SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of ensuring that a site is search engine-friendly, so that it shows up as a top results when people search for our organization or for search terms relevant to us. The SEO process is ongoing; while there are some effective best practices that should be implemented to increase our likelihood of being ranked highly in search engines like Google, there is an element of trial and error involved.
The following are SEO best practices that should be applied to the site at all times:
1. Every site page should be accessible to search engine crawlers (“bots” that navigate the entire web to find and index pages); to ensure these crawlers can access every site page, there should be at least one regular, text-based hyperlink to every site page. If a page is not linked to from any other place on the site, crawlers are unlikely to locate it.
2. Avoid using Flash software
3. Use of images in place of text should be very minimal; images should be used throughout the site, but images that include text should be avoided if possible.
4. Build a flat site hierarchy, not deep site hierarchy; don’t bury pages so that visitors must click through many pages simply to access a specific page.
5. Page titles (the titles that appear across the top of your browser) should be clear and unique, with the site title at end.
6. Give each page unique meta descriptions; on WordPress, this can be accomplished using the Yoast SEO plugin.
7. Keep heading heading tags in hierarchy; for example, do not use the <h3> HTML tag above the <h1> tag on a page
8. Use <h1> only once on page
9. Give every image a relevant name and alt tag description
10. Create sitemap in HTML and XML, and robots.txt file; these files tell site crawlers how to navigate our site. This can be accomplished in WordPress using the Yoast SEO plugin.
To figure out which sites to list first on a page of search results, Google places significant emphasis on sites that have been linked to a lot. If a lot of people are linking to a specific site, Google infers the site is credible and has valuable content. Both the quantity and quality of links matter for site rankings.
Internal links are important for helping Google crawlers to navigate our site. We should pay attention to building out two different types of internal links:
- Navigation links – links in the menus, footers and other site frameworks
- Contextual links – hyperlinks included throughout the site content, linking to other relevant site pages. If something is mentioned on one page that relates to another page we have on our site, we need to be sure to include a contextual link.
External links are created when other websites link to a page on our website. The more different sites that link to our content, the more valuable Google considers our site.
There are multiple strategies for building out the number of external links that point toward our site. The most relevant to us include the following (click the below to expand):
External linking strategies
1. Web directories – finding relevant and reputable web directories and making sure that our organization is listed there. Examples targets include: I Live Here, I Give Here; Greenlights for Nonprofit Success; VolunteerMatch; Texas EcoUSA
2. Social media – making sure that we are posting our content to social media, and making it easy for others to do the same through social share buttons on our site.
3. Site partner relationships – finding reputable sites with similar interests or niches, and reaching out to them to share our content, as well as encouraging them to share this content with their site visitors. This is an easier sell if we also offer to promote some of their content through our own site.
4. Referral relationships – using Google Analytics to identify our top referrers, and then reaching out to these sites to solidify and build on these relationships.
5. Op-eds and other earned media – maximizing online op-ed opportunities by including contextual links to our own relevant content throughout the piece.
6. Guest blog relationships – identifying thought leaders in our focus areas and pitching a blog exchange, in which they blog for our site and we blog for theirs; using this as an opportunity to include more contextual links to our site in our guest blog on their site.
To ensure that our content is ranked highly within search engines like Google, we need to make sure that our site contains the terms for which people are searching. Keyword research is the process of attempting to think like our target audiences to understand what they might be searching for online, and then making sure that our content includes these key words / phrases.
The keyword optimization process includes the following:
1) Consider target audience: What are they thinking?
2) Research best keywords using Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends
3) After identifying high-value keywords, build out the information that brings most value to our audiences. These keywords are the ones with a large number of monthly searches, but low competition.
4) Use keywords in heading tags. Make sure each page has a <h1> title section that includes the target keyword for the page – this is the tag that Google looks for to signify the header, or title, of the page.
Based on preliminary research into water-related keywords (filtered by searches conducted within Texas), these are keywords we should consider.
As identified in the marketing strategy section of this document, advertising through Google AdsWords (or pay-per-click/PPC advertising) is a venue that we should explore. Using the keyword research tactics described above, we should select keywords with the most promise and try out a different campaign on a quarterly basis.
Each AdWords campaign should be designed around a very specific call to action or purpose, so that we can ensure we are both able to measure our success, and able to maximize our spending. It may be appropriate to create a new landing page specific to each AdWords campaign.
Examples of possible AdWords campaigns include a campaign focused on driving newsletter subscriptions, a campaign focused on promoting our TLW video, or a campaign focused on increasing attendance for a big event.
Social media optimization
Optimizing a site for social media sharing means making sure that each page contains the necessary elements to be shared effectively on social media – mainly an image, a title and a brief description.
We are utilizing the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin to help with this process; it allows us to set the metadata when each specific post or page is shared on social media. Currently, this plugin allows us to edit the metadata specifically for Facebook and Twitter; Pinterest simply pulls from the same info that we designate for Facebook.
When setting titles and descriptions for these channels, it is a good idea to keep the copy short and sweet so that it isn’t cut off in the social media posts.
Just as important as setting the title and description metadata is setting the images. The following are the ideal dimensions for each platform (as of May 2017):
- Facebook: 1200x628px
- Twitter: 1024x512px
- Pinterest: 735x1102px
While the ideal dimensions for Facebook and Twitter are different, the same image can usually be used for both. Pinterest can also technically use these same dimensions, and will simply pull from the image specified for Facebook; however, this is not necessarily the presentation that is most successful for Pinterest.
More details about optimization for Pinterest
If we believe a post or page has the potential to do well on Pinterest, we should create a separate image (using the above dimensions) for sharing to Pinterest. This image should also contain some kind of text overlay that gives information about the page/post (ex: 5 ways to conserve water in your garden). Because pins don’t show any text unless clicked on, images with text overlays are most successful on Pinterest.
Pages/posts with the following topics should be considered for creating a separate Pinterest image:
- “How to” pieces
- Pieces that could be used in school curriculums (lots of teachers on Pinterest!)
- “Go and do” pieces about exploring Texas waterholes, etc.
To add the Pinterest-ready image to a page or post, edit the HTML of the post to include the following code: <div style=“display:none;”><img src=”IMAGE SRC HERE”></div>