Many aspects of SEO are mostly out of your control – link building, algorithm changes, reviews, etc, but one thing you have complete control of (and complete accountability for) is what you put on your website. So there’s no excuse for not having near perfect on page SEO. I say near perfect because no one knows exactly what Google is looking for on your page but we have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. In addition, we believe on page SEO, particularly your content, is the most important factor in your overall strategy. With that in mind, here are a few SEO tips on making sure your on page optimization is where it needs to be:
Ever since the Panda update most “thin” sites or sites with very little content sunk. Creating unique, interesting “thick” content takes time – time to research, time to write, time to review. But it’s a necessity. Of course – Why would anyone want to go to your site if you had very little information for them and why would Google list your site if no one would want to go to it? Makes sense! It’s imperative that you’re writing content that will give people useful information about your product or service. Topics can vary widely from specifics about your product to your opinion of something that happened in the industry. Focus on your reader first, then consider the search engines. If you’re writing to inform you will naturally produce a better article or blog post than if you’re focused on getting your keywords stuffed in.
On the topic of keywords, there is no formula to how many times a certain phrase needs to be mentioned in your content. There used to be, but as with most SEO techniques of the last decade “keyword stuffing” will no longer help and will likely hurt your rankings. The Hummingbird update was revolutionary in that Google can now understand your page and site as a whole without relying on keywords. Mentioning specific terms that your customers are searching for is still important, but it needs to be natural. Most of my content starts with a question that I try to answer as if someone came to my desk and said “What can I do to my site to get better rankings?”. The beauty of writing the answer rather than explaining it in person is no one can interrupt my ramblings
Phone / Tablet Compatibility
It’s pretty obvious that more and more people are using their phones and tablets to get information. Google knows when someone is searching from their 4 inch phone, 10 inch tablet or 23 inch desktop. Google can also tell if your site will look good on those various sizes. If your site doesn’t look good on a phone or tablet you can guess where Google will put your site when someone searched from a mobile device. Similar to having thin content, if Google thinks people won’t enjoy looking at your site it will probably end up a few pages behind where it needs to be.
Responsive design is the way to go. That means your site will change automatically based on the browser size. Responsive design doesn’t try to figure out what kind of device your on. It simply looks at the size of the browser. So if you’re on a desktop computer with a 23 inch screen but prefer to keep your browser window small the site will still looks good (go on… Try it). Now do the same thing with your site. Does it look good when your browser is only a few inches wide? It needs to.
Headings (H1, H2, etc Tags)
H tags are important because even though Google and your visitors understand what your page is about by reading it, you should still give clues to the important parts of your pages. As with the rest of your content your headings need to be visitor focused and not artificially filled with keywords. That being said there’s nothing wrong with putting your main keyword in your H1 tag (you should have only one). It only makes sense – if your page is about, for example, “On Page SEO” then you should clearly tell people that in your main heading. But if you add the same keyword to all or most of your headings then it will appear spammy and unnatural. Your sub headings (H2, H3, etc) can have related keywords, but there’s no need to restate your main keyword over and over.
Title Tags & Meta Descriptions
Title tags and meta descriptions are typically not visible on page but they are a part of your page so I’m including it. Deal! Back in the early days of SEO title and meta tags were the only way for search engines to know what your page was about. As you can imagine that was an easy area to take advantage of. Sites could stuff their title and description tags with keywords related to gardening which would bring them up in the search results for “gardening” but their actual site might infect your computer with spyware and have nothing to do with gardening.
Nowadays the title and meta tags still tell the search engines what your page is about but if it doesn’t jive with the content then you’re sunk. These tags are mostly used to recommend what Google displays in their search results. So, in addition to your keyword for that page you should also throw in some marketing – call to action, talk about your experience, giv epeople areason to pick your site over the others. This is the first thing a customer will read about your site. Similarly the description will usually be the snippet that shows up in the search results under the title. I say usually because Google can use the searchers specific search term to alter what they show you in the results.
URLs / Slugs
Many sites still use querystring variables to display the proper page. for example www.domain.com/index.php?pageid=1 andwww.domain.com/index.php?pageid=2. That’s going to confuse the search engines because they will think that the same page (index.php) has several variations of content. That’s a red flag because it could indicate that your site is showing different content to search engines and people. Sometimes querystring variables are necessary, especially for e-commerce sites. I’ll get into how to handle that in a later post (if you need to know now, call me up). I recommend switching to a CMS that allows you to customize the url. Most do nowadays, but if you want a recommendation give us a call and we’ll explain the pros and cons of each.
Once you’re able to control your url then you need to make sure it’s SEO friendly. Basically that means you url will contain your keyword and not much else. You certainly don’t want the url to be a sentence like www.domain.com/gardening-tips-from-my-granmother-to-my-daughter-in-law. When you change urls you’ll also need to redirect the old ones otherwise Google will look for your old page see that it’s gone and think your site is broken. Not cool.
Most CMS systems allow a page to be accessed through several urls. One is the slug as mentioned above, but usually there’s also a quyerystring url that will work. To Google this will appear to be duplicate content since the one page is on two or more urls. Duplicate content is bad. Really bad. Canonicalisation is a fancy word that basically means you’re telling Google what pages are actually the same. Canonicalisation can be a bit confusing, but here’s a quick guide on how to Use canonical URLs
Error Fixing & Load Time
Just like bad content or bad design, Google will not send people to a site with a lot of errors. If you don’t have it yet, get Google Webmaster Tools. It’s free and extremely useful. One thing it will do is show you crawl errors. Most errors are pretty easy like 404 not found pages that need to be redirected, but some can be tricky. Give us a call if you need any help getting your site’s errors resolved.
Load time is critical – people are impatient and don’t want to wait 10,15,20 seconds for a page to load. You could have the best content, lowest prices, best customer service, but if your site is slow then many people won’t have a chance to find out. Cheap hosting is usually the culprit if your site is loading slow, but there are several other factors that can affect your load time. A lot of free and even paid cms themes add a ton of junk code. Typically the easier it is to change your theme without coding the more likely there will be extra code. Extra code takes longer to load. Image optimization is another huge factor – make sure you’re using a good compression method. Page caching will also help your pages load faster if you’re using a CMS. There are about a hundred other factors that affect your load time, but if you can get on a better server, optimize your images, cache your pages and remove junk code you should be in the top 10% of sites as far as load time goes.