When I first started out my SEO journey I didn't have a clue.
Completely overwhelmed on where to start the engineer in me gravitated to the on-page technical side of SEO.
If you're just starting out in your SEO journey, it's safe to say prioritizing can be difficult and if you are anything like me, the technical side is appealing. With that in mind, it's worth stating that you can spend way too much time on the technical side.
I remember when I first started out I spent days setting up a slick PHP feed that would auto-populate my homepage.
This was before I even knew about CMS's like WordPress and was coding manually. The hard work paid off, but to tell you the truth the on page technical side is only about 20% of the SEO battle now.
You will have the upper hand with site speed and an SSL certificate on your site, but a lot comes down to your on page content and how the user interacts with your website. I've put together what I believe to be the most important ranking factors in this chapter.
Large SEO related companies like MOZ, SEMrush and incredibly popular bloggers in the SEO space put out an annual "ranking factor" report. These reports form the basis of this article where we take a close look at the most important on-page SEO elements.
Just to be clear when I use the term "on page" I mean how your website pages are structured.
A word of warning - don't get stuck in detail here - spend too much time on the technical side and your content will suffer.
Strike a balance.
The Landscape has changed. Back when I first started out in MSP SEO there was a focus on populating your content with target keywords, including these keywords in places like your meta description, headings and there's even a meta keyword tag which almost every SEO worth their salt used on a daily basis.
These on-page elements would make huge improvements in your search position for a given keyword. But just like everything - people gamed the system and took advantage of these easy wins.
Google caught on, as did other search engines like Bing, and now you have to be careful not to over optimize your pages as this will have the opposite effect. When it comes to crafting your on-page SEO it's now all about being natural, helpful and having the user experience at the top of your mind.
Site Speed (host, page render, image compression)
Over the years site speed has been something that not many cared about in the SEO industry but it's now a crucial part of your website strategy. This really comes down to the user experience. There's nothing worse than browsing a website that has a really slow page load, or worse the page just does not seem to load at all. This leaves you second guessing if it's the device you are browsing on, your internet or something else.
Sites like Facebook and Amazon are well aware of just how important it is to have a fast responsive website that loads the first time, every time, and is never down. Heck Amazon's AWS came about due to their demand for 100% uptime.
When was the last time you went to Facebook and had a bad experience with pages not loading? I can count on one hand in the last 10 years of daily Facebook browsing that I've had page load issues.
You should be aiming for 100% uptime and fast page and server speed for your business's website. Google will mark your website down the ranking if it has a slow response time. The search giant started paying close attention to site speed back in 2014 when it was obvious just how much mobile traffic has exploded on the web.
There are a few tools to measure your website speed. Google will even tell you how your website scores out of 100%. You can find links to these tools in our resources section: https://www.itrockstars.co.uk/resources
The tools themselves will even let you know why your pages might not be loading as fast as they could. The two main factors that I see in the MSP space:
- Bad wordpress themes that require optimization- there are many page speed experts that will tweak the code behind your CMS & theme to make it load much faster.
- Website host This is something you probably didn’t think of when you first launched your website. If you got a website company to do the work now, they'd be aware of how important the host is. But a few years ago it was not a big deal.
I personally use Cloudways. This is because I work in WordPress and their hosting is highly flexible.
There are many hosts to choose from and it's worth paying a premium for fast hosting.
Who would have thought having an SSL certificate installed on your site would be a ranking factor? I always assumed SSL certificates were only something you required on a website if you were processing sensitive customer information or in financial services. Google has made it a much more important ranking factor in recent years. Their push for a more secure web has almost every web agency in the know launching sites that are SSL enabled.
From an MSP perspective, it's really practice what you preach. With such a heavy focus on cybersecurity, your company should be leading the way in having an SSL certificate on your website. It's a no-brainer.
The title tag on your website pages is the first thing someone will see when they are searching.
It's your first and last opportunity to draw in the user and make them click on your web result in the search. You have approximately a 50-60 character limit to play within the title tag.
Title tag fusion
This is what I call my method when creating a title tag. It's a combination of my target keyword, what the page is about wrapped into an appealing click bate wording. Here's an example:
My target keyword is "Office 365 productivity"
My page is a guide on some of the most efficient features of Office 365.
My title tag looks like this: "5 Office 365 productivity hacks will change the way you work"
It's very similar to writing a headline for a post but including your target keyword and describing what the page is about. No mean feat. Especially as you are limited to 60 characters maximum (including spaces). It will take some time to get this right, but once you do it becomes a lot of fun.
It's worth noting, that you don't always have to use your target keyword in the title tag. Whilst this was key back in the early SEO days Google understands the intent of your title. So if you are scratching your head when fusing your title keep this in mind.
Whilst the meta description (the bit under the title tag in search results) does not impact ranking factors directly, it is associated with page click-through rate.
Someone looking down a list of search results will quickly scan the meta description. This is your opportunity again to draw in the user with a precise and descriptive sentence or two about what's on the page. Here's an example for out Office 365 Productivity page:
"Learn how to be more efficient using Office 365 using these top professional tips. Including; Outlook, Excel, Word, Teams & Power Automate"
In this example, I'm detailing what the article covers this not only informs the searcher but also the search engine as I'm using words which are closely related to Office 365 (Excel, Words, etc.).
When working in the description tag is you can use language that is closely related to your main topic this can help the search engines determine what your content is likely to be about.
Just like the title and meta description, the URL slug (path to your website page) is present in the search results.
Google will pull out the keywords from the URL slug and highlight these also in the search. Another opportunity to increase the click-through rate from the search results to your website.