Tagging As An Art Form


No name given, Tagged, February 27, 2011 via Flickr, Creative Commons License

Title tags, Alt tags, H1, H2, and meta descriptions. Have you had it with all of the terminology attached to SEO? Don’t worry about all of the technical junk, it’s all just smoke and mirrors anyway. The truth about SEO is that it works just like traditional stage magic and sleight of hand. Let’s start out with some simple definitions then work our way to what you all want to know – how to write tags that will get you a big ole gulp of Google juice. This art form involves taking a targeted keyword and sprinkling it throughout your tags without it seeming deliberate – and yes, it can be tricky, which is why most people who try it fail. With a few pointers that we are going to share here, we’ll take you from a one-trick pony to a Houdini of SEO.

The Title tag and Alt tag are used for every image that is loaded onto your page. The value in the Title tag will be displayed when a picture fails to load and carries relatively little SEO weight. Don’t put your target keywords here, only use secondary keywords. This tag should be an articulate phrase that describes the image in detail with terminology from your industry included. This allows you to show expertise in your area (something that spammers are unable to provide). The Alt tag is where you need the SEO phrase. Alt tags were developed for screen readers so those with difficulty seeing images could still get the full experience of the site. Use your SEO sparingly. Don’t spam your keywords in these tags either. A good rule is to use your target keyword in one out of every four Alt tags and variants in the other three.

H1 and H2 tags are reserved for your on-page title and subheadings. The on-page title should have the keyword phrase embedded in it. The closer it is to the beginning of the title, the better. In your H2 tags there should be less than 10% with your target keyword and less than 50% with variants. Use these headers as a way to incorporate secondary terms and phrases that get a lot of keyword searches on their own.

Many search engines claim not to use meta descriptions, despite the fact that research shows quite the opposite. Consequently, you may want to play it safe and take good care of your meta descriptions. The title of your meta page should include the target keyword and a variant. This title should not be longer than 70 characters. After 70 characters the page reader shuts off and will randomly grab 70 characters from your title to fill it in. Often it won’t be displayed correctly and several times it has failed to add ellipses to indicate a longer title than is shown. Keep total control by stopping at 70 characters.

The same rules apply to the description. There should be one and only one instance of the keyword and one variant. It should also include a call to action. This is the content that is usually shown directly below the title in a SERP return. A call to action needs to engage the searcher, otherwise you won’t get a click. The meta description tops out at 160 characters. Anything more and the Googlebot will do a random cut and display what it deems most relevant. To assist with this, here is a great character counter tool that we were introduced to recently.

Here’s what the SEO experts say about tagging:

  1. There are standard areas that web crawlers identify and search for keywords
  2. Keywords should be kept to a certain percentage of the total content volume
  3. Tag content should be precise and relevant
  4. Spiders are dumb and need to be shown everything in the simplest terms

They are, for the most part, correct. The problem is, if you want to know more about what these overarching statements mean, you get a wide range of answers that seldom corroborate with each other and are based on the experience of the expert. With billions of web pages getting crawled monthly, there’s a very slim chance that these experts have a large enough sample to justify their findings. To make matters even worse, these experts generally charge between $50/hr and $200/hr just to discuss it with you.

We’re not going to subject you to those rates, however; it’s just not our style. Instead we’d rather walk you through some of our experiences and give you advice to bring your web page into an area that Google will be happy with. It may not be the perfectly optimized page, but there really is no formula for this. Check out this video from Google explaining keyword density. While it is focused on on-page keywords, the message is clear enough that it can be applied to tagging as well.

In our opinion, it’s best to keep your total keyword density to 1.5% over the entirety of the content on the page. This will balance out your tagging and allow you to rank for keywords without hitting your reader over the head with them. If you are planning to use 500 words of content, that’s 5 or 6 instances. This includes your H1 and H2 tags. By adding italics or bold to the keyword phrases you can get an extra look from the spiders. The boost is minimal, but several small boosts add up and can help you outrank other pages on similar subjects.

Painting a page with your keyword is a matter of bait and switch. You need to get the spider to look at all of your tags as individual and different. Varying the placement and wording around the keyword phrase will make it look like a different set of words. Using connecting phrases between keywords can also be helpful in this respect. If there is more than one word in between the keywords in your keyword phrase the Googlebot will not count it as a keyword occurrence but it will show up as relevant in a SERP return. So, no penalty…..as of yet.

Remember that search engine spiders are always evolving, so what is true now might not be in six months. However, if you are using white hat techniques and following the Google mantra of “content is king,” your site will do well in the brave new world of SEO.

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