You’ve already written your website copy and designed a site that feels like the perfect fit for your brand and your audience… now what?
How can you make sure people are finding your website, not only immediately following your launch but months (or years) from now? And how do you make web pages load faster?
First, how you build your website determines the answers to these questions.
Second, search engine optimization, or SEO, comes into play.
SEO gives you the power to optimize your website for the long-term, making it one of the best investments you can make in your blog or business.
But knowing where to start can be rather difficult, especially with all of the confusing jargon.
The most empowering place to start optimizing your brand visibility is with your on-page SEO.
Some off-page SEO factors can fall outside of your control, like earning backlinks or getting nofollow links, but you can control how your website functions in SEO.
Today, we will focus on the things you can change as soon as today.
Let’s first talk about the importance of organizing your website and how to implement key strategies to improve your website SEO.
Organizing your website with an XML sitemap
As defined in our SEO glossary article, a sitemap is an XML file that lists all of the pages of your website. It resembles the mindmaps you made in grade school, but sitemaps function in a unique way.
Sitemaps show search engines how your website is organized. A well-managed sitemap can greatly increase a search engine’s ability to locate and access all of the relevant URLs on your website, which improves your SEO.
As site crawlers analyze your website, they are able to easily understand how your website is structured. The more user-friendly your website is for visitors and site crawlers, the better your SEO will be.
Getting started with sitemaps
You can create your sitemap with a third-party tool or on your own, so there is some freedom when choosing what works best for you. To create a sitemap, first select the specific website pages you would like search engines to crawl.
Pro tip: You will also want to determine the canonical version of your pages, which is the original version you want search engines to point to. This saves your site from looking like it has duplicate content, which can hurt your SEO.
After reviewing your XML file, you can test it in Google’s Search Console Sitemaps tool before submitting it to search engines. Once you get the all clear signal from Google that everything looks good, you can submit it.
There are two main ways you can submit your sitemap to Google:
- Submit it to Google by using the Search Console Sitemaps tool.
- Insert the following line anywhere in your robots.txt file, specifying the path to your sitemap:
To learn more about this and to see a full tutorial, please visit Google’s official help page on building and submitting sitemaps.
Understanding the importance of site speed
Now that you have a handle on how to create and submit your XML sitemap, it’s time to shift your attention to your site speed.
Why is site speed important? To start, 47% of people expect a web page to load in under two seconds, and that number continues to grow each year as attention spans get shorter and shorter.
It’s not enough just to get your desktop site speed down, either. Fifty-three percent of mobile visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load.
An easy way to test your site speed is by putting your URL into Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. It will not only score your speed from one to 100, but will also give you recommendations for improving your site speed.
Here is a quick guide to help you assess your site load time:
- Below 1 second = perfect
- 1-3 seconds = above average
- 3-7 seconds = average
- 7+ seconds = very poor
Depending on where your website currently lands, you may need to improve your site speed. We have some additional recommendations to help you do just that.
5 ways to make web pages load faster
There are dozens of ways you can improve your site speed and page load time, but we will cover some of the best and quickest tweaks you can make today.
Some of them take a few minutes whereas others take a few hours, so it’s best to take one task at a time so you can work optimization into your everyday routine.
Optimize your images
There are several things you can do to start optimizing your images. A great way to optimize your images is by compressing your image files.
Typically, the larger the size of the image file, the longer it will take to load. Compressing your image files helps you speed up image loading by minimizing the strain on your load time without needing to lose photo quality.
Another way is to add relevant keywords to your alt-text summaries, much like we discussed in our SEO terms and definitions article. It’s even better to save your images with a filename that matches the keywords in your alt-text summary.
Also, make sure you check to see if any of your images are pixelated. This could mean that they were saved with the wrong file type or size.
Use a mobile optimized theme
Make sure you invest in a theme or website building platform that gives you the ability to make optimizations to your site speed. WordPress is a favorite among web developers.
If you only focus on how your website functions on desktops, you’ll be missing out on organic traffic from mobile searches, which now accounts for 50-60% of all searches.
Google even has a “mobile friendly” label that it places on websites that are optimized for mobile within its SERPs, meaning it’s more important than ever to have a user-friendly site on all devices.
Fix broken links and site errors
Broken links commonly occur when permalinks are changed or when content is migrated to another domain. You can fix this by including a 301 redirect to the link’s new destination.
It’s smart to put your website through a broken link test before publishing your website. You can do this through Google Webmasters tool or another third-party site. This can be a relatively easy fix and makes a world of difference for your SEO.
Broken links are only one kind of site error, so you’ll also want to put your website through a site error test to make sure it is ready to launch.
Leverage browser caching
Have you ever been told to clear your browser cache but had no idea what the person was talking about? I’m raising my hand because for the longest time, I was right there with you.
I’m going to break down what browser caching means in everyday language so your eyes don’t start to glaze over. Let’s start with a simple scenario.
When you go to a new website, your web browser spends time downloading all of the new files on that page in order to properly display it on your device. Some pages may have many files to download while others have smaller files.
Naturally, this slows down the load time of new websites. But then this new website becomes one of your new favorites, like a great educational blog or your favorite online boutique.
If you’re wondering what files to cache, you may want to think about those that don’t frequently change. This could include your logo, social media icon imagery, and any other static content that you won’t be making regular edits to.
Add expires headers
If “expires headers” is a new word to you, don’t worry! We’re getting into some of the more advanced strategies now. But the next time you go into a marketing meeting and talk about it, you’ll sound like a total pro!
Expires headers tell browsers whether they should request a file from the server, or if they should instead grab it from the browser's cache.
Expires headers will reduce the need for users to download the same files from your server multiple times and reduces the number of HTTP requests that need to be made, which speeds up page load time.
Ready to optimize your site to load web pages faster?
We have more information on how to write content for search engines (and people!) and what SEO services are worth testing and investing in, but before we go, I want to challenge you to implement ONE of the site speed improvements we talked about above to make your web pages load faster.