Google replaced its aging 2010 pdf search engine optimization (SEO) guidelines with robust online webmaster guidelines. I’ve read through these and reviewed my earlier blogs. Our earlier advice and 25 Worst SEO Mistakes are still valid in 2021 along with a few new Google trends.
However, the search giant made some significant clarifications that can help companies, marketers, web developers, and content writers.
Last year, we published 10 tips based on these guidelines. Today, we expanded that number to 15 tips–a 50% increase. Read on for 15 tips to enhance your SEO in 2021.
SEO Tip #1: Organize Your Headings for SEO
Do not use these as design elements. (We see this all the time.) Instead, your headings should form an outline, a hierarchical structure for humans to read and bots to crawl. Remember your high school English teacher telling you how to outline your research paper? Apply your teacher’s advice here.
Also, headings should give readers clues about the essential content of the page. Think keywords here.
Other advice? Keep your headings short. Consider if bold or italic text would be better to emphasize key ideas. Don’t overuse headings. Although you can have more than one H1 per page.
SEO Tip #2: Optimize Your Images for Search
First, images must have alt tag text. We recently audited a relatively small site in which alt text was missing from more than 1,300 images. Another audit of a much larger site revealed missing alt tags on nearly 900 images. Obviously, this is a common problem.
At one point, it was recommended that the alt attributes be optimized with key words. This is acceptable if the text is specific AND accurately describes the image.
A good rule of thumb is to think about voice optimization. Would the listener who is using an adaptive device have a brief, precise description of the image?
Similarly, consider the image alt attribute as you would an anchor text link. Again, is it descriptive? Accurate? Concise?
Google now also recommends that the file name be optimized.
SEO Tip #3: Edit Your Title Tags for SEO
Not a lot has changed in recommendations for title tags. Definitely have them. Don’t duplicate them. Put your brand name at the beginning or the end, separated by a pipe (vertical line: |), hyphen or colon.
Keep them short, specific, and descriptive of the page content.
One clarification: don’t stuff keywords into them. Did you hear the one about the SEO writer who walked into a bar, pub, tavern, saloon, watering hole…? Choose the best key phrase that describes the content of the page along with your brand name.
Tip #4: Write Meta Tag Descriptions for Humans
Write meta descriptions for humans to read in search results. Make them unique to each page, descriptive and informative. Most important, make your descriptions compelling and helpful so that when visitors read them in the search results, they find them relevant and want to click to your page.
The meta description for your home page should describe your website. For all other pages in your site, describe the specific page.
With its emphasis on mobile, Google shortened meta description lengths once again. (The year before it lengthened them.) The current advice: get to the point within the first 100 to 130 characters, and do not exceed 150 to 160 characters.
Additionally, Google points out that sentence format is unnecessary and you may wish to include structured data here.
Use structured data for blogs, products, books, and other relevant items in your meta descriptions.
SEO Tip #5: Configure Your Site and URLs Logically
Make your URLs descriptive and brief. Be sure they are logical and easy to follow for humans AND bots. They must be unique for search engines to crawl them.
Avoid deep linking. When linking to a single page, focus on just one URL. In other words, try not to create multiple URLs for the same page. If they exist, set up a 301 redirect from the less dominant page.
Best practice is to separate the words (often your keyword phrase) in your URL with hyphens.
SEO Tip #6: Go Mobile, Fast, Preferably With a Responsive Design
Most people now search from a mobile device. Therefore, it’s highly important that your website be mobile friendly for your visitors.
What’s more, Google is placing increasing SEO emphasis not only on your mobile design but also on the speed that your pages load in mobile. It recommends responsive web design as the mobile strategy of choice. A responsive design will adapt to different screen sizes.
Additionally, serve up your content, such as product pages and blog posts, as Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP. AMP, a type of html, loads pages more quickly.
SEO Tip # 7: Apply Structured Data Markup
Search engines can better understand your product pages, book offerings, recipes, and other special content if you use a type of code called structured data markup.
This Google trend for SEO helps search engines to choose the right types of short explanations (rich snippets) in the search return results. Google offers specific tools in the Google Search Console to help you with this effort.
Tip #8: Lead Visitors to Your Website
As I discuss in my blog, Websites: 10 Tips for Getting Traffic, it’s important to drive people to your website. Build your sites reputation through your email signature, promotional materials, word of mouth, blogs, social media, and more. If you have great quality content directed to your target audience, your target market will want to read it.
You must do more than simply create an optimized site. Like a tree falling in a forest that nobody ever sees or hears, your interesting content will be lost in cyberspace if you don’t let people know it’s there.
Google recommends using social media for “big, interesting items”—not every small detail. Post in social communities where people care about your content.
Tip #9: Score Easy Wins for Linking
Don’t engage in link building ploys.
Use Google Search Console to ensure that links go to live pages. You’ll need to check this regularly. For example, I used to link to Google’s PDF of SEO guidelines. This PDF no longer exists at that link, so I had to go in and manually update that page to the new link to be accurate.
Minimize or eliminate the use of images as links.
Do link a few pages internally. Don’t overdo it, creating an intricate web of confusing links.
Tip #10: Look at Your Local SEO.
Do you have many citations in directories, aggregators, publishers and social media? Although citations aren’t the be-all and end-all they once were, they are still important for your local SEO. Do these have the correct NAP? Read why your SEO needs a NAP.
Tip #11: Understand That Voice Search and AI Have Arrived.
Artificial intelligence is already here! Currently, 58% of consumers report using voice search to find local businesses. How are you doing with searches by Alexa, Siri and others? Does your site use simple language that bots can understand? Don’t write at the high school or college level. Keep your language simple.
SEO Tip #12: Make Sure You Use Google My Business
Extremely important in 2019, is the expected emphasis on a Google My Business page. It will help you and your company get found on Google. If you don’t have one for your business, haven’t optimized it, or aren’t posting at least weekly, you’re missing out.
SEO Tip #13: Post Video.
Experts estimate that video accounts for 80% of time spent online.
SEO Tip #14: Ensure Your Site Has an SSL.
In 2014, Google began using SSL as a ranking signal. In July 2018, the search giant began marking sites without an SSL as unsecure.
Does your site have an SSL certificate? (You’ll know, because your URL will begin with https:// instead of just http.) It amazes us how many sites still aren’t secure!
SEO Tip #15: Hire an SEO Consultant
If any of the first 14 SEO tips listed above don’t make sense to you, you might want to consider hiring someone who can help you.
If You Don’t Have a Website…
The most cost-effective way to optimize a site is to do it before and during the development (or even redesign) phase. Afterward, it will just take some monitoring by an expert to maintain and elevate your status.
If You Do Have a Website…
The first step if you do have a website is to do an SEO Audit to see how well optimized your site is. Do you have broken links? Duplicate title tags? Other technical issues? An SEO expert can look at the underlying framework of your website to see what more can be done. Are all best practices being implemented?
Second to consider, are the strategic SEO recommendations that come from this audit. What technical changes should you prioritize to have the most impact?
Third, if you think your website isn’t valuable in 2021, you may want to think again. Are you telling yourself these SEO lies?
How is your content? Have you done your keyword research? Do you know how your prospects and customers are searching for you? Is your content stale? Hard to read? Have you promoted it?
Is your site responsive design? Does it have an SSL Certificate?
A good consultant will have marketing ideas for you that go well beyond a technical audit.