SEO Best Practices: 10 Ways to Boost Organic Rankings & Traffic

Sandeep Mallya

Apr 25, 202415 min read
SEO Best Practices


What Are SEO Best Practices?

SEO best practices are tried-and-tested tactics for improving a website or brand’s visibility in search engine results pages. Without paying for ads.

Following these best practices can help you improve brand awareness. And get more organic traffic (unpaid clicks) from search engines like Google.

10 SEO Best Practices to Follow

Here are the 10 most important SEO best practices you need to know:

1. Align Your Content with Search Intent

Search intent (also called “user intent”) is the purpose behind every search query.

If you’d like to rank on page one of Google, you need to understand search intent and create content that matches it.

For instance, take a look at the search results for “how to make oatmeal cookies.”

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. 

Like this:

The search results for “buy oatmeal cookies”

In this case, Google understands that people are looking to buy. Hence, no links to oatmeal cookie recipes. 

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, choose your target country, and hit “Search.” 

search for "oatmeal cookie" in Keyword Overview tool

Then, refer to the box labeled “Intent.”

Our example shows that “oatmeal cookie” has informational intent. So, people are probably looking for recipes.

Search intent shown in Semrush’s Keyword Overview tool

You can get more insight into intent by looking at the search engine results page (SERP).

Just scroll down to the “SERP Analysis” section and click “View SERP.” 

View SERP button highlighted

As you can see, the “oatmeal cookie” SERP is indeed dominated by recipes. So, you probably won’t rank well with a transactional page.

search results page for "oatmeal cookie" shows oatmeal cookie recipes ranking for top organic results

2. Leverage Primary Keywords

A primary keyword is the main search term you want a page to rank for.

By using the primary keyword strategically, you can optimize your page for search engines. And get better rankings.

We recommend that you include your primary keyword (or something very close to it) in the following locations:

  • Title tag: The HTML page title that can appear in the SERP
  • Meta description: The HTML page summary that can appear in the SERP
  • H1 tag: The HTML tag that contains the main on-page heading
  • Body content: The main content on the page
  • URL slug: the unique part of the page’s address

You can also optimize for secondary keywords—particularly in the body content. These represent other ways that people search for pages like yours. 

For example, if your primary keyword is “oatmeal cookie” then secondary keywords could include:

  • how to make oatmeal cookies
  • oatmeal cookie recipe
  • easy oatmeal cookies

To choose the target keywords for a page, you need to perform SEO keyword research.

Try it out with Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool

Enter a main term to base your search around, choose your target country, and click “Search.”

"oatmeal cookie" in Keyword Magic Tool search bar

By default, the tool will present “Broad Match” results that include your starting keyword or a close variation. And a variety of useful metrics.

Keyword search results for "oatmeal cookie" are oatmeal cookie recipe, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, and more

Generally, your primary keyword should be the one that best represents the overall theme of the page and has the highest search volume (average number of monthly searches).

But, you may also want to consider keyword difficulty (KD %). This percentage indicates how hard it’ll be to earn a high organic ranking—one that’s more likely to get views and clicks.

So, an authoritative recipe site might choose “oatmeal cookie recipe” (66% difficulty) as the primary keyword for their oatmeal cookie recipe.

"oatmeal cookie recipe" has 66% keyword difficulty compared to "oatmeal cookies" with has 77% keyword difficulty

Whereas a new blogger might be better off targeting “coconut oil oatmeal cookies“ (18% difficulty). 

Search for "coconut oil oatmeal cookies" shows 18% keyword difficulty in Keyword Overview tool

(To cater to search intent, the blogger will need to use coconut oil in their recipe.)

To learn more, check out our guide on choosing keywords for SEO.

3. Write Compelling Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

When optimizing a page for search, you should write a compelling title tag (HTML page title) and meta description (HTML page summary).

Because both elements have the potential to appear in SERPs.

Like this:

Title tag is Oatmeal Cookies and the meta description is "This oatmeal cookie recipe yields soft, chew cookies that belong in a bakery..."

Which means they can have a significant impact on clicks.

Plus, Google uses your title tag to better understand what your page is about. If the tag doesn’t include your primary keyword, it may suggest that your page isn’t a relevant result.

Here are some good SEO practices for title tags and meta descriptions:

  • Make sure they’re unique
  • Include your primary keyword, ideally near the front
  • Stick to 50-60 characters for titles and around 105 characters for descriptions to reduce the risk of text being cut off in the SERP
  • Use calls to action (e.g., “ Shop now”) to convince users to click through
  • Demonstrate that your page will satisfy search intent
  • Incorporate strong benefits (e.g., “free delivery”) to help your result stand out

4. Optimize Your Images

Image optimization can help to improve your overall rankings and user experience. But it can also help you earn valuable exposure in image results.

Like this:

Google image pack for oatmeal cookies shows images pulled from recipes.

Here are four best practices for image SEO:

Choose the Best File Format 

File format is important because it affects the size, quality, and accessibility of your images.

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.

Like so:

JPEG and PNG image examples show no discernable differences at first glance

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. 

WebP lossless images are 26% smaller in size compared to PNGs and 34% smaller than comparable JPEGs, according to Google

Learn more about how to use WebP in this Google guide.

Compress Your Images

Image compression is a process applied to images to minimize their size without degrading quality. 

Images are often the largest contributor to overall page size and loading time. And page speed is an important Google ranking factor.

In other words, 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 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 

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 and those viewing a page with a screen reader.

Like this:

Corgi puppy image has alt text "Baby the Corgi Puppy"

Despite advances in Google’s ability to understand images, adding alt text is still an SEO best practice. 

Make sure to:

  • Add alt text to all functional images
  • Describe the image as if you were describing it over the phone
  • Keep descriptions under 125 characters
  • Include target keywords, where relevant
  • Don’t include unnecessary terms like “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. 

Issues tab highlighted in the Site Audit tool

Then, narrow down your results by searching for “alt attributes” only. 

Like so:

Search results for “alt attributes” only

Click the “# images” link to see all the affected image URLs.

You can then log into your site and add the optimized alt text.

page list with images that are missing alt text attributes.

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.”

You may be able to use a plugin to enable lazy loading on your site. If you need help, speak to a developer.

5. Optimize Your Site’s Page Loading Speed 

Page loading speed is very important for Google. Especially on mobile. 

Which is why we recommend making your site load as quickly as possible. 

To analyze your site’s speed, use our Site Audit tool.

First, create a new project (if you haven’t already done so). Then, look for “Site Performance” and click on “View details.”

“Site Performance” section highlighted in Site Audit dashboard

Next, see and address all the errors and warnings under “Performance Issues.”

errors and warnings highlighted in the “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. 

If you do, you’ll see a list of the affected URLs and their load times.

Like this:

"Issues" tab showing pages that have slow load speed

Alternatively, use Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. 

Start by entering your URL. Then clicking “Analyze.”

PageSpeed Insights tool

You’ll see a dashboard with your site’s overall health. And a detailed report with all the ways you can improve. 

PageSpeed Insights dashboard with your site’s overall health

6. Build an Internal Linking Structure

Internal links (links between pages on your site) are important because they help users and search engines to navigate your site. And understand how pages relate to each other.

When used correctly, internal links may boost your rankings.

"How Google Discovers Pages" infographic

You can check the internal links on your site with the Site Audit tool. 

After setting up, look for the “Internal Linking” box. And click on “View details.”

“Internal Linking” box highlighted

Then, see and address all errors and warnings under “Internal Link Issues.”

“Internal Link Issues” tab highlighted

7. Improve User Experience 

Google cares about 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 and subheadings. Proper use of headers and 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 for UX and because Google uses mobile-first indexing. You can use Google’s mobile-friendly test to see how your site performs.

8. 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 intelligible to humans. 

With that in mind, here is how you can start creating well-structured URLs:

  • Use short URLs. A Backlinko study 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 users navigate your site.
Example of a good and a bad URL

Google recognizes certain kinds of backlinks (links that point from other sites to yours) as “votes of confidence.”

If your webpages 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 harmful.

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.

Enter your competitor’s domain and go to the “Indexed Pages” tab. 

“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). 

Competitor’s pages sorted by number of referring domains

Look for patterns in the top pages’ topics, style, length, and format. 

For example:

  • 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.

10. Create Useful Content 

Google encourages site owners to publish unique, useful content that’s made for people—not search engines.

This is the type of content that Google strives to rank highest in search results.

So, create content that solves your audiences’ pain points and leaves them feeling satisfied.

Here are some quick tips for success:

  • Make sure your content is written and/or reviewed by an expert in the field
  • Stick to topics that your brand may be perceived as an authority in
  • Check that all the information you provide is accurate and up to date
  • Ensure your writing is free of spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors
  • Use charts, images, videos, etc. to present information in the most effective way
  • Add subheadings, line spaces, contents lists, etc. to make your content easy to navigate

You can then apply on-page SEO techniques to make your content search-friendly.

Semrush’s SEO Writing Assistant will help keep you on the right track.

Enter your target keywords, choose your target country, and start writing. 

Then, the tool will then provide suggestions related to SEO, originality, tone of voice, and readability.

Draft for best gluten-free oatmeal cookie recipe has a score of 3.5 out of 10.

If you get stuck, the built-in AI tools can help you out.

Just head to the “Smart Writer” box. Or click highlighted text to use a shortcut.

Some draft text is highlighted with pop up that suggests rewriting the sentence. Arrow also points to Smart Writer tools box.


What Are Some Common Best SEO Practices?

Some good SEO practices include the following:

  • Optimizing website structure and content
  • Using relevant and descriptive keywords
  • Creating high-quality and valuable content
  • Building high-quality backlinks
  • Optimizing website speed and mobile-friendliness
  • Regularly updating and maintaining your website

Will My Website Automatically Rank Well if I Follow All SEO Best Practices?

Following SEO best practices alone does not guarantee good SEO results for your website. SEO is a complex and ever-changing field. Ranking well depends on many factors, including the quality of your content, the competitiveness of your industry, and the effectiveness of your overall marketing strategy.

How Should I Prioritize the Various SEO Tasks?

Prioritizing SEO tasks can depend on several factors—the website’s goals, audience, and competition, for example. However, a good starting point is to prioritize tasks based on their potential impact on the website’s overall organic performance. 

Some high-priority tasks include improving website speed, optimizing content for target keywords, and ensuring website mobile-friendliness.

What Are the Most Important SEO Factors for My Website?

The most important organic SEO factors may vary by type of website, industry, and other factors. But they often include keyword research and optimization, creating high-quality content, building backlinks, and ensuring that the website has a user-friendly design and structure.

What Are Some Best Practices for On-page SEO?

Some best practices for on-page SEO include optimizing your page titles, meta descriptions, header tags, and content for keywords, using descriptive and SEO-friendly URLs, and optimizing images with descriptive alt text.

What Are Some Off-page SEO Best Practices for 2024?

While different marketers will have different opinions about off-page SEO tasks, some of the most common best practices include:

  • Building high-quality backlinks from reputable websites
  • Creating engaging and “link-worthy” content
  • Promoting content through social media
  • Participating in online communities and forums relevant to your niche

What Are Some Best Practices for Technical SEO?

Technical SEO best practices include optimizing website speed and performance, using HTTPS encryption, creating an XML sitemap, and ensuring search engines can properly crawl your content.

What Are the Best Practices for Local SEO?

Some best practices for local SEO include:

  • Creating a Google Business Profile listing and ensuring it is accurate and up to date
  • Consistently using accurate and consistent business information (name, address, phone number) across all online directories and listings
  • Obtaining customer reviews on platforms like Google and Yelp
  • Creating local content that is relevant to your target audience
  • Using local keywords in your website content, title tags, and URLs
  • Building local backlinks by networking with other local businesses and organizations

What Are the Best Practices for International SEO?

Here are some best practices related to international SEO:

  • Use hreflang tags to specify language and regional targeting for your webpages
  • Use country-specific top-level domains (ccTLDs) or subdomains to house your international content based on country or region
  • Optimize your content for the local language and cultural preferences of your target audience
  • Optimize your website’s loading speed for international audiences by using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

What Are Some Best Practices for SEO Content creation?

Some best practices for SEO content creation include conducting keyword research to target relevant keywords, creating high-quality and original content, incorporating headers and subheaders, optimizing meta descriptions and title tags, including internal and external links, and regularly updating and refreshing content.

What Internal Linking Best Practices Should I Keep in Mind?

Your internal linking strategy will be off to a good start if you keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Link relevant pages: Only link pages that are relevant to the content on the current page
  • Use descriptive anchor text: Use relevant anchor text that accurately describes the linked page
  • Use natural linking: Links should be natural and fit within the flow of the content
  • Keep it simple: Avoid overloading a page with too many internal links
  • Use sitemaps: Use sitemaps to cover any internal linking gaps you may have and help search engines crawl and index your website effectively
  • Consider user experience: Make sure your internal links improve the user experience by providing additional relevant information

What Are the Best Practices for Writing Title Tags?

Some best practices for writing title tags include the following:

  • Keep the title tag length around 50 to 60 characters
  • Include the primary keyword of the page in the title tag
  • Make sure the title tag accurately reflects the content on the page
  • Write unique title tags for each page on your website
  • Use title tags to entice clicks from search engine users

What Are the Best Practices for Writing Meta Descriptions?

Here are some best practices to keep in mind when you’re writing meta descriptions:

  • Keep them concise. Meta descriptions should ideally be between 150 and 160 characters.
  • Use action-oriented language. Encourage users to click through to your website with active verbs and calls to action.
  • Highlight unique selling points. Showcase what makes your content unique and why users should click on it.
  • Include relevant keywords. Use relevant keywords that reflect the content of the page. Meta descriptions aren’t used for ranking, but Google may bold terms from the user’s search.
  • Don’t duplicate meta descriptions. Each page should have a unique meta description that reflects its specific content.

When Optimizing for Page Speed, What Best Practices Should I Keep in Mind?

When optimizing for page speed, keep in mind the following best practices:

Get SEO Recommendations for Your Site

Semrush tools are designed to help you follow SEO best practices.

We recommend starting out with these two tools:

Create your free account to try them out now.

Author Photo
Sandeep Mallya is the Founder & CEO of Startup Cafe Digital, an award-winning digital marketing agency in Bangalore, India. He is an active member of the startup community, having worked with several early-stage startups and accelerators. He also runs, a popular SEO and online marketing blog. He launched the blog in 2016 as a side project to document all the strategies, tools, and tactics he was using to grow his digital marketing agency. The goal was simple: to arm other solopreneurs with all the right information and tools they needed to launch a successful online business. Since then, 99signals has grown significantly and generates over $5,000 in side income each month. The blog currently features 200+ in-depth articles, how-to guides, and actionable tips on a wide range of marketing topics — from SEO and content marketing to social media marketing and affiliate marketing.
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