There are hundreds of things you can do to get higher Google rankings.
But it’s important to get the basics down first.
In other words:
You want to make sure that your site follows current SEO best practices. That’s the foundation.
What Are SEO Best Practices?
SEO best practices are tasks designed to help improve a website’s rankings.
Common search engine optimization best practices include on-site optimization, researching keywords, and building backlinks to a site.
In fact, only 63% of Google searchers ever click on something from the second page of search results. Which is why it’s so essential to rank on the first page of Google.
You can put your best foot forward by following SEO best practices.
With that, here are the 9 most important ones you need to know.
1. Align Your Content with Search Intent
Search intent (also called “user intent”) is the purpose behind every search query.
Understanding and satisfying search intent is Google’s ultimate priority. Pages that rank on the first page have all passed Google’s test on search intent.
For instance, take a look at the search results for “how to make oatmeal cookies.”
The top search results are blog posts or videos. Not ecommerce pages selling oatmeal cookies.
Google understands that people who are searching for this keyword are looking to learn. Not to buy.
On the other hand, the results for a query like “buy oatmeal cookies” are product ads and ecommerce pages.
In this case, Google understands that people are looking to buy. Hence, no links to oatmeal cookie recipes.
If you’d like to rank on page 1 of Google, you need to understand search intent and create content that matches it.
There are four common types of search intent:
- Informational: when someone is trying to learn more about something
- Navigational: when someone is searching for a specific page or website
- Commercial: when someone is looking to learn more before making a purchase
- Transactional: when someone is intending to complete an action or purchase
To quickly find a keyword’s intent, head to Semrush’s Keyword Overview tool.
Enter your keyword, hit search, and you’ll see a box labeled “Intent.”
2. Write Compelling Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
Your page title and meta description are two of the most important meta tags on your page.
Title tags are clickable headlines that appear in SERPs (search engine results pages).
They signal to Google what your page is about. And they’re fundamental from an SEO perspective.
This is what a title tag looks like in Google’s search results:
Title tags are critical to giving users a quick insight into the content of a result. And why it’s relevant to their query.
It’s often the primary piece of information searchers use to decide which result to click on.
So, it’s important to use compelling titles for your web pages.
Generally, it’s best to keep title tags between 50 to 60 characters. This way, words won’t get cut off on desktop or mobile SERPs.
Here are some other title tag best practices to keep in mind:
- Include your target keyword
- Match search intent
- Avoid duplicate title tags
- Avoid keyword stuffing
- Keep it descriptive but concise
A meta description is a meta tag used to describe the content of a page.
It’s often displayed below the title and URL of your page in the SERP.
Meta descriptions should generally inform and interest users with a short, relevant summary of what the page is about.
They’re like a pitch that convinces a searcher that the page is exactly what they’re looking for.
Google typically truncates meta descriptions to 155–160 characters.
So, make sure your summary is accurate and succinct.
Here are a few meta description best practices to follow:
- Write a unique meta description for every page
- Use action-oriented copy
- Include your target keyword
- Match search intent
3. Optimize Your Images
Images play a crucial role in improving a visitor’s user experience.
When used the right way, images can contribute to your site’s overall SEO and boost organic traffic.
Here are four ways to optimize your images:
1. Choose the Best File Format
Images are often the largest contributor to overall page size and loading time. And page speed is an important ranking factor.
The first step is picking the best file format.
The most commonly used image formats on the web are JPEG and PNG.
Both formats use different compression techniques. Which is why the file sizes between these two can be dramatically different.
Looking at the difference in file sizes above, it would be easy to declare JPEG as the winner. But it would be a mistake.
While JPEGs look great for photographs, PNGs are best suited for images that contain text, line drawings, etc.
WebP is another popular option. It’s a modern image format that provides superior lossless and lossy compression for web images.
According to Google, WebP lossless images are 26% smaller in size compared to PNGs and 34% smaller than comparable JPEGs.
Learn more about how to use WebP in this Google guide.
2. Compress Your Images
Image compression is a process applied to images to minimize their size without degrading quality.
The larger your image file size, the longer it takes your page to load.
So it’s really important to compress your images before you upload them to your site.
Here are several free tools that can help:
- TinyPNG: uses smart lossy compression techniques to reduce the file size of your PNG and JPEG files
- ImageOptim: by far the best tool for compressing images on a Mac
- ShortPixel: a great WordPress plugin for automatically compressing images
3. Provide Alt Text for Images
Alt text (short for alternative text) is text included in HTML code to describe an image on a webpage.
It provides context for search engine crawlers as well as for those viewing a page with a screen reader.
Despite advances in Google’s ability to understand images, adding alt text to images is still necessary.
Here are several alt text best practices to follow:
- Keep it under 125 characters
- Include one main keyword for context
- Don’t include “image of” or “picture of”
To find and fix missing alt text, use Semrush’s Site Audit tool.
Start by creating a project and then clicking on the “Issues” tab.
Then, narrow down your results by searching for “alt attributes” only.
Now you can see exactly which images are causing the issue so you can log in to your site and fix them.
4. Lazy-Load Your Images
Lazy loading is a technique in app and web development that defers the loading of non-critical resources (images, videos, etc.) at page load time.
Images and videos are loaded only when users need them.
Here’s how Google explains the link between lazy loading and site performance:
“When we lazy load images and video, we reduce initial page load time, initial page weight, and system resource usage, all of which have positive impacts on performance.”
4. Optimize Your Site’s Page Loading Speed
Google considers site loading speed a primary ranking factor. Especially on mobile.
Which is why we recommend making your site load as quickly as possible.
To benchmark your site’s current loading speed, use Google’s own PageSpeed Insights tool.
Start by entering your URL, and then clicking “Analyze.”
You’ll see a dashboard with your site’s overall health. And a detailed report with all the ways you can improve.
To dig deeper, use our Site Audit tool.
First, create a new project (if you haven’t already done so). And look for “Site Performance” and click on “View details.”
Then, see and address all the errors and warnings under “Performance Issues.”
These are all the issues on your site that are preventing it from loading faster.
You can also click on “# issues” to see more about the issue and how to fix it.
You’ll see a list of URLs and their load times.
5. Build an Internal Linking Structure
Internal links are important because they establish an information hierarchy for your website. And help Google understand the content on your page.
When used the right way, internal links may have the ability to boost your rankings.
An SEO best practice is to add internal links from top-ranking pages on your site to pages that need a boost.
Generally, this means linking old pages (that perform well) to new ones. Old pages tend to have more authority.
It’s a nice shortcut to help you use internal links without having to analyze every page on your site.
That being said, you should still look out for internal linking errors. They can be detrimental to your SEO.
To quickly find and fix these errors, use the internal linking report within our Site Audit tool.
Again, start by creating your project if you haven’t already, and look for the “Internal Linking” box.
And click on “View details.”
Then, see and address all errors and warnings under “Internal Link Issues.”
6. Improve User Experience
Google keeps a close eye on how users engage with pages. As such, user experience (UX) is a key factor in helping improve search rankings.
Page speed plays a key role in improving UX. But it’s just a starting point.
Here are a few other SEO tips to ensure that users have a good experience when they visit your site:
- Use headers & subheadings: Proper use of headers & subheadings (H1, H2, H3) helps Google understand your content better and makes your text more accessible to readers
- Make your content visually appealing: Visuals help readers understand your content better. Use relevant images, videos, and screenshots to help get your point across.
- Avoid using intrusive pop-ups: Pop-ups are annoying your visitors. Since 2017, Google has penalized sites that use intrusive pop-ups, so it’s best to use them sparingly.
- Use white space: White space is fundamental for good design. According to the Interaction Design Foundation, white space improves legibility, branding, and focus.
- Make your site mobile-friendly: Mobile-friendliness is critical when it comes to UX because Google uses mobile-first indexing. You can use Google’s mobile-friendly test to see how your site performs.
7. Make Your URLs SEO-Friendly
A good URL structure gives users and search engines an idea of what the destination page is about.
Consider organizing your content so that URLs are constructed logically. And in a manner that is most intelligible to humans.
With that in mind, here is how you can start creating well-structured URLs:
- Use short URLs: A study conducted by Backlinko found that short URLs tend to outperform long URLs in SERPs.
- Include your target keyword: Always include your target keywords in the URL to increase your chances of ranking better in search results.
- Include categories or subfolders if necessary: For example, if you’re selling goods, you may have a “shop” subcategory. This helps both users and search engines navigate your site.
8. Earn Authoritative Backlinks
Google recognizes backlinks as “votes of confidence” from other sites to yours.
If your web pages have many authoritative backlinks, they’re more likely to rank well on the SERPs.
That said, not all backlinks are created equal.
Some backlinks can boost your ranking for specific search queries exponentially, while others may be considered “toxic.”
You should focus your efforts on building high-quality backlinks that can improve your chances of ranking higher for your target keywords.
One of the most effective ways to obtain authoritative backlinks is by replicating your competitors’ link building strategies.
To start, go to Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool.
First, enter your competitor’s domain, and go to the “Indexed Pages” tab.
You’ll see a table with all of your competitor’s pages sorted by number of referring domains (i.e., websites linking to it).
Look for patterns in the top pages' topics, style, length, and format.
- What does your competitor write about?
- Is the format more long-form or short?
- Do they use a lot of visual assets?
The answers to these questions should guide your content strategy. Replicate what’s working in a better or similar way.
9. Create Useful Content
Publishing original, helpful content can help you rank higher on Google.
This isn’t about content length. That’s irrelevant.
Instead, strive to solve hard problems, share learnings from your data, and challenge misconceptions.
A great strategy is to find topics that are already trending in your industry. And then create content with new angles, data, and perspectives.
To quickly find trending topics, use Semrush’s Topic Research tool.
Start by entering the topic you’d like content ideas for, and then click “Get content ideas.”
The tool will then show a vast list of potential topics. Including headlines, questions, and related searches.
All conveniently prioritized by search volume.
Now that you know how to get your foundation in place, you can dive into new and more advanced SEO approaches.
Take a look at these guides to continue learning: