By John Eberhard
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of getting your site to rank well on search engines for certain keywords. Basically you want people to find you when they search for your products or services.
The methods used to accomplish this have changed a lot over the years. Plus this is complicated by the fact that the search engines keep their methods of ranking sites a secret. So it’s a little like playing a game where you don’t know the rules.
In the spring of 2021 Google introduced a new major factor into the ranking equation, which is page loading speed. Your page content above the fold, meaning what you see before you start scrolling down, is supposed to load in less than 2.5 seconds. They gave this a very creative name of the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP).
So it is vital today to make sure your site is loading quickly. I use this site to measure loading speed.
You should check it multiple times over a several day period. If your LCP score is below 2.5 seconds, you’re good. If it’s over 2.5 seconds, what should you do?
You should try to determine what on the page is slowing things down. The GTMetrix test also shows something called Time to First Byte (TTFB), which is the time it takes for the server at your hosting company to start responding and downloading page contents. Google says this should be under 600 milliseconds. If this is consistently over 600 ms, you should consider changing hosting companies.
If your TTFB is good but your LCP is consistently over 2.5 seconds, you probably have some content on your page that is taking too long to download. Probably big graphics. You should always resize graphics to the size needed for the page and not bigger. A graphic going across the entire page should be no more than 1200-1400 pixels wide, and a picture going halfway across the page should be no more than 600-800 pixels wide. Some people download stock photos which are typically 4,000 to 6,000 pixels wide and upload the whole thing. That’s going to slow down your page.
I used to create big full width slide shows with 10-12 slides, or create background videos for the top of the home page. Because of these new rules I typically don’t do that anymore.
In addition to the new rules about page loading speed, there are some things we DO know about what you should do for SEO and that have not changed.
- Select keywords that are relevant to your site, get traffic research done on them, and pick ones that have as high number of searches per month as possible, but that have fewer sites competing for them.
- Write titles (60 characters or less) and descriptions (150 characters or less) for every page and blog post on your site, using your selected keywords, that are placed into the hidden code on your pages called meta-tags. In WordPress there are free plugins that help you do this for every page and post. I prefer the Yoast SEO plugin.
- One aspect of SEO that has not changed over the years is that you need to have a high number of other sites linking to your site (by high I mean 1,000-2,000 or more). The best ways to do this have also changed a lot over the years. But one method that I have used for years that is still effective and safe, is writing press releases and blog posts, linking to the website being worked on, and submit those on other sites. For press releases there are a number of free press release sites where you can submit a release. Plus I use one paid release site that sends it out broadly. For blog posts I post those on the client site, and on several client news sites I maintain. There used to be something called article directories and these used to be great for building links, but Google pretty killed them all. I have been doing link building for some clients for over 10 years, and the results are very good. But it’s not a one time action – you have to keep at it.
There are a number of SEO audit tools around. You buy a subscription, and then they analyze your site and tell you stuff that is wrong with it. Most of these tools give you a bunch of stuff that is really arbitrary, and say that that can hurt your rankings. I use a tool called seranking.com. I try to fix stuff that the tools says are wrong, at least the ones that make sense.
If you do all this your site will be in good shape.