As a Web Developer, What Should I Know about SEO?

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There are a lot of reasons why you might want to start developing a website. It could be a way to expand or establish your small business, or a way to organize a portfolio for your art. It could even serve as a personal website that helps job recruiters find you and learn more about you. No matter what you use your website for, however, the most important thing is that people are able to find it.

That’s where SEO comes into play. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, refers to how a search engine like Google is able to find your website and, more importantly, how likely it is to recommend your site based on a particular search query. All that is to say: if you have a good SEO strategy, then your site will appear higher in search results, and if you have a poor SEO strategy, it will appear lower—if at all.

Typically, when someone performs a search for something, they end up clicking on one of the first few links that appear, and they will almost hardly ever look past the first page of results.

How highly your site ranks can have a big impact on its overall online visibility. Typically, when someone performs a search for something, they end up clicking on one of the first few links that appear, and they will almost hardly ever look past the first page of results. Therefore, you want to make sure that your website is one of the first results that a person sees.

While there are a multitude of individual factors that influence your site’s SEO, there are three main dimensions to your website’s searchability. They are:

Technical SEO

This aspect of SEO considers things like how quickly your website loads, how well it’s optimized for various platforms including mobile devices, and how well the site is organized. While improving technical SEO is not always easy, it is usually pretty straightforward. There are a number of ways to make a website perform objectively better, which are included in this article.

Content SEO

This is probably the most obvious aspect of SEO. It considers the text on a page as well as the images, title, and other visitor-consumable content. While the content aspect of SEO is usually user-driven—in that users demonstrate a preference for better content rather than worse—some of it is algorithm-driven as well. Huge blocks of text and poorly laid-out elements are considered “user-unfriendly” by search engines like Google

Backlink SEO

While backlinks don’t affect SEO directly, they do affect Google’s perception of that page’s “authority.” Page and domain authority are metrics devised by web development company Moz and used by Google to roughly evaluate to what degree a site is trustworthy, truthful, informative, and so on. Sites with a higher authority or credibility naturally rank higher than site’s with a lower authority. 

Ways to Increase SEO

As a developer, SEO is something you have to keep in mind. A lot of rookie mistakes are easily preventable with a little foreknowledge. So, now that you’ve read the basics on SEO, here are a few ways you can boost it!

Structured Markup

Something you should definitely have for your site is what is called a structured markup. While Google is capable of telling the difference between text, photos, and video at a glance, it has a much harder time figuring out what kind of content it is viewing. By creating a structured markup for the elements on your site, you can tell Google directly if your website contains a book review, an article, a job posting, or a variety of other things. According to Google, “the Structured Data Markup Helper helps you mark up elements on your web page so that Google can understand the data on the page. Once Google understands your page data more clearly, it can be presented more attractively and in new ways in Google Search.” 

(Google Structured Markup)

Avoid Duplicate or Poorly Formed Title Tags

Let’s say that you perform a search through Google and are taken to your results page. You’ll notice that the list of results you get aren’t titled by their URL, but by a short prose phrase; this phrase is called a title tag. Title tags are important because, quite simply, it allows a site developer to give their pages a title, which gives search engines clues about keywords and human visitors clues about content.

Because a lot of developers use templates for title tags, these mistakes tend to get amplified over time, like making a copy of a copy.

While a lot of CMS’s, such as WordPress, are able to automatically generate title tags for you, they tend to follow a structure, usually something like “title of page|blog name|resource.” This is a poor title tag because it fails both to inform prospective visitors about the content of the page and to inform search engines with keywords, not to mention it even looks spammy and auto-generated. Because a lot of developers use templates for title tags, these mistakes tend to get amplified over time, like making a copy of a copy. Mistakes get duplicated, and with enough pages auto-generated title tags will begin to repeat. The best way to avoid this is to manually write your own title tags.

When writing your title tags, the length is important to keep in mind. You want your title to be long and fairly keyword dense, but not too long. Google measures title tag length via pixels (rather than characters), and so if your tag exceeds around 600 pixels, it will get cut off and be finished with an ellipsis (“…”), which is visually unappealing. Title tags that are too short, however, lack the visual weight that a longer tag carries. The ideal title tag is hand-crafted, keyword-rich, and is as long as it can be while still fitting within a 600 pixel limit.

Increase Load Time

There is hardly anything about a site visitor’s experience that causes them to log off a site faster than a slow load time. Generally, a boot time longer than a couple seconds is enough for a visitor to decide to look elsewhere. Depending on what kind of site you have, you might struggle with load time a little or a lot. Still, it never hurts to optimize your site for speed. A technique that helps a great deal but is often neglected by new site owners is compressing your images. High resolution images always have huge files sizes, but by compressing them, files can be made smaller while preserving the integrity of the image. 101domain offers image optimization as a part of their secure web accelerator, which is a great tool to get your site’s engine revving a bit.

Mobile Optimization

Having a website that worked equally well on a mobile device as on a computer didn’t used to be a major concern. However, in 2020, more than ever, people do their web browsing on their phone, and some people even use the Internet more on their phone than on their computer. Because of this, having a site that adapts to the demands of a mobile device has become of paramount importance. This type of design is called responsive website design, and luckily, it’s easier than ever! A lot of CMS’s, or Content Management Systems, make it easy to manage the design of your site on a mobile format. 

Well-Curated Backlink Portfolio

The vast majority of the indexing of your website and its pages are done by Google’s so-called “spiders.” These spiders “crawl” through your site, going through each link on all your pages, and then following the links on the pages they find, and so on. Because of how these spiders work, it is essential to make sure that your site doesn’t contain any broken links, and that the links which remain lead to high quality sources. A good backlink portfolio will also increase your domain and page authority, which can give you the edge over your direct competition.

SSL Certificate

The last essential step you should take to maximize your website’s SEO is to get a high quality SSL certificate. SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is a protocol that encrypts all data sent between a customer’s computer and your web server. It ensures that the data is unusable if it is intercepted, which is especially important for eCommerce sites that accept credit card numbers. Because of the importance Google places on security, it will often not even allow visitors in to sites that are completely without a certificate, and it always values a stronger certificate over a weaker one. Make sure to get a good certificate from a reputable Certificate Authority to ensure that your site is secure and Google is happy with it.

Google Search Console

Even after all this, you may not see an immediate increase in traffic. SEO can be tedious and imprecise at times, but there are tools that can help you make the most of your SEO efforts. Google Search Console is one such tool. Not to be confused with Google Analytics, which a lot of developers also use, Google Search Console offers in-depth metrics to track your site’s searchability. For example, with GSC you can see your average position for a given keyword, whether or not your structured data is working, the number of impressions your organic listings have received, and much more. It can take a long time for traffic to your site to gain momentum, but GSC lets you look at how your metrics are performing in real time to give you a clue about how your SEO efforts are manifesting and where they need more work.

Written by: True Tamplin - True is a technology specialist, author, and public speaker. He writes on a broad range of technical topics including search engine optimization, cybersecurity, and technology relating to the internet.
Category: Articles / Common Questions
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