Do-it-yourself search engine optimization (SEO) is like a video game. There are numerous quests and a never-ending number of side-quests. SEO is certainly not a race but a slow and steady marathon.
Objective: in this blog post, you are going to apply 3 actionable SEO tips that will improve your site’s search engine visibility.
Tools required: here is a list of all the tools that you will need to get started:
- HTML headings checker by SEO Review Tools
- Google Search Console
- Bing Webmaster
- Screaming Frog (download the free version, it will crawl up to 500 resources which is more than adequate for today’s tasks)
Time investment required: a few hours
Are you ready to make a difference today?
1. Format your text with headings and sub-headings
You probably didn’t expect such a boring recommendation to begin your SEO quest but here’s the thing, search engine optimization can be boring, repetitive and tedious. So snap out of it and let’s get started on your homepage.
Headings are incredibly important in SEO – more than you would think. Heading and subheadings serve as signposts and signal to a reader what topics you will address on your homepage.
According to Nielsen Norman Group, almost 8 in 10 people always scan any new page they come across with a mere 16% reading the content word-by-word. They suggested that web pages should:
- highlight keywords
- use meaningful sub-headings (instead of being overly witty)
- provide bulleted lists, and;
- include a single idea per paragraph, no more.
Another important finding based on eye-tracking studies is that users first read in a horizontal movement. Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across a second horizontal movement. Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement.
What this essentially means is that the first lines of text on a page receive the most attention as do the first few words on the left of each line of text.
Why do people scan web pages with a F-shaped pattern?
- The user is looking for an answer and wants to find it as quick as possible with minimal amount of effort, or;
- the user is not engaged enough to read the content word-by-word.
When people scan in an F-shape, they miss a lot of information. This is not a good thing for you.
This is why formatting your homepage text with a primary heading and sub-headings is critical so that when they do scan your page, you can capture their attention with informative headlines and keywords which may encourage them to go back to the top and read the content word-by-word.
But hang on, what has this got to do with search engine optimization?
Quoting John Mueller from Google,
“We use H tags to understand the structure of the text on a page better.”
What John means is that search engines use headings (HTML elements H1 -H6) to understand and make sense of your website and web pages. It does this by crawling your site with bots. Upon successful crawl, Google can then match your content with keywords. The better Google believes your content to be in serving a particular search intent, the higher your page will rank in search result pages.
At the same time, Google values user experience and this can be measured in the readability of your text. In fact, Google Search Console will inform you when your text is too small. If you ever see this, rectify it immediately by increasing your content body font size.
How to check for HTML heading elements on your web pages:
- Copy and paste your domain URL (or web page) into this free HTML headings checker by SEO Review Tools,
- the report will identify any H1 and H2-H6 tags that are on your page.
I’m a believer that Google provides us with a blueprint for what it thinks to be the best piece of content for a given keyword or search phrase. This is because it is in Google’s best interest to either serve you the most relevant information via organic results or through its ads.
So bring all this back to how search engine optimization, I want you to perform a Google search using one of your most important keywords to your business. Then I want you to check out the first 3 search results.
Using the same HTML headings checker tool, look at how the top ranking web pages format their web pages. In particular, ask yourself the following:
- How many H2 tags do they use?
- What words are they using in their H1?
- What words are they using in their H2 tags?
- Are there images or graphics? If so, how many and are they relevant to the page’s topic?
- Does the page have any internal links? If so, where do these links point to?
More often than not, SEO is the process of reverse engineering what works and implementing the same learnings to your own content. In order to rank for the same keyword(s), your page will need to be as good as the existing top results, if not better.
As a rule of thumb, use only one H1 tag per page and as many H2 tags (sub-headings) as you wish.
Now, you may be wondering just how useful formatting your writing with appropriate headings may be. For a particular client, I simply re-wrote their existing H1 with their primary keyword and re-submitted the URL to Google for crawling.
From an initial organic position of 34, within 60 days we began seeing upward movement.
By month 4, it finally hit the bottom of the first page (I also re-wrote the content to include relevant information and keywords, reduced image file size, and improved internal linking).
Within 6 months, this same page now occupies the third organic position for the keyword that receives 350 monthly searches (according to ahrefs).
As a result of the improved visibility on Google searches, my client has received more leads which is the ultimate measure of SEO success.
If that doesn’t encourage you, I don’t know what will!
Task(s): review homepage for H1 and H2 use, compare with top ranking results, implement H1 and H2 strategy using relevant keywords
Time required: under 2 hours
2. Using Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster to request indexing
Every website should be connected to a Google Search Console (previously know as Google Webmaster) and Bing Webmaster account. Both are web services that you can sign up for free-of-charge. Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster gives you the ability to check indexing status and provide insights for you to make informed decisions on what requires optimization.
If you have not created a Google Search Console (GSC) account and have not linked your site with GSC, follow the steps outlined by Webmaster Support (link opens in new tab) before continuing. Similarly, to get started on Bing Webmaster, follow these steps outlined by Bing.
A Quick Detour Into What Is Crawling And Indexing And Why It Matters To You
According to Google, there are more than 60 trillion web pages and this number is constantly growing.
Indexing in SEO refers to the process of adding web pages into a search engine’s database. Similar to how a traditional library uses an indexing system to help organize thousands of topics, search engines such as Google and Bing need to do the same thing. This is because over half a million of new websites are created daily. All this new content needs to be managed in a systematic way.
Before a web page is indexed to a search engine’s database, the information on the web page must first be found and interpreted. This is where crawl bots such as Googlebot come in.
Crawling, in SEO, refers to the process by which Googlebot discovers new and updated pages to add to the Google index.
The goal of search engine optimization is to improve your site visibility in search results. In lay terms, you want your site to rank in the top few positions for relevant keywords. And in order for Google to show your web page on top of others, it needs to be able to crawl your web pages to add them to its index. Without this two-step process, you cannot rank your site for any keywords.
For a brand new site, it can take anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks for Google to crawl and index your site. For established sites that have already been crawled by Google, assuming that your technical SEO makes it efficient for Googlebot to crawl your site, new content can be indexed within hours of publication.
As long as you are not deliberately blocking bots, search engines will automatically crawl your site, in time. A quicker way to ask for Google to crawl your site and add new or updated pages to its index is via Google Search Console’s URL Inspection function.
Now that you why crawling and indexing is critical to getting new leads and sales, you will want to know if there are any things in place that are preventing crawl bots from finding new and updated pages on your site.
This is where the free version of Screaming Frog SEO Spider app comes in handy. It is available for both Mac and Windows platforms.
Once downloaded, run Screaming Frog. You will see a screen like this.
To check for any crawlability and indexation issues, copy and paste your domain URL into the field box and press Start.
Common signs that your site has crawlability issues include:
- a high number of 404 status codes (broken links)
- seeing web pages with ‘Non-Indexable’ stats in the indexabiity tab
Hopefully your site does not have pages with noindex meta tag.
Next, jump into Google Search Console and on the left navigation menu, click on URL Inspection
Copy and paste your domain URL into the top field box and press Enter or Return.
If your site has been crawled and indexed by Google, you will see a similar page to the screenshot shown above.
Hooray! Your homepage has no crawlability issues and has been added to Google’s index.
However, for a new site or for pages that have not yet been crawled by Google, you will come across a page like the following screenshot.
When you see URL is not on Google, do not alarm. Because, as GSC reports:
The page is not in the index, but not because of an error
Fresh pages typically will show this notification. For example, when you publish a new landing page or blog post, Google has not crawled the new page yet.
All you need to do is hit the REQUEST INDEXING button.
Remember how in the previous task you updated your homepage’s H1 tag with relevant keyword optimized copywriting and created a bunch of helpful H2 tags to help users parse the page? Now is the time to ask Google to update it’s index of the page via GSC REQUEST INDEXING feature.
Now repeat the same process in Bing Webmaster.
Task(s): ensure that your site has been added in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster and that there are no crawling or indexation issues preventing bots from finding new and updated pages
Time required: under 2 hours
3. Review existing page titles and meta descriptions for optimal relevance and CTR
Ah, you are towards the end of today’s quest.
So far, you have carried out basic on-page SEO by formatting your homepage with a single H1 tag and subsequent H2 tags.
You have also performed a basic check to ensure that search engines can crawl your site.
You must be tired and weary but fear not, there’s just a few more hours to go.
Let’s take a moment to look at your site’s page titles and meta descriptions.
But first, why are page titles and meta descriptions important to SEO?
Web page titles (or title tags) can be seen on search engine result pages. If your web page is one of the top few results, the page title will be the first impression and touch point you will have with a user. And because of this, your target keyword for the web page should be the first few words of the title tag so that you can indicate that your web page is the most relevant to the user’s search.
When you perform your page title audit, you will be looking for the issues:
- Does each web page have a page title?
- Does the page title have the main keyword towards the beginning?
- Does the page title exceed 65 characters in length?
- Are all page titles unique (i.e., not duplicates of each other)?
Remember Screaming Frog & Spider SEO tool we used earlier to identify H1 tags? We’re going to use it again to crawl your site’s page titles and meta descriptions.
Once again, copy and paste your domain URL into Screaming Frog and press Start. You will want to navigate to the Page Titles tab once it has finished crawling your site.
PS – do not close Screaming Frog, you will need the same results for the next part.
As you can see from the screenshot above, Screaming Frog has listed all the pages and blog posts for this site, their corresponding page titles, and title length in characters and pixel width.
If you see any blank fields in the Title 1 column, this means that you have not set a page title for the corresponding web page.
If any numbers in the Title Length column is greater than 65-68, this means that the page title is probably being truncated in desktop search results. Therefore, you should shorten it.
If you see duplicate page titles, rewrite them so that every single page title is unique and is keyword optimized.
And if any page titles do not include the target keyword, fix this.
You have now optimized your site’s web pages.
As for the final sub-quest, you are going to look for meta description issues.
Meta descriptions are an HTML attribute that provides users with a quick blurb on the contents of a web page. Search engines often display a meta description for each web page in search results. In terms of SEO, meta descriptions do not impact search visibility directly but they can positively or negatively impact click-through-rates.
The red box in the below screenshot are examples of meta descriptions on a search result page for the keyword best gaming mechanical keyboard.
Going back to Screaming Frog, we will now look at the the Meta Descriptions tab.
When it comes to auditing your site’s meta descriptions, ask yourself the following questions:
- In the Occurrences column, are there any rows with a value greater than 1 or less than 1?
- Are there any blank rows in the Meta Description 1 column?
- In the Meta Description 1 Length column, are there values greater than 160?
- In the Meta Description 1 Pixel Width column, are there values greater than 920?
If you see a value of zero or a number greater than 1 in the Occurrences column, this means that the same meta description has been duplicated across more than one web page. Note down which web pages have duplicate meta descriptions and rewrite them.
Ideally you want the entire Occurrences column in Screaming Frog to be filled with the number 1.
Similarly, blank fields in the Meta Description 1 column should correspond with a value of zero in the Occurrences column.
According to Screaming Frog, meta descriptions exceeding 928 pixels become truncated on desktop SERPs. As a general rule of thumb, try to keep meta descriptions within 160 characters to avoid having it being cut short by Google search results display.
Task(s): perform a page title and meta description audit on existing web pages
Time required: approximately 5-minutes per web page
You Have Completed The 3 Required SEO Quests
Doesn’t it feel so good to have accomplished something SEO-related today?
Let me know in the comments below how you found this guide.
If you have any questions, feel free to submit them in the comments section.