The success measures of Search Engine Optimisation are often divided into three categories; technical, user experience and content. This is a really helpful way of showing that we all contribute to SEO success. There’s actually a lot that can be done by our content creators to give our pages the best possible chance for success.
Here are 10 golden rules to help create an SEO friendly web page.
1. Try and answer a question with your content
This can help in a multitude of ways, not least because it forces the question, ‘what do our users want to know?’, centring content around the user, not an internal stakeholder.
It also gives our content the opportunity to shine in Google Search snippets which are more prominent in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Finally, it can also give our content the potential to appear in voice searches which are an increasingly common means of searching the web, for example, via Amazon Alexa.
At its core this is very simple, if you want your web pages to appear in SERPs when someone searches ‘postgraduate degree’, then make sure the phrase ‘postgraduate degree’ is mentioned in your content. This can be enhanced by including broader keywords as you write your content, such as ‘postgraduate qualifications’ or ‘research degrees’.
Ahrefs keyword generator is a really helpful tool for expanding your keyword list and providing example questions (that include your keyword) around which content can be tailored. For example, the top question searched including the keyword ‘biology degree’ is ‘what can I do with a biology degree?’
Ahrefs also provides projections for search volume per month and a Keyword Difficulty (KD) score to help you gauge whether this is a question worth answering (the best keywords to go after are those with a high projected search volume and a low KD score). Don’t forget to switch the search filter to the UK first!
3. Utilise H1s and hierarchy text
Make sure your page is structured using headings (H1, H2 etc), as when Google crawls your web pages it will use their presence as part of its SEO assessment. Meeting this requirement provides another opportunity to make content as clear and helpful as possible. The headings are also good places to put your keywords (if appropriate).
For a full guide on how to create a well structured page see the wiki article on ‘Formatting content’.
Please remember that keyword stuffing is penalised by Google. Keywords should be included in content and headers in such a way as to enhance the user experience, clearly answer questions and provide detailed information.
4. Make sure all of your links work
Internal and external links should all be checked prior to making a page live. Broken links and 404 errors will damage the pages’ SEO score. To get more detail about how to check your links and future proof them, see Aimee’s blog post about ‘Reducing broken links and page not found messages’.
Also, make sure your links have descriptive link text, not ‘click here’ or ‘read more’, as this benefits screen readers, user understanding, and SEO.
5. Try not to use acronyms in page titles
Use the full names for departments and courses in page titles (unless there is a very commonly used abbreviation such as MSc or PhD etc). This allows additional exposure of keywords as well as offering more clarity and information to the reader.
For example, on York’s SEI page the page name is written out as the Stockholm Environment Institute as opposed to SEI.
The outcome is a page that appears like this:
6. Optimise any images you plan to include on your page
Images that are too large slow the whole page down. Bounce rates increase exponentially the slower the page loads, so to make sure users stay long enough to read your content all images must be properly optimised.
For a step-by-step guide, please see the ‘Resizing and saving your images for the web’ documentation in the wiki.
7. Keep the URL short and readable
Keep URLs clear of symbols and capital letters, and add a hyphen between words (not an underscore). For example https://www.york.ac.uk/research/themes/culture-and-communication/.
For more information on what makes a good output URI, see the wiki article linked.
If altering a pre-existing URI to make it more readable, be cautious of breaking links to the old version which may be scattered across the website. Again, refer to Aimee’s 404s blog to see how to manage this issue.
8. Content readability
To make content as readable and accessible as possible, keep sentences short and try not to use overly complicated words.
Siteimprove (our measuring tool for SEO and accessibility) says that we should “aim to make sentences between 14 and 20 words. Sentences of 14 words are considered easy to read, 17 is standard, and 21 words is fairly difficult. Readers tend to scan online texts, so shorter sentences will help them pick out the information they need more quickly.”
In terms of keeping language clear and concise, SiteImprove states that we should aim to make our content accessible to ages 12-14 years.
9. Word count
Siteimprove states that “pages with short copy (less than 250 words) can be seen as ‘weak’ by search engines, which prefer content-rich pages.” If you do not have enough content to meet this threshold perhaps consider if a new web page is necessary, or whether a different form of communication would be more appropriate.
Most spelling errors picked up by Siteimprove are actually just violations of the style guide so please check the CMS’s spellcheck button if you’re unsure. To pick up genuine errors it is always worth asking someone to proofread your content, during this process they can check your links work too!
Next time you’re creating or editing a web page, take a look at possible SEO optimisations you can build in.