SEO best practices change at the speed of Google’s algorithm. And that makes it hard to keep up.

But if you run an online business, you can’t afford not to. Over 90% of online consumers start the buying process with a search engine. That’s why everyone, from professional SEOs to small business owners, should know SEO best practices.

27 SEO tips and best practices for 2021

SEO best practices are a set of guidelines that help a user improve at search engine optimization, with the ultimate goal of ranking better on search engine results pages (SERPs). Below, I’ve outlined some foundational strategies, but also some easy tweaks you can use to boost your ranking today.

1. Do extensive keyword research

Keyword research is a crucial step in every SEO strategy. It will help you discover the terms visitors search in Google that are related to your business. Once you know these, you can create targeted content that shows up on SERPs, and draw visitors in from engines like Google and Bing.

SEO content marketing funnel.

2. Study the SERPs

If you want to know how to rank on page one for a particular search query, then you have to study page one for that particular search query. It sounds simple but it’s a step that a lot of beginners skip.

If mostly videos are ranking in the top positions, it means you probably need to create video to rank. On the other hand, if the content is primarily blog posts, or product pages, etc., then you may need one of those instead.

Look at related terms at the bottom of the SERP,  the featured snippet at the top (if there is one for the query), and even autocomplete searches in the search bar. This will all give you a better idea of what people are actually looking for when they type a specific query into Google.

3. Use your keyword, but don’t overdo it

It’s not uncommon for beginners to think that the more you include your keyword in content, the easier it is for search engines to find. But this tactic can actually harm search rankings more than help them. It’s known as keyword stuffing.

When creating content, use your keywords a few times naturally throughout the content. You want to include it, but not force it. Look at other top-ranking pieces of content. Use CTRL+F for particular phrases to get an idea of how many times they use them. You’ll see it’s not as many as you probably think.

4. Create a Robots.txt file

Not every page on your website has search value, so there are some you won’t want showing up on SERPs. The robots.txt tag will tell search engines which pages shouldn’t be indexed, and which should be crawled with specific parameters.

The difference between a site with robots.txt and one without.

5. Stick to what you know

To rank well in search engines, you have to prove to Google you’re an expert in what you’re creating content on. And one of the ways you do that is by focusing on one particular area.

For example, as an SEO, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be writing reviews on ecommerce products that I purchase for personal use. These sorts of ideas are great for personal blogs, but not for one that is trying to rank for SEO.

6. Keep content fresh

SEO is a great example of a field where things are always changing. Where copywriting tips that were valuable 100 years ago are still valuable today, some SEO tips that were helpful five years ago can actually get you penalized by Google now.

That’s why Google rewards freshness. Freshness means relevance to Google. And serving the most relevant results to people searching today is Google’s ultimate goal.

So update old content with new ideas. Publish new content regularly. Google will look upon you as a provider of recent and relevant answers for its searchers, and you’ll be rewarded for it.

7. Organize your content with accurate HTML

Organizing your content helps crawlers understand it, and your visitors find what they’re looking for quickly. In your content, use the title tag only once and include your keyword.

Below that, use H2s to present broad ideas, and nest H3s and H4s underneath them to present more specific concepts within them. Even outside the page title, including keywords in headings will communicate to Google that your page is about a specific keyword topic.

Within these subheadings, use bullets, bold words, italics, and/or underlines to draw attention to important concepts that aren’t important enough to have their own heading. These elements make your content easy to skim.

8. Take advantage of schema markup

Schema markup can help label your content to make it easier for search engines to crawl. It can also help you show up in organic search results with rich snippets.

Rich snippets are expanded results that include more than just meta title and meta description. They can include reviews, music information, top stories, company bios, and more.

9. Design for mobile first

With mobile indexing, Google will crawl and index your mobile site first. In order to achieve peak rank, your site needs to have a mobile version. And it needs to be prioritized. According to Google, here are a few ways to prepare for mobile-first indexing:

  1. Make sure Google can crawl and render your content
  2. Make sure content is the same on desktop and mobile
  3. Ensure structured data and URLs are the same on mobile and desktop
  4. Include the same meta tags, descriptions, etc, on both your desktop and mobile site
  5. Don’t let ads interrupt user experience
  6. Make sure your visual content follows Google best practices.

Test your website’s mobile-friendliness with Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool.

Google mobile-friendly test results.

10. Internally link your content

Once they’re on your site, crawlers and humans both find your pages the same way: Through internal links. The more you have (up to a point), the easier it is for visitors to move from page to page.  A few tips for linking internally:

  • Don’t just link arbitrarily. Internal linking should provide value. The destination you send visitors to should dive deeper on a particular topic mentioned in the source page.
  • Be clear about where you’re sending visitors to. The linked text, known as anchor text, should be descriptive. Visitors should have an idea of what they’ll find when they click through.
  • Don’t link to the same page multiple times in one piece of content.
  • Send links from your best-ranking content to content that needs a boost in search.
  • Don’t link too much. Web pages with hundreds of links may be flagged by Google as spammy.
  • Make your anchor text keyword-rich. This helps Google understand what the linked page is about.

11. Link to valuable sources when you link externally

One way Google determines the trustworthiness of your site is by looking at the pages you link out to. When you’re sending people to pages that aren’t yours, are you sending them to reputable sites? If so, it signals to Google that you have the best interest of your audience in mind, and it can contribute to a boost in reputation.

12. Remove links from spammy sites

Though you can’t control the sites who link to you, Google does use inbound links as a way to determine your reputation. If many of them come from spammy sources, Google may think by association that you are, too. Keep good company. If spammy sites are linking to you, there are ways to devalue and even get rid of them.

13. Contribute to other blogs

Guest blogging strictly for SEO isn’t looked favorably upon by Google. But that’s only because blog posts written just to get a backlink are often low-quality.

As long as you’re creating valuable content, guest blogging on a site related to your business can be a great way to gain access to a new audience and earn a backlink in the process.

14. Amplify your content with social media

Google has said that social media isn’t an official ranking factor, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t help SEO. Amplifying content with social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, can result in shares, and shares can help backlinks. Research has shown a correlation between top-ranking posts and high social shares.

Graph showing relationship between Tweets and links.

Graph showing the relationship between Facebook shares and links.


15. Maintain a high-quality content marketing initiative

Content marketing helps with off-page SEO as much as on-page SEO. When you regularly publish high-quality content, people want to read and share. The more valuable it is, the more likely it is they share, and the more likely your content is to generate backlinks.

16. Execute link-building strategies

Guest blogging generates backlinks, but it’s not widely considered a true link-building strategy. There are other ways to boost your SEO through backlinks while adding value to the user experience. Here are a few:

  • Replace broken links on other websites. You can quickly scan and find dead links on other websites with the right SEO tools. When you find them, offer to replace them with your content to provide the business’s readers with a destination that isn’t a 404 page.
  • Find uncredited mentions. Do a search for your business name. Are you seeing content that mentions you without linking back to your site?  Reach out and attempt to get a link back.
  • Replace dead inbound links. Links to your site boost search engine ranking. So if those links disappear, it can damage your SEO.  By regularly checking your inbound links, you can find which have disappeared, why, and whether those backlinks can be replaced to regain SEO strength.
  • Spy on your competitors’ backlinks. A great indication of where you can get links is where your competitors have gotten theirs. SEO tools like Ahrefs and Alexa can help you do this. When you uncover their sources, find out if there’s an opportunity for you to get a link, too.
  • Invite your associates to connect. In 2021, almost every business has a website. And anyone who’s associated with you who has a website is a possible backlink. Think of partners, vendors, clients, blogs, listings, directories, and industry colleagues. Reach out. See if they’re willing to link back to your site.

17. Optimize your images

Image search engine optimization is something a lot of people skip, but it can provide SEO value with very little work. To optimize image content:

  • Name your image alt tag something descriptive.
  • Don’t embed important text inside images. Crawlers won’t be able to read it.
  • Put your images near the relevant text to make them easier to understand contextually.
  • Consider placing the most important image at the top of the page.
  • Name your image file something short and descriptive and put the keyword in it. Like alt text, it can help SEO.
  • Don’t use images for your navigation menu, use text since it is more crawlable.

18. Use canonicalization for duplicate content

When you create pages that are identical or have a lot of similar content, it’s possible that Google will treat these as duplicate pages and index only one. The problem is, it will have to figure out on its own which to index. And this can lead to the wrong page getting indexed.

With the canonical tag, you tell Google which page you want to be indexed, so ranking power isn’t spread out between multiple pages.

Diagram showing canonical tag for duplicate content.

19. Publish valuable content regularly

You can uncover user intent and use keywords naturally throughout your content, but if your blog post, video, article, doesn’t actually provide value to the person consuming it, you’ve failed.

Don’t forget: SEO makes it easier for your content to be found. It doesn’t boost the quality of your content. Does your content answer the search query comprehensively? If not, consider expanding on it to increase its value.

20. Optimize meta title and meta description

Meta title and meta description are the two pieces of information about your page that show up on SERPs. Though they aren’t specifically tied to SEO value, they are in a sense that a good meta title and meta description will improve SERP click-through rate. And the higher your SERP CTR, the more likely you are to move up in search rankings.

  • Your meta title should be click-worthy and include your keyword.
  • Your metal title should be around 55 characters so it’s not truncated by different mobile devices.
  • Meta descriptions should elaborate on the title to help visitors and crawlers better understand it.
  • Keep meta descriptions to around 150-160 characters so they’re not truncated on SERPs. Don’t use quotes or any special characters. They won’t show up SERPs.

21. Use SSL

User security has become important enough to Google that it’s become an official ranking factor. If your site isn’t HTTPS, you’ll lose some points in search engines, and Google will even alert Chrome users when they land on your site.

"Chrome not secure" error message.

22. Tell Google if you have multi-regional or multilingual content

Letting Google know your site is accessed by diverse audiences will help them serve the right search result to the right user. This can be done in a few ways. According to Google:

  • At the page or site level: Use locale-specific URLs for your site or page.
  • At the page level: Use the hreflang tag or sitemaps to tell Google which pages apply to which locations or languages.
  • Site level: If your site has a generic top-level domain (for example, .com, .org, or .eu), specify your site’s target locale using the International Targeting report. Don’t use this tool if your site targets more than a single country.

A multilingual website is one that offers content in more than one language. A multi-regional website is one that targets users in different countries. If you have either of these types of websites, Google’s tips can help you serve the most relevant content to searchers.

23. Organize your site content into a hierarchy

For searchers and crawlers to understand your site, it needs to be organized into a hierarchy. Top-level pages, like H2s, should be used to present broader areas of your business, while pages nested within them go into more detail.

Your homepage, for example, should be broadly targeted, while landing pages need to be specific to the campaign they are a part of. In between, categories and subcategories of pages should allow the visitor to self-select until they find what they’re looking for.

24. Submit an XML sitemap to Google

It’s easier to find your way with a map. That’s the basic idea behind XML sitemaps.

SEO optimized XML sitemap.

XML sitemaps are made for search crawlers, and when they’re submitted to Google, search engines don’t have to find your pages through trial and error like you might find your way out of a maze. They’ll have directions on how to get to all your pages. This makes crawling faster and more accurate, and it ensures none of your content is left out by search engines.

25. Create an SEO-friendly URL

Like blog content and site architecture needs to be organized and straightforward, so should your URL structure. Just by looking at it, your visitor should know what the page is about and where it is on your site. By crawling it, search engines should be able to determine the same thing.

Keep your URL short (fewer than 128 characters), its structure intuitive, and include your target keyword in it.

26. Optimize page speed

When a page doesn’t load quickly, the bounce rate will soar. In order to ensure the best possible user experience, Google made page speed an official ranking factor. Here are a few ways to boost page load time:

  • Remove images that don’t add value. When you have a lot of images on a page or a few large image files, this can slow down page load time significantly. Try compressing your images or getting rid of ones that don’t add value (like stock imagery).
  • Get rid of unnecessary JavaScript. JavaScript is what makes pages interactive and allows the software to communicate. Too much of it can really slow download speed. Consider auditing your JS usage, and use a tag manager like Google Tag Manager to ensure you don’t have old JavaScript on your pages for tools you don’t use anymore.
  • Try AMP. AMP, once known as “accelerate mobile pages,” is a platform that enables designers to create pages with a stripped-down version of HTML. Once, these pages were very limited due to AMP’s coding restrictions, but now AMP can be used to build fully functional, high-speed versions of most non-AMP pages.

27. Set yourself up for success with SEO tools

SEO is a discipline that requires the use of marketing technology to do well. Luckily, there’s a variety of tech for businesses and budgets of all sizes to assist with nearly every aspect of SEO. A few of the most popular SEO tools include:

  • Google search console will help you manage your search presence in Google.
  • Bing webmaster tools is like Bing’s version of Google Search Console, where you can manage your search presence in Yahoo and Bing.
  • Google Analytics will allow you to track a wide variety of performance metrics.
  • PageSpeed Insights will help you monitor the speed of your pages.
  • Tools like Panguin will uncover whether your site has been impacted by algorithm updates.
  • Tools like SEMrush and Woorank can help you spy on competitors.
  • Google Keyword Planner, Ahrefs, or SpyFu are tools that can help with keyword research.
  • Clearscope is valuable for search-optimized content creation.
  • Add-ons from Moz and SEOquake can enable you to run quick SEO audits.
  • SEO plugins for WordPress like Yoast to ensure your CMS is generating optimized content.
  • Google Trends can help you find up-and-coming search terms related to your topic.
  • Google Tag Manager will help you manage and organize all your software.

Get a free SEO audit

SEO best practices aren’t something you can implement once. They’re an ongoing set of processes, which means you should be regularly monitoring your search engine rankings. Want to see how your site stacks up? Get an instant SEO audit below. Or, schedule a free consultation to see how intent SEO can boost traffic value by 700%.