Search Engine ranking can seem like a dark art and indeed, some of it is. However, there are some best practices that are tried and true that will achieve good results every time. I am by no means going to cover each and every method here, but I’ll be touching on a lot of important ones that you should know about and understand. I didn’t want to turn any of these articles into “How to” pieces, but it’s nearly unavoidable when discussing search engine optimization. So, with that being said, you’ll get to learn a little here and you can always use this page as a reference down the road when you’re writing new pages and want to recall some specific details.
Choosing your domain name
This is where it all begins. There are lots of ways to go about picking a domain name, but generally it’s a good idea to attempt to get a good keyword or two in it. There are exceptions to this rule, but it’s a good start. Maybe you already have a company name and that’s what you’d like your domain name to be. There’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe it’s your actual person name that you want to market, so go ahead and get that. But, if you’re promoting a specific product or service, try to get that in the domain name. For example, if you were to type “carpet cleaners” into Google and someone had the name carpetcleaners.com, it would be so much easier for them to get a very high listing, than if you had a name like joescleaners.com. It’s not impossible to get a better search engine ranking for joescleaners.com, but they would have to work harder to get the top spot. Your domain name, also known as a URL can be a key factor in both search engine and directory positioning. It is important to thoroughly research domain names. See what’s available. I recently found a great website that helps you generate domain names and let’s you know if they’re available.
Try using approximately 5-10 words to write a keyword-rich title that is relevant and sums up what the page is about. Begin with keywords, and attempt to make it into a sentence that you think someone looking for your product or service might actually type into a search engine search field. This is important because most engines use the page title as the link to your page in search results. They also give extra relevance if there’s an exact match to what the user typed in their search query.
Keywords density in Page
Once upon a time, keyword density meant a lot to getting a good ranking in search engines, however people started figuring out some exact percentages and abusing it to get their sites ranked higher. Because of this, search engines have gotten smarter and now use the keywords more in their context rather than some magical number. There is no “perfect” keyword density percentage in SEO, but if you strive to keep it around 3% to 5% of your total content length on a page, you should be okay. There’s a term known as “Keyword Stuffing”, where you’ll can actually be penalized for having to high of a percentage of a keyword in your page. Search engines can and will usually consider this as spam and may even blacklist your page. There’s a useful Keyword Density Checker tool here that you can use.
Having Unique Content
Search Engines have really gotten a lot smarter these days. No, they still aren’t perfect. I’m sure we all still get results we weren’t expecting when making a search query. However, that being said, one of the ways that they have gotten a lot better is in the unique content department. They don’t want to see the same content on your page that they see on some other page that they’ve already crawled and indexed. One of Google’s updates earlier in the year heavily penalized a lot of sites that were “scraping” content from other sites. That’s why it’s so important to write content that is specific to your company and your industry from your perspective. A lot of people have a difficult time with this (and I’m no different), but if you find it too difficult, we do try help steer you in the right direction. Some people simply aren’t writers however. In that case, you may still want to get all the pertinent information about your company, products, services, etc. jotted down to the best of your ability and seek out the help of a Copywriter. You can do a search for copywriters and find one to assist you. Alternatively, there are a lot of great articles on the web that can assist you. Here’s one to get you started, titled A Beginner’s Guide To Website Copy-writing. You can find a lot more by doing a few quick searches.
Avoid using Generic Link naming
So often, you see links titled “Click Here”, or “Read More”, or “Continue…” etc. This is typically considered a waste of a link for search engine value. Now, I can guess what you’re thinking already. Your thinking, “I’m pretty sure I saw some of those very examples on your own page”, and yes, you’d be correct. Sometimes those types of links are simply unavoidable. There’s either insufficient room, or nothing else would make sense to use as the link text in the place in it’s place. For example, at the end of an article excerpt. This can be dealt with by adding a title tag inside the link anchor which has additional text that’s hidden from visual users, but not to robots and screen readers. You can use that text to give a better description of what it is your linking to.
Internal Site Linking
Linking from text on one page of your site another page of your site is a good thing. It strengthens the keywords you using in your link to point towards the page your linking to, ultimately giving that page more weight for the term used in the link.
Search Engine Friendly URLs
I’m sure by now surfing the web, you’ve probably come across some URL’s that look something like this http://yoursite.com/product.php?categoryid=5&productid=20, or likely, even worse than that. These are referred to as “Dirty URL’s”. Search engines don’t really know what to make of these. They don’t really tell the bots what the page is about and some search engines can’t even crawl these pages at all. Search Engine Friendly URL’s (AKA Clean URL’s) look like this (I’ll be shamelessly using one of ours as an example) http://levelonewebdesign.com/services/web-design/. Now this, they know right away, that we have services and the page your on is the web design service page.
Site architecture & Depth of URL
It’s generally considered best practice to not go deeper than four levels in your site hierarchy and usually the shorter, the better. For example, http://yourdomain.com/yourpage would typically be much better than http://yourdomain.com/subdirectory/subdirectory/subdirectory/subdirectory/yourpage. Bots don’t like to dig that deep and generally speaking, users don’t either. Try to keep as flat of a structure as possible.
The one authoritatively correct URL for a resource. When a webpage can be accessed via multiple URLs, a canonical URL should be specifically identified. All alias URLs for a resource should redirect to the canonical URL to enforce its authority.
Here’s an example of this. All of these examples would technically provide the site user with the site’s home page. However, to a search engine robot, these are all different pages that have the same content on them.
The problem with this is that it dilutes the value of the home page into four different pages. So, instead of one page getting 100% of the value, you have four pages each getting 25% of the value.
Unique META tags
There are several different types of meta tags, but among them, there are really only a few that matter.
- The description meta tag. This one is very important. It is often used by search engines as the description you see in the search results page under the title. You should typically use 15 – 20 (not more than 160 characters) words, starting with several strategic keywords that you think a user might be looking for when seeking your page. Your really looking for “qualified traffic”, so make sure it’s relevant to your actual page, but do try to make it compelling. After all, if it is a prospective client, you want them clicking your link, not the next one down from yours.
- The keywords meta tag. This is a comma separated list of your strategic keyword or phrases words . It’s nearly impossible to find an actual number for this anymore, but I would suggest not using more than 10 words and keep it under 100 characters. Do not use any words that don’t actually appear as content in your page. Google has stated that they don’t use this any longer for site ranking, however, I do know that it is a requirement of theirs to get your site into Google News (if you are in fact a news provider). In general I tell people not to use this one any longer as it’s more likely to get them into trouble than it is to help them.
Proper use of Heading tags
I’ve seen lots of misuse of the heading tags over the years. Heading tags were designed to semantically give your page a hierarchy. The top level would be the H1 tag, then a sub category to that would have an H2 tag and so on. Before HTML5, you were only supposed to use one H1 tag on a page, then however many H2’s, then if they had a sub category, they would use H3’s. Now, with HTML5, each article tag can now have it’s own H1 tag. It is still important that these never get placed out of order. It wouldn’t make sense to have an H2 tag nested inside of an H3 tag for example. I won’t go heavily into this because HTML5 has turned this on it’s head, but for usability purposes, it’s at least good to know that there is an expected order of these tags and they give the page a definitive hierarchy.
Many web developers just give the site logo a name of “logo.jpg” or whatever the file-type may be. This is a wasted opportunity to get your site name used. For example, on this site, I’ve chosen the image name level_one_web_design_logo.png. This isn’t a big thing, but it’s a lot of little things that add up to help with your organic rankings.
Having an XML Sitemap is invaluable. It’s literally a list of all of the links in your site that bots look for in order to know where all of your pages are. Sure, search engines do a pretty good job on their own finding your pages by following links, but this tells them specifically all of the pages you want in their index. The best part is that in most Twitter or Facebook helps get your site seen by more people which in-turn gets more links pointed back to your site and as described previously, the more links coming from other sites pointing to your site, the better. It makes your site become and authority on which ever subject you’re working with.
I could go on, but the fact of the matter is that there are any number of entire books on this subject. These are some good fundamentals to adhere to and you’ll do okay.