Search Engine Optimisation, (or SEO) as you’ll commonly hear it, is always evolving, as Google constantly updates its algorithm. The art-form of optimally ranking your website for a particularly sought-after key phrase makes all the difference to your online exposure and search traffic.
Whilst SEO is nothing new, Google is making it increasingly difficult to rank on the first page versus just a few years ago. With over 200 ranking factors thought to be at play (that we’re aware of) there is an ever-growing fine line between what might get you the top rankings and what won’t. For instance, Google has started to push us away from the traditional reliance on backlinks and on-page SEO – in fact, making us think about social interactions and engagement. These social signals (on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the rest) are an indicator of trust and credibility, and are only going to become more of an important factor in all business’ online strategy. As such, a strictly SEO strategy is a thing of the past. We’re not saying that on-site optimisation of a web page is no longer important: just different; less significant a ranking factor as it once was.
So, as you might appreciate, how to search engine optimise a webpage in 2014 is changing. Where <strong> tags used to carry more weight and meta tags helped categorise a page, these web page attributes soon became spammy, for instance.
First, you’ll need to do some keyword research to ensure you’re optimising for highly-searched and achievable keywords. Using Google’s Keyword Planner Tool (built really for paid search through Google’s AdWords platform), you can easily find out the average amount of monthly searches a term gets. Not only that, but you can find similar search terms and group other relevant terms with ease. The number of average searches are a rough estimate and cover a broad semantic search of the word, not exact.
For example, ‘sell my house’ (1,900) and ‘sell my home’ (320) will have overlapping mutual searches, rather than exclusively for one term, and another for the second. If you don’t already have an idea of keywords, a good place to start when looking for good search terms is running a search on the type of business you run, or the service you offer, and taking a look at your competitors.
Also, take a glance at similar related terms at the bottom of the search pages for even more inspiration. You can repeat this process as much as you like until you get a good 50 to 100 keywords storing them in a spreadsheet or on notepad. From there you can then copy and paste or import them into Google’s Keyword Planner and hit ‘Get Search Volume’ to refine your set of terms. Equipped with your keyword research, you now have an idea of how much organic (free) traffic your site could be cashing in on, should you search engine optimiZe your site and pages for such terms.
Now, the core areas of analysis in on-page SEO are:
- Meta Title: Meta is Latin for data. The meta title is data on the name of the web page, found in the heading in between <title> </title> tags within HTML. It displays at the top of the page in your web browser and as the indexation for search engines. For it to appear optimally in them, the meta title should be no more than 60 characters long.
If a meta title is too long it’s in danger of having many conflicting keywords. The keywords, or a natural variation of the key phrase you are targeting, should ideally appear towards the start of the title.
If possible, shy away from the use of pipes (‘|’) if possible. These reek of spam and the old-school method of keyword stuffing into a page title. Whilst it’s unlikely to get you into trouble, it’s not best practice for 2014. There are better options to separate your brand name and strap-line, for example a colon (:) or a dash (-).
- Meta Description: The next important piece of data about a web page is the meta description. This should contain the keyword as early as possible, amongst other semantically relevant terms, and potentially other keywords if you’re trying to rank highly for a variation of terms.
You have 156-character length here, which is plenty. Go over this and your description will fit in the search engine results to the nearest whole word. Bearing in mind any rich snippets, such as published date (automatically taken from most blog posts), you may want to optimise your description to a limit of 140 characters instead.
- Meta Robots: A robot refers to a spider or bot which automatically crawls and indexes your site. These may be search engine bots like ‘googlebot’ or backlink checker bots like ‘ahrefsbot’.
Whilst quite an advanced on-site SEO feature, it is important to understand that there will be certain pages of your site you might not want search engines to follow (e.g. a wordpress log-in or master-panel back-end to your site).
To edit the robot behaviour when it reaches an individual web page, you can specify one of the following four actions:
o Index, Follow: The search engine bot will start its crawl from your index page continuing through the rest of your pages
o Index, NoFollow: The search engine bot will index that page only and not continue following any further links from that page
o NoIndex, Follow: The search engine bot will skip the index page, but will crawl the rest
o NoIndex, NoFollow: None of these pages will be crawled by the robot or will appear in the indexes of search engines
Note: these terms are not to be confused with DoFollow and NoFollow hyperlinks.
For more site-wide robot instructions, it is best to list your specifications within a robots.txt file uploaded to the root of your domain.
- H1: Your H1 is another form of HTML mark-up, used as a signal of structure to search engines. When your site is crawled, the search engine will look for the main heading tags <h1> </h1> between which is where your keywords should sit.
Ideally, if you could get your keywords as close to the beginning of the H1 tag as possible, the better. Whilst the positioning is not considered as important as it once was, it is still important to have a variation of your keyword(s) in there.
- Text Volume: Whilst the amount of textual content you might have on a page can vary widely, having more than 300 words in a blog post, or more than 500 words on a page is considered most favourable.
Search engines love text. So, the more contextual, semantically-related words you have, the better. Naturally, the more words you have the better Google and other search engines can understand what your page is about, whilst also making it naturally more searchable.
- Text Relevancy: Your keywords should ideally constitute between 1% and 7% of the text on your web page. The optimum percentage is somewhere between 3% and 5%.
Appearing within sub-headings, from H2 through to H6, is ideal too. Don’t overdo it though. You don’t want to fail a manual review for keyword stuffing.
In light of a longer-tail key phrase that might be unnatural to write in prose, search engines are now becoming smart enough to understand similar phrases, such as pronouns (i.e. my, your, a, their) and similar nouns (i.e. house, home, flat, apartment).
- Alt Tags: It is important to have images on your page – not just for SEO purposes – but for readability. Web studies have proven that online readers prefer text that is broken down into chunks, separated with rich multimedia material such as images and video.
Your alt tag is HTML mark-up used to describe the image in the event it cannot be loaded on the web page. Its purpose was never really for search engine optimisation; however these days, it helps users find your site more easily amongst image searches and some normal searches.
An alt tag may also indicate an action required (should it be a hyperlinked image), allowing you more free rein in the use of your keyword(s).
The tags are also used to specify alternate text to a screen reader (for someone who might be blind or visually impaired). Again, accessibility is another good signal to Google and other search engines.
- URL: Whilst it’s not a must, you may want to make a URL of your web page more search engine friendly by placing your focussed keyword within it.
Google’s Matt Cutts, Head of Search spam, has devalued the use of keywords within a domain name so people couldn’t simply buy up lucrative search terms and thus gain an unfair advantage.
That said, at a page level of your site, having “http://www.domain.com/keyword” or some URL variation that includes a keyword or keyphrase is still valuable. Another instance of your keyword will give the search engine yet another signal of relevancy.
You can analyse your own on-page SEO with speed and ease using something like the free Pineberry SEO Analysis Tool.
Beyond on-page SEO, you will need some reputable links to the pages of your site: and not just any old link. Internally, site-wide links used to point to a particular functional page so using a keyword is viewed a lot more leniently in Google’s eyes. Externally, you must use a variation of the keywords you’ve researched and you would like to rank for as your anchor text on other sites (the text used to link to your web page from theirs).
Whether you’re providing naturally enriching content that people want to share (for example, infographics) or you exchange a guest post on a relevant authoritative blog, a gentle link building strategy will further bolster your place in the search engine rankings for your desired keywords. However, you must be careful to employ a natural-looking backlink footprint, with links coming from a variety of types of sites, of different nature (i.e. DoFollow and NoFollow), at a steady rate and to deep pages within your site (not just to your site’s home page).
For more personal advice on how we can help better optimize your web page for higher rankings, whether on-site or building safe, long-lasting links, do get in touch. Receptional offer on-site SEO evaluations and an expert link building service, should you need a helping hand towards the top of the search engines.
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