SEO basics: Setting up your website for SEO success
SEO is complex and there are many things to think about when you are just getting started. Some people dive straight into target keywords and on-page optimisation but this is not going to help if you haven’t got the basics right.
One of the most important things to do before you do anything else is setting up Google Search Console.
It’s also important to make sure your website is fast and you have a good web hosting provider.
Finally, ensuring your website is mobile-friendly will keep your mobile users happy and your pages will rank better on mobile devices. I explain all of these points in detail below:
Google Search Console
When you are just starting out with SEO, one of the first thing to do before doing anything else is to set up Google Search Console for your website (this is after you have set up your Google Analytics).
Google Search Console (previously Google Webmasters Tools) is really useful for monitoring your site’s performance in Google Search results. Once set up, you will be able to see things like 404 errors, security issues, spam issues, indexed pages and useful messages from Google advising you how to improve your site.
In Google Search Console you will also able to see queries people search for to get to your website – this is something really valuable and very useful when trying to improve rankings for certain keywords (Google Analytics shows only some of these queries).
Setting up Google Search Console
To set up Google Search Console, log in with your Google account first (ideally, the one you use for your Google Analytics) and then click on the ‘Add A Property’ button at the top of the page.
Enter your website and then click on ‘Add’ button.
The next step is to verify the ownership of the website you have just entered. There are a few different methods of doing this: you can go for a recommended method by Google or you can choose alternative methods.
The recommended method may not be the easiest if you don’t have access to your website via FTP server. Alternatively, you could use Google Analytics to verify your website or you could sign in to your domain name provider to do that. Pick the method you find the easiest (verifying with Google Analytics should be the quickest and the easiest, you just need to make sure you have Google Analytics set up first).
Once everything is verified you need to wait for about a week before any useful data shows up.
Meanwhile, you can provide Google Search Console with some additional information about your website. This is what you can do:
- Add all your website versions (add both ‘www’ and ‘non-www’ versions, also add ‘https’ version, if you have it)
- Select your preferred version
- Select target country
- Share access with co-workers (if applicable)
- Submit a sitemap file
Although setting up Google Search Console won’t directly improve your rankings or traffic, it will give you actionable insights which you can use to improve your site and generate more traffic.
Site speed is a ranking factor and if you have a fast loading website you can rank higher than the websites which are really slow to load.
Unfortunately, for many website owners, the site speed is the last thing on their mind so they end up buying slow loading WordPress themes which are really hurting their website’s rankings.
There are many different tools online which you can use to check your website speed but the first tool you should check is PageSpeed Insights from Google. You will get a Speed score telling you how fast your page loads and this will be either ‘fast’, ‘slow’ or ‘average’.
There is also an Optimization Score which tells you how well a page follows common performance best practices. This score is categorized as ‘good’, ‘medium’ or ‘low’.
At the moment not all the websites will be able to see their speed score using Page Speed Insight from Google. That’s because the tool has been recently updated and is using the real-user page speed metrics based on Chrome user data – the reason why the speed score is not showing is simply because Google do not have enough data to measure the page speed of that page yet (smaller sites are mostly affected).
So at the moment, PageSpeed Insights from Google are not all that useful for smaller websites but hopefully this will change in the future. Meanwhile, you can still test your website speed using other tools such as Pingdom and GT Metrix.
Understandably, not everyone will understand the insights and recommendations these website speed tools are giving you – this is something a web developer can help you with (I may even be able to help as I have a good understanding of what needs to be done in order to improve the speed).
Optimising your images
In many cases, what really slows down a website is the size of the images and if you are not compressing your images before uploading them to your website, you really need to work on this.
You can use various image editing programs to resize your images and compress their size. I use Photoshop which is really good as it gives me all kind of options.
As a general rule, you should make your images smaller than 100kb in size but many times I try to make them around 50-80kb in size. The smaller the better (but as long as the quality is still there).
I have tried using some of the free online image compression tools but the quality was really poor so I am sticking with Photoshop.
I have also tried a free image editing software called GIMP but I just cannot reach a decent quality after the compression. It could be that I just don’t know how to use it but you are welcome to give it a try.
There is also a WordPress plugin which can help you optimise your images but I haven’t tried it yet. It’s called EWWW Image Optimizer.
Your WordPress theme
Another thing you could do to improve your website speed is changing your WordPress theme (if you use WordPress, of course).
Ideally, you would have installed a fast loading WordPress theme in the beginning but if you haven’t thought about it before, you can still change it. You can search for free WordPress themes once logged in to your WordPress site (Appearance > Themes) or you can check the official theme directory here.
Use keywords such as ‘light’, ‘fast’, ‘quick’, ‘speed optimized’ to find a theme that would be fast to load. Also, make sure it’s mobile-friendly.
If you don’t like the look of free WordPress themes and don’t mind paying for a premium one you can search for fast loading WordPress themes on websites such as My Theme Shop.
If you want your website to rank well and generate more organic traffic you also need to ensure that there are no issues coming from your website’s server.
Server issues affect search engine rankings, therefore it’s worth monitoring server errors in Google Search Console.
To check for any server errors go to Crawl > Crawl Errors report. You may see some 404 errors there which are quite common and having a few of them doesn’t really harm your website.
A server error which has a very strong, negative impact on your SEO is 500 Internal Server Error and this is something you should resolve as quickly as possible. If you don’t know what caused this error, the best is to get in touch with your web hosting provider.
Whether you know it or not, server uptime has a big impact on your rankings.
Server uptime is simply the amount of time you can expect your server (where your website is hosted) to be up and running.
Imagine if your website is down, what will happen to your website’s visitors? They will quickly leave and some of them may not ever come back again. This is giving bad signals to Google – it means that your website is not helpful and it doesn’t satisfy a user’s query. So Google will put less importance to your site and rank others higher.
It’s really important you do everything you can to prevent website downtime.
First of all, you should check your current uptime. There are some tools online which help you do that. The best is to register for a free website monitoring service such as Site Uptime and you will get notifications as soon as there is an issue.
You can also check with your web hosting provider but their figures may not be that accurate.
When choosing a new web hosting provider, check their uptime guarantee – if it’s 99.99% it’s good but never go for anything below 99.5%.
I use Siteground as my web hosting provider and their uptime guarantee is 99.99% so I am all good. Now, go ahead and check your own web hosting provider, what’s their uptime guarantee? Is it time to change your provider?
It’s been a few years since Google announced that mobile-friendly pages would get a boost in Google search results.
Are your pages mobile-friendly? To check, just do a mobile-friendly test on this page.
Mobile-friendly websites are easy-to-read and easy-to-use on mobile devices.
Mobile users should have a good experience when visiting your website and failing to provide that will result in getting less traffic from mobile devices (due to lower rankings). Your website could even be excluded from mobile search results altogether.
If your website is not already mobile-friendly it’s important you change that and the best way to do that is by selecting a responsive template or theme for your website.
If you want to be successful with SEO, the first thing to do is getting the basics right.
When you are first getting started it’s important to set up Google Search Console first. This tool will play an important role when optimising your site for search engines.
You should also not ignore your website speed, your web hosting provider and mobile friendliness as they all play an important part in your SEO success.
Is your website set for SEO success? Have you covered all the basics mentioned in this post?
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means I may get a small commission if you purchase a service once you click on one of the links. This does not cost you anything.