Every website owner is guilty of forgetting the basic rules of smart search engine optimization every once in a while. This may simply because the focus is on going deeper into SEO or because a lack of initial grounding in simple on page practices was overlooked. Often time will play a part too with the typical owner manager or small business marketer trying to work online marketing into an already packed daily schedule. However short on time or long on advanced knowledge, it pays to go back to basics every once in a while because looking too deeply for the answer to poor or slow rankings can sometimes mean overlooking the obvious.
1. The <Title> Tag
It is common knowledge that the title tag is an important SEO factor; however, it is still done incorrectly time and time again. The title tells the search engine and the visitor what the page is about. It is placed between the <head> tags, making it one of the first lines of code to be found on the page. The title of a page is used as the clickable link in the search engine results pages, any keywords will be picked out in bold, making for an eye-catching placement.
A common problem for those using a limited CMS system or beholden to an older web design is page titles that are identical across the site. Many sites struggle to find a happy balance with their page titles, using either too few or too many words – aim for around five or six words, and no more than seventy characters. Keywords should be placed close to the start and words such as ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘of’ limited so as to avoid taking up valuable space. There is a common misconception that page titles have to be full sentences. While this is not the case, the title should certainly make sense when read and should not be a long list of keywords separated by commas, as is also sometimes the case. The use of your company name in the page title is very often a waste of space and can be replaced with a far more strategic choice of word or search term.
When writing new page titles, it’s often worth looking at the top search results for the keyword that page is targeted too. Create a cheat sheet of average number of words per <title> tag for the top 10 pages, add up the number of keywords used per title and calculate the average position of the primary keyword. Use this knowledge as a map of what the new page title should look like in terms of word count, use of keywords and keyword placement.
2. Meta Keywords and Meta Descriptions Tags
The meta keywords and meta description tags were once included in search engine algorithms, but due to frequent abuse were replaced with other considerations. Despite this, many pages still show traces of that malpractice with dozens of keywords stuffed into the keywords tag and extra long descriptions including every search term the site would like to rank for. While this won’t change the assigned search position, it doesn’t make for a good search engine placement. It’s also bad practice to allow lazy techniques into your day-to-day optimization work and opens the door for standards to slip in other areas.
Meta tags take so little time to fill in correctly, it simply makes sense to use the space to communicate more about the page. The meta description is usually used as part of the search results page, so a well crafted sentence or two can actually help with clickthrough rates. Descriptions should be no more than 200 characters, be written in readable sentences, have a clear call to action and be informative to both the search engine user and the search engine itself.
The keyword tag is quicker still with as little as eight words needed to render the field complete. The most important keywords can be placed near the start of the tag, with phrases separated by commas.
3. Bold and Italic
Phrase elements are important on a page for two main reasons. The use of <strong> to make a word or section of text appear bold on a page highlights an important part of the text for the reader by making that part of the content stand out. Likewise, the <strong> tag in the source code attributes some importance to the words contained within the tag, advising the search engine to place more emphasis on that part of the page than would otherwise be the case.
The <em> tag works in the same way by making text visually distinctive to the rest of the copy on the page. Again, this tells the search engine that the words contained within are of some significance.
These tags are known to hold some weight in SEO terms and can easily be worked into a page. A simple question such as “Do you still need more information about our office cleaning service in the Boston Area? If so, call us on….” can be placed in <strong> tags at the end of the page. Keywords are included for good SEO and the reader is offered an easy way to contact you, should they need to do so.
Other ways to use the <strong> or <em> tags include picking out quotes, statistics, facts or testimonials from happy clients. News item titles on a media page can be made <strong> or notes added in <em>.
4. H1 – H6
Every page on your site should have a H1 tag, and if appropriate, H2, H3 etc. tags following the numerical order. Think of the H1 tag as the headline of a newspaper — it should be descriptive, succinctly express the topic of that page and not be followed by another headline (or H1) later on the page. A H2 tag is then similar to a cross header; the indented snippets of bold text used to separate the columns into readable chunks.
The H1 tag does not need to be keyword stuffed and can be quite short and to the point. In fact, it is preferable to keep the H1 tag short and avoid using words or phrases that are not relevant to the body content.
The H2, H3 etc. tags should also be succinct and used to break up large bodies of text into more manageable sections. The H2 header is used to describe the next few paragraphs and convey the meaning of that part of the text. This allows busy web page visitors to scan through and get a sense of the text or to find the part of the page that best relates to them.
5. Anchor Text
Anchor text is the visible part of a link – it is simply the word or phrase that you click on to navigate through to another page. Anchor text does play a part in search engine rankings and should be used on the page where appropriate, with careful use of keywords. Much like the <title> tag and H1 tag, getting anchor text right is about finding a balance between using a keyword that you want to see move up the rankings, and providing a chunk of text that will make sense to the reader. If clicked on, the anchor text should link through to a related page.
Crafting good anchor text is quite straightforward in that it simply needs to describe what’s after the jump. However, when working anchor text into body copy, considerations such as the placement of the link (do you want to give the reader a chance to leave that page right at the start of the copy for example?) and the use of keywords should be considered. Try not to use more than one keyword per anchor text and limit the use of outbound links on a page to less than 100, as anything over that will be ignored.
6. Alt Tags
Alt tags are not hugely important for SEO but, they are a basic requirement and need to be given due consideration. As an Alt tag simply describes the accompanying image, they should be very quick and straightforward to get right. Still, you’ll often see Alt tags such as ‘image1.jpg’ when browsing online. It’s also common to see alt tags bursting with keywords but again, this is going too far the other way and can result in search penalties. Try to describe the picture the Alt tag is attached too in as few a words as possible, with a keyword used if appropriate.