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Five Easy Steps for On-Page Optimization

Written by Melanie Phung, New Media Director

In a previous post we discussed keywords:

Of course, simply having a list of words you'd like to show up isn't enough. The next step is actually optimizing your site to achieve better rankings in the results when Internet users do a search for those terms.

In this post, we're going to focus on "on-page optimization" – those easy steps for tweaking pages on existing sites (without delving into technical or design issues) that will help improve the relevancy portion of the SEO equation.

The 5 Easy Steps Explained

If you tuned in for our Intro to SEO webinar over the summer, you might recall these quick tips to get started. Even if you have only a few minutes of time per week, you should easily be able to implement these simple steps for one page at a time:

  1. Select an existing page to optimize, based on traffic opportunity
  2. Rewrite your Title Tag with your target keywords at the beginning
  3. Add relevant copy to the body of the page
  4. Leverage internal linking opportunities
  5. Bonus tip: Write a compelling meta description to increase click-throughs

1. Pick a page and decide what keyword phrase(s) it should rank for.

Based on your previous research, you should already have a good idea of what terms you're targeting based on potential traffic opportunity. If you have a list of terms rank ordered based on traffic potential, but don't yet know which words you're targeting with which pages, mapping your keyword priorities against specific pieces of content should be your next step.

All that means is deciding (and documenting) which page you want to rank for which terms. You can use the spreadsheet you created during your keyword research and just add another column that indicates the page assigned to each keyword priority.

The purpose of the document is to keep you on track as you move on to the next steps.

2. Write a compelling Page Title with your primary keyword phrase at the beginning.

The page title is what appears in the HTML code between the tags. It is not the headline/H1 tag, which appears on the page itself, although in many content management systems, the Title will pull from the text you indicated as the heading.

The most important information/keywords should appear at the beginning. Omit any unnecessary words, which dilute the impact of your title.

The text within the Title Tags is one of the most important single on-page factors a search engine considers when determining what your page is about (i.e., when an engine determines "relevancy" of your page to the search engine user's query).

It is also what search engines normally use to determine how your page will be listed in the search engine results – a great title, therefore, will also convince search engine users that your result is the one they want to click on.

It needs to be readable, relevant and credible looking. It's the first thing users see and they generally form an opinion about whether your result is worth clicking on in a fraction of a second.

Here's an example of how Google would display a page in its results based on the Title Tag:

This page is an article about the controversy over cochlear implants for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. The headline is "Cochlear Controversy", which is decent from a keyword perspective. The TITLE TAG, however, is "PBS – Scientific American Frontiers:Growing Up Different:Cochlear Controversy". The structure of the Title goes from general (PBS) to specific ("Cochlear Controversy") and the headline actually gets cut off in the search engine result because it's so long.

Here's are two examples of how to tweak the title to try to be more engaging:

Notice how a simple rewrite gives search engines a much better idea of what the page is about. It's also just a cleaner, more authoritative-looking result that gives users more reason to click through to the page.

Are there other ways to rewrite it that could be better? It depends on what your keyword priorities are for this page (e.g., cochlear implants, hearing implants, cochlear implant controversy, controversy over cochlear implants, cochlear implants in children, implants for deaf kids, etc.), which is why keyword research should always be your first step. However, a good rule of thumb is that your target keywords, whatever they are, should be closer to the front.

If you're just looking for a quick hit to implement across a large number of pages, the simplest change would simply be to have your CMS reorder the fields it uses to auto-generate the TITLE tag, so the article headline/page name came at the beginning, followed by the section or episode name, and ending with the program/series name (basically the reverse of your breadcrumb structure) and "PBS".

Like this:

Headline | Episode | Program | PBS

Headline | Episode | Program | PBS

Assuming the article headline provided enough context about the page's content, this approach would at least allow you to move your better terms closer to the front.

This tweak will create a lot of long tail benefit with minimal effort (important when you need to achieve scale). For competitive terms, however, you'll probably need to evaluate that this convention is ideal. For pages targeting competitive terms, you should rewrite your Title Tag to focus on your keyword priorities and eliminate unnecessary wordiness in your Title tag.

Remember, in addition to signaling to a search engine why this page is directly relevant to the user's search query, each title must also should be unique and give the user a compelling reason to click through to your page.

3. Make sure your page includes relevant, unique text copy.

Search engines are getting smarter all the time, but at their core they are still just dumb machines. The easier you make it for them to understand what your pages are about, the better it will be for your visibility.

If the page you're optimizing contains fewer than 200 words of content (that can be read by search engine spiders), add one or two paragraphs of unique and keyword-relevant text to the page. This obviously doesn't apply to pages that you don't actually want to send traffic to, like sitemap pages, for example, but it does apply to pages that are video or photo heavy – search engines can't "read" photos and videos, so you'll need to provide the context via text on the page, surrounding your video or other media assets.

(Accessibility aids like using image alt attributes are always a good idea and should definitely be used for non-text elements, but they don't take the place of copy designed to be read by normal users.)

Make sure that your text includes your targeted keyword phrases, but not unnaturally so. Simply forcing your keyword phrases in as often as possible – a practice known as keyword stuffing – brings diminishing returns and lowers the quality of the content.

More than 200 words of unique (non-duplicate), search-engine-readable text is preferable, but that's the minimum it would take to adequately describe the content. In addition, the more substantive your textual content, the easier it is for a page to rank for a much broader variety of long-tail queries.

4. Create internal links pointing to your page.

Links serve two related but separate purposes: they help search engines "discover" content and they are a major ranking factor.

Links are one of the most important factors in SEO, not only to signal authority but also because the link anchor text is another means of telling search engines what your content is about.

The best kind of links:

  • Are from pages that have high authority
  • Are from pages that are related to your topic
  • Are embedded within copy
  • Do not use the rel=nofollow attribute
  • Use your target keywords as the anchor text

You know who's a great source of links that meet all these criteria? Your very own site!

Every time you add a page to your site (or optimize an existing one), spend 5 minutes to find one or more pages on your site related to your target page and add a link to that page from within the body copy, using your relevant keyword phrases as anchor text.

Links to the page convey authority and importance; anchor text conveys what the linked-to page is about, which helps promote relevancy for specific search terms.

These types of links are also great for users, as it gives them an "information scent" to follow. Cueing your readers to visit related pages on your site will help your engagement metrics as well (e.g., improve your pages-per-visit and time-on-site KPIs), which is a double-win in terms of traffic: more visitors from organic traffic and each visitor views more pages.

Naturally, also link out to your other related content from your new pages, with anchor text that's relevant to the target page.

5. Bonus tip: Meta Descriptions

A great meta description can significantly improve the click-through rate (CTR) of your listing.

The major search engines have long claimed not to weigh the contents of the meta description tag in its ranking algorithm, but the description still serves some important purposes that go way beyond ranking factors.

First, search engines often pull the meta description text to create the "snippet" that you see in the results.

A compelling description will convince users to click on your link (conversely, a lackluster – or missing – description will discourage clicks to your page).


In addition, search engines will highlight keywords in bold if they match the user's query, and the bold text draws the eye. A description that contains bolded words will get more attention (and clicks).

Second, the meta description is also used by other applications. For example, Facebook uses the contents in this tag to populate the page description when users share links on their walls. If you have no meta description tag or a poorly written one, this would also negatively impact the engagement you'd see from content shared on social media sites, as well as Merlin-powered syndication.

Remember: A great meta description, therefore, doesn't simply summarize what's on the page – it serves as your hook to entice your (would-be) audience.

Character limits for Google SERPs:
Expect text to get truncated around…:
Title Tag: 65-70 characters
Description/snippet: 155 characters

Truncation isn't necessarily bad (a truncated snippet, for example, can be a great tease to hook people into wanting to read the rest), but it's important to be aware of where text is being truncated. If your text is consistently too long, it may cut off before you get to the important points (/keywords) or completely change your intended meaning.

Tip: To preview what your complete listing might look like in the results pages, type your full title, description and URL into this tool: http://www.seomofo.com/snippet-optimizer.html

Conclusion

There are a lot of significant organic traffic opportunities in investing in SEO audits, rethinking site structure and information architecture, developing a stronger SEO-focused content strategy, and other "big picture" thinking.

But simply knowing what keywords to target and applying the 5 action items detailed above will help you take advantage of easy opportunities already within reach, and all with only a small amount of effort.

When consistently applied, the steps outlined in this series of keyword research posts can immediately impact your pages' relevancy, which will help your improve search engine rankings across the board.

The add-on benefits go beyond improving your position in the results; the cumulative effect of better rankings, higher click-through rate to your site, and stronger engagement by visitors who land on your pages drives better performance all around.

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