This article is based on a talk given by Maddy Miller at the University of Queensland. Maddy is a software engineer at Clipchamp. The original talk and full transcript are available here.
There is no better feeling than having people all over the world use and love the product that you’ve spent years perfecting. It’s a reward like no other, but this reach and exposure doesn’t just come overnight. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) plays a major role in your brand’s online presence.
So what’s the most effective way to apply SEO to your personal website? This blog will discuss strategies you can do to boost your SEO yourself, and for free.
Things to keep in mind before starting
Technical and non-technical SEO uncovered
How to start improving your SEO
What is SEO?
Let’s start off with the basics. SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s basically optimizing your content to appear in search engines first and gives you the chance to rank before your competitors.
SEO isn’t a quick fix. There is no magic “SEO button” users can press and your website will skyrocket to number one on Google. It’s best to think of it as a very long-term marketing strategy that isn’t a 100% guarantee but is still totally worth using. Search engines don’t give users information on what will work and what won’t work, so it’s purely up to trial and error.
Why should you care about SEO?
SEO gives your website a greater chance of being noticed by potential customers. For some reason, people trust Google results. If your business shows up first and frequently, users will associate you with trust in that specific topic. Most importantly, SEO is a ridiculously useful and marketable skill that is often overlooked by developers.
Understanding the types of SEO
Technical SEO ensures your website can be seen correctly by a search engine, providing hints about how they should show your site. For example, if your website description tag has a bunch of high-ranking keywords in it, the search engine is likely to ignore it as it knows the description is irrelevant to your site’s content. Technical SEO helps ensure Google recognizes your non-technical SEO work.
Non-technical SEO is the SEO for your actual website, such as making your website user-friendly, good readability, including strategic keywords, linking to relevant resources and call-to-actions. Technical and non-technical SEO go hand in hand.
Things to keep in mind before starting
How does SEO work?
Understanding how SEO works is extremely important before starting your new SEO strategy. The goal of SEO is to give users the information they are searching for. Users want to search for a product or service and find “the one” instantly. If users finish their search journey with your site, that tells Google (or any search engine they use) the user got the information they need from your site, therefore making your website a good choice.
If users click on your site, have a browse then leave to another site, that tells Google your site doesn’t have what they’re looking for. The goal is to get users to use your site, get what they want from your site and stay on there for further information. The longer they stay on your site, the happier the user is.
How long does it take to get rankings?
Definitely don’t have high expectations. You will be disappointed. Most search engines don’t favor new domains as they are seen to be “untrustworthy”. Unfair right? It can take six to twelve months before your new website will actually start getting rankings.
You might however get rankings for lower quality keywords, but for anything people realistically search for, you will struggle to get high in the rankings. Don’t let this dishearten or dissuade you. Nothing is instant as it takes time to achieve decent rankings. You can also consult an SEO company to get advice on how to rank your website better or do it for you to save time.
Designing your website
You need to determine the goal of your website. What are you trying to achieve by having your website? Do you want people to see your projects, read your blogs or is it purely for advertising your services?
Consider who your users are. What are your demographics? Let’s say your website posts about programming daily, you would most likely be targeting programmers right? Don’t promote completely random products or services that aren’t related to your target demographic.
Think about how your website will benefit users. Viewers want to gain something from looking at your site. They should feel like they have spent their time well and not just clicked a useless link.
Technical and Non-Technical SEO uncovered
HTML tags + open graph tags
There are some basic rules to follow when it comes to title and header tags, such as only including one H1 tag per page and always having them in order. OpenGragh tags are a structured data technique commonly used by social media platforms to display the title, description and images. They’re extremely useful to set up so when people share your social media posts, others are more likely to click an organized, good-looking post.
SSL certificates to Secure Your Website
Besides technical SEO, a site holder needs to think about the website's security. SSL certificate provides a strong online security that is also supported by Google. Yes, Google’s initiative ‘HTTPS Everywhere’ is accepted by browsers and operating systems. Google states that HTTPS is a ranking factor. Now, if you are searching for the right SSL certificate, then, you need to look for cheap SSL certificates as per the number of domains. For example, if a site carried a number of subdomains, you could go with cheap wildcard SSL like RapidSSL wildcard, Comodo wildcard, GeoTrust Wildcard SSL, etc. SSL certificates can be a great security to secure the website.
Sitemaps fall under the technical SEO section. Make sure your website has a sitemap in order for search engines to know what exists on your entire site. Usually, any site generator can easily generate a sitemap in no time.
Load speed and usability
Google now has a system called Core Web Vitals which are metrics that Google uses to determine how good of a user experience a site has. This includes load speed, mobile touch targets and if buttons are too close together. Making sure your site loads fast and works well on a mobile device is very important.
For most new sites, Google indexes your site on a mobile device for you. So if your site doesn’t work on a mobile, Google is going to have a hard time understanding it.
Keep in mind that not all content management systems and website builders are built equal for SEO. While a CMS like WordPress allows you to change pretty much all areas that are relevant for SEO via plugins, there are website builders where you can’t fully customize page titles or implement the latest techniques for improving your loading speed.
Content is key when it comes to non-technical SEO. The content on your website is the biggest targeting factor. Make sure you publish content that has been written clearly, is informative and concise, as well as is information that users want to read. Forget about writing content just for the sake of it.
Keyword analysis is a major asset in non-technical. Understanding what people search when looking for information is vital. Backlinks are also important. They are links to your site and pages from other websites. Internal linking is when you backlink content and information from your own site.
Basically, remember to write content your target market wants to read, including keyword research, backlinks and internal linking.
How to measure SEO
Firstly, you need to have data. To measure your success, you need to be able to quantify it and see it. My top three free tools to use are;
1. Google search console
It lets users view how your pages show up in search and how often they are clicked.
You will be notified if or when Google penalizes you when they change their guidelines.
Comparing if pages have gained more or fewer views
2. Google analytics
Check how many unique and returning users have visited your site.
Break down users by country, time of day, device type, source and internet browser.
See real-time visitors.
How long users spend on certain pages and why they leave.
Setting up events to track user interactions.
3. Ahrefs webmaster tools
Runs SEO audits on your site to tell you if you have broken links, too long or short titles - simple analysis of technical SEO problems.
Track new and lost backlinks, and referring domains.
How to start improving SEO
The main way to improve your SEO is to write content on your website pages. Google can only index written content. All pages should have a non-trivial amount of written text for search engines to see. Aim for a few hundred words.
Top tip: If you’re not good at writing, Grammarly will help you! (not sponsored). You can also invite guest bloggers to write for you. Such guest posts can help build links to your site.
Keyword analysis goes hand in hand with written content. Keyword analysis gives you an indication of what terms people are searching for and what words your competitors are using, then using those terms in your written content. An easy way to do this is to use the “people also ask” box on Google. Google Trends is a great tool to use to compare different keywords and see which one is more commonly searched for. This will also help you determine long-tail keywords.
Keywords should be used in page titles, H1 headings and throughout the body text.
Domain authority isn’t an accurate metric, as Google and search engines don’t expose it. It’s still extremely important and useful to use when estimating how trusted your site is compared to competitors. Ahrefs can help you with this.
If one page is linked to more than other pages, it’ll be trusted more and also by other trusted websites. Use domain authority to determine what sites have a chance of beating. Backlinks are also marked as “nofollow” by the site, so they do not increase domain authority.
Internal linking is important so that all pages on your site can be found in a few clicks. Make sure you hyperlink other pages on your site when relevant in text. It’s a good sign for search engines to see you have two pieces of content that are relevant to each other. Don’t overuse internal links, only link if the page is helpful and relevant to the user.
Create an acquisition loop
It might be worthwhile creating an acquisition loop, as backlinks are very hard to create as an individual. Unlike big companies, individuals don’t have teams dedicated to reaching out to sites to build backlinks. Your site should be designed in a way that convinces people to advertise for you. Add a share button to encourage people to share with their friends.
All sharing is good sharing. The more people links bring in, the higher chance of another share happening. You want to build backlinks for the sake of getting more users and traffic to your site.
New content is key. Search engines favor active sites. Update existing content or even last modified tags. This way search engines know your website has been updated. Make sure to delete all unwanted or irrelevant content.
Get found, faster!
If you implement the above SEO strategies first-hand or with the help of an SEO agency, your personal website has the best chance of ranking higher on search engines and gaining more attention from viewers. Keywords are your new best friend. Write content, increase the number of backlinks, internally link between relevant pages and encourage users to share.