Onsite SEO: Preparing Your Website or Page for Search Engines
Before You Read This Hub
This is a slight disclaimer. I would like you all to know that the world of search engine optimization is vast. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of things you can do to improve your page rank. Some of these tricks must be applied off your website and others must be applied directly to your page.
This guide will be focusing primarily on the website part of SEO, what you can change about your website that will make it more loved by the search engines. This will require a basic understanding of HTML, specifically the META and IMG tags.
I hope this guide helps you in your pursuit of better organic search traffic.
Starting With the Basics
So before we look at all the complex stuff let's look at all the basic components first shall we? Take a look at your website's html code and think for a second.
"Is any of this redundant or useless? Do I really need all of this code? Is there anything I can remove? Do I need all these images?"
These are some of the simple questions you should be thinking of right now. While it's not a huge factor, the more lines of code you have in any program the longer it will take for that program to load up.
Think of your website as a program, a program that both your viewers and search engines will have to load before they can see your business or whatever your website is for. Every dozen lines of useless code is another second or two that your website will take to load. That's another second or two that your viewers can decide "this isn't worth it" and that search engines will decide "this isn't a very optimized site". You NEVER want the search engine to think that at any point.
Moral of the anecdote: Both search engines and humans have very short attention spans. So make your website centered around the idea they'll wait a maximum of 3 seconds before they either press backspace or start docking points. Search engines love a clean website that's quick to load up. Some exceptions are facebook, twitter, and youtube which are naturally slow.
Don't Use Flash
No anecdotes, no stories, no examples, don't freaking use Flash. Search engines of all kinds absolutely HATE HATE HATE flash based websites. They have no potential to be optimized, they're very slow to load, and code is complex and designed in such a way that search engines can't read them.
When a search engine sees a line of flash code, instead of seeing "keyword keyword keyword" it sees "blacklist blacklist blacklist". If you must use flash though, do not put it on your home page at the absolute least, put it in a deep page 1 or 2 clicks away so that the search engine won't penalize you for it.
Make Your Website Easily Navigable
So what does this mean? Simply put there should be no page in your website that is more than 2 clicks away from your home page. In other words if you have to go through more than 2 pages of your website to get to a specific page, then your website is not easy to navigate (and thus you forfeit an incredibly easy-to-get PR bonus).
An easy way to do this is to keep a list of every page in your website excluding the home page. Now, on your home page make sure you have a section dedicated to linking to other pages. Include a link to the main pages on your list in this section, then cross them out. Now the rest of these should be less important links, at the bottom of your home page include all of these in smaller text.
You can see this technique performed on Apple's and Microsoft's main site, the important links are placed at the top of the home page, and the less important links or deep links are placed at the very bottom. In other words every page of those websites are a single click away. This is an example of perfect navigation, which search engines smile on.
Properly Optimize Your Images
Okay so we all know that the most search engine friendly website in the world is one that has no images. However, websites with no images are boring, and you aren't just catering to search engines as you (hopefully) have customers or followers that are visiting your websites as well. So naturally a few images here and there are important, as long as you don't go overboard, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't squeeze out a little SEO juice from your images as well. Your website is your servant, so make every piece of it serve you.
Make sure that the image's file name is optimized. The file name is usually img.jpg or img.gif or maybe img.png by default. Don't keep that default name! Rename your image using a combination of your keywords and related descriptive words. Instead of Img.gif name it on-site-seo-instruction-infographic.gif or clipboard-of-important-seo-tips-for-articles.gif. This step should take a grand total of 5 seconds and could end up being worth an hour of backlink building.
Use the Alt Tag
Take note of the alt tag. Most images will be in the format <img src=" "></img> when you look at them in raw html code. However you can attach something to this that makes it more search engine-worthy. It's called the "alt tag" and is written as <img src=" " alt=" "></img>. What the alt tag is meant to do is place words where the image would usually be if it fails to load or is being used by someone with a visual disability. The unintentional use of the alt tag though is that instead of reading "there's an image here" the search engine reads the alt tag's text.
How Will the Search Engine See It?
So imagine if you have <img src="infographic-tips-for-onsite-search-engine-rankings.gif" alt="Search engine optimization infographic for on-site metrics and rankings"></img> what will the search engine read? Well I'll tell you what it will read.
-Picks up Image- "Oh there's an image here, alright then filename is related to seo, infographics, and search engine rankings. Huh? SEO, seo, that's been showing up a lot. I should check how often it appears later. Alright not bad wait what's this?"
-Picks up the Image Alt Tag- "Oh some text, let's see. Something more related to SEO, infographics, and on-site metrics. Maybe a caption? Wait..."
-Compares Alt tag with file name- "Oh! I understand now. The text is a description of the image! It's telling me what's in this image that I can't really read or analyze too well. But have there been a lot of images like this on this page?"
-Scans for other images- "Well I don't detect a lot of others so this must be a valuable image. Alright then filing search engine optimization as a possible keyword, I'll put it in the keyword density equation later."
The first thing the search engine will do is detect the image's file name and log it as a keyword. After that it'll detect the alt tag and log its keyword(s). You go from having a big blank space on your website (which search engines hate) to having some keywords. It's not perfect but it's better than just dumping an image on your site.
The final piece of advice I can give you about images is Don't-You-Dare-Use-A-Ton-Of-Images-And-Come-Crying-To-Me. I've said it once I'll say it again, hell I'd say it a thousand times if I didn't mind wasting an hour of my life doing so, don't overuse images on your website. At most, and I do mean most, you can have 4 images on your home page not including a background image if you really want that (though I heavily discourage background images). Your other pages can have a maximum of 6, as Google's search crawler is too lazy to do a thorough inspection of your deep pages anyway. Articles can be an exception to this as images are often necessary to keep the attention of the organic audience.
The only exception to the image limit are thumbnails. Thumbnails are small images that are a maximum of 64x64 pixel pictures. Due to their small file size and the fact that you can still add file name and alt text to them every 5 or 6 thumbnails will count as one image and the search engines won't penalize it. However, they're also the hidden dagger of images.
There's an uncertainty factor related to thumbnails. As of now, as I'm typing this, search engines follow this rule and overlook thumbnails to a degree. Tomorrow this could change, or the next day, or next year, or 5 seconds after I publish this. You never know how they're going to alter it, so don't make the mistake of overdoing it now. Besides anchor text is preferred to thumbnails by site visitors anyway.
How Many Images are on Your Main Website?
Your Website's Meta Tags
So we've come a long way so now let's move onto the biggest and best in your website, your Meta Tags and Title Tag. Meta tags are a special type of tag in the HEAD section of your website. These tags are usually broken into a few self explanatory sections:
So let's start with the description Meta Tag. This is obviously a short description of your website and should be about 250 characters long. When you type something into the search engine, the Meta Description is what you see under each link. It's very very rare for a site to do well without any description tag so make sure to have one! What you put in it is based on your website, but make sure that you include each keyword you want your website to rank for at least once. Meta descriptions are written as <META name="description" content="insert description here">
Next let's hit the keywords Meta Tag. This is also pretty self explanatory, a list of the keywords you want your website to rank for. Included in your description should be every major word of your title (so every word that isn't "of, and, the, or", etc). These aren't as useful as they used to be as Google has kinda denounced them, but some search engines still use them so it's still wise to use them as well! Doesn't hurt to get some traffic from others while waiting for Google to decide whether or not to give you some. Meta Keywords are written as <META name="keywords" content="your, keywords, here, commas, separate">
The resource type tag is the only absolutely necessary tag for indexing, but all it does is tell google and yahoo exactly what the site is. At the moment most search engines will automatically decide your resource type is "document" unless you specifically want it to be something else. I recommend you keep the resource type as document unless you have years of experience in html and think your site would be ranked better with another classification. The Resource Type Tag is written as <META name="resource-type" content="document">
Next off is the distribution tag which tells the search engine where and what the engine is used for. Currently the website should be designed for global, local, or iu (international use) distribution, though not many people have seemed to figure out what the heck the difference is between global and iu. For most websites its recommended you stick with global distribution unless you only want your website viewed by an audience in your current country. The distribution meta tag is written as <META name="distribution" content="local, global, or iu">
Finally we'll discuss the Title Tag. This is the text that appears in the little box on top of your website when you open it. For example in the tab you have open right now you should see "An SEO Guide: Optimizing Your Site" or something like that. That's this hub's title tag. If this hub gets indexed by Google, the link that shows up with be the same thing. Thus you should remember to make your Title eyecatching to both the search crawler and to human beings. Also make sure to include every major word of your title in your keywords for some extra SEO juice(said it before and I must repeat)! Title tags are written differently from Meta tags, it's just <Title>Your Title Here</Title>
Prepare a Sitemap for Your Site
Search engines love sitemaps, if your site has one then it gets special treatment. So really there's no excuse for not having one! A sitemap is a simple .xml file uploaded with your website that tells search engines how your page is organized. It tells them the structure of your website and what pages exist on it. This allows for faster indexing.
Unfortunately I'm not too good at Xml and always end up having a friend create a sitemap for me. If you also have trouble with Xml and want to create your sitemap properly, you can always use Google search to find tutorials on them. There are hundreds of them so it shouldn't be hard to find one that explains it in a way you can easily understand. Just make sure you have one!
If you need an illustration of a sitemap please take a look at the image above for a fairly accurate portrayal.
Did You Prepare a Sitemap Before Reading This Article?
This will be a fairly short section of this article but it's also incredibly important. Here's what you do, take the total number of words in your article including the alt tag texts of images. Now for each keyword in your meta tags, count the number of times it appears in the website. Divide that by the number of words in your website, total, and you have Keyword Density!
Put simpler, keyword density = number of times a keyword appears in the website divided by the total number of words in the website.
A good keyword density to have is about 6%, which means 6% of your website is about each keyword. However if you go between 4-8% it's good. Do not go lower or higher than those boundaries or the search engine will penalize you for keyword spamming! And don't think you can just randomly stick keywords in parts of the site nobody will look either, search engines will detect all the content around keywords and if it decides you're just hiding them to increase your density... goodbye PR.
Your Home Page and Your Deep Pages
This is actually an often overlooked point. Many sites will give their deep pages an extremely different image than the home page, thinking that the search engines will index them separately. Sorry to burst the bubble of those who've done it and happy to catch you guys in time who've only thought of doing it, that's wrong.
Google doesn't index Website, Page, Page, Page, Page, all on different lines. What it does is index Website + Page + Page + Page + Page, next website + page, etc. etc. Your pages are clumped together with your site. That means that if your home page is about floral design and another page randomly jumps to best gaming strategies, the search engine gets confused...and you don't want that.
To prevent your pages from straying too far from your home page follow these tips
- Make sure that your description tag for all pages are the same as the home page unless they serve a specific purpose (such as if you have reviews on your non-home pages but your home page is a list of reviews).
- Have the exact same title for all pages of your website but with added text based on the purpose of the page (if your website is "Youtube Under the Hood" the contact us page would be "Youtube Under the Hood Support" same title but with an added word to show that it's the contact us page, not the home page)
- Make sure that every keyword on the home page is on all of the deep pages, but you can add additional keywords to the deep pages.
If you stray from this I really can't say all of what will happen. I've seen cases where Google completely removed the website because the search engine couldn't figure out what was going on. I've also seen cases where the crawler just skipped over the pages and only indexed the home page. Don't test the Google Search Crawler's temper, that's the best advice I can ever give.
Internal Link Building
First, I want you to scroll down to the bottom of this page and come back. I'll wait.
Alright, did you see those links at the bottom of the page that are about different but relevant articles? That's internal link building! When you write a new article, post, or page on your website it's a good practice to include a relevant link to every other part of the website that could be considered relevant. This helps push the link juice through your website and can boost your overall rankings.
Hopefully this has shown you how to properly optimize your website so that Google will adore your website. Remember, though, that these tactics alone are not enough to get your site ranked on page 1. If you've decided to set foot into the world of eCommerce or site building in general you have a long road ahead of you. You have to keep your content up to date and fresh so that viewers will keep coming back and google's search crawler will always have some new content to look at when it comes back.
Check Out My Other SEO Articles
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- Building High Quality Backlinks for Free
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- Getting More YouTube Views
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© 2012 Michael Ward