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SEO Essentials to Set Your Website Up for Success

When building and launching a website, you want to make sure it looks good and does what you want and need it to do. But more importantly, you need to make sure you have a good foundation in place. A good website foundation encompasses everything from the design to the coding, and of course, search engine optimization (SEO).

Let’s kick this off with my favorite analogy: home building. You could build a beautiful home where everything works as it should—from the toilets to the stove, the sinks to the A/C. But if the foundation isn’t great, your home (and you) may suffer. Maybe not immediately, but over time, things could really start to go south.

A Good Foundation is Key

Websites built with a good foundation are meant to grow and scale right alongside your business. If you don’t have a strong foundation set up from the get-go, you’ll likely spend more time and money fixing what’s broken or you may even need to start over from scratch.

To ensure my clients are set up for SEO success, which translates to overall website and business success, I provide a handful of essentials that I believe every website should have in place. And, as technology changes and my skills and knowledge expand, I adjust my list of key SEO essentials as needed. In other words, the same list of essentials I may have had ten years ago certainly isn’t the same as it is today.

The SEO Essentials

The following pieces of the SEO puzzle are included with every website I build. Without these essential features, elements, and actions, a website – and a business in general – will lack key ingredients to success.

  1. Clear site structure: This means making sure that the sitemap is structured in a way that makes sense for the site visitor and for search engines.
  2. Clean URLs: Clean URLs describe what the page is about (i.e. vs. confusing users and search engines or simply looking like you didn’t pay attention to detail (i.e.
  3. SSL certificate: An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate encrypts internet traffic and verifies server identity. In a nutshell, it means your site is secure. If you see a closed padlock next to the URL in the browser, the site has an active SSL certificate. If you see an open padlock or a triangle with an exclamation point, an SSL certificate is not installed and you should proceed with caution.
  4. Accessibility: Quoted from the interwebs, “Accessibility is the inclusive practice of ensuring there are no barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites by people with physical disabilities, situational disabilities, and socio-economic restrictions on bandwidth and speed. When sites are correctly designed, developed and edited, more users have equal access to information and functionality.”

    Ensuring your website is fully accessible will be best handled by a website accessibility expert. Furthermore, “full” accessibility depends on requirements of your industry and the elements you have on your website. However, I make sure the key basics are covered including:
    • adding a visible page title to every page, post, product, and event listing
    • adding descriptive alternative text (alt text) to all images
    • ensuring proper HTML heading structure on every page, post, product, and event listing
    • ensuring font sizes, line spacing, and paragraph spacing are large enough for legibility and action (i.e. clicking)
    • adding labels to form fields
    • ensuring color contrast throughout the entire website (i.e. light text on dark backgrounds and vice versa)
    • reducing or eliminating the use of moving, flashing, or blinking content
    • ensuring media has clear controls to pause or stop the audio and/or video.

      These are just the basics when it comes to accessibility, and I encourage all clients to determine if additional measures are needed to ensure compliance.
  5. Mobile friendly: The majority of users who visit your website will most likely do so at one point via a mobile phone or tablet. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure your website looks great and functions properly on all devices and screen sizes.
  6. Clear and proper HTML heading structure:
    • Breaking up text into sections helps make it easier to digest. Adding section headings helps readers skim your content. Putting those headings in the proper order is crucial as doing it incorrectly can negatively affect accessibility and SEO.
    • Proper HTML heading structure involves using one H1 on the page (this is typically the page title), then using H2-H6 in order (meaning, without skipping from H2 to H4).
  7. Optimize all images:
    • Dimensions: Resize your images to fit in the space allotted for those images. If the width of your page content is 1000px, your image should not be more than 1000px.
    • File size: Keep images under 200kb whenever possible, and compress images using a tool like TinyPNG.
    • Clarity (and more on size): Use SVG images for logos and other graphics. They are crystal clear at any size and are typically smaller than PNGs and JPGs.
    • File name: Name your images appropriately (i.e. yourname.jpg and not 12345abc.jpg). This not only helps you find an image in your own media gallery more easily, but it helps Google read your images.
    • Alt text: Add alternative text (alt text) to all images for accessibility reasons and to help Google understand what your image is about.
  8. Install and configure an SEO plugin:
    • Simply installing an SEO plugin isn’t going to do anything to help your SEO. Furthermore, if you install it and configure the basic settings, but then fail to do all of the other things in this list, the SEO plugin most definitely isn’t going to be of much help. You want to install something like Yoast or SEOPress, configure the basic settings, and then proceed to follow the SEO essentials listed in this post.
  9. Add meta titles and descriptions to all pages, posts, products, events, etc.
    • I write meta titles and meta descriptions on key pages (typically top-level parent pages) using the page’s keyword(s) for reference. For all other pages and for posts, products, events, etc., I set a default meta titles and descriptions in the SEO plugin’s settings. Should you wish to perform keyword research to further optimize the metas on the key pages and/or write custom metas for any other page or post, I will refer you to an SEO professional.
  10. Structured data: Structured data is a standardized format for providing information about a page. Search engines use this data to understand the content on a page, thus delivering that content to the user. I add structured data to key pages, and I offer an add-on service to add it to additional pages.
  11. Redirections: Redirections tell Google and site visitors where to find a page that no longer exists. If you don’t create redirections when making changes to your site, your site visitors will land on a 404 page. That’s similar to someone showing up to visit you at your home, but you no longer live there and forgot to give them your new address. How embarrassing!
  12. Sitemap: For larger sites (i.e. those with a lot of pages, posts, and/or products), a sitemap can help both the user and Google find information on your website. This is the HTML sitemap that is added to a page on your website and not the XML sitemap that is submitted to Google to index your site
  13. Ensure all Google services are set up and integrated:
    • Google Search Console: account created, sitemap submitted, Analytics connection created
    • Google Business Profile: account created and verified, key information added (logo, website URL, phone, address, description)
    • Google Analytics: account created, code added to website

As you read through the list above, did you take note of features or best practices that are not part of your website’s SEO foundation? Or, are you currently searching for a designer and developer to build your new online home, yet they haven’t expressed that these essentials are part of their core offering?

Does Your Website Have the Key SEO Essentials?

If you have a website built by Exhale Design Co, you will rest easy knowing your foundation is solid and built to last.

Let’s be real, though…websites don’t last as long as homes do. I mean, they CAN last for many, many years. But that doesn’t mean they should.

After a few years or when you modify your offerings or target audience, your website may need a fresh coat of paint or a full remodel. This could mean everything from the design to the content, and of course, the SEO. Be sure not to take the set-it-and-forget-it approach with SEO because as your site changes, your SEO needs to be addressed as well.

Here to Help

Interested in working with a designer and developer who dots every “i” and crosses every “t”? Look no further than Exhale Design Co, and reach out to start the conversation about building your strong website and SEO foundation.

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Stefani Harris

Hey there! I'm Stefani, your website strategist, designer, developer, caretaker, and proud Google nerd. I believe in taking a mindful, holistic, and collaborative approach to accomplish your website and tech-related goals. Click here to learn more about me and Exhale Design Co. I look forward to meeting you and working with you!

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