Did you know that Google has indexed more than 130 trillion pages as of today?
Well, the number is probably way above that as the last time the number of pages indexed by the search engine was reported was in 2016.
You should also be aware of the fact that between 2013 and 2016 this number grew by 100 trillion, so the chances are that this number has increased astronomically since 2016.
But with all those web pages, how can you be noticed and get some attention to your website and your brand?
Making sure you have an SEO friendly website design is the first step you should take if you want to rise above the noise.
Search engine optimization is divided into two part: on page SEO and off page SEO.
Off-page SEO focus on what happens outside of your website while on-page SEO focus on optimizing what happens on your site.
As this guide will describe how to design an SEO friendly website we will exclusively focus on on-page SEO.
As this article goes in depth into each and every step needed for an SEO friendly website design feel free to use the table of content below to jump ahead.
NOTE: Even if you are knowledgeable about search engine optimization, you can still learn a lot of new things by reading this whole article.
The seven steps we are going to go over in our quest to make your website SEO friendly are:
- Step 1: Make your content SEO friendly
- Step 2: Optimize your link structure
- Step 3: Optimize meta tags
- Step 4: Optimize your URL structure
- Step 5: Keyword Targeting
Your most important content should always be in HTML format.
Search engines are not able to analyze images, videos, or flash and java plugins, so they are for this reason often ignored.
However, there is a couple of tricks you can use to provide more information to search engine about those types of content that we will develop deeper in this article.
Google crawlers (read our SEO basics guide to learn more about crawlers) run through your website and analyze your HTML text to understand what your site is about.
Everything else is not part of the indexable content.
To illustrate you will see below a screenshot of my website homepage (ChrisMangunza.com) from a user perspective as well as a search engine’s perspective to make you realize how different it looks.
Screenshot of ChrisMangunza.com from a user’s perspective. This is what you will see if you go to this website’s homepage.
Screenshot of ChrisMangunza.com’s home page from a search engine crawler’s perspective. This is what google see when crawling this website’s homepage and this is the content that will get indexed.
Now imagine if your most important content is not in the indexable content, how will Google rank your website?
You need to give the crawlers some substance they can use to understand your website.
To further illustrate let’s look at a flash website called Clouds Over Cuba which is an interactive website documenting the Cuba missile crisis.
This is what the website looks like if you were to visit it from your browser:
Now, this is what the same site looks like to the eye of Google:
Please be aware that nothing is charging here; this is literally a screenshot of how Google view the website.
Do you see how important it is to make sure your content is indexable?
The website cloudsovercuba.com’s goal is obviously not to receive SEO traffic, but it is a great way to understand what google see and optimize your site design accordingly.
When editing an image, either directly on a post or in your media library, you can add text in the “Alt Text” field.
As said above, search engines are not able to analyze images. However, you can add an alt attribute to give Google a text description of your image.
They are used within an HTML code to give context and describe the appearance and function of a picture.
This is an easy thing to do if you are using WordPress.
Alt text is used in different situations; give a description of an image to visually impaired persons using screen readers, will be displayed if an image cannot be loaded, helping search engine to index images properly.
You should always try to describe the image as best as you can in your alt attribute, keep it short, and use your keywords while avoiding keyword stuffing.
Avoid using “Image of” or “Picture of” inside your alt tags as it is already assumed that it is referring to an image.
Providing a text transcript for audio and video files on your website is a great way to give some information on your content to search engines. Ignore anything that is not text. Transcribing audio gives some background about the content on your website and makes it easier for Google to understand what it is about and what terms your pages need to be ranked for.
Just like with audios, videos, and images; search engines will skip Flash and Java plugins when analyzing your web pages. Make sure to supplement those with text to make it easier for Google crawlers to understand your website.
Give each page a Focus
Each and single page of your website should have a narrow focus. Trying to use one page to gain strong rankings for all the keywords you target is obviously not the way to go. For example, if you are a business with multiple locations, you will need a landing page for each location.
This would be the same thing if you offer multiple services. You will need a different landing page for each service you provide.
For example, my ad agency (Chris Mangunza digital) provides multiple services such as media buying, content creation, website design, and so forth.
You can see on our services pages that we have dedicated pages for every single one of our services.
Google want to give the best and most specific content possible to their user based on their search query. Why would they redirect them to a general page when they could redirect them to in-depth content specifically giving them what they are looking for?
Giving each page a specific focus will also help Google understanding what it is about. It will also make it easier to find the right keyword to rank your page for.
There is a reason why I always write in-depth content on this blog.
Due to this, I’m maybe not able to post as frequently as others at the moment, but I’m sure that when someone is looking to solve a specific problem or is trying to get certain information related to things I write about, this particular person will find everything he or she is looking for.
Fortunately, this is highly rewarded by search engines.
You should always aim to write long-form high-quality content.
But be aware, filling your content with irrelevant fluff won’t help here.
Data show that pages containing 1500 to 2000 words are more likely to reach the #1 spot on Google. On the other hand, posts having less than 300 words typically don’t rank well. Therefore, make sure always to write 300+ words for each page or post for which you want to receive organic search engine traffic.
According to a study from serpIQ, the average page ranking #1 on Google has 2416 words. Moreover, the average content length of pages in the top 10 results was more than 2000 words.
As you can see from the below graph, there’s a positive correlation between a page’s content length and a page’s rank.
Also, Pandu Nayak hinted at this in the Google Webmaster Central blog when Google introduced new search results to help users find in-depth articles.
“Users often turn to Google to answer a quick question, but research suggests that up to 10% of users’ daily information needs involve learning about a broad topic. That’s why today we’re introducing new search results to help users find in-depth articles.”
To give you another incentive to write long-form content, data from Moz.com show that there is a strong positive correlation between a page’s content length and the number of links the page receive (remember, backlinks are still one of the most critical SEO signals).
They took 500 articles on their blog and noticed that on average, the longer a piece is, the more backlinks it receives.
Last but not least, a study showed that long-form content gets more social shares than short form content.
There’s no clear set of guidelines to determine what Google qualify as quality content.
We can look at Panda to try to understand what the algorithm is looking for.
The Panda algorithm update was introduced by Google in early 2011. This update changed a lot of things and forced a lot of people to reevaluate their content marketing strategy.
This update penalized thin content, duplicate content, low-quality content, content farming, high ad-to-content ratios, poor content tied to affiliate links, and a lot more.
A lot of pages that were ranking high by the beginning of 2011 completely disappeared from rankings by the summer.
Panda benefited users in making good quality content easier to find and penalizing black hat SEO and low-quality content.
To make it short, thin and/or duplicate content gets lower rankings on search results. Copy and pasting the content of the website currently ranking #1 for your targeted keyword won’t help you get strong rankings.
Make sure your content is unique if you want to get high rankings.
Is your content readily available? Can your website visitor see your content directly or are they first landing on a squeeze page where they need to give you their information before being able to look at your content?
During the past decade, a strategy that was used a lot was to put content behind a form.
The idea was to drive more leads by asking for contact information for web visitors in exchange for the content.
However, a lot of companies are now shying over this strategy as their conversion rates continue to drop.
The downside of this strategy is that you will not be able to get organic traffic to the page behind the form.
Google crawlers won’t fill forms on your website to access your content, so you need to make sure that the pages you want to get organic traffic to are readily accessible.
When I started doing SEO, I thought that all I needed was to build some links on other websites pointing back to each and every page I wanted to rank.
Actually, it was working pretty good. But it required a lot of time, effort, and therefore money to do.
What if there was a smarter way to do it?
Working hard is good, but working smart is better.
Well, this is when internal linking comes into play.
It allows you to redistribute the ranking power throughout all your website pages.
Internal linking is a simple concept that can get really complex at the same time. However, it is a crucial step to make an SEO friendly website design.
Using internal links strategically is an easy way to improve your websites rankings.
I have been using this term a lot now, but what does it actually mean?
What is internal linking?
Moz’s blog defines Internal Links as hyperlinks that point at (target) the same domain as the domain that the link exists on (source). In layman’s terms, an internal link is one that points to another page on the same website.
To put it simply it is a link from one page to another one on the same domain.
What is the purpose of internal linking?
- Help users navigate your website
- Defines your website’s information hierarchy
- Help distribute ranking power and page authority across your website
Is there a clear path you can take to go from your home page to all the other pages on your website you want to rank?
If Google is not able to reach a page by navigating on your website, it will most likely not index it.
Make sure to have a crawlable link structure that is easily navigable, and that makes sense.
Image by ReliableSoft
Internal linking best practice
1. Link deep
Your homepage is typically one of the pages receiving the most internal links of all your pages. It is better to link to internal content deeply buried into your website architecture to strengthen and “thicken” your website.
You also typically want to avoid pages that you can find in your main menu navigation.
2. Use follow links
As mentioned above, one of the purposes of internal linking is to distribute help distribute ranking power and page authority across your website.
As we will develop in the next step, the “nofollow” attribute does not pass page authority. For that reason, why would you add the “nofollow” attribute to an internal link if you are using them in an effort to attain better overall rankings?
3. Use relevant links
Remember, you are not only optimizing for search engines, but you are also optimizing for people.
You should not link to a page and have as your only goal to get better rankings. You should also also to improve the user experience on your website and provide the best and most complete content possible.
To exemplify, let’s say I have a page on my website about nail polish and another page which is a list of the best external hard drives on the market.
Should I build a link between the two?
Well, you can always find a way to make it relevant but should you do it?
Those two pages will most likely not add value one to the other so you should probably not link them.
However, if I have a page about the best laptop currently on the market and another page about the best laptop accessories, you will notice that the two overlaps and linking them can add value to my web visitors.
4. Use a reasonable amount of links
Google themselves are unclear about the subject. They actually stated on their webmaster blog: “Limit the number of links on a page to a reasonable number (a few thousand at most).“
The catch here is when they say “a few thousand at most” it includes all the links on a page which means it includes menu links, footer links, and so on.
So what would be a reasonable amount of internal links on a post?
Well, there’s not really an answer to this question.
As a rule of thumb at Chris Mangunza Digital Marketing, we try to not go over 3 to 4 internal links depending on the length of the post.
Meta tags are words hidden in the HTML code of your page. It is a simple way to give search engines a summarized version of the content that is on your pages. It is what Google will display on search results pages about your website. Let’s get more in-depth on how to optimize the three more essential meta tags: the title tag, meta robot, and the meta description.
If you’re using WordPress, the plugin Yoast SEO is a fantastic tool you can use to easily and quickly modify your meta tags.
The title of your page is not only important to give a short and concise description of your page or blog post, but it also helps search engines to have a better idea of what your content is about.
Your title tag should contain your targeted keyword. The closer your keyword is to the front of the title the better it is.
Try to keep your title between 65 and 75 characters. Search Engine and social media sites will cut your title off if it goes beyond that limit.
As the name implies, this tag tells search engines if your page should be indexed or not. The index tag is set by default, but you obviously need to make sure to use the index tag if you want your page to rank and get organic traffic.
This tag indicates to search engines if the links on a page should be followed in order to build their index. As the index/noindex tag, it is by default set to follow.
As we saw in the previous step, it is important to have a crawlable link structure so search engines can navigate through your site and pick up all your pages.
- By default, search engines will keep a copy of each page they visited and indexed. These copies are accessible to searchers through the cached links in search results. This tag tells search engines not to save a cached copy of a page.
Those are specialized tags telling search engines not to grab descriptives snippet about a page from the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) or the Yahoo! Directory for display in the search results.
Meta description does not directly influence a page ranking. However, it does affect your click-through rate which is a direct factor taken into account by Google to build its index. If people often click to your website when searching for a particular subject, your page is more likely to rank higher.
The meta description is the little piece of text you can see in a search result page. It serves as an advertising piece describing your content.
Keep your description shorter than 160 characters as search engines will cut the snippets if it is longer.
If your page does not have a meta description, search engines will create the snippet of text that will serve as the description from other elements of your page. This is an exciting technique if one of your pages targets multiple keywords.
A uniform resource locator (URL) is the address of a resource on the Internet. A URL indicates the location of a resource as well as the protocol used to access it.
An optimized URL gives search engines as well as users an easy way to understand what your webpage is about.
Here are a few tips on how to make your URLs SEO friendly;
Use your keyword in your URL
Keywords in your URLs are a direct ranking factor. It helps Google understand what your website is about. However, make sure not to abuse it as it can result in a penalty for your website.
Keep it short but descriptive
Shorter URLs are not only easier to copy and paste into emails and blogs, but they will also be fully visible on search results pages. The challenge is to keep your URLs descriptive enough, so one can understand what your page is about and short at the same time.
Separate words with hyphens
Make sure always to use hyphens to separate words (as in SEO-friendly-website-design-guidelines). Some web applications don’t understand separators like underscores (_), plus signs (+), or spaces (%20).
If you are using WordPress, you can use the plugin Yoast SEO to modify your URL easily. Click on your current URL, and it will open a tab with the field “slug” which is the field in which you need to specify your wanted URL.
Put yourself in the shoes of people. Can you accurately predict what your content is about and what they will be able to find on your page by looking at your URL?
Is it descriptive enough?
It should go without saying that your goal here is not to put all the details about your post or page inside the URL but being able to get a rough idea of what your content is about from it is a good starting point.
Let’s look at the URL of this blog post for example. It is chrismangunza.com/seo-friendly-website-design-guideline.
It is a little bit on the longer side of things, but by reading it, you know that you will get tips on what should go into an SEO friendly website design.
Keywords dominate the world of search engines; they sort web pages in database center around a keyword. For this reason, the keyword you want your website to rank for needs to appear in your web page’s content to make your website SEO friendly.
As keywords is a big part of what Google looks at, here is where your targeted keyword should appear:
- Once in the page title, as close as possible from the beginning of it.
- At least once in the meta description
- Once near the top of the page
- At least two or three times inside your content, you can add it more often if your content is unusually long.
- At least once for an image Alt Attribute
- Once in your URLs
The plugin Yoast SEO helps you by giving you your keyword density (The percentage of time your keyword appear in your text). You should keep your keyword density between 0.5% and 3% to make your content SEO friendly.
As you can see on the above screenshot, it gives you adjustment you can make to optimize your content. For example, you will notice that I don’t have my keyphrase in my introduction yet due to the fact that as I am writing this sentence, my introduction has not been written yet.
You will also notice that my keyphrase density (also called keyword density) is way too low at the moment as it should be between 0.1% and 3%.
People have been trying to take advantage of search engines as far back as when they were created.
In their early days, keywords were one of the most importing ranking factors Google used to build its index.
The crazy thing was that crawlers were not taking into account how those keywords were used.
For that reason, keywords stuffing was a common practice which in turn resulted in bad user experience.
Today, stuffing keywords into your content, URLs, Meta Tags, and so on will do more harm than good as you can get penalized.
You should always optimize your website for people as well as search engines.
Your SEO efforts should not compromise the user experience on your website.
However, if you follow the steps outlined inside this post, use common sense, and keep your website visitors first you won’t have any problems related to over-optimization.
Be aware that over optimization is not just keyword stuffing anymore.
There is a couple of other reasons why you can get penalized;
Internal links with keyword rich anchors
As we discussed above, internal linking is an amazing way to redistribute ranking power throughout your website.
Your website should have a natural looking linking profile.
It’s all about balance.
For example, if this blog post were linked to from other pages of my website using the anchor SEO friendly website design, it would be seen by Google as I was trying to spam.
It just doesn’t look natural at all.
Of course, you can have some occasional anchors that will match the title as well as the URL of your page or blog, but it should not represent 90% of your link profile.
When Google indexes your website, it takes all the keywords you rank into consideration and build an understanding of what your website is about to rank you for other queries.
If you optimize your website for irrelevant keywords, it will lose some power and its focus.
All links pointing to your homepage
It’s all about balance again.
Your link profile needs to be diverse.
A natural link profile has links to the home page as well as links going deep inside your website’s pages as we discussed in the internal link section of this article.
Your link profile is one of the most important things in SEO so be sure to pay attention to it.
Multiple H1 headers on one page
Never use more than one H1 header.
They are supposed to be the main heading of your page.
However, you can use as much H2, H3, H4, H5,… title as you want.
Linking to toxic websites
Linking to a spammy website will negatively affect your site as well.
Always try to associate your website with respected sites and blog in your niche.
Webmasters used to get URL stuffed with keywords in an effort to rank their websites.
For example, BuyCheapTvOnline.com.
Try to avoid this as much as possible as it can contribute to penalizing your website for over-optimization.
The speed of your website and of each of your individual pages is a direct factor affecting your rankings. Not only that but if your website takes forever to load, people will leave, and this will, in turn, increase your bounce rate. A high bounce rate will also negatively affect your rankings.
Performance is not only important for search engines rankings but also for your web visitors and your conversion rate. A study by Google showed that 53% of mobile users would leave your website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load.
Being able to keep your web visitors on your website is also directly influencing your conversion rate. A lot of evidence point to the fact that a faster page load is positively correlated with sales. Studies show that “A 1-second delay in page load time equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and 7% loss in conversions.” The faster your pages load, the more pages a user will visit on your website and the more sales you will make.
You can use PageSpeed Insights which is a tool used by Google to check where you stand. They will provide you with instructions on how to improve your page speed as well as optimized pictures and script to put replace those currently on your website.
Illustrated here is the Google PageSpeed insights results for ChrisMangunza.com. As you can see our page received a desktop score of 95/100. Typically you want your score to be over 80/100.
To help you on your journey to improve your website pages’ speed, here is a list of things that can negatively affect it:
Some widgets such as social share buttons and comment area can negatively impact your page’s speed.
Your website theme is responsible for displaying content from your database in an appealing way. Themes with a lot of effects can slow down your website and negatively affect your rankings.
Choosing your web host is one of the most important decisions you need to take on your online journey. Cutting corners to save a few dollars when building or launching your website is not something you should do with hosting.
You want to set a strong foundation that will not only support your future grow and minimize the risk of experiencing problems such as slowness or downtime.
The good news is that due to a lot of competition in this space, you’re pretty much sure to find a reasonable price for a good reputable company.
There is three main categories/type of hosting. We’ll go over each one of them from the less performant to the most performant.
Shared hosting is the most popular type of hosting you will find across all companies. It is also the type of hosting where you will get the less performant servers.
Shared hosting is a good alternative for you if you’re not getting a lot of traffic and if you’re not really concerned about speed.
The big inconvenient with shared hosting is that you will typically be put on the same server as thousands of other website and their actions can potentially negatively affect your website.
Managed hosting is a significant upgrade from shared hosting. While they come at a higher price point, you can count on higher speed, scalability, and a better customer experience as well as better customer service. You are often offered the choice of choosing your server location as well as a content delivery network.
You will not share your server with as many other websites which will result and fewer resources being used.
Managed hosting comes with better resources such as SSDs, more ram, and faster processors.
Last but not least, your website will be more secure than with shared hosting. Managed hosting providers increase security protocol, daily malware scans, and protect you against all kinds of cyber threats such as DDoS attacks.
VPS & dedicated servers
VPS and dedicated servers are not necessarily faster than managed hosting solutions. However, in the case of dedicated hosting, you don’t have to worry about other websites potentially affecting you negatively as the whole server and its resources are yours to use and will be dedicated to you.
The difference with VPS (Virtual Private Servers) however is that you are put on the same server as other websites, but you have your own resources that you can use.
A picture is worth a thousand words. They give life to your website and help you better tell your brand story.
Webmasters want magnificent full-size high definition images on their websites. I know because this is the case for me as well.
However, you need to keep in mind that the bigger images on your website are the longer it will take them to load.
It works just as when you are downloading a program to your computer. The bigger the file size is, the longer it takes.
This is exactly the same for web pages.
The more things your browser need to load, the longer it is going to take to load your page.
So what is the solution?
Compress your images.
The good thing is that it’s something that is really easy to optimize as a lot of WordPress plugins such as Imagify get all the work done for you.
With Imagify you can easily optimize your images in one click, take a quick glance at the image size before/after, and make a choice between 3 compression level and see the result of your optimization.
External embed media:
Just like images, videos are extremely valuable, but they can drastically decrease your page’s speed. Hosting your videos on your own server is a great way to gain some load time.
More plugins do not necessarily result in a slower page speed but the more plugins you use, the bigger the chance is that some of them are poorly coded. The number of plugins you use is less important than the quality of them.
If a plugin load a lot of scripts and/or styles, add extra database queries, perform complex operations or remote requests to external APIs, it will negatively affect your website performance.
Putting a lot of ads on your website will not only annoy your visitors, but it will also negatively affect your pages speed
Just like with plugins, if your website HTML and CSS is not efficient or too dense, your website will load slowly.
Google is trying to make the web a more mobile-friendly place. In an effort to pursue this goal, they implemented what we call “mobile-first indexing”.
As the name implies, Google will look at the mobile version of your website first when building its index. In other words, the mobile version of your website will be considered as the main version. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly website, your rankings will be impacted negatively even for searchers on desktops.
Not only make sure your website is responsive but also check your mobile page speed with Google PageSpeed Insight (See “Page Speed” above).
Picture From Moz.com
HTTPS & SSL certificates
Back in 2014, Google officially confirmed that secured connection (HTTPS) impact rankings. Not only that but firefox and google chrome call HTTP connections not secure in the URL bar.
In addition to impacting negatively your rankings, having a website qualified not secure by web browsers will negatively impact your conversion rate. Your visitors will be less likely to fill forms or make purchases on your website.
If your website often receives spam comments you are likely to receive a User-Generated Spam penalty. It’s your responsibility to make sure your comment space is not filled with deceptive content and links.
As said by Google in this blog post, “Comments and forum threads can be a really good source of information and an efficient way of engaging a site’s users in discussions. This valuable content should not be buried by auto-generated keywords and links placed there by spammers.“
Here are some quick tips to avoid and filter the maximum amount of spam comments:
1. Add a Captcha
A Captcha is a sort of online test designed to distinguish human from a bot. They are used as security measures so bots can’t do undesirable tasks on a website.
They are those sort of mini-game asking you to write words from pictures or click on pictures showing a specific object such as a car or a bus you need to do before logging in on your account.
These help as a bot trying to comment with deceptive content on your blog will not be able to pass the test to confirm he is human to confirm the submission of its comment.
2. Use the nofollow attributes for your comment section or simply disable comments.
WordPress automatically add the “nofollow” attribute to your WordPress comment section in an effort to discourage spammer to comment on every blog to get links to their websites as it was one of the easiest ways to manipulate the search engines algorithm in their earliest days. However, some spammers don’t care as they believe that even a “nofollow” link is worth a little something.
On the other hand, some people may refrain from engaging and commenting on your posts which will, in turn, reduce your engagement rate as they feel like they are not getting any value back from it.
3. Blacklist obvious spammy words.
A quick and easy way to get rid of the most obvious spam comments is to blacklist words most commonly used in spam comments. There are lists of phrases and words you can find online that are constantly updated such as this one on GitHub.
4. Use automated plugins.
My personal favorite way to filter spam comments is to use automated plugins. They do almost all the work by themselves (filter 99.8% of spam comments on average).
5. Disable comments.
If you don’t have any comments, you can’t have any spam comment. This is a radical solution, but it works. This is something I used to do a lot with my old blogs, but you lose that interactive dimension that allows you to exchange ideas with your readers.
If I had to explain in one sentence how to build an SEO friendly website design, I would say make sure your website is fast, easy to navigate, and optimized for people before being optimized for search engines.
Google’s goal is to provide the best experience and the best content to their users.
To provide the best user experience as possible on your website, make sure it is fast to load, mobile-friendly, and easy to use.
Hosting is often overlooked by webmasters, but it plays an important role in your website’s speed.
On the other hand, make sure you optimize your website for search engines so Google can easily understand what your website talk about but also what is the focus of each page.
While optimizing for search engines, make sure to not compromise the experience for your users as it will negatively affect your rankings.
Be aware of over-optimization. It is a signal Google uses to determine if you’re trying to spam and take advantage of the algorithm.
Over-optimizing is not only keyword stuffing anymore. There’s a lot of other things you should avoid to do such as linking to spammy websites, have a non-branded keyword dense URL, and having an unnatural link profile.
Your link profile is a really important part of SEO, and you should protect it and make sure it looks natural and is balanced.
Your website should also be secured. Not only for your users but for search engines as it can result in a penalty in the opposite case.
So what is the number one thing you will apply to your own website?