Hello again everyone!
Thanks for the strong positive response to last week’s post on search engine basics for small business. I appreciate all the comments and discussion that came about as a result. Because of the strong general interest in SEO with our community, I’d like to post something that deals with a specific topic of SEO every Wednesday or Thursday afternoon (if possible) so stay tuned!
Last week I kept things kind of vague with regard to the actual editing of your site. Now it’s time to delve into the specifics. Let’s start out by talking about essential on-page search engine optimization (SEO).
First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between on-page optimization and off-page optimization. Off-page optimization pertains primarily to generating backlinks (one-way incoming links) through directory submissions, posting comments in blogs with anchor text links to your site, social media, etc.
On-page optimization, on the other hand, focuses on specific editing (often very small changes) that can improve your site’s ranking. Both on-page and off-page optimization are important and we’ll discuss every aspect of off-page SEO in the weeks ahead.
If you recall, last week I said the most important things in the world of SEO are:
Not only did I learn this from my own projects I developed, but I had a great opportunity at my previous employer to study the data from our top sites that were getting most traffic. Remember, the top 110 sites out of 300,000+ all had heavy content (avg. over 350 pages with 1400+ backlinks); however, the on-page optimization on these top sites was largely mediocre and not ideal.
Well, let’s assume that you are NOT planning on creating several hundred pages of content for your site and your site or domain is relatively new without many backlinks. In order to still compete with larger sites, your best weapon is going to be stellar on-page optimization (unless your domain name is just crazy, of course). We’ll talk more about the importance of your domain name in future posts.
Before you consider this too deeply, however, here is a word of caution: Don’t accept good on-page optimization as a license to not create additional content; rather, use this knowledge to create your initial pages then use the same structure on your future, content-heavy site.
In case you haven’t read it yet, I’ve attached a link to Google’s Search Engine Optimization Guide (click on the link to download the .pdf). If you open up this .pdf file, the first thing you notice is that it’s 32 pages long. Still take the time to read it if you want to get a thorough understanding of what Google is looking for when it comes to on-page search engine optimization.
For now, I’m going to focus on just five (5) of the most important essential on-page elements (based on my experience of optimizing around 300 websites with an 85% Google page 1 success rate):
- Page URL
- Page Title
- Header Tag
- Anchor Text
Each page you create on your site should have a clean, concise and keyword-focused URL. Here are two examples (one good, one bad):
Good example: http://dentist-whitening.com/custom-whitening-trays.html
Bad example: http://stores.sportbiketrackgear.com/Detail.bok?no=2824
Note that the URL in the first example is keyword-specific and goes right to the page being described in the URL. A good general rule when doing anything with your on-page SEO is make the site as intuitive as possible for human eyes. Note: It’s ok to have a long URL that goes to sub folders of your site (such as article pages) as long as the url is clean and makes sense (e.g. http://www.dentist-whitening.com/articles/teeth-whitening-gel.html).
Some argue that this is the single most important element in on-page optimization. I would agree. If you did absolutely nothing else to your site other than change the page title to be keyword-specific, you’ll notice an improvement in search engine ranking.
The page title shows up in the larger text of the SERPs. Think again of Google’s perspective: They want users to search a keyword and quickly find what they are looking for by scanning the results (further facilitated by the new Google Instant search). The page title is what catches your eye the most and that absolutely needs to contain your main keyword phrase that you are targeting.
An ideal page title is around 65 characters or less and it’s ok to display your company name in the title – it won’t negatively affect the SEO of your site. Here are two more examples:
Good: Teeth Whitening Trays and Gel | www.Dentist-Whitening.com
Bad: SPORTBIKE TRACK GEAR – Get get deals on Bike Helmets, Jackets, and All Kinds of Gear to Enhance Your Performance on The Track (note: in the SERPs, the title will be cut off after a 65 characters and looks like this: SPORTBIKE TRACK GEAR – Get great deals on Bike Helmets, Jack…)
Also, please note that you must avoid using the same page title on more than one page of your site. The reason is Google doesn’t know which page to prioritize if the page title is duplicate and the algorithm has to guess. You don’t want them to guess because your keyword titles can cannibalize each other and you’ll get a weaker page rank – especially as your site grows in size. Creating a duplicate page URL (or page file name) in your root website folder is impossible because when you FTP (upload) your website files your system will let you know. On the other hand, there is no warning when you create identical page titles. You have been warned.
The header tag is very useful in really telling users what your page content is about once they are on your page. I would rank the header (h1) tag very highly, although it’s not nearly as important as the page title. I personally only use h1 and h2 header tags when optimizing a page. Traditionally, h1-h6 header tags have been used to identify the hierarchy of specific sub topic importance, but many SEO firms will agree that h1 is the most important (h2 can be helpful but not critical).
The h1 header tag (<h1>Keyword in Header</h1>) is placed somewhere prominently near the top of your page. Keep it simple and concise; it never helps to stuff keywords here. Place only 1-2 keywords in your header tag.
Recently, Google and other search engines started paying more attention to the importance of images within the site content. The reason I suppose is that again Google likes to take the “what-would-the-end-user-like” approach and images, in addition to text, can enhance the overall user experience. Also, it provides their algorithm with one more thing to identify within a site’s content that says “this site is all about keyword x.”
To optimize your images within your site content, first add images that have keyword-rich file names. Also, use Alt text to identify your image.
Good example: <img alt=”Standard Teeth Whitening Chart” src=”../standard-teeth-whitening-chart.jpg>
Bad example: <img alt=”Product #388452 src=”http://www.somewebsite.com/388452.jpg>
Ok, putting this all together so far, take a look at the screen shot below of these different elements combined on the page. Also, do a search for “teeth whitening chart” in Google and look for the site in the results (it’s usually #1 or #2 for this keyword).
This refers to the creation of links from certain keywords within the body of your site to link to other places on your site; it also refers to the keyword-links from external sites coming to your site (backlinks).
Many SEO firms contend that this is in the top 5 for most important on-page edits and I would agree. Anchor text tells your users (and search engines) what a particular page of content is about BEFORE the user clicks on it. It’s intuitive, isn’t it? What a pleasant experience it is when a link takes you to a page that the keyword describes! Anchor text links are critically important for users (and search engines) for both on-page and off-page SEO.
In summary, it’s essential that you make on-page SEO the focus of your strategy when starting a new site. A well optimized site will have target keyword(s) in the page file name (URL), title tag, header tag, image file names and alt text, and anchor text. If you use these five essential on-page SEO tactics, you’re almost guaranteed to make some immediate improvements in your site ranking!