The most daunting aspect of SEO is that your job is never done.
You keep on building and improving, and there is rarely a true sense of completion. But, for those of you who find it discouraging, there is also a small subset of quick fixes that require no maintenance whatsoever. Here is our list of low effort, high impact SEO improvements that are almost guaranteed to give you a fleeting sense of achievement.
1. Claim your business listing
When it comes to quick fixes, this one is hard to beat. Claiming your Google My Business (GMB) listing is free, takes just a few minutes, and improves your chances of appearing in rich snippets, maps, and organic search.
GMB is, in essence, an advanced business directory that keeps your company description, contact details, working hours, and much more. When complete, your business profile appears in the search results as a 'knowledge panel' that looks like this:
How to create a GMB profile
Sometimes your company profile is created automatically from the information available online, in which case all you have to do is claim your profile and edit it to your satisfaction. But, if your business is new, you'll have to create your profile from scratch.
- Go to Google My Business and click 'start now'.
- Fill out your business name, address, business category, phone number, and website.
- Choose a verification method and confirm your account.
That's it for the initial setup, you will now be redirected to your business dashboard, where you'll find a number of options to optimize your listing and make it more appealing to prospective clients.
How to optimize your GMB profile
In your business dashboard, you'll find countless suggestions for optimizing a GMB profile. While most of them can wait, there are a few improvements that are absolutely essential in helping your rank.
- In your business dashboard, go to the 'Info' tab and fill out your business hours and company description.
- Switch to the 'Photos' tab and add a logo, cover photo, exterior and interior photos, and a few product photos. Only upload quality images as visuals can make or break the appeal of your listing.
- It would go a long way if you ask your friends and family to leave a couple of believable reviews on your listing. Having positive reviews increases your chances of appearing in local search results dramatically.
At this point, your listing is good enough to show up in all manner of search results and be an asset to your business. There is, of course, more to be done in your GMB dashboard, but other improvements are not as urgent and can be explored at your leisure.
2. Get an SSL certificate
An SSL certificate is that thing that changes your address from HTTP to HTTPS and tells visitors that the website is safe. And Google likes it when your customers feel safe, so it gives you an advantage over those websites that don't have a certificate. In fact, Google Chrome will specifically try to scare visitors away from HTTP pages by marking them 'Not secure'.
The problem is, SSL certificates cost money. To make matters worse, prices range from free to hundreds of dollars, yet the benefits of different price points are not immediately obvious. So, how do you choose one? I've put together a brief guide that'll help you decide.
Choose a certificate type
SSL certificates differ by the level of validation: Domain Validation (DV), Organization Validation (OV), and Extended Validation (EV). In terms of security, all of them use the exact same encryption when sending data. The only difference is the level of disclosure about who is receiving the data.
In the case of a DV certificate, website users know that the data is sent to a specific domain. With an OV certificate, they know that the data is sent to a specific domain that belongs to a specific organization. And an EV certificate goes as far as disclosing the address and other details of the organization.
Why does it matter? Because it tells your customers who is responsible for handling their data. And the more they know, the safer they feel. So, if you have a website that deals with payments and personal details, you better go as far as an OV or an EV certificate.
Decide on the price
The higher the level of validation, the more work it takes to issue a certificate, the more it costs. But the main difference in price comes from additional services attached to a certificate. Issuers package their certificates with varying levels of support, warranty, and domain inclusion, and try to market their own trustworthiness as one of the selling points. Which is why seemingly similar certificates may come at drastically different price points.
At the lowest end, there are DV certificates, which are validated automatically and come at almost no cost to the issuer. DV certificates may be either free or paid, depending on the level of service attached. For paid certificates, prices start at about $20/year for a DV certificate and go up to $700/year for an EV certificate.
A free certificate can be sourced from Let's Encrypt, a non-profit certificate authority, and installed using ZeroSSL tools. This is the most labor-intensive option as you have to do the installation yourself. The other drawback is that you have to reissue this certificate every 90 days, unlike paid certificates that last between one and five years.
An increasing number of hosting providers offer free DV certificates if you buy their hosting service. Those certificates are also sourced from Let's Encrypt, but no installation is required — you can activate a certificate from your control panel. Some of the hosting providers that offer a free certificate are Bluehost, SiteGround, and HostGator.
For paid certificates, you can go to either your hosting provider or a third-party certificate authority. Going with your hosting provider is likely to be the most convenient option in terms of the installation process. But, if the prices are too steep, feel free to shop around for a cheaper option from places like Namecheap or SSLs.
Beware of mixed content
Unfortunately, the work doesn't stop with installing an SSL certificate. Even though your main HTML is now loaded via HTTPS, your other resources, like images, videos, and additional bits of code, may still be sourced via HTTP. This is what's called 'mixed content' and, as far as Google is concerned, it may cost you your secured status.
The good news is that you can use WebSite Auditor to find and manage all of your website's mixed content. Here is how you do that:
- Launch WebSite Auditor and enter your URL to create a new project.
- Go to Site Structure -> Site Audit and run an audit of your website.
- Look for mixed content results under 'Encoding and technical factors'. You'll be provided with a list of problematic pages, as well as a list of specific issues on each page.
- For each insecure element, the first thing to do is check whether it's available through HTTPS. To do that, copy the element's URL, paste it into a new browser window, and change HTTP to HTTPS. If the element loads correctly, then you are in luck — just edit the code to use HTTPS for that element.
- In case the element is not available through a secure connection, either download it and host it on your server or use a different element that's available via HTTPS.
Note: starting January 2020, Google Chrome will deal with mixed content by trying to load HTTP sources via HTTPS. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, then Chrome will simply block unsecure resources.
It's not exactly a solution for mixed content, because only some of your resources will automatically become secured. But, if you want all of your content to display properly, you still have to audit your website and manage unsecure resources.
3. Optimize for mobile
Since most searches now happen on mobile devices, Google uses the mobile version of your website to determine its search value. It signals an important shift in the way we should be thinking about websites. We use desktops to design and manage them, so we tend to think that's what websites look like. The mobile version is more of an afterthought, while it should be front and center.
How to optimize for mobile search
Mobile optimization comes in two stages. First, you implement responsive design to make sure that your website responds to various screen sizes. And then you edit the content and design elements to improve mobile user experience.
Implement responsive design
Those who've built their website on WordPress are most in luck as all they have to do is switch to a responsive theme. Some of the most popular responsive themes include Divi, Hestia, and OceanWP. A change of theme will make some elements of your website go haywire, but you should be able to manage it with a few quick adjustments.
In case you have a custom-built website, there is no choice but to edit the code, so you'll have to either hire a developer or apply the changes yourself. For those of you who are dev-savvy, here are some responsive design basics to start with.
Improve user experience
In many senses, mobile UX is a continuation of desktop UX. The guiding principles are the same — keep your design intuitive, accessible, and actionable.
Mobile browsing tends to be slower than desktop browsing, which means you have to push for an even faster website. Look into image compression, code minification, using fewer redirects, and enabling browser caching.
Google is not a big fan of pop-ups in general, but the additional danger of mobile is that even a small pop-up turns into a big one. If you must show a pop-up, make sure it uses a reasonable amount of space and doesn't inhibit webpage interactions.
Think taps, not clicks. Using a finger instead of a mouse means less precision, so make sure that all interactive elements are big enough to be tapped comfortably.
Keep all relevant navigation visible or easily accessible. That includes search, categories, sorting, filtering, return, review, and checkout buttons.
Ditch Flash in favor of HTML5. Flash is scarcely supported on mobile, so your visitors are unlikely to appreciate the content.
Run a mobile audit
Now that you have optimized your website, it's time to test its mobile performance.
The first place to turn to is Google's Mobile-Friendly Test. Google looks at your page from two perspectives: crawlability and mobile optimization. Once the test is complete, you will be supplied with a report outlining any discovered issues.
In terms of crawlability, it's important for Google to have access to all of the page resources, including CSS, images, and script files. When some of those resources are blocked, Google will end up with a skewed impression of your page and may not rank it correctly.
In terms of mobile optimization, Google looks at whether you use Flash, whether viewports are properly set, content fits the page, texts are readable, and interactive elements are easy to tap.
Page audit is offered as a part of WebSite Auditor functionality, and it covers both mobile-friendliness and mobile page speed. While mobile-friendliness is similar to what you get with a Google test, mobile page speed covers 20 factors and comes with detailed suggestions for improving each one.
To audit a page, launch WebSite Auditor, go to Content Analysis -> Page Audit, and enter a page URL. Keep in mind that the audit is run on a single page, not the entire website. If you have more than one important page, then you'll have to audit them one by one.
Hard as we try, automated tests are not a perfect imitation of human experience. The final way to test your mobile website is to use it on as many different devices as possible. One way to do it is to ask your friends, family, and employees to run your mobile website through a typical use case and report any issues they encounter.
4. Leverage user reviews
Having user reviews is a great asset to your local SEO and overall business trustworthiness. The problem is that most people are not in the habit of leaving reviews, and when they do, it's likely to be a bad one. If you want to offset this trend, then you have to actively encourage your customers to review your business.
Choose a review platform
Depending on business type, you will benefit from directing your customers to different review platforms.
GMB is the most universal place to have your business reviewed. It covers all types of businesses and feeds directly into local search results. Below is a search result for 'new york deli', and, while there is some variance, two of the top three results are the restaurants with the most GMB reviews.
For anyone in the HoReCa industry, websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor are great places to have their businesses reviewed. Google is always eager to display those reviews in local search results, and if you rank within those directories, then it's next to ranking in Google. In the example below, you can see that both Yelp and TripAdvisor results are right at the top of SERP, next to the local pack.
Ecommerce businesses will definitely benefit from having product reviews on their website. Customer reviews deliver fresh, keyword-rich content, and it tells Google that your website is becoming increasingly valuable.
Encourage user reviews
Once you've chosen the destination for your reviews, it's time to encourage your users to actually write them.
This is the easiest option for an e-commerce website. All you have to do is install a follow-up email extension and set it to ask recent customers to review purchased products.
Incentivize especially lazy customers by offering reasonable bonuses for leaving reviews. Make sure that there is a cap on how many bonus points can be earned in total.
Those who have sizeable social network communities can ask their followers to leave a review. All you have to do is craft a heartfelt post with a direct link to your platform of choice.
Make it a part of your routine to ask customers to leave a review. Simplify the process by specifying the platform, providing customers with a link, and perhaps even placing a QR code on a business card.
Leverage the power of your personal network by inviting reviews from friends and family. Those reviews will prove especially valuable if you are just starting out — with just a few of them you can improve your visibility dramatically.
Replying to reviews shows goodwill to both your customers and search engines. And replying to negative reviews is especially important. Remain polite, apologize, offer a solution, and you just might turn a negative review into a positive one. If not, then at least your other customers will see that you care.
5. Tidy up above the fold
Whenever I search for a new product or service, I go through SERP and open a whole bunch of suggestions in new tabs. Then I click through each tab and close those websites that look spammy or poorly designed. Over time, those spammy pages go down the SERP, while better-designed pages go up.
The most common offenders of the above-the-fold space are pop-ups, namely subscriptions and promos. Let's take a look at them and see if they are really necessary.
I find subscription pop-ups to be the most annoying. Subscribing to a mailing list is not the first thing I want to do when I visit a website, not before I get a chance to browse around and see what the site is about. A much better place to offer subscription would be upon checkout, at the end of a blog post, or in an email following a purchase.
Coupon codes, discounts, and other promo offers might be valuable to a visitor, but not in the form of a pop-up that blocks access to the main content of the page. A better option would be to use unobtrusive pop-ups that don't get in the way of user interactions. Below is an example from our own website, with a promo pop-up that sticks to the side of the page and allows visitors to use the site as intended.
6. Optimize images
Image optimization is one of those SEO items that's not really a priority and tends to be postponed indefinitely. Yet it's also one of those items that's likely to deliver a measurable boost for your ranking. Compressing images will improve page speed while assigning relevant alt text will help you rank in Google Images.
Add alt text
First, use WebSite Auditor to search your website for images with missing alt text. Open WebSite Auditor, go to Site Structure -> Site Audit, and specify the domain you'd like to audit. In a few minutes, you'll have a complete report of your website's performance, including a full list of images with missing alt text.
Now that you have your list of images, it's time to start assigning alt text. A good way to think about alt text is that it should be concise, but descriptive enough for a blind person to understand what is pictured. Keep in mind that alt text is not an opportunity to do keyword stuffing as Google might see this as spam. Let's use the image below for a quick exercise:
<img src="toast.jpg" alt="toast bread avocado avocados guacamole chili flakes recipe recipes healthy egg vegetarian diet dieting food marble plate breakfast lunch dinner snack kitchen"/>
<img src="toast.jpg" alt="toast"/>
<img src="toast.jpg" alt="Avocado toast set on marble tabletop"/>
Most use cases should be perfectly satisfied with an online compression tool, like TinyJPG. Just drop your image into the box, download a compressed version, and upload it to your website.
There is another user-friendly option for those using WordPress or any other CMS. All you have to do is install a compression plugin, like Smush Image Compression, and use it on new uploads as well as on images that are already being used on your website.
7. Join business directories
Joining business directories is a small part of link building, but it is also the one that can be done relatively quickly, with no further maintenance required. After all, there is a finite number of directories and it doesn't take much work to get listed.
One way to search for relevant business directories is by using LinkAssistant. Just provide it with a few relevant keywords and it will put together a list of directories complete with contact details, ranking, domain authority, and other information that'll help you find the most promising leads.
- Launch LinkAssistant and create a new project by stating your URL.
- Go to Prospects -> Link Prospects, and click 'Look for Prospects'.
- In the dialog window, select 'Directories' and click 'Next'.
- Enter keywords that are most relevant to your business, click 'Next', and then 'Finish' in the following window.
- Once the list of directories is compiled, it's likely to include thousands of results of varying quality. You can increase the relevance of results by applying filters. Click the funnel icon in the upper right corner and apply any number of filtering conditions.
That's it! You now have a list of quality prospects — check them out and see what kind of information you can contribute about your business.
8. Speed up your website
Visitors tend to quit pages that take more than two seconds to load, and Google tends to keep this in mind when ranking your website. Goes without saying that improving page speed will contribute to both your ranking and your customer satisfaction.
But perhaps your website performs adequately as it is. You can test page speed by using either a web app from Google or a desktop app from SEO PowerSuite. It's essentially the same test, except in the desktop app it's a part of a comprehensive audit that also checks your pages for a variety of other technical issues. So, if all you need is a quick speed test, then go to Google, but for an extended audit use SEO PowerSuite.
I hope this advice will deliver a few quick wins and give your SEO effort a new boost of energy. Do you know of anything to add to my list? Leave me a message in the comment section below and I'll make sure to put it up.