On-site SEO: URLs, speed, structure and sitemaps

My last post talked about what SEO means to content creators in 2014. But there’s much more to SEO than keywords and content.

Here are four more things to take into account if you want your site to stand above the competition, covered in a quick ‘n’ dirty way with links to detailed information: url structure, site speed, architecture and sitemaps.

4 vital on-site SEO considerations

What is URL best practice?

It’s best to keep URLs as simple as possible, uniform in structure. Why? Because humans use them, saving them to use later, copying and saving them and using them for links. If your urls are incredibly long, meaningless and full of odd characters, they’re not user friendly. Short, sweet, simple, plain language URLs are far better.
Always use lower case and separate the words with hyphens. Avoid weird characters like # % & * { } : < > ? + and make sure you don’t leave any spaces.
It’s also a good idea to remove file extensions from standard web pages: php, .html, .htm etc, but leave them in for images: PDFs, music files and so on.
Here’s some great URL advice from Search Engine Journal.

What about optimal site structure and architecture?

Google’s guidelines are clear. Here are some of their most important recommendations:

  • Use a clear hierarchy and text links
  • Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link
  • Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number (some experts say 150 is quite enough)
  • Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content and links
  • Make sure that your <title> elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate
  • If you decide to use dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a “?” character), be aware that not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages as well as static pages
  • Make sure your CMS creates pages and links that search engines can actually crawl
  • Keep important pages within several clicks of the site home page
  • Provide intuitive navigation facilities
  • Ensure your links are crawlable for search engine spiders
  • Use descriptive anchor text

And here’s a excellent plain language blog post about creating a site structure Google will love.

Why is website speed important?

Google’s webmaster recommendations say you should monitor your site’s performance and optimise load times. It helps you deliver the best possible user experience and also helps Google provide the best search results.
Fast-loading and performing sites increase user satisfaction and improve the overall quality of the internet, especially important since the majority of users worldwide still don’t have broadband connections. As webmasters improve their sites, the overall speed of the web should also improve.
Google recommends you monitor site performance using a tool like Page Speed, YSlow or WebPagetest. There are plenty of free tools and some excellent advice here on the Google blog, in this post: Let’s Make The Web Faster.
There’s also a really good Site Performance tool in Google Webmaster Tools, which reveals the speed of your website as experienced by users around the world.

About sitemaps – What is best practice?

A sitemap does exactly what it says on the tin, providing a map of your site for search engines and humans to follow. The best set up websites have two sitemaps, HTML and XML. They’re very different but equally important.
HTML sitemaps support a search engine spider’s journey as it crawls a site. They can also play a vital role as a navigation aid for some site visitors. Google makes these simple HTML sitemap recommendations:

  • Offer a sitemap to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site
  • If the site map has a great many links, you might want to break the sitemap into multiple pages

XML sitemaps are non-HTML, usually generated/updated as soon as you add or remove pages from your website. It’s their job to tell search engines about a site’s pages and elements. They can be used to provide Google with meta data about specific types of content, for example images, video and mobile-specific content.
Here’s some information from Google about sitemaps.

Google webmaster guidelines

If that little lot has whetted your appetite, you’ll love  Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. While they aren’t always in the plainest language, they’re your best first stop if you want reliable on-site SEO advice. You can sign in here or visit their Help Centre.

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