At this very moment, I’m at my laptop, flitting between online searches and a word document. Searching for inspiration around digital carbon footprints and feeding my own in the process. 

What's SEO Got to Do With Your Carbon Footprint?  

To many people — even people who spend a lot of time thinking about their physical carbon footprints — the internet is kind of invisible. 
 
Or else, it’s part of the solution. Zoom kept us all connected throughout 2020, when the world stood still and carbon emissions reached a brief record low, replacing long-haul flights and physical office spaces. Digital tech can reduce manufacturing's carbon footprint and reduce paper and plastic demand. 
 
But the internet still has its own carbon footprint. That means so does your website, and so does your SEO strategy.  
 
And with current estimates putting the internet's carbon footprint within a range of 2.3 to 3.7% of all global emissions, this is an issue none of us can ignore. 

Making Change Happen: The Sustainable Web and GreenSEO Manifestos 

Put together, the GreenSEO and the Sustainable Web Manifestos call for a more ethical, sustainable internet. 
 
The Sustainable Web Manifesto asks internet users to commit the following principles: - 
 
Clean 
Providing services powered by renewable energy. 
 
Efficient 
Providing efficient products and services that use the least amount of energy and material resources possible. 
 
Open 
Providing products and services that are accessible, allowing for open exchange of information and allowing users to control their data (see Part 3 of this series for more on this!). 
 
Honest 
Providing products and services that will not mislead or exploit users in their design or content. 
 
Regenerative 
Providing products and services that will support an economy that nourishes people and planet. 
 
Resilient 
Providing products and services that will function in the times and places where people need them most. 
 
Many of these principles strike at the heart of what it means to be a purpose-led brand. But, as the manifesto makes clear — it's not just what you do, it's how you do it. When you're an ethical brand, you need to ensure your digital marketing strategy is as ethical and sustainable as your products and services.  
 
The Green SEO Manifesto, meanwhile, focuses specifically on SEO itself — i.e. the strategies we use to boost websites' search rankings and visibility and online. The web page provides a wealth of resources any brand can use to make their SEO more sustainable, for free. 
 
Fixing the internet is a daunting task. It has to be a collective effort and you can't do everything at once — but the first step of every journey is understanding where you are right now. The second could be signing up to the GreenSEO and Sustainable Web Manifestos!  
 
Once you have a realistic plan, you can add this to your sustainability reporting, to show all your stakeholders you're taking this issue seriously 
 

Facing Up to Your Website’s Carbon Footprint 

According to Website Carbon, the median average website produced 0.8 grams per page view in July 2023. But the carbon emissions of two different websites can vary hugely. 
 
You can measure your own website’s carbon footprint at Ecograder and Website Carbon. Both of these also provide detailed reports on how to improve... some changes are easier than others! 
 
And if you’re curious enough to look up this website, you’ll see I’m currently on a journey of my own. When I decided to outsource my website, I was careful to ensure it ran on green energy. Beyond that – I really didn’t have a clue. This is why I really, truly appreciate how easily this issue can be overlooked — even if your brand's whole reason for being is sustainability. 

How to Create a Greener Website and SEO Strategy 

There are many adjustments – big and small – that will make your website greener and boost your SEO.  

Find a Sustainable Web Host 

If you do ONE thing, make it green hosting, i.e. use a web running on green energy. Considering the average website produces an estimated 4,500 pounds of CO2 a year (the same as driving a new car more than 10,000 miles!) it’s hard to overstate green hosting’s potential. The more brands and web providers switch to green hosting, the greater the demand. The faster technology will evolve. And the cheaper and easier it becomes to green host.  
 
It’s also one of the simplest changes you can make — whether you’ve built your website in-house, outsourced it, or adapted a template from the likes of Wix, Squarespace or WordPress.  
 
The Green Web Foundation provides a verified list of green hosting providers here. This Website Planet article is also an excellent source of information! 
 

Use Efficient Web Design 

Streamlined web design looks great and and saves tons of energy. Simple changes like minimising large images, ditching animation and removing unnecessary code, not only reduce energy use, they also mean your site runs faster and is easier to navigate — two instant SEO wins! If you think about it, this clean, minimalist aesthetic also give your brand added authenticity, by visually reinforcing your commitment to sustainability, over excess.  
 
And by ensuring your website runs properly and is easy to navigate, you help users find what they're looking for, instead of leaving and looking elsewhere. It helps you convert more site visitors into customers, but it also helps these visitors find what they're looking for quickly, expending less time and carbon online. 
 
Efficient web design isn't hard — if anything it's simpler and easier to carry off than lots of jazzy, modern sites out there. And it certainly shouldn't be more expensive. Certain changes can be a bit more tricky if you're adapting an existing website or working off a ready-made template though — something I'll go into later!  
 
GreenSEO offers a wealth of simple and creative ways to improve your site's energy efficiency — from testing site performance, to font compression. 

Explore Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) 

CDN providers like Cloudfare boost energy efficiency by distributing web content through servers closer to users. So, if you're running your business from Outer Mongolia, people in London still view your web pages via London-based servers. As well helping the environment, CDNs can also keep websites functional and available – even when traffic is high — and even boost mobile optimisation. 
 
Tech-wise, using CDNs is far more challenging than, say, image compression — getting it wrong can cause misconfiguration, leading to issues like duplicate web content. Over-dependence on CDNs can also open a world of pain when they go down. Many CDNs also operate globally, and this can impact localised search results. (A big problem if your business is local!)  
 
And research carefully, when choosing your CDN — it needs to be reliable, with good global configuration. 

Who Built Your Website? 

The challenges involved in greening your website and SEO depend a lot on who built your website. 
 
If you built it in-house, it should, in theory, be easier to adjust — but the reality may less simple. The person who built it may have moved on, or the changes may just be beyond you tech capabilities you have. 
 
An outsourced website provider may charge you to make changes. How much, will depend on your service agreement and whether your website needs a few tweaks or a total redesign.  
 
If you don't have the time or budget to tackle everything at once, that's OK. Start with what you can right now — ideally this should include making sure your website runs on green energy. From here, work out a realistic timeline for further changes.  

What if Your Website’s Off-the-Rack? 

Templates from the likes of Wix, Wordpress and Squarespace empower smaller brands with limited budget and tech expertise to create professional-looking websites quickly. 
 
The downside is — well, you get what you get. Many templates have built-in options that make things like green hosting and CDN relatively straight forward. Other changes, like removing excessive code, are harder and could even be impossible. 
 
And if you’re currently shopping for templates, take note — there’s a growing numbers of eco-friendly options available. Do your research. 

Green SEO = Great SEO 

The first thing to do here, is shift your thinking — just a little. Because, if you want your SEO to be effective and sustainable, you need to stop thinking about quantity and focus on the quality of visitors to your site.  
 
By targeting people looking for specific information or services your brand has to offer, you may attract less web traffic, but more of these people will stay on your site for longer. And ultimately, more of them will go on to, say — sign up to your newsletter, or make a purchase. All of this, equals better SEO and improved user experience. It also empowers web users find what they're looking for more quickly and spend less time online, using less energy, as a result.  
 
With all this in mind — how do you build an SEO strategy for green-ness and greatness? Much of it goes back to maximising your website's efficiency and user experience. 

Rule number one – don’t wing it 

Whatever your website arrangement, don’t go beyond your tech expertise. Trying to optimise and getting it wrong just leaves you with a poorly functioning website, which won’t help your SEO or the planet. 
 
Create an action plan you have the skills and budget to carry off. You can then lay this out in your brand’s sustainability statement – if you have one. 

Rule number two – create high quality, relevant content 

We’ve talked a lot about technical issues here. But in SEO – the pen is still mightier than the code. The biggest boost to your SEO is producing high quality, relevant content — or in Google's words, "helpful, reliable, people-first content". I go into more detail on this in Part 1 of this Series — but, for now, try considering the following: - 
 
Is this content helpful to your intended audience? 
Does it provide original, insightful analysis answering users' specific quiestions? 
Is it proofed for typos, spelling and grammatical errors? 
 
Answer 'yes' to these questions and you’re off to a good start. Going forward with your content marketing strategy, you need to familiarise yourself with Google's own self-assessment criteria and consider it carefully in your content creation.  
 
When planning your content, think about ways to set yourself apart. Look for topics that are relevant but under-discussed, and which tie into your brand's offering. Try to say things that haven't been said before. But always make sure you're answering the questions people are actually asking in their searches, in a way that's helpful to them. 

And a Final Word on Keywords 

Keywords play a huge role in attracting more relevant web traffic. By incorporating highly specific ('long-tail') keywords, your web pages will rank higher in more specific, less common searches. 
 
Say, you specialise in eco-friendly trainers. What do your trainers have that other sustainable trainers have don't? Are they vegan? Are they made from plastic bottles pulled from the sea? And who are your target customers? 
 
Balancing general 'short-tail' keywords like 'sustainable footwear' with more specific keywords, like "vegan men sports trainers", will help web users find and buy your trainers more quickly. This saves time and energy — helping you make more sales, in the process. 
 

Still Not Sure Where to Start? 

I am passionate about helping sustainable brands meet their true potential, without compromising their values. I offer a range of affordable SEO services prioritising ethics and sustainability and I'd love to advise you on any aspect of your ethical SEO strategy! 
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