Ask ten different website developers what SEO means and you'll likely get ten different answers.
SEO can be a confusing and frustrating topic, and a lot of business owners have the emotional and financial scars to prove it. If you've been burned by an SEO company full of big promises that cost a pretty penny but never paid off, you're not alone.
But never fear — we're going to break SEO down to its basic elements for you here.
Now, this information may not be what you're expecting to hear. In fact, it will probably sound quite simple. And it is! Because at its very core, good SEO starts with setting up a website correctly.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of web developers and so-called SEO experts who miss the mark. If your site isn't properly set up, you can forget rankings and long-term success with SEO.
Above all, you must remember that Google's #1 goal is to ensure that people immediately find the quality, relevant sites they're searching for.
There are bazillions of sites out there, so Google has a big job. That means it's got to be pretty strict on its requirements. And when Google speaks, we listen — all of these essentials are based on information from Google.
Bare-Bones SEO: 8 Essentials for Every Website
Our example of a good host. (Image Credit)
1. A Good Host
Too many business owners skimp on the cost of website hosting. They choose the cheapest option as an afterthought, assuming their hosting company has little to do with their website's performance or Google rankings.
If you fall into that category, you couldn't be more wrong.
The truth is, your hosting company has a pretty big impact on your Google rankings because your hosting company directly affects your site's speed, load time, and performance. If a site is slow and unresponsive, Google will penalize it with lower rankings.
We partner with WP Engine, a highly reputable hosting company that is solely dedicated to WordPress websites. Together, we take proactive measures to nurture and care for your site like a newborn baby, or a puppy, or something equally adorable.
2. Regular Site Updates
Updates are frequently available on the WordPress platform. Each update fixes bugs, enhances existing features, adds new features, improves performance, and generally makes your site more current. (h/t: WP Beginner)
Outdated sites are vulnerable to hackers and performance malfunctions, and (as if that weren't enough!) Google penalizes sites like these with lower rankings.
Actually, don't think of it as being penalized — think of it as rewarding the sites that provide the results people are looking for. And if you want the rewards, you need to provide the results.
When you host with Website Muscle, we handle those updates for you, and send you a monthly report on your site's activity. Otherwise, you're responsible for doing it on your own.
3. A Secure Site
Hacking is a major problem, and it doesn't just happen to sites that have sensitive information or take payments online, either.
Any vulnerable site is fair game for hackers, and Google will penalize hacked sites, especially if they aren't fixed right away. If you don't pay attention to your website and it has been hacked for some time, don't be surprised when your site is blacklisted by Google.
One of the best ways to keep your WordPress site secure from would-be hackers is to have a great hosting company (we recommend WP Engine), update your site regularly, and avoid out-of-date plugins or plugins you don't need.
4. Image Optimization
Uploading image files that are too large can slow down your site speed, which we already know can affect your rankings. But poor image quality can also affect your SEO, as Google will promote sites above you that have better UX (user experience).
We use an automated tool called WP Smush to automatically resize images and keep your site running fast and efficiently.
5. Site Speed
We've mentioned it already, but it bears repeating: site speed will affect your SEO rankings. It directly impacts your site's performance, as well as user experience (UX).
We report every month on your site's speed and performance.
6. SSL Certificate
Image courtesy of Imgur.com
In 2014, Google announced that it would start giving out rankings boosts to sites with SSL Certificates. (An SSL Certificate ensures that sensitive information is encrypted for protection against security threats.) (h/t: Search Engine Land)
Isn't Google so generous? Kind of reminds us of Oprah at Christmastime.
7. Target Keywords
Now onto the fun stuff. You get to choose some keywords (we recommend having a Top 10 Keywords list) that you wish to rank for.
Every business owner wants to rank for the most obvious terms; however, if your industry is highly competitive, you may have to be more creative. For example, let's say you're a local jeweler. Ranking for "jewelry" is going to be tough, especially competing against big box retailers like Jared, Kay, or Zales.
To give yourself an edge, think of more niche areas of jewelry you specialize in, such as "jewelry repair" + your location. Or "custom engagement rings" + your location. Additionally, think of long-tail phrases someone might type into a Google search, such as "how do I polish my tarnished jewelry" for blog posts that will add value and build trust in your brand.
8. Analytics & Reporting
Last but not least, you need a way to measure your site's performance. Analytics and SEO reporting will provide valuable information about your site's visitors, what pages they're visiting, how long they're staying on your site, etc., as well as how your keywords are ranking and so forth.
When clients sign up for our SEO Reporting feature, we include Yoast SEO and SSL setup and help determine your Top 10 Keywords. We send a monthly report on site updates, site security, site speed, target keywords and analytics.