So, you understand the long-term benefits and value that SEO has on inbound marketing and your overall website traffic.
Building upon the 7 Hierarchies for SEO Success—here, we’re going to discuss 10 SEO fundamentals that will help you increase your search rankings and organic traffic to generate more leads through your website.
While SEO tactics and search engine algorithms change regularly—these fundamentals have remained consistently important throughout recent years. Without further adieu, the fundamentals are:
- Indexing & Sitemap
- Focus Keywords
- Page Titles
- Meta Descriptions
- Descriptive Link Text
- Image/Video Filenames, Descriptions, & Alt Text
- Backlink Strategy
- 404s & Redirects
Please note—this is not a comprehensive list.
There are hundreds of ranking factors that Google’s algorithm considers when ranking searches such as your website’s speed and performance, how mobile-friendly your site is, and more.
This article can’t possibly cover all of those—but it will provide you with the primary concepts and understanding necessary to formulate and execute a successful website SEO strategy.
Indexing & Sitemaps
Before you can appear in search results—your website must give search engines permission to crawl and index your content. If search engines can’t find or reach your site—nothing else you do will really matter.
For this, you’re going to need two things:
- A properly structured robots.txt file
- An XML sitemap
Your robots.txt file is a simple text file that sits in the top level directory of your website and provides search engines and “spiders” with the rules for crawling your site. A simple robots.txt file will provide any rules to block (i.e. ‘Disallow’) and provide the link to your website’s XML sitemap.
An XML (Extensible Markup Language) sitemap is a computer-readable map of your website. It generates links and provides search engine crawlers with an understanding of how your website is organized so that they can effectively read and index each available page.
Ensuring that your XML sitemap and robots.txt are properly configured—and submitted to search engines—is the first step to getting found and indexed by search engines.
Next, let’s talk about your SEO focus keywords.
These are second on our list after indexing and sitemaps because of how important they are. The keywords you choose will impact almost every other SEO fundamental on this list. They will play a large role in your website’s SEO performance and how much organic traffic it receives.
To properly identify the best keywords, you’ll first want to make a preliminary list of all the terms you think will be relevant to your visitors and potential customers. If you’ve performed an exercise to outline customer or buyer personas—that will come in handy during this phase as well.
Once you’ve brainstormed a preliminary keyword list—you’re ready to choose specific keywords. For this step, you should choose an SEO Keyword tool to help you perform some research. A few free options include:
Each of these tools have some limitations with their free options—so you may wish to pay for a premium solution once you start getting more serious and devoting more time to SEO. However, these will get you started in the right direction.
When you’re identifying your focus keywords—we recommend you consider a few things:
- How many web searches does the keyword term/phrase get per month?
- How competitive is the term/phrase?
- What is the click through rate for the term/phrase?
Definitely spend the extra time to clearly identify the keywords you’ll be focusing on. As we continue with the other fundamentals on this list—you’ll see how they become increasingly important to your website infrastructure as well as your inbound marketing efforts.
URLS are among the most important places that your focus keywords should be incorporated.
This means that you’ll benefit tremendously from having a list of target keywords before you build out your primary service, content category, and conversion pages. By incorporating those keywords into your primary pages, categories, and tags throughout the site—you’ll see much better results. This is because search engines ultimately associate keywords with a user’s “search intent” (i.e. they associate keywords with content that they believe the user will find valuable—and then reward the websites and content that deliver that value).
Keep in mind—while you CAN change your approach and specific keywords later—we don’t typically recommend it. Changing URLs and website infrastructure for pages and content that is already indexed by search engines can have significant downsides and actually hurt your individual page or domain SEO performance.
Think of it like the foundation for your home. Sure you can always add-on (new pages and blogs with new keywords) or refinish the interior of a room (adding keywords to page titles, headings, and descriptions), but you wouldn’t typically chisel away part of the foundation (URL structure) to replace it with something else. If you do decide to do that, it becomes significantly more complex and costly.
Additionally, the length of your URLs is also important. Make sure they include the most important keywords for content on the page—but please don’t “stuff” keywords into them. Keep URLs to a maximum of 74 characters to ensure they appear in search results without being truncated.
Your page titles are another location where your focus keywords should reside in order to maximize your page’s keyword relevance and search performance.
Page titles are the most visible element in search engine results pages (SERPs) and play an important role for both search engines and human recognition of the page’s content. Particularly for your focus keywords—you should ensure that your page titles include those most important keyword terms early on.
To ensure page titles are displayed correctly and in full across desktop and mobile searches—keep your page titles to under 70 characters. 50–65 characters (including spaces) is the sweet spot.
Your headings (i.e. html tags for H1s, H2s, H3s) are another on-page SEO element that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ensure that every page has a single <h1> tag and no more.
After that, the resulting html tags for headings not only help visually separate content to make it consumable for humans—they also help search engines understand the structural significance and content on a blog or webpage.
Similar to URLs and page titles—there’s no need to stuff extra keywords into your headings for the sake of trying to rank for more keywords. Focus on the specific keyword related to that specific page and hone the title to appeal to human readers.
Meta descriptions are intended for human consumption only. Yes, search engines will bold or highlight keywords within meta descriptions on SERPs, but this is only to validate that the specific link relates to the searched term or phrase.
For best results, you should tailor meta descriptions to speak directly to human web visitors. Succinctly describe the purpose or value of the webpage and keep the description to less than 150 characters in length.
Descriptive Link Text
The specific keywords you use in hyperlinks and buttons help communicate “intent” and context to search engines—in addition to just plain providing a better user experience.
“Learn More” isn’t a very specific call to action for a user—but “Learn more about SEO” or just “SEO” clearly identifies what kind of content the web visitor will be engaging with.
The main takeaway here is that you should be creating and optimizing your content and page elements for clarity and “intent.” By using clear language—you’re both improving the user experience of the page and helping search engine algorithms better understand the content + context nuances on your site.
Image/Video Filenames, Alt Text, & Descriptions
The images and videos that you include on your website can AND should also take advantage of your SEO strategy and focus keywords. Every image and video you post is another opportunity to reinforce keywords and sentiments you wish to convey to both search engines and humans.
When uploading images to your website—use relevant keywords in your filenames, alt text, and descriptions. This will help your images rank for specific keywords in image searches–and make information more easy to find on your website.
NOTE: Because images and videos are typically the content with the largest file sizes on a website, you should make sure to optimize the file size and delivery of these assets. A website’s speed and performance is another critical piece to overall SEO performance—though we won’t dive in-depth into that topic in this article.
A frequently overlooked aspect to SEO is having a backlink strategy. As you’re generating content and participating in parallel channels online (social media, business networks, listing pages)—you should be building relationships with content producers and aggregators and seeking to gain the “almighty backlink.”
The number and quality of backlinks to your website plays a significant role in your search performance. By generating your own valuable content and making sure that’s useful to bloggers, influencers, and other businesses—they will reference your work, providing you with backlinks. Basically, having a high number of quality backlinks tells search engines that your content is of high-quality and valuable to lots of humans on the internet.
Remember, not all backlinks are of equal value. Receiving backlinks from bloggers or local news outlets with moderate domain authority (search scores) are great—but if you can receive backlinks from highly rated sites such as business listing networks, fortune 500 websites, or major news and media outlets—they’ll have a much larger impact on your SEO score.
404s & Redirects
404s errors (page not found) and long redirect chains are bad for SEO performance. You should strive to never have more than one redirect in a page sequence and correct 404 errors on a regular basis.
A monthly checkup is a good place to start. You can monitor 404’s using tools like Moz or SEMRush—or if you’re not ready for that, use a free tool like Broken Link Checker. For WordPress websites, 404’s can even be managed directly from plugins like Redirection.
By continuously monitoring and correcting errors to ensure that your website visitors are getting to the pages they are intending to visit—you’ll maximize your search engine scores by preventing any dings against your website experience.
By using relevant keywords and descriptions, consistently labelling content (images, videos, etc.), and clearly communicating intent—you’ll help ensure your work gets indexed by the search algorithms at work and promoted to the top ranks of the individual platform’s SERPs.
These fundamentals don’t just apply to your lead generation website. Yes, they are critical to helping your website get ranked and driving more awareness and traffic—but similar principles apply to content you produce across other platforms. The videos you publish on YouTube, Vimeo, or LinkedIn and the images you share on Instagram or Google Photos will all benefit from applying the same types of practices.
You now have a great baseline from which to enact your SEO and keyword plans—but they are far from comprehensive. Check back with us or surf the SERPs regularly to find the latest SEO changes and trends.
If you have SEO questions—please don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know!
At SequoiaCX, we offer Search Engine Optimization services standalone—or as part of our Inbound Marketing services—to help businesses from startup to mid-size capitalize on their online presence and significantly grow their organic website traffic and qualified leads.