Maximize social media impact: Use Open Graph and Twitter Cards to ensure your images display correctly when shared on social media. Add proper meta tags in your website’s HTML to automatically display images when your content is shared on Facebook or Twitter.

SEO best practices checklist

To recap what we’ve covered, here’s a quick checklist you can reference:

Content strategy 

See which pages are indexed by search engines

Revisit audience personas

Audit content strategy’s performance (if you already have one)

Conduct keyword research

Analyze backlink profile

Build an internal linking strategy

Build an action plan to tackle issues you found

Create or update your content strategy’s goals, KPIs, target personas, tactics, creation process, and projects

On-site optimization

Perform ongoing technical audits using a site-crawler tool

Test site speed and mobile-friendliness

Improve site speed by removing/resizing images and enabling browser caching

Examine site structure and navigation

Analyze structured data

Optimize images and video content with alt titles, tags, and meta descriptions

Off-site optimization

Monitor and respond to customer reviews

Build backlinks to your blog posts and other content

Build a social presence on platforms where your audience is

Content creation

Build content hubs and clusters

Add quality, relevant visuals to blog content

Use video content with engaging thumbnails

Optimize your content with skimmable subheadings, title tags, relevant internal/external links, meta descriptions, easy-to-read sentences, keywords (without overstuffing)

Create videos from content to post on blog and social media platforms

The takeaway

The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. By implementing the above SEO best practices, not only will your site become easier to find, but you’ll be able to better connect with users and customers who can benefit from what you have to offer.

Whether you’re fine-tuning your current strategy or starting from scratch, now is a great time to assess your goals, evaluate your current practices, and implement a stellar SEO plan.

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This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2019.

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Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's senior content marketing manager. Through more than a decade of professional writing and editing experience, she creates SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of reading, yoga, new vegetarian recipes, and paper planners.