What is the secret to having an SEO-friendly website?

15 January 2018

We have written this article to address the headline question. It’s one we get asked a lot. And the answer is always changing! Why?

SEO is all about getting the best out of systems that are:

A: trade secrets, and
B: constantly evolving.

This means SEO is a field that’s always rife with mysteries, conjectures, notions and theories to be tested and explored. Find something good and you gain a definite edge.

Further, SEO is not a “solvable problem”. The result it seeks is always relative, i.e. better than the competition. There’s no absolute “permanently the best” scenario.

Besides, SEO is not about cracking a search algorithm then waiting to see the effects. It’s about building a better web experience using data insights and following best practices. This is what the search engines are also working towards.

So, if you have to worry about Google algorithm changes, it means that you’re not doing a good job.

An SEO-friendly website is not an SEO-optimised website, but it’s a start

The difference between SEO-friendly and SEO-optimised

SEO-friendly website SEO-optimised website

This is the technical scope a certain website’s design has to be optimised for search engines.

You can do SEO to it easily.

This is a website that is visible in search engine results for relevant search phrases following the optimisation of its technical and content elements.

SEO has already been done to it.

So, from the above, you can see it’s totally possible that an SEO-friendly website won’t be optimised for search engine results, even though it has the technical capability to be so.

For example, an SEO-friendly website will let you have 100% control over what the Page Title of a page is. This doesn’t mean the default Page Title of the page is optimised for its content and includes relevant keywords.

SEO add-ons or plug-ins don’t make a site SEO-optimised, but they help

Having SEO add-ons installed on your website – such as Yoast SEO for a WordPress site – doesn’t mean your website is optimised for your target keywords.

What it does mean is your site has a toolkit installed that you (the website owners) and we (the marketing experts) can use to implement SEO best practices and optimise your website for search engines.

SEO-friendly means different things to different people

What, precisely, “SEO-friendly” means differs a great deal from person to person. This goes double between people with some knowledge and those who are expert practitioners.

As a businessperson needing SEO help, you are more likely to be closer to the “some knowledge” category. Your digital marketing provider is grounded firmly in the latter category (you’d hope!).

So, while your marketing provider has a duty to be the experts and explain things, there is also an onus on you to fully express your expectations and level of understanding. You must “get” what your marketing provider is offering, promising and delivering.

For a start, most web developers, whether freelancers or agency staff, will offer to build a SEO-friendly website for your business. Great.

But your job as an informed customer is to do your own research too. Find out what ‘SEO-friendly’ means according to that particular provider.

With this level of understanding, you can benchmark your shortlist of providers and make a more informed decision about who to hire.

What technical features make a Mash Media website SEO-friendly?

At Mash Media, the SEO-friendly websites we make for our customers are backed by an advanced understanding of the field.

We have an entire department devoted to giving clients the best in SEO. For us, it’s not a quick, cheap “bonus feature” to be chucked on top of a web development or AdWords package to score your signature on a contract.

To see what we mean, take a look at the following lists of what our SEO crew works on when they are “doing SEO” for you.

In fact, these lists are a great benchmark for what “SEO-friendly” should mean.

If your site has all these your SEO provider will be able to effectively optimise your site for its products and services.

Is your content and copywriting SEO-friendly?

  • Each page is separately themed, i.e no spam pages of similar content
  • Spelling and grammar is correct
  • Content on each page in line with SEO keyword research recommendations
  • HTML elements in content optimised, such as H1, H2, etc.
  • Meta keywords tag not present in HTML output of any page on the site
  • Optimised alt tags on all images

Is your URL and site structure SEO-friendly?

  • All URLs must be in lowercase (to avoid user error the CMS must force all URLs/page names to lower case)
  • No special characters in any URL. (To be implemented at a CMS level to avoid any user input issues. This also includes spaces in URLs.)
  • No dynamic URLs used. All URLs must be user and search engine
  • Across whole site, either use the A records or redirect the non www URL i.e. http://mysite.com.au must 301-redirect to http://www.mysite.com.au
  • If Ajax-based content or URLs with # are being used in any part of the site, you must use a HashBang implementation
  • There must be no dead directories in the URLs on the mysite.com.au. If there is a directory in the URL it must be a page in its own right and render for the users
  • Every single URL must end consistently, either with a trailing slash (ideally) or without one. A catch-all redirect must be in place to ensure if a trailing slash is removed/added that users and search engines are 301-redirected back to the original URL

Is your CMS SEO-friendly?

  • The CMS must provide an editable canonical tag for each page. By default each URL should be a canonical of itself
  • The CMS must be able to publish additional header tags for each page if they become a requirement, i.e. rel=author, rel=publisher, etc.
  • All in-page elements must be independent from each other, i.e the page name must not control the URL, H1 and page title. Each element needs unique relevant content
  • The CMS must be able to output Ahreflang tags for each page
  • The CMS must be able to provide an alt tag for each image
  • The CMS must be able to handle schema mark-up
  • Is your Google Analytics setup SEO-friendly?
  • Is Google Analytics tracking installed and working?
  • Is subdomain tracking correctly (if applicable)?
  • Are forms working?
  • Are goals in GA tracking?
  • Is e-commerce tracking working (If applicable)?

Is your site SEO-friendly technically?

  • Have site speed issues have been minimised for mobile and desk (minimise Js and CSS, optimised images)?
  • Is browser caching enabled?
  • Is site mobile responsive/optimised/native?
  • Is 404 page user-friendly and does it retain navigation?
  • Is the site browser compatible?
  • Is alt text on each image?
  • Has W3C validation been completed?
  • Are live URLs simple (i.e no parsing)?
  • Are live URLs working (i.e no linking to staging site)?
  • Is a dynamically updated XML sitemap uploaded to root?
  • Are XML image and XML video sitemaps in place (if required)?
  • Is the robots.txt file uploaded and valid?
  • Are social media links correct?
  • Is the HTML lang tag implemented across every page on the site?
  • Are site search results blocked via robots.txt so that they cannot be indexed by the search engines?
  • Are breadcrumbs implemented?

Is you site admin SEO-friendly?

  • Are SSL certificates installed?
  • Are traffic load limits noted?
  • Is a backup system in place?
  • Is the privacy policy page correct and linked in the footer?

Your SEO benchmark

It’s a pretty exhaustive set of lists – and this is only the beginning! With the above set of checklists, you can confidently compare the website development offering of Mash Media with other providers. Of course, we’ll tick every single one of those boxes.

Using the lists above, you can make an informed decision on whether an SEO package will fit your needs.

As for Mash, we recommend customers purchase our one-off SEO-add-on pack. The actions within it are undertaken by the SEO Mashies who work very closely with the Web Mashies to ensure you are on the way to having the truly SEO-optimised website you deserve.

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