Having an SEO-friendly website benefits you, search bots, and your users.
Here, you’ll find:
- Why your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) matters
- Elements that help search bots crawl your site
- Why proper site structure is key
- Expert tips to get an edge over competitors
Over the years I’ve spent scrolling around the internet, I’ve come across some websites that wowed me, and some that made me click that “x” in seconds. The same is likely true for you as well. And, while you may not have exactly known why, the reason probably had to do with SEO.
That’s because, along with making sites more appealing to search engine bots that determine how to rank sites on results pages, quality website SEO often improves the visitor’s overall experience. Whether you’re building a new site or have one that’s been around for decades and needs a refresh, this checklist can help ensure you’re working with a site that’s poised for peak SEO performance.
From a sitemap and title tags to easy navigation and more, here are the main elements every SEO-friendly website should have.
Your SEO-friendly website checklist
✓ A unique title tag and description for each page
Each page on your site should have its own unique title and title tag. (The title tag is what pops up on your tab when you open a page, and it populates with your URL on the search engine results page, or SERP.)
This way, you won’t have pages with the same title that are competing with one another on the SERP. A few best practices for coming up with page titles include:
- Keep titles under 60 characters if you don’t want them cut off in search results (going longer isn’t necessarily bad for SEO, though)
- Important keywords should be toward the front of the title
- Don’t stuff or repeat keywords multiple times
- The title should be a concise, accurate description of the page’s content
Speaking of page descriptions, these are just as important when it comes to your site’s SEO. Descriptions are basically the one-sentence explanation that adds context to your page title. Descriptions should generally be around 150 characters.
✓ A sitemap
Having a sitemap is key if you want your website’s pages to rank. That’s because a good sitemap helps search engines find, crawl, and index your content properly.
Sitemaps help you target your SEO efforts and keep site navigation organized, intuitive, and simple.
There are two types of sitemaps:
- HTML sitemaps: These sitemaps are geared towards helping visitors arrive at and navigate through your site. You need an HTML sitemap to make your site navigable and user-friendly.
- XML sitemaps: Extensible markup language (XML) sitemaps are text files. They include all of your website’s URLs and metadata. XML sitemaps help search engine bots crawl your site more efficiently. It’s easier for search engines to pick up on changes and updates when you use XML sitemaps.
It’s recommended that you use both types of sitemaps to build a strong SEO-friendly website for readers and search engines. As a bonus: sitemaps can also help boost conversions.
✓ A mobile-friendly experience
It’s tough to deny: these days, most people are using a smartphone to look up information and research products or services. So, all of those best practices we mentioned above won’t do you much good if visitors find your mobile site clunky or difficult to use.
Not only is having a fully mobile-friendly site great for users, but search engine giants like Google look favorably on sites that work well on smartphones and tablets.
You can ensure your SEO-friendly website is also mobile-friendly by:
- Conducting a mobile-friendly site audit
- Using a responsive site design that creates optimum user experiences no matter the screen size or type
- Checking Google tools like Google Search Console’s mobility usability report and Mobile Test tool to see how your current site stacks up
- Placing links far apart so they’re easier to tap
✓ High-quality content
You already know how the sales funnel works. Take a look at the top of your funnel (where you’re trying to attract leads) and see which keywords and topics are floating around up there.
These are the topics that you should start building up blog content about. They may not be the exact keywords or topics that lead to your services (or product), but they will start pulling in an audience.
If you’ve already got a solid content plan in place, congrats! The next step is creating a plan to regularly audit and update your content so you know that what’s published on your site is as thorough, accurate, and up-to-date as possible.
Pro tip: Avoid trying to game the search engines through using black-hat SEO tactics. These are methods that claim to help you boost SEO faster through unethical, shady means. In reality, they generally work for a short period of time, if at all, and can result in being penalized by search engines and dropping in rankings.
✓ Proper site architecture
Site architecture is basically the way that your website is structured and how the pages are organized. Just as with a sitemap, the easier your site is to navigate, the higher the chances your visitors will stick (and click) around.
Site architecture also helps search bots understand how to prioritize your pages — generally, the pages at your map’s root are deemed more important. For example: hawksem.com/blog would be given a higher priority than something like vs. hawksem.com/blog/this-is-a-blog-post.
Proper site architecture involves easy-to-understand URL structures (which we’ll get to below), internal links and anchor text, and minimalist navigation menus.
✓ Descriptive URLs
The structure of your URLs may seem like a small thing — you may not even give them much thought if your site host auto-generates them for you. But the fact is that URLs can have a significant impact on your site’s SEO.
Along with a title tag and description, your URL structure is another thing search bots look at to determine the content of a page. A well-named URL will include a short title showcasing what the page is about. It should include the relevant keyword, if possible, and hyphens instead of underscores, since bots don’t recognize the latter.
✓ Internal links
Internal links are just another way to help search bots determine the most important pages on your site. By linking to your own internal pages (such as a blog post that links to another relevant blog post, just to be super meta), you can also potentially keep visitors on your site for a longer period of time.
When adding internal links, it’s a best practice to link to anchor text that explains what the page you’re linking to is about, rather than using generic copy like “read more.”
✓ Good website speed
Even the best-organized website with the most educational, insightful content can’t overcome poor site speed. Not only does this create a negative user experience, but it greatly ups the chances that someone will bounce from your site altogether.
The good news: there are a handful of relatively easy steps you can take to improve site speed. These include:
- Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to assess current page loading times
- Compress your images and other multimedia content to the lowest size possible without sacrificing clarity
- Improve server response times by choosing high-quality servers
Site speed matters to search engines, too: it’s one of the many ranking factors these platforms take into account.
✓ Optimized images
Along with compressing your images to boost site speed as mentioned above, there are other things you can do to ensure your site’s images are SEO-friendly.
One of the most important things you can do when adding images to your site is to include alt tags. This content explains to bots what your image is, since they can’t “see” the image itself. It’s also a great step towards making your site more accessible to those who are visually impaired.
The process of creating an SEO-friendly website can involve some heavy lifting in terms of time and effort. But once you’ve gone through all the necessary steps, the maintenance is fairly simple.
After all, the key behind SEO website features is simplification. The easier it is to navigate your site, the more valuable content you have, and the fewer unanswered questions site visitors leave with, the more likely your website is to convert.