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On-Page SEO: What is the most important item?

On-Page SEO: What is the most important item?

What is On-Page SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization for those who have a life outside of Internet Marketing) is my number one discussion focus when evaluating a website.  On-Page SEO refers to developing your website so the search engines (presently Google, Bing and to a lesser extent Yahoo) are able to read your web-pages, understand what they are about and rank them in terms of content relevance as compared to all the thousands of other web-pages that also want to appear for a keyword or key-phrase.   Search engine traffic is such an important part of being successful as a small business, that I feel your On-Page SEO needs to be correct before worrying about the design, usability, content or driving PPC and Social Media traffic to the site.  Most marketers say they understand On-Page SEO, but few websites actually implement it.  It actually is easy to do, but can be time-consuming and you need to stay abreast as Google keeps changing the rules.

Prior to working on your SEO though, you need to consider a couple of items. 

Crawl-ability

Make sure the Search Engine robots can crawl your site and understand what is there.  If you are using a Flash site, or one that relies heavily upon images, you will have to make special efforts to have the site understood by the robots.  Use the Google Keyword Tool to see if Google can understand what your site is about. 

Outline Your Site

 Many sites are put together without a comprehensive overview of how the site should work.  Back in the days before search engines were such a dominating factor in your website’s success, site navigation was developed to minimize the number of clicks a visitor would have to do to reach the content they wanted to see.  Also because we designers normally charged by the page, site owners usually tried to put as much information on a page as possible.  Now the trend is hyper-specific content per page.  Most people use search engines, rather than surf a website, to find their content.  If they find a website / writer they like, they may use RSS to subscribe to the site to be notified when there is new information added.  Therefore the site has to be laid out to best categorize and contain the content. 

The Home page should be a site-specific page; summary of latest information, overview of the company or interest, or a general “50,000 foot” introduction to the rest of the site.  Each menu page should be a distinct chapter that is more specific about the content that will be found just in that chapter.  Continue refining the content with sub-menus and supporting links until the final page is hyper-content sensitive.  Take a look at your website and try to create an outline of it, just using the titles, headlines and bold text.  If the outline doesn’t make sense, goes round in circles or has too many overlaps, then the site layout needs to be examined.

What about “Keywords”?

Most marketers from the 2005 online marketing era, focused on Keywords in the meta-tags (that part of the website in the header that visitors do not see but search engine robots do) because Yahoo and other search engines used these meta-tags to categorize a website.  Google realized that some gray-hat designers (the evil-doers) would include Keywords in their meta-tags that were highly searched for, but had little or no relevance to the content of the website.  So Google figured out how to read your web-page and determine for itself what was the relevant content.  Still people worry about their keywords, even as the rest of their site looks like it is from 1999.  Well, it’s true, meta-tag keywords matter, but not in the way you would expect.

Google looks at your keywords to see if you are being honest.

Yup, Google does check your keyword mega-tags, but only to see if they match up with what Google understood your web-page to be about.  If they match, great – you’re a legitimate designer, but if they don’t then you can get a demerit and lose some of that great Google juice.  Also Google has the ability to determine related words; synonyms, plurals, abbreviations.  Do not worry about having all forms of a word in your keywords, just focus on the phrase that will be the most commonly used for searching.  Google’s keyword tool is a great source for determining what keywords Google recognizes from your content and what are the most searched for keywords in the total grouping of related keywords.  When examining your web-page, try to consolidate the content to a maximum of 8 to 12 most-relevant, most-popular keywords or key-phrases.  If you need more than that to cover all the content that is on the page, then your page content should be split up. 

That being said, keywords in general are very important – you need to know what terms to use to categorize the content on your page.  Again using the Google Keyword Tool, you can test keyword phrases and see what are the most popular search terms.  Each page should have a primary keyword, and then supporting keywords that are related, but less common to the primary keyword.  As you review your page, try to assign a keyword to each chapter.

The Most Important Thing?  Your Page Title!

Your page title is like the title of your book, it’s the first thing that the search engines and the viewers will see.  Your page title should have keywords that are relevant to the specific content on that page!  Too often I’ll see a webpage that will just have the website’s name on it, or will have a generic title like “Products”.  It is generally accepted that the search engines consider that the most important information will come first, so write your titles with this in mind.  Also note that there is some opinion that Google ignores anything in the title past character 72. 

I originally wrote this page with the title “What are the most important items of On-Page SEO?”, then changed it when I considered that most people would not type the complete sentence into their search field, but would start searching with the phrase “On-Page SEO” and then add-on to refine the search.  With Google’s instant search feature, the order of the keywords become even more important.

Page Title for Local Businesses

I believe that Local Businesses should definitely include the location they service in the page title.  Some people may put the street address or town they are located in, but I try to open it up to the county or largest primary target city near the business, with the state abbreviation.  If you have a distinct business name, I would not worry about it being the first thing in the title.  If your business name is common, like Hertz, you will want the name in the front of the title, along with differentiators, such as location, or keyword search adjectives like “low-cost” or “best”, just make sure you can live up to the claim of “best” or your social media brand will take a beating.

Title Keywords for Better Click-Thru

Another interesting thing is that if you have keywords in your title, the keywords will appear in your title in the search results, and people will be more inclined to click on your link as opposed to a link that does not have the keywords in the title.  People want to see the phrases they used to search reflected back at them in the results.  I also believe that if your title is relevant to your topic, when people link to your page, they will be more likely to use the title of the page as a hyperlink – which has a significant relevance for Google ranking.

I know that many people have their own opinions about what seems to work the best or has not worked for them regarding SEO, so I would be interested to hear your stories, opinions or arguments.

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