On site SEO is the foundation for your SEO success. If the foundation of your entire SEO strategy is weak, it’s safe to say that success and sustainability will be a hard thing to come by. There are a lot of elements to consider when looking at on site SEO; site architecture, URL’s, and meta tags to name a few. A few weeks back I offered the Google Guide To SEO Part I: Choosing an SEO, which outlined the best strategies to hire an SEO according to Google. As part of that I mentioned being educated. This week I’d like to provide a basic idea of how to apply on site SEO so that you know what you have some general knowledge before seeking professional internet marketing help.
Stay Within the Lines
Believe it or not Google has developed a series of webmaster guidelines that outline how to keep your site within Google’s quality standards. These guidelines are like the Ten Commandments of the SEO world and should be heeded. Failure to do so may result in some long term headaches for you and your website. Some key elements to remember:
- Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. – If an internet marketing company tries to sell you a service and mentions cloaking or delivering content to the search engines that users can’t see this is a red flag.
- Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. – The key to this one is that most of what you do as part of your SEO efforts should offer some sort of value. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable telling others about a practice you are involved in because you feel “dirty” talking about it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
- Don’t participate in link schemes – Yes, I put emphasis on this one, because it is the one biggest trap SEO clients fall into. There are “SEO’s” all over the globe that will offer you hundreds of thousands of links for next to nothing or offer to submit and resubmit your content hundreds and thousands of times across the web. Don’t do it! Save that money and put it towards something more valuable like a strong niche directory or some industry advertising space. In most instances these links won’t do you any good, if you want good links you need a good website with good content and even if these junk links get you an increase in search engine rankings I can almost guarantee the successes will be short lived.
The bottom line is if it seems shady or includes hiding, stuffing, redirecting, or duplicating it’s probably a bad idea.
Building a Foundation
If you’re starting from scratch, be sure to put together a flowchart of the overall hierarchy of your site. Come up with a list of topics or products and then categorize them accordingly. If your site is about sprockets and cogs then make sure the hierarchy of your site branches out accordingly. From the home page you should be able to access the sprockets section and from there access your red sprockets, blue sprockets, etc. The same should apply for your cogs. Develop a site that is easy for both your users to navigate and the search engines. As Google puts it, “Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.”
My Name Is URL
When it comes to URL’s a lot of developers don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the value of a page URL, but what they fail to realize is that URL’s are a piece of the overall SEO foundation of your website. They should be easy to read and remember by users, and should be relevant to the page whenever possible. Google not only recommends that URLs be “…constructed logically and in a manner that is most intelligible to humans.” But also suggests “…using punctuation in your URLs.”
I recently got in a bit of a tiff with another SEO about the value in this. He said that Google was smart enough to figure out a URL like mycoolsite.com/bluecogs vs mycoolsite.com/blue-cogs. In the grand scheme of things, he’s probably right, but Google’s URL structure guidelines recommend hyphens as the more useful URL structure for the search engine.
Some internet marketers will argue that meta tags are dead. In some ways they may be right, Google has stated that it no longer values the meta keyword tag as a ranking factor. It has also said that when a meta description doesn’t do the job they want it to they might search for on page content for an alternative, but that doesn’t mean meta tags are dead.
Meta tags are the one piece of the search engine results that you have the potential to control. You can identify the title of the page and even give searchers your description just by filling out the meta data on your site’s pages.
“A title tag tells both users and search engines what the topic of a particular page is.” Each title tag on your site should be different and for maximum SEO exposure should include your primary targeted keyword. Another thing to remember is this is also a selling point for people searching on Google, so it should stand out and appeal to a searcher. Finally keep it short and sweet, my rule of thumb is meta title’s should be no longer than 70 characters since Google opts to show the first 65-70 characters in the search engine results. Some overall rules of thumb for meta titles:
- Accurately describe page’s content
- Should be unique on every page
- Are brief, but descriptive
“A page’s description meta tag gives Google and other search engines a summary of what the page is about.” I like to think of the meta description as your sales pitch. This is where you can entice the searcher to visit your site by giving them insight into what they will find on your page. By providing a meta description it may appear as the snippet below your listing in the search engines. It’s important to realize however that “Google may choose to use a relevant section of your page’s visible text if it does a good job of matching up with a user’s query.” So while a meta description can definitely influence your search snippet, it is not guaranteed.
To the big three (Google, Yahoo, Bing) they are dead, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. Some search engines and website still reference these tags. As a rule of thumb I spend no more than a few seconds compiling a small handful of keywords associated with the page. Don’t go overboard here. If it takes you more than 30 seconds to jot down a few, you’ve already spent more time than they are worth.
On Page SEO and Content
Finally it’s time to look at the meat and potatoes of this thing you call a website. Without it, your site is useless to both your users and the search engine. The most important piece of on page SEO is content. “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors…” The key elements to good website content are as follows:
- Organized around a particular topic
- Use relevant language or keywords people might use to find the content
- Are unique and original
The golden rule of content is make it your own and if it’s not something you think anyone would link to then you probably shouldn’t be writing it. Always consider your visitors when you’re developing your content. The minute you start writing to impress the search engines, the quicker you will turn off your visitors.
Headings, Images and Links, Oh My!
“Heading tags (not to be confused with the <head> HTML tag or HTTP headers) are used to present structure on the page to users. There are six sizes of heading tags, beginning with <h1>, the most important, and ending with <h6>, the least important.”
Heading tags are used to identify the hierarchy of your content. As you can see in this post I have used headings to break apart my content based on each section of the on site elements.
Images are great for human visitors, but unfortunately they don’t have the same impact on search engines. When considering using images it’s important to use descriptive names for filenames, much like the suggestion made for page URL’s. It is also important to include the alt attribute, which provides a brief description of the image not only for the search engines, but also for visitors that may be using text based browsers or screen readers. Some rules of thumb when it comes to images:
- Don’t use generic filenames like “pic.jpg”
- Keep your filenames short
- Don’t stuff keywords into your alt text
- Definitely use alt text when using an image as a link to help the search engines better understand what you are linking to.
Links are the easiest way to get the search engines to crawl through your site and identify what your site is about. By providing links with strong anchor text the search engines can better understand the overall semantics of your website and determine it’s overall value. The best way to achieve this is to ensure the anchor text, or text used to link to another page on your site, is optimized.
To this day many web developers will use anchor text like “click here” to advance users and the search engines to another page or website, but these words don’t provide any insight into what the page is about. Using anchor text like “Internet Marketing Services” is much more useful because it identifies to the search engine and the user what it is they are being directed to.
There are many more onsite elements that can be explored on a case by case basis, but again the purpose of this post was to provide the foundation for your overall SEO success. As a rule of thumb I will stress again as I did in the first post, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is. If you have any questions please feel free to share them in the comments. I’d also love to hear if you think I forgot anything.