Building a website these days is not just about choosing a cool WordPress theme and writing blog posts. Search engine providers are in the business of providing search engine users with quick access to the information they want. You are in the business of getting found and selling your wares to the end user. Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is how you’ll compete with millions of other content creators for the best seats on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). According to SearchMetrics, only 11% of domains have an SEO relevance in Google, which renders 89% of the internet invisible. With all the time you spend writing valuable content, invisible is the last thing you want to be!
So while your primary goal may be to deliver quality information to the end user, your secondary goal is to help the search engines serve those same customers the search engine products of accuracy and accessibility. Before a human ever reads your article, a bot needs to read it, understand it, and approve of its relevance. In other words, you’re now selling your website to two different customers, each with very specific criteria.
If it sounds like you’re doing twice the work, you are. And to make matters more complicated, search engines are always creating new algorithms and tweaking old ones to better serve their users, which demands constant vigilance on the site owner’s part to stay current. This is the challenge we love, though, right? And if not, it’s easy to find someone to do it for you so you can stay focused on what’s most important to your role as a business owner.
Among search engines, Google earned its dominance on the user-friendly tenant that the Search Engine Results Page should provide the most relevant and accurate results possible, without clutter. It has a vested interest in obscuring some of its practices so that content creators like you and I can’t game the system, so to speak, and spam Google’s customers with irrelevant, inaccurate content. This means that the art and science of SEO requires a great deal of research and updates. It also means that you’ll often come across conflicting advice from various SEO expert sources as each one struggles to keep up with changes at varying speeds.
This is a nuanced, complex field, and if you leap before you look, oftentimes you’ll end up in a very tough situation.
-Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz
In this post, I’ve detailed three fundamentals of SEO for your website: domain selection, page speed, and site indexing. Some of it is specific to WordPress, but most of it applies whether you’re using a Content Management System (CMS) or managing a static HTML website. Also, this post offers detailed steps to boost your Domain Authority, but Page Authority will be addressed in another post. In my opinion, it’s important to make the vessel before you try to fill it with content. (That happens to be why this is the first post on this feed; I’m configuring this very site while writing out the steps). Let’s get started!
Light significance is placed on your domain name in Google search rankings. If you’ve already purchased your domain, don’t sweat it too much. Just make sure your content is as good as it can be, and your ranking should be fine. If you haven’t then consider some of these points to get the most out of your SEO opportunities.
What You Should Know About Keyword Domain Names
There was a time when putting relevant keywords into a domain name was a no-brainer. If you can predict the words a person might type into the search bar, and use that keyword phrase as your domain name, then obviously your site will be the most relevant search result. That’s called an Exact-Match-Domain, or “EMD”. An example would be something like, “www.howtofixalternator.com”, or, “www.cheapestbarsinlosangeles.com”.
It’s that no-brainer quality that has turned Exact-Match-Domains (EMD) into a bad idea. After people discovered this trick, they were able to create all sorts of EMD sites that offered less to the user, and were really designed mainly as click-bait so that site owners could rake in ad revenue. So in 2012, Google released an update that dropped the rankings of Exact-Match-Domains. Since search engines are trying to protect their own users (your potential readers) from spam, you should be mindful of making your site seem spammy.
Partial-Match-Domains (PMD) are domains that contain a keyword string, but are not an exact match. There’s speculation and disagreement about whether Google penalizes partial-match domains, and if so, to what degree.
When you can, choose a quality brand name that’s easy to remember, and fits the type of business you’re running.
- Best: A short, punchy brand name that’s easy to remember and easy to spell, but still indicates what type of site it is
- Better: A Partial-Match Domain (PMD) that contains a keyword
- Not Catastrophic: If the quality of your content is good, and the rest of your site isn’t “overly optimized” with spammy keywords, then don’t sweat that Exact-Match Domain (EMD) that you’ve already purchased.
.com has been the default domain since 1985. It’s embedded into our cultural lexicon. Many computers are already configured to auto-fill a URL with a www. —.com with the Ctrl + Enter keys. So if you type “vespertron” into your URL bar, then hit the Ctrl and Enter keys at the same time, the rest of the URL will auto-fill as http://www.vespertron.com, not vespertron.net, vespertron.org, or vespertron.info. And even if you weren’t hip with the hot keys, your fingers will want to type “. c o m” before you even think about it. Remember how important it is for your domain name to be easy to remember, easy to spell? Using anything other than .com is a hit to both of those criteria.
- Best: All of your pages link to a .com domain. If you’ve purchased other domain versions, such as .net, .info, .io, etc, make sure that those pages automatically re-direct to your .com domain.
- Poor: Using a domain other than .com as your primary web domain.
Securing your site with an SSL certificate provides a minor boost in rankings with Google.
Purchase an SSL certificate (Secure Sockets Layer), which transports the data safely using a bit of code that encrypts communications to and from the web server. Encryption encodes and decodes information like browsing history and credit card information to keep it safe from prying eyes. The certificate proves the authenticity of the site to your users so they can confidently transmit their sensitive information. And data integrity is protected as the data cannot be corrupted without being detected. Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol + Secure Sockets Layer == Secure HTTP
- Good: Securing your website with an SSL Certificate
- Not Catastrophic: Skipping the SSL Certificate, and keeping the HTTP unsecured
TIP: We’re going to talk about the importance of quality hosting in the Site Speed section, but choosing the right hosting provider, such as StableHost, could also provide you with free SSL encryption.
Now that we’ve talked about keywords in the domain name, let’s talk about keywords in the URLs. A URL length doesn’t make a difference for search engines like Google or Bing to parse; however, they do impact user experience. URLs that are around 50-60 characters are easier for people to highlight, copy, paste, and share, especially on mobile devices where they’re trying to capture the URL string with their thumbs. The easier you make it to copy and share a URL, the more traffic your page will enjoy.
- Best: A URL that’s less than 60 characters long
- Not a Good Idea: A URL that’s 100+ characters long
Page speed is counted as the complete time that it takes for the entire visible area to finish loading. While the correlation factor has come down to 0 in Google’s rankings, it’s important to monitor as you can lose a large percentage of users in the seconds that it takes for your page to load. 40% of consumers abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load. For page ranking, Google is even more demanding, setting the bar at 200ms for the server to render a response. For the best consumer engagement, you want your site to load in under 1 second. That’s not just for PC; mobile users are expecting a comparable experience as well.
Your first decision about page speed starts with hosting. Where your content is hosted matters! If you’re brand new to site ownership, chances are pretty good that you bought your domain and hosting together on an all-purpose content management system like WordPress.com, and never had to consider the reality that every image and article that you upload takes up the space that you’ve paid for, and is delivered back to you at the speed which you’ve also paid for. There is indeed quite a bit of variety available, and figuring out the best hosting solution for your needs can be held back by confusing technical jargon.
Criteria that allows for speed:
- Do they use SSD spaces?
- How much input / output bandwidth
- Bandwidth speed
- How many processors can you use or run simultaneously
- Can you customize everything?
- Best: stablehost.com
- Good: cloud VPS from VPS.net with Powerpack and at least 2 nodes and C Panel w/ 2GB Ram, LiquidWeb Cloud Dedicated Hosting
- Bad: Hosting that’s advertised as “WordPress optimized.”
Content Delivery Network
A Content Delivery Network, Content Distribution Network, or CDN, is a geographically distributed network of servers that is meant to accelerate the delivery of web objects, downloadable objects, live streaming, pretty much anything the end user will come across in their internet usage. In other words, it takes your content from your server, and points it to a server that’s closer to the end user to reduce the number of “network seconds” that it takes to transmit content.
The purposes of using a CDN service to deliver your content are these:
- Faster page load speed
- Better capacity for sudden high traffic loads
- Blocking spammers and bad bots
- Smaller bandwidth consumption
- Protecting site from DDOS attacks
When you’re just starting out as a site owner, and you want to keep your costs to a minimum, here are your free CDN options:
Lightweight Style for Mobile, Tablet, and PC
Choosing an Optimized WordPress Theme
When choosing a theme from WordPress Repository, or a paid theme from Studiopress, DIY Themes, etc., make sure that the theme summary or documentation explicitly states that it’s SEO Optimized for desktop and mobile.
- Best: Studiopress themes or free and minimal WordPress themes
- Good: Divi theme or drag-and-drop based theme, combined with plugin
- Bad: Poorly coded theme with no page speed optimization
File size no longer appears to directly impact ranking; however, it does impact page speed. So to reduce your file sizes, make sure that your images are compressed using compression plugins, such as “Compress JPEG & PNG images”. There are free image compressors available, but you’ll want to read carefully to make sure that their monthly size limits will fit your needs.
Security Tip: “EWWW Image Optimizer” is a plugin that allows you to optimize on your own server instead of the cloud, which is great if image security is a concern for you.
Testing and Tweaking
As you implement these page speed techniques above, you can keep an eye on your progress by plugging your domain into the below testing tools.
Web crawlers gather data from hundreds of billions of web pages, and organize it into an index using interdisciplinary concepts ranging from mathematics to cognitive psychology for fast and accurate information retrieval. This process is called, “indexing”.
Until your site has been indexed, search engines have no reference of your site’s content or value to the end user unless they’re directly searching for your domain. You can wait for web crawlers to happen upon your website out of the hundreds of billions of sites that it’s crawling, but as you can image that would take quite a bit of time.
So it’s up to you to put yourself on the map using a sitemap. A sitemap is an XML document that lists every single web page on your site, and includes instructions for the crawlers regarding how frequently they should check back for changes to your pages.
Creating a Sitemap
If you’re using WordPress, various SEO and/or sitemap plugins you may use will generate the sitemap for you, but you’re also welcome to use external sitemap generators such as www.xml-sitemaps.com.
Submitting Sitemap to Search Engines
Google – With Google, you first need to verify your ownership of your site in the Google Search Console. Click “ADD A PROPERTY”, enter the URL of your website, then follow the instructions. If you’re using the Yoast SEO plugin, you’ll want to use the “Alternate methods / HTML Tag” in the Google Search Console. Copy the tag that it provides, and add it to the Webmaster Tools tab in your Yoast plugin dashboard.
Once that’s complete, go to the XML Sitemaps section in your Yoast plugin, and click on the little blue hyperlink, “XML Sitemap”. Copy the URL of the sitemap that it takes you to. Then in the Google Search Console, select the site that you’re adding the sitemap to. Click on “Crawl / Sitemaps” in the sidebar, and then “Add/Test Sitemaps”. Complete the URL with the “/sitemap_index.xml” that Yoast has provided for you. Test it for errors, and then add it once it comes back without errors such as 404 – Page Not Found errors.
Google also expects you to submit a “www.” version of your sitemap to the Google Search Console. You’ll start with the “Add a Property” button again. Instead of adding an HTML tag to Yoast this time, all you need to do is click the Verify button on the Console. But now you have two versions of the same content, so to avoid conflicts, go to the site settings, and select the Display URL as the domain that does not contain the “www”. Make sure that both sites have this display URL setting activated.
Bing – You can sign into Bing Webmaster Tools using your existing Microsoft account, or you can sign up. Click “Add a Site,” and enter the URL. You will need to fill out a form with the URL, sitemap URL, and some personal information. After you’ve clicked Save, it will take you to a page that includes your meta tag which you can then add to the Yoast SEO plugin.
Yandex – Create and account and sign in. The process is very similar to Google and Bing verification and sitemap creation. Add the HTML meta tag to the Yoast SEO plugin. I found this process to take several minutes, but in the end it was very straightforward.
Monitoring Your SEO Status
Domain SEO Visibility
SEO management doesn’t end with setup. Regularly plug your domain into suite.searchmetrics.com and Moz tools to monitor how well your page is ranking. These sites offer plenty of valuable information about what you can do to improve it!
In conclusion, before you even write your first article or post your first cat video, there’s quite a bit of optimizing that you’ll want to perform at the domain level. Now you understand the basics of domain naming, page speed, and site indexing. There’s a lot to it, definitely more than I’ve covered in this single post. Effective SEO strategies take time to develop, and the results – positive or negative – aren’t obvious right away. But the effort pays off!
First – don’t jump in and start doing things you think are helping your SEO until you’ve invested some serious time in learning, and hopefully have done some work with experienced professionals (even a little mentoring can go a long way). SEO seems straightforward, but is often anything but.
-Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz
When I first started researching SEO so that I could build this website for software and web development, I was hesitant to enjoy this process. Scrambling to get to the top of the search engine results page seemed kind of skeezy to me. But the more I learned about everyone’s role in transmitting information to the end user, the more I realized that SEO isn’t about tricking people into clicking on your site so you can bombard them with your own agenda. Sure, people have been known to take advantage of SEO tactics to do just that, but search engines are getting smarter so that those tactics are less rewarding than they used to be. Now it’s about learning what your readers really value, and providing them the best version of that value that you can. SEO is about service and excellence.
Now you’re prepared for that uphill climb to the top of the SERP summit! If you’re interested in saving yourself hours of work so you can keep building more great content, let me know how I can help.
Thanks for reading, and check back for updates to this post. After that, “SEO Part 2 – Optimizing Your Articles” is coming next. Also, don’t forget to share, subscribe, and leave a comment below with your feedback!
- Nagarathanam, A. (2017). SEO 2017: Complete SEO Training + SEO for WordPress [Video tutorial]
- How Rand Fishkin Created an SEO Empire: The Story of Moz – Forbes
- Early Look at Google’s June 25th Algo Update – (2013)
- SEO Benefits of .com Versus Everything Else – (2015)
- Shortcut Keys to Complete URL
- What To Do When the .COM You Want Is Taken
- How Important Is It For Your Website To Be A .com? – Forbes (2015)
- SEO Best-Practices for Structuring URLS – Moz (2015)
- Google Starts Giving a Ranking Boost to Secure HTTPS/SSL Sites
- HTTPS As a Ranking Signal
- Forwarding Secrecy Wikipedia
- HTTP vs. HTTPS for SEO: What You Need to Know to Stay in Google’s Good Graces
- SSL FAQ
- Secure Your Site with HTTPS
- How Website Performance Affect Shopping Behavior
- Content Delivery Network – Wikipedia
- SEO Visibility
- The Need For Speed: 7 Observations On The Impact Of Page Speed To The Future Of Local Mobile Search
- The Mobile Playbook
- Search Engine Indexing – Wikipedia
- How to Get Google to Index Your New Website & Blog Quickly