A Quick Look at Web Optimisation Tools and Techniques

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Ever since the invention of search engines and page ranking algorithms, organisations have been competing for the top spot on Web search results. Here are a few tips to help you do that.

Google is the place everyone goes to, when it comes to searching for information. Be it reports, shopping, learning, finding places to visit and a whole lot else, Google knows it all.
So, how does this happen? Google keeps on collecting, analysing and indexing data all the time. It collects data from different websites and then gives us the most trustworthy results, which are based on over 200 factors. And let’s face it, the Internet is a huge space, with a lot of articles, blog websites and even user searches, and the amount of data that Google stores is massive. Organising and fetching this kind of data is a monstrous feat. This is where Google’s page ranking comes in.

Page ranking involves the evaluation of a website on a number of factors. The important factors to take care of for a higher rank are:

  • A secure website
  • An accessible website
  • Domain age and URL
  • Content quality
  • Quality backlinks
  • Social signals
  • User experience
  • Business information
  • Technical SEO
  • Page speed

A secure, crawlable website
The first factor is obviously related to the type of website you have. With so much of personal information floating about online, security is one of the key factors considered by the developer. Even the end user today knows that a website with HTTPS is more secure and trustworthy. Though not such a critical factor, having HTTPS is great for the user and the website.

How is HTTPS different from HTTP?
HTTPS is just the secure version of HTTP and works by hand shaking with another protocol, which is the secure sockets layer (SSL). This provides dual benefits — HTTP ensures that all data gets to the user and SSL secures the data exchange.

Another important aspect is whether the Google bots are able to easily reach and crawl your website. The bots must be able to reach the URL, read and understand the contents, and determine what your website is about.
Some ways to achieve this is by having:
1. A well coded website
2. Include a robots.txt file that tells Google bots where to find your site information
3. A site map

Accessibility
Today, inclusiveness has become very important and it is highly recommended that your website be accessible to those with special needs as well. Accessibility also happens to be one of the audits that Google runs for page ranking and must not be ignored.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published a set of guidelines – the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that website designers must conform to, to ensure its accessibility. Following WCAG standards while developing the website also improves your SEO, because both rely on a semantic structure and functionality.

There are new opportunities and a lot of untapped potential in exploring this aspect. You can visit the accessibility guidelines at www.w3.org to get a list of all the W3C accessibility standards and best practices.

Domain age and URL
This is another factor that affects your page ranking. Don’t take the literal meaning of ‘age’ in this case — it doesn’t matter how long you may have owned a domain name. The domain age here is measured from that point of time when Google first saw a link to your domain and indexed it.

This is one of the reasons why some companies purchase aged domains. So, if you have been around for a couple of months, you will start showing up in the Google search results.
Even your URL’s name has some contribution to your ranking. A well-crafted URL will give users as well as Google bots a clear understanding of what your website is about.

Quality backlinks
When one website links to another, this is called a backlink. Why are these important? Because having backlinks is like another website showing trust in your kind of site and vouching for it.

Backlinks are a validation of your website’s quality from other, fellow websites out there. It is very important to have backlinks from highly popular and trustworthy websites. Similarly, linking out to other websites is also important, and the authority of your page is impacted by the type of websites you link out to.
This is impacted by:
1. The anchor text used
2. Whether you choose to follow or not follow
3. The other meta tags that you are using in the website

Content quality
One of the most important factors for ranking is high quality content. Google’s own guidelines state that, “…high quality content is the single most important factor” for SEO. So, whenever a user asks Google a question, it has been designed to show the most accurate answer as the first result. Because even Google does not want users to go to some other search engine just because its first answer isn’t the best. So, if your website’s contents provide the best answers for a Google search query, your website will definitely be ranked higher among the results.

It is very important to keep the users from hitting the Back button and looking at other search results.

Don’t just stop at providing the right answer, but make sure that the contents are presentable. (Just imagine that you have the best answer to a search query; however, it is hidden inside an accordion at the end of your Web page. Would the user be able to find it?)

We can say that quality content increases search ranking which in turn leads to increased traffic for your website, and eventually leads to an increase in the conversion rate.

Social signals
An indirect factor that will boost your website’s ranking is social media presence and status. The more people share your link on different social media platforms, the more trustworthy your website is viewed as. As more people visit the website, they start linking to your page, which overall improves your website’s authority. Combine all this with an awesome website, and Google will definitely notice and start listing you higher on the search results.
For this reason, it’s important to make it easy to share your content.

  • Amplify your social status.
  • Run campaigns on social media platforms.
  • Consider guest blogging (write blogs on other high authority websites and backlink the traffic to your website).

The user experience
We spoke of this a little when we touched upon having quality content and making it more presentable. Digging a little deeper, the way a person uses your website, and interacts and navigates through it, sums up that person’s ‘user experience’ ‘and that is linked to an emotion that they feel’. Enhancing your website’s user experience is quite easy. Always put yourself in the end user’s shoes when looking at the website.

There are a few factors to consider while designing your website:
1. Important information should always be above the fold.
2. Include contact information (a lot of people will drop out of your website if they don’t find contact information).
3. Include clear and concise headings on all the pages.
4. Manage those ads (don’t let them cover the content).
5. Include videos but don’t auto-play unless necessary.
6. Provide your data through images instead of just text, tables and statistics.
7. The A/B test has new features as well as an update of the current user experience; see how it affects your conversion and implement it accordingly.

Actual business information
When searching for local businesses nearby, you may have noticed that sometimes, some of the businesses around don’t show up in the search or maps. Imagine you own an Italian restaurant and there is a potential customer around. The customer searches for ‘restaurants near me’ and you don’t show up, but your competitor does. What did you do to deserve showing up lower among the search rankings? What did your competitor do differently? Easy! Just go to Google My Business and fill up your business information there. Make sure you do not skip the following:
1. Verifying your location (you will also start showing up on maps)
2. Updating your operation timing
3. Responding to reviews
4. Adding photographs (everybody prefers websites and pages with visuals)

Google will then be able to determine your relevance, distance and prominence, thereby ranking you in the search results accordingly. You won’t lose customers because you didn’t show up in the ‘Near me’ section.

Technical SEO
Along with a well coded website, optimising your content for SEO is equally important. When crawling websites, Google looks for keywords to index the site. Take care of the following, at the minimum:
1. Use keywords in your page titles, because it is the first place that Google looks at. If you have noticed, the page title also happens to be the first line to come up in website search results.
2. Use header tags to show hierarchy. (Apart from being a good SEO practice, this is also a big aspect of accessibility compliance.)
3. Maintain a meta description of what your website has to offer. This should be short and precise. It must be able to get users to distinctly identify with your website and convince them why your website is what they are really looking for. More importantly, include keywords in your description. Nowadays, Google shows missing keywords with a strike through for the website, which is unsettling, for the user might perceive that you do not have what they are looking for.
4. Optimise your images for SEO. Do not forget your image alts. The alt tags must include information of what the image is and its relevance. This bumps up your ranking on Google image search as well.

Page speed – the most important
It is recommended that page speed should be one of the first metrics that should be taken care of while building and maintaining your website, and it should be continuously monitored. Do it right at the onset and the website will definitely work wonders. This does not imply that you cannot optimise the page speeds for existing or maintenance websites.

There are a number of audits that Google runs, which rank your website for page speed based on the following:
1. Performance
2. PWA (progressive Web app)
3. Best practices
4. Accessibility
5. SEO

It also considers how your website loads on mobiles and averages your score out, so take care of smaller devices too. We have already covered accessibility and SEO.

Performance
Ever since the recent Google algorithm speed update, the performance of your website plays a crucial role in website rankings. Many websites saw a decrease in their page ranking scores around late 2018 and have realised the importance of ‘performance’ in website ranking.

The key metrics for performance are:
1. First Contentful Paint or FCP (Is it happening?)
2. First Meaningful Paint or FMP (Is it useful?)
3. Speed index (How quickly is it loaded?)
4. First CPU idle time (Can I interact?)
5. Time to be interactive (Can I interact with all components on the page?)
6. Maximum potential first input delay (How long does the longest task run?)

FCP: This is the time taken by the website to show the first piece of content on the page. Google says that if users do not see something coming up on a website within two seconds, they drop out of the website.

FMP: This is the time taken for a page’s primary content to come up on the screen. This can include any contentful elements like text, image, canvas, etc.

Speed index: This measures how quickly the contents get displayed during page load.
First CPU idle time: This measures how long it takes for the page to become minimally interactive.
Time to be interactive: This is the time taken by your website to become fully interactive.
Maximum potential first input delay: This measures the time from when a user first interacts by clicking or tapping, to the time when the browser is actually able to respond.
You can check out your website scores at https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeedinsights.

Now that we have seen the key metrics, we need to improve on them. Some quick steps to achieve this are:

  • Reduce redirects
  • Use a content distribution network
  • Project profile
  • Use hero images
  • Choose analytics scripts wisely
  • Minimise your CSS
  • Remove render-blocking JavaScript
  • Leverage browser caching
  • Optimise images (use .png and .jpeg efficiently, sprite images)
  • Lazy load below the fold
  • Use .woff2 instead of .woff for fonts
  • Make use of a bundler
  • Avoid FOIT (flash of invisible text)
  • Use ES6

Other tools for measuring and improving performance are:

  • Lighthouse helps you measure your website page’s speed from the developer tab on Google Chrome.
  • WebpageTest.org runs numerous tests at a time on your live website and gets your field data.
  • Bundlephobia.com helps you analyse the cost of adding a particular bundle in terms of its size.
  • Lazysizes helps you optimise the loading of content below the folder.
  • Webfont generator converts your .woff font files to .woff2 files, which are much lighter to load.
  • Pagespeedinsights gives your website scores and highlights problem areas to be resolved.
  • PerfumeJS: You can integrate this library, and add checks in your code to measure how much time a piece of code takes to execute.

Progressive Web apps (PWAs)

This is a website that looks and behaves like a mobile app. PWAs are built to take advantage of native mobile device features, without requiring the end user to visit an app store.
The core values of a good PWA are:

  • Uses HTTPS
  • Has a valid Web manifest
  • Registers a service worker with a fetch event handler

Along with these, loading fast, working offline and being platform-integrated are equally expected.

Achieve this and you can score well in the PWA area too.

There are over 200 aspects to Google’s page ranking criteria. We have covered just a few here, which we as developers can easily take care of to ensure a higher Google page ranking. Hope this information helps you in some way.

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