Great search engine optimization (SEO) allows your site to rank on search engines like Google for relevant questions people type into their web browser or verbally ask their smart devices.
This way, users who are unfamiliar with your organization can find your website. Unfortunately, many associations lack the SEO know-how and manpower required to:
- Keep up with Google Search’s changing “PageRank” algorithm and ranking system.
- Implement the necessary practices to make your site findable and measurable.
There are, however, core SEO ingredients that remain constant. These include having in-depth yet easily digestible content, a fast site with quick page loading speeds, and backlinks to your site from industry authorities.
In fact, the three most important SEO factors include:
Google’s ranking system emphasizes UX signals such as time-on-site and dwell time (aka the time spent on your page after clicking your search result listing) to reward top-quality content.
There are a number of free tools to monitor content quality, including keeping tabs on your bounce rate in Google Analytics and using a free website crawler such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider to improve content quality and on-page SEO.
There’s also a correlation between depth of topic coverage and Google rankings. So, pages that cover every angle of a topic and includes Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords (LSI) keywords (aka related search queries) are likely to have an edge over posts that partially cover a topic.
You should also consider using short paragraphs so your content is easy to scroll through on mobile. Each “paragraph” should have 1-3 sentences max and use good transitions. Your subsections should also be short.
As a general rule of thumb, keep each section to a max of 300 words. If a section is longer than that, then split it up with appropriate headers.
Related Article: How to Write Web Content that Engages Members
Fast websites that mobile users can efficiently use have an edge in Google’s relatively new “Mobile-Only Index” in which only mobile sites are used for indexing and ranking. Desktop versions are ignored.
You can test and monitor your web page's mobile speed and performance using Google PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix.
GTmetrix lets you test your website from a device and browser of your choosing. PageSpeed Insights, on the other hand, shows you two sets of results: one for mobile and one for desktop.
However, both tools give you actionable recommendations on how to increase the speed and “responsiveness” of your website across all devices and screen sizes.
Also, be sure to get a dedicated website server from a solid cloud-based hosting provider. Dedicated servers are significantly faster, more reliable, and more secure than shared hosting servers.
The benefits of going with a managed cloud hosting provider like DelCor, AWS, or Rackspace include increased server uptime, security, cost-efficiency, scalability, backup and recovery, location independence, and the ability to leverage the latest technology.
Site speed best practices
Here are some quick best practices to ensure lightning fast website loading speeds on smartphone and mobile devices:
- Develop pages and templates manually to use the least amount of code.
- Avoid plugins (e.g. revolution sliders), stylesheets, and bulky scripts as much as possible.
- Conditionally load any necessary scripts and styles only when they’re in use.
- Enable HTML caching and Redis object cache to reduce server requests.
- Upload images at about 1280px x 720px to reduce size and ensure high-res on mobile.
- Use WebP images and Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) icons where possible.
- Use the native system-stack font on operating systems instead of loading custom fonts to reduce server requests, boost speed, and improve accessibility and readability.
Building backlinks to your site is just as important as having value-packed content and a speedy quick site. In fact, the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2 through #10.
Strengthening your backlink profile takes time, but it’s a necessary “off-page” SEO strategy for indexing and ranking. It signals to Google and search engines that your site is trustworthy and authoritative.
The good news is that the number of sites that link to you is NOT as critical as the QUALITY of sites. But you should still focus on getting backlinks from aged domains and increasing the number and quality of unique referring domains linking to your site.
In fact, the number and quality of referring domains are two of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm based on a recent SEO study of 1 million Google Search results. Ahrefs is one of the best free SEO tools to find and monitor backlinks to your website and your competitors.
Beyond backlinking campaigns, other off-page SEO strategies include:
- Guest posting on industry authority sites.
- Increasing your business listings in relevant places including on different social media channels, round-up pages and industry-related websites, Google My Business for organizations that have a physical location, and reputable online business directories.
On-Page SEO Elements Best Practices
In addition to monitoring topic trends and competitive SEO strategies, you should also implement on-page SEO best practices to drive new eyeballs to your site.
Here are essential on-page elements that are particularly important on your blog posts, resource pages, and landing pages because these are typically the pages that are most “rankable.”
Query Research & Usage
Focus each article you post on one topic and cover everything there is to know about it. No two posts should target the same topic.
So make use of “keyword” and related query research platforms like Google Trends, LSI Graph, Answer The Public, as well as Google’s Autocomplete predictions and related search terms to find good blog topics.
When looking at Google Autocomplete (pictured above) and related searches (pictured below) for SEO, be sure to use:
- An incognito window so your search history doesn’t influence the predictions you get.
- A U.S.-based VPN connection if you’re outside the country or a VPN for the location where your target audience is.
Using these free keyword research tools, you can gain insight into what your audience is searching for and “long-tail” keywords you should target within a single piece of content.
Long tail keywords are longer and more specific search phrases. For example, “best association websites this year” is a long-tail version of the short-tail keyword “association websites.”
Once you’ve gathered potential topics and related phrases, use an SEO tool like Ahrefs or Moz Keyword Explorer to analyze the difficulty of ranking for those topics, see the content types and backlinks for top ranking pages, and start organizing the structure of your blog post.
Go all in by optimizing for voice search. Siri, Alexa, and other voice-assisted search agents are also not going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, they’re becoming more critical for organic search performance. Take advantage of this by:
- Using voice-optimized keyword research platforms like Answer The Public to find related queries that users are verbally asking their devices.
- Include those voice-enabled queries as subheadings in an article exploring the broader associated topic. Voice-search keywords are often formatted as questions (e.g. “What is”, “When”, or “How to” queries) .
- Answer those questions directly and succinctly with plain text. If you’re targeting the featured snippet on SERPs (which we’ll cover shortly), it’s best to keep your answer snippet to 43 or 44 words and put it in bold. Forget the fluff with your featured snippets and get to the point.
Best practices for using “focus topics”
Don’t go overboard with keywords in your blog posts. Search engines will ding you for keyword stuffing. Your UX will suffer as well.
Search engines don't publicize an ideal keyword density so you must use discretion and best practices as a guide. However, most SEO experts believe that an ideal keyword density is around 1% to 2% so you can use this as a general rule of thumb.
If possible, aim to have your focus topic or keyword phrase appear:
- In the first paragraph and the last sentence of each post. Having your keyword appear in the first 100 words of a page’s content is associated with first page Google rankings.
- Only once every 300-500 words so you don't get flagged. Keyword density isn’t as important as it once was, but Google may use it to determine the topic of your page.
- In the meta description that describes the content of your post and appears on search engine result pages (SERPs) that are generated when you're searching Google or another search engine.
- At the beginning of your title tag, if it makes sense.
- At the beginning of your short, date-free post URL.
- Within your “image alt texts” and file names, as appropriate.
Including your primary and related keyword queries (i.e. LSI keywords) in your H2 and H3 subheaders (which we’ll discuss in a minute) may also provide relevancy signals to search engines, although they’re likely weaker than these other on-page SEO elements.
Click-Worthy & Keyword-Rich Title Tag
The webpage title, also known as the title tag, is an HTML element that specifies the title of the page. The title tag is not the header (or the H1, which we’ll discuss below) that appears at the top of your actual page. Instead, it appears at the top of your browser window and on SERPs.
The title tag of this guide you’re reading now, for example, looks like this in it’s raw HTML form:
<title>The Ultimate Guide to Websites for Associations | Brightfind</title>
An important component of SEO-rich content, your page’s title tag should:
- If possible, include the primary topic phrase toward the beginning of the title.
- If it makes sense and you have space, include related terms and long-tailed variations as most pages don’t rank only for the main topic. Related phrases don’t have to be an exact match.
- Be engaging and compelling enough to get potential visitors to click on it over other search result listings.
- Be about 50–60 characters long, so make it count. If your title tag is too long, Google will cut it off. And if it’s too short, then you waste valuable space that you could use to describe what your page is about, grab the attention of searchers, and convert them to site visitors.
Engaging & Descriptive H1 Tag
The H1 tag is a HTML element that appears at the top of your webpage. Most people refer to this as the “title” of the page but it’s really the heading of the page.
Your H1 should be similar enough to the title tag displayed on the SERPs so that visitors know they’re in the right place. Your H1 should also be compelling enough to get visitors to read the contents and not immediately bounce from the page. Your bounce rate is critical to your overall “PageRank” and SEO health.
For example, the H1 for this guide looks like this in it’s raw HTML form:
<H1>The Ultimate Guide to Websites for Associations (with Examples)</H1>
Every page on your site should only have a single H1 at the top of the page. No more and no less.
Your heading structure simply helps potential search engine “crawlers” or “bots” understand what's on the page. In fact, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, John Mueller, says:
Your heading structure should generally follow the format H1 > H2 > H3 > H4 depending on how many subheadings and “sub-subheadings” you have. So, for example, your page could have a heading structure similar to:
Simply put, your page heading structure should follow a structure with the H1 being the most important (and the first header on the page) and the others following under it accordingly.
However, many site designers and developers incorrectly select headings based on appearance. Or, they may use headings for subtitles and one-liners below headings, taglines, and slogans instead of styled paragraph <p> or <body> tags.
Don’t repeat these same mistakes! The correct way to select headings is based on page hierarchy and categorization.
Also, don’t overuse headings. Usually, pages don't need more than an <h2>, <h3>, or sometimes <h4>’s. This current section you’re reading right now, “Heading Structure” is actually an H4. You (and Google bots) could find and categorize this section based on the following hierarchical structure:
H1: The Ultimate Guide to Websites for Associations
H2: SEO-Rich Content and Practices
H3: On-Page SEO Elements Best Practices
H4: Heading Structure
If possible, you should also format subheaders:
- As questions to boost voice search indexing.
- In chronological order (e.g. Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 or Rule 1, Rule 2) to facilitate scrolling and ease of use.
Actionable “meta description”
A meta description is an HTML element that describes the contents of your page for users and search engines. Every page can have one meta description.
This description is displayed under the page title on SERPs, so it should be action-oriented and descriptive enough to get people to click on it over the other search result options.
For example, the meta description for this guide looks like this in it’s raw HTML form within the <head> section at the beginning of this page:
<meta name="description" content="Explore the 12 web elements you need to engage and convert users to members including clear branding, awesome search, SEO, accessibility, clean UX and more.">
Your page meta description can be any length, but Google generally truncates it to about 155–160 characters. Use that space wisely by crafting a keyword-rich and engaging snippet to boost conversions to your page.
If you don’t specify a meta description or don’t write one that accurately reflects your page content, Google will choose one for you based on your page contents - so it’s better to make a solid one yourself!
Descriptive image alt text
The purpose of image “alt text” is to help individuals with disabilities better understand what an image is all about. That’s why it’s such a long-standing and important on-page SEO element.
So, don’t forget to enter a short phrase in the "alt tag" field when uploading images on your CMS/website. Don’t “keyword stuff” this image alt text field though. Simply describe the image in a few words.
If the primary query or a keyword variation makes sense, then use it. But don’t force it.
It’s also helpful (but relatively less important) to include little things like unique, article-specific image titles and meaningful file names.
Inline internal and external links
Include relevant inbound and outbound links in your blog posts to boost “link juice.” There’s no rule of thumb regarding the percentage or number of links you should have on a blog post. Instead, simply link to relevant and helpful information as necessary.
There’s some research from databox that suggests aiming for 2-5 internal links (aka links to another page or post within your site) on every post.
Regardless of the exact number though, you should simply put yourself in your readers’ shoes and consider whether that piece of content would be useful for them.
If it’s valuable, then go ahead and link to it—be it an internal link or an outbound link to an external site. I’d avoid linking to competitors though unless you’re working on some sort of partnership.
Internal linking strategy
A strong internal linking structure and routinely updating old content with new internal links:
- Creates clear click paths and indexation throughout your website.
- Helps search engines and users discover pages on your site and improve content understanding.
- Keeps your content and internal links fresh and relevant.
- Allows you to funnel traffic to a topic-specific landing page within a couple of clicks.
Within your internal linking strategy, you should also fix any broken links by monitoring HTTP response status codes, crawl issues, and server errors using Google Search Console and free website crawlers such as Screaming Frog SEO Spider.
External linking strategy
Linking outbound to authority sites and implementing robust external linking practices sends trust signals to Google about content quality and how well-researched and informational your page is. However, too many “do-follow” outbound links can hurt your page rankings.
As Google Quality Guidelines Document explains:
Here are some best practices for outbound linking:
- Only link to relevant, high-quality content sections on authoritative domains.
- The context of links should match the context of the page or section.
- Point to deep, informational pages in most cases - not home pages.
- Avoid page-to-page reciprocal linking. A reciprocal link is a set of links between two websites that point in both directions. This sometimes happens when two webmasters agree to link to each other. Such links are not like the “natural” links you earn from using good “white hat” SEO tactics and creating quality content. So avoid reciprocal linking because it can potentially hurt your SEO.
- Don’t keyword stuff inline anchor text for links. Instead, use natural keyword variations and language that flows with the content.
Structured, succinct & keyword-rich URLs
Your web page permalinks should be clean, short, and structured URLs.
Google recommends using “simple URLs” and specifically advises against “extremely long” URLs. So it's helpful to keep URLs succinct and keyword-rich by:
- Avoiding “stop” words if possible. Examples include “a”, “the”, “is”, “are”, and other words that don’t provide very useful or helpful information.
- Using the primary keyword or search phrase in the first 3-5 words after the / that follows the main domain name (e.g. www.brightfind.com HYPERLINK "http://www.brightfind.com/"⦁ /) and is separated by dashes (e.g. /this-is-a-keyword-rich-permalink). You can also use / to provide some content categorization and page hierarchies, although this isn’t always necessary.
Simply, a recent examination of 11.8 million Google search results concluded that short URLs tend to have a slight ranking advantage over longer URLs. Plus, the average URL on Google’s first page is only 66 characters long.
Appropriate schema markups
Add schema markups and structured data to your webpages’ HTML to:
- Let search engines immediately know what type of content is on your pages.
- Optimize how your content is displayed on SERPs.
- Double the chances of your pages getting clicked by leveraging “rich snippets” that have more data displayed than normal search results. It’s possible to target more than one featured snippet within a single article using schema markups and using content that answers the search query succinctly and directly.
There are schema markups for events, creative works, FAQs, articles, your “About” organization page, lists, videos, maps, products, reviews—just about any type of content that associations and nonprofit organizations offer on their websites.
There are also tons of schema plugins you can install on your site to make it easier to mark up your content. Schema Pro and All in One Schema Rich Snippets are popular but there are tons to choose from.
Online video is EXPLODING. By 2022, internet traffic is projected to be 82% video content. You’ve probably also noticed more Video Featured Snippets on SERPs. Actually, Google even highlighted Video Featured Snippets in their “Reintroduction to Featured Snippets” report.
Plus, more than half of Google Search results have at least one embedded video, and this number is on the rise. Google also owns YouTube so we should see even MORE YouTube videos in the years ahead.
So, level up your YouTube channel before it’s too late and start embedding videos with keyword-rich descriptions in your text-based blog posts.
Embedding videos is also known to significantly decrease your bounce rates, which strongly contributes to Google’s PageRank signals and can help you beat out your SEO competition.
Here are some video content best practices:
- Organize your video content into clear sections so search engines can figure out what your video is all about and use different clips in a featured snippet.
- Optimize video HTML for SEO: Search engines use your video title, description, and tags to understand your video content.
- Upload a Transcript: Include the video transcript in the YouTube description and within your blog post to help search engines fully grasp your video and minimize any confusion.
Beyond video, incorporating other media-rich content with associated alt text is also helpful to improve content quality and reduce bounce rates.
Fresh and relevant content
Continuously improving and re-optimizing old content is an excellent low-hanging fruit SEO strategy.
Rejuvenating and relaunching content is widely underutilized but can get your content to the TOP of SERPs...without having to pay for it. Actually, upgrading existing content is:
- Great for search engines because it shows that you consistently refresh your content.
- Great for users because it maintains a certain level of content relevancy and “evergreen” information that doesn't get outdated.
- Great for you because it takes much less time and effort than creating new content.
Here are the three steps to successfully relaunch your site content:
- Identify under-performing content using Google Analytics and Search Console data.
- Improve and update that content based on top competitors’ posts and your best performing posts.
- Republish your post and redistribute/repromote it through your marketing channels.
This three-step strategy is so effective because:
- New readers see your old content. When you relaunch your content, you create another opportunity for people to benefit from the information.
- Better content = more traffic. Consider how many posts on your site are outdated or mediocre. Relaunching old posts gives you the opportunity to improve that content.
- Updated content has built-in social proof. You’ll likely already have some social proofs such as social media comments and likes on the day you relaunch that content.
Of course, you should also regularly go back to all posts and ebooks to update or add relevant internal links to more recent content.
E-A-T is short for the Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness of authors and websites as a whole.
E-A-T is a crucial part of Google’s ranking algorithm because Google and other search engines don’t want to feature content written by freelancers or newbies; instead they want to serve up content from top subject matter experts in their fields.
Including an “author card” at the end of blog posts with a real author image, social media links, and a relevant description that demonstrates author E-A-T is a great starting point.
This author card should also link to the author’s full bio and a listing of the articles they’ve written. Terms of Service and Privacy Pages may also signal that your site is trustworthy and indirectly bolster E-A-T.
Other SEO Best Practices to Keep in Mind
- Publish blog posts on a consistent schedule. The ideal way to do this is to publish blogs at the same time 2-3x a week on specified days. If possible, you should always have at least two articles in buffer to maintain consistency of content delivery.
- Outline content well in advance with appropriate primary topics, related voice-search queries as subheadings, important links, and relevant calls-to-action.
- Don’t forget to categorize your posts! Categories help users and Google discover and understand your content. In particular, they help Googlebot find, index, thematically organize your content, and associate your pages. You can select more than one category if applicable for your posts. Some posts may fall into two categories or three rarely. If there is more than one category, specify the primary category.
- Add a couple of tags for the major concepts covered in each post. Tags are to blogs as hashtags are to social media - so too many aren't good. They're also becoming less important, but you should still include a couple with some solid logic behind them. No need to create overly unique tags though - it’s good to have tag themes across your site.
- Creating and submitting an XML sitemap of your website to Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
- Submitting your URL to Google and Bing after you write or relaunch an article, as well as sharing it on your social media and email channels to increase the speed of indexing, potential backlinks to your website, and SEO “link juice.”
An SEO plugin is one of the only website plugins we recommend. If you want to optimize your organic SEO, you absolutely need a good SEO plugin. They help by:
- Improving the way search engines and social media platforms understand your site content.
- Managing redirects.
- Helping you monitor and avoid dead links, broken links, duplicate content, and missed on-page opportunities.
- Suggesting internal links right from the page/post editor.
The benefits of SEO plugins significantly outweigh the downsides of website plugins and save you a ton of time and trouble from having to manually add all on-site SEO elements.
What are the best options?
Selecting a SEO plugin is a matter of personal preference. For example, what features do you want? Which features will you actually use? And how much extra “clutter” can endure in your website editor?
Siteimprove SEO is a solid SEO solution for content management systems (CMS) like Optimizely (formerly Episerver) and Sitefinity. For Wordpress sites, Rank Math and Yoast SEO are two great options. Be sure to just pick one though. You’ll run into duplicate sitemap problems and other issues if you install multiple SEO plugins on your website.
Rank Math SEO Plugin
Rank Math is much newer, while Yoast SEO is a well-established option. Rank Math
offers a lot more features than Yoast though, especially when comparing the free versions.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better for your site though – it depends on whether you’ll use those features. If you’re not going to use all those features, Rank Math allows you to disable them to avoid extra bloat (the same is true of Yoast SEO).
Many of the features of the free version of Rank Math are also things that Yoast SEO either charges for or doesn’t offer.
Rank Math also has a pretty neat analytics interface. The free version allows you to track search impressions and keyword positions from Google Search Console.
The paid version also tracks keyword rankings and traffic statistics from Google Analytics, and matches this info to your content’s SEO score.
Yoast SEO Plugin
Now if you go with the popular Yoast SEO plugin, you should know that Yoast is infamous for encouraging over-optimization of your primary keyword. Their checklists and colorful guides can be helpful though for less SEO-versed folks.
But the SEO world is quickly moving towards topic optimization rather than keyword optimization, so what's significant are the related queries and subtopics covered within a post.
Don’t pay too close attention to Yoast’s “exact-match keywords” or worry about getting the ‘green light’ on every single post. Sometimes it happens naturally, sometimes it doesn't. Just make sure your posts cover the primary query topic and related queries in-depth and accurately. That’s the most important.
Here is an example of Yoast SEO’s content scores and recommendations:
Yoast’s readability analysis, on the other hand, tells you whether your paragraphs and sections are too long, whether you’re using transition words or consecutive sentences starting with the same word, and grades you on how “well” you’re writing.
Sometimes, it’s great to be reminded to break up large chunks of content with subheaders.
Here is an example of Yoast SEO’s readability check:
But let’s be honest, a tool cannot properly grade your writing, especially if you’re a writer by trade or enjoy the art.
You still need to know basic web content best practices and should take Yoast’s readability scorecard with a grain of salt if you decide to go this route.