Congratulations! If you’ve been following along with my last few posts you’re over a big hump as a beginner SEO. You’re now ready to tackle optimizing the on page elements of your website. If you feel like you need a refresher, check back to read up on how search engines work and how to conduct a keyword analysis, otherwise let’s start by…
Getting Under the Hood
Since we’ve gone to all the trouble of picking out good keywords we want to make they’re actually present in well written content, and that our website code is clean, making it nice and easy for robots to crawl and index pages. This part of the process is very hands on and I’m making an assumption that you have a basic understanding of HTML and how to edit and publish files on your domain through your web hosting service.
There are some specific parts of the underlying HTML source code of your website that provide signals to search engines, so it behooves you to pay attention to and understand what they are. You can examine the source code of just about any webpage simply by right clicking your mouse and selecting “View Page Source” from the dialogue box that pops up. Below are some tags and a sample screen shot:
HTML Title Tags: Look for the title at the top of an HTML document between these <TITLE> tags. A title tag tells both users and search engines what the topic of a page is about. Every web page can and should have a title declared using your keywords to describe what you think is important to potential readers.
Meta Description Tag: The meta description tag looks like this in your code <META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”informative description here”> and allows you to suggest how you’d like your pages to be described in search listings. Search engines can and do create different descriptions based on what they determine is most relevant to the search, but using them increases the odds that your preferred text will appear.
Header Tags: There are 6 HTML Header tags ranging from <H1> to <H6> that are used to identify and organize content in descending order of importance. Copy placed inside a header tag appears in a slightly larger and boldfaced font than its surrounding text. H1 tags are commonly used as a main headline, while a sub headline may be in H2.
If you blog regularly you’ll have more opportunity to play around with using your keywords in the URL structure of links. Using keywords in your URL’s whenever possible “does help a little bit” as Matt Cutts from Google explains in the video below. Most blogging platforms today will grab the main headline of your post and add it to the end of the URL. If you’re like me, you like to write headlines that will grab a reader’s attention which isn’t always going to be search engine friendly. A good tip is to write that arresting headline that will garner the most readers as you publish your content across the web, then a few days after the traffic big hump go back and change the URL structure to something more search engine friendly stuffed with keywords.
Another tool you should be using to help Google better understand your site and all of its glory is an XML Sitemap. Sitemaps help search engines crawl and index pages that might not be easily discovered otherwise, like content that hides behind a form. You can submit a Sitemap via Google’s Webmaster Tools. They don’t affect the actual rank of your pages, and it’s not guaranteed that all of your links will be crawled by submitting one, but it does lead to an increased presence and greater visibility of your site in Google’s index. There are plenty of XML Sitemap generators out there you can use for free so get it done if you haven’t already. More information about Sitemaps can be found in Google’s Webmasters Central Blog here
As you begin to tweak your copy remember that you’re writing for people, not search engines. Stay focused and on topic. If you have to write your keywords on post-it notes and stick them to your monitor to do so, then do it! Content is King is one of the most overused clichés in SEO, but it there is a lot of truth to that statement. Search engines love fresh useful content. Blogging is a great way to continually publish fresh content, especially on topics most people would consider “evergreen”.
Other Useful On Page Search Engine Stuff
- 404 Error Page: A 404 error is returned when someone tries to navigate to a page on your site that doesn’t exist. Having a custom 404 page can greatly improve that users experience by providing helpful information like a link back to your home page or other popular content. It can even make you laugh like some of these clever examples.
- 301 Redirects: Anyone who’s ever “moved” a website to a new domain should be familiar with a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect tells a search engine that a URL it’s looking for has permanently moved to a new location. This is a critical part of ensuring you don’t have duplicated content on different URL’s that can negatively impact your page rank. For more information about 301 redirects can be found here.
- robots.txt file: Robots.txt is a text file that gets stored in your websites root directory and provides instruction to search engine robots. It allows you to specify what areas of your site you don’t want bots to crawl and index (like a 404 error page). You can also indicate the location of your sitemap and indicate the speed robots can crawl a server. More info about robots.txt can be found here.
Don’t forget to check out next week’s post on topics around off page optimization. We’ll explore directories, link building and more! Have questions? Let me know in the comments section below.