Think about the last time you visited a website. Maybe you started with a question, searched in Google, browsed the results, and landed on a page. But how did Google know which results to show you first? That's website SEO at work
“Website SEO is the process of optimising front-end and back-end components of your website so that it ranks in search engines and brings in new traffic.”
Digital marketing doesn’t end with just creating and publishing your website, to drive customers to your site you must optimise it to rank on search engines and attract traffic. According to Corey Braccialini, Content Marketing Manager from Hubspot, there are four main steps to mastering website SEO, let’s take an in-depth look at each of these.
There are four steps to mastering website SEO:
- Allow search engines to index your pages
- Avoid plugins that cannot be indexed
- Write effective meta descriptions
- Write descriptive link text
1. Allow search engines to index your pages
Search engines are constantly crawling websites, looking for new and updated content. But when you publish a new website or page, it could take search engines a while to discover it on their own. That’s where creating and submitting a sitemap comes into play.
“A sitemap is a file of code that lives on your web server and lists all of the URLs your website is carrying.”
Your sitemap helps crawlers understand the organisation of your site so they can evaluate and rank it more easily.To create a sitemap for your website, try Screaming Frog or XML-Sitemaps.com. These free tools will crawl your website and create an XML sitemap to reflect the content on and structure of your site. If you’re using the HubSpot CMS Hub, you don’t have to worry about creating your XML sitemap. HubSpot will automatically generate your sitemap file when you make changes to your site.
Once you have your sitemap ready to go, you’ll want to submit it to the search engines. For step-by-step instructions, check out this guide to XML sitemaps.
Additionally, there are meta tags that you can use to tell search engines whether or not they can index your pages. By default, a web page is set to “index.” You should add <meta name="robots" content="noindex" /> to a webpage in the <head> section of the HTML if you don’t want search engines to crawl a page and include it in the SERPs. For example, you probably don’t want to index your thank you pages.
2. Avoid plugins that cannot be indexed
Depending on how your website is built, you might be using plugins to display content on your web pages.
“A plugin is software that you add to a web browser for additional functionality.”
Some popular examples include Flash, Quicktime Player, and Adobe Reader. The problem is that search engines can’t index content that relies on browser plugins. That means plugin-based content doesn’t rank in search results. Convert these plugins to HTML to give crawlers access to all content on a page.
3. Write effective meta descriptions
When you conduct a search, how do you decide which result to click on? The meta description likely helps you decide if a resource is helpful to you.
“A meta description is an HTML attribute that provides a brief summary of a web page.”
This snippet of text appears below the blue link in a search result. Although it is not an official ranking factor, it can be edited to help people understand what a web page is about and encourage them to click. Take a look at this example from a retail electronics store, Best Buy. In this example, the meta description reads “Shop for washers and dryers at BestBuy.com and find deals on the top brands, from stacked units and front loaders to traditional washers & dryers.” This meta description describes exactly what you’ll see when clicking their link — washers and dryers available for purchase.
So what are the best practices for writing a meta description?
- Write brief, compelling content: A simple sentence that conveys the page’s value is enough.
- Include one or two keywords: Don't stuff keywords everywhere. Make sure they fit naturally and explain what people can expect to see if they click on your link.
- Aim for 155–160 characters: Your meta description will be cut off if it becomes too long.
- Avoid non-alphanumeric characters: Search engines can't read symbols easily. Avoid using special characters like plus signs (+) and em-dashes (—).
This snippet optimizer tool lets you test what your meta descriptions will look before setting them live.
4. Write descriptive link text
Last but not least: descriptive link text is important for your sites SEO performance. They help crawlers and people understand your content, so be as descriptive as you can. Avoid generic phrases like “click here” or “learn more.”
“A link description is the clickable word(s) in a hyperlink.”
So what are the link description best practices?
- Stay on topic. Don't use text that has no relation to the page's content.
- Don't use the page's URL as the link description, unless you have a good reason to do so, such as referencing a site's new address.
- Keep descriptions concise. Aim for a few words or a short phrase.
- Format links so that they're easy to spot.
In this example, the link description “click here” is not specific to a blog post on website optimisation. Using the keyword “website optimisation” as the link description makes it clear that the link is about that topic. Replacing the “click here” link description with the keyword “website optimisation” is a better experience. It’s a small change, but this effort really impacts your page’s ranking.
To edit your link descriptions, you can use “command + k” while typing, click the hyperlink icon in your content editor, or edit your hyperlinks directly in the page’s HTML.
By following these website SEO best practices, you’ll create web pages that are designed to perform their best for not just search engines, but for people too.
To see how your website is currently performing, grade your website with HubSpot’s Website Grader tool
About the Author
Corey Braccialini is the Content Marketing Manager and HubSpot Academy Professor at Hubspot. Corey received an M.S. in Digital Marketing Strategy from Trinity College Dublin and is inspired by using new technologies to solve timeless problems.