Search engine optimization (SEO) means different things to different people.
Some people understand SEO as managing a relationship with Google through Adwords, Search Console and Analytics. Some understand it as the content you produce, as well as your ability to get other sites to link to that content. Others think SEO is some kind of black magic that only "SEO experts" can do.
In reality, SEO is a combination of content, technical fundamentals, user experience and helping Google help you. When we help businesses and organizations with their SEO, we take a technical approach, helping them better implement fundamentals that Google and other major search engines recommend for a great user experience.
Consider these three technical fundamentals that your website needs for better search engine optimization:
Every website we build now is responsive, meaning that the design and experience respond to the size of the user's device. This provides an optimal layout for websites on mobile and tablet devices that may have otherwise shown up as the desktop version of a site.
In 2015, Google announced that it would use mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal in search results, making it "easier to get relevant, high-quality search results that are optimized for [users'] devices."
Responsive design is the preferred way to develop a mobile website compared to a separate mobile site, as responsive design keeps your content at one URL, as opposed to mobile site URLs like "m.site.com." If you're building a new website, it needs to be responsive. If your current site is not mobile-friendly, you can retrofit responsiveness or install a mobile-friendly plugin. And If you're not sure your site is mobile-friendly, you can use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test to find out.
Earlier this year, we added an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate to our site, making it completely secure. We don't process transactions on our site or collect private user information, but switching to HTTPS still made a lot of sense. HTTPS, which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, uses SSL to encrypt information being sent and ensure that information travels securely.
Not only does having an SSL certificate bring more security to our users while they're on our site, it actually helps with SEO. In 2014, Google announced that they would begin using HTTPS as a ranking signal when displaying search results.
It's not a big factor, but it does act as a sort of tie-breaker when there's a lot of competition for placement. If two sites are otherwise similar and one of them is secure, it's more likely to come out on top in search results than the non-secure site. We didn't switch to HTTPS just for the SEO boost, but it's definitely a bonus in addition to all of the other benefits the security provides.
We've focused a lot of on accessibility recently, working to make more of the websites we develop inclusive for all users. Many of the fundamentals that are implemented when a site is accessible are cross-beneficial for SEO.
For example, accessibility requires ALT (alternative) text on all images, which appears in a blank box where the image would normally be to tell viewers the content of that image. That text will get crawled and is more likely to be displayed in search results. Proper use of header tags (H1 for main headers, H2 for sub-headers, etc.) not only helps users with screen readers understand the importance of content, it also helps search engines prioritize the order of the content by boosting SEO for the header tags.
Breadcrumbs are a navigational aid in user interfaces that help disabled users understand where they are in the hierarchy of your website, and at the same time breadcrumbs help search engines find and promote "buried" pages. A sitemap that lays out all of the pages on your site makes it easier for all users and search engines to get a complete view of your site.
Accessibility not only makes your site more inviting to users with disabilities, but it also improves the entire user experience. At the end of the day, that's what Google cares about. Google wants your site to be useful and user-friendly, and making your site accessible does just that.
SEO is Everything
These are three of the big technical fundamentals you need to improve your search engine optimization, but don't assume that once you implement these tips you'll suddenly start ranking #1 for your desired search phrases. SEO is a combination of your technical fundamentals, the content you produce, your relationship with Google, your site marketing strategies and your user experience.
There's no silver bullet with SEO, but start by making your website fundamentally sound and you'll be on your way to improved search results.
Jason Unger is the Founder of Digital Ink, the creative and digital team that provides custom website design and development, graphic design for print and digital, WordPress consulting and website management.