SEO Is The Most Important Part Of Your Website
After all, what’s the point in having one if no one can find it? Search Engine Optimization is a huge source of stress for website owners, but I’ll break it down for you. Today I’m going over the basic components your website needs to have good on-page SEO. By “on-page SEO” I mean the things you do to optimize your website itself. (We will go over “off-page SEO,” or the optimization you do outside of your website, in another article.) But, before we get started you may want to check your website’s SEO so you know where to start. We’ve got a free tool you can use to get a quick SEO evaluation:
Tags: The Most Essential Part Of On-Page SEO
Tags are a part of your website code, and while they aren’t visible, they surround visible content. Search engine bots use them to determine what your website is about. Tags determine what information is displayed in search results. Without these, search bots won’t know what to do with the content they’re crawling. The types of tags are:
The title tag is an html tag that you put in the “head” area of your website’s html code. It tells search engines what to call your web page when it displays in a browser or in search results. Best practice is to include relevant key words or phrases in the title, in ways that seem natural. The full title isn’t going to display in all areas, due to space restrictions.
If you are using a site builder or WordPress, the title will default to whatever you titled your page when you created it. Unfortunately, website users and search engines don’t always need the same thing out of a web page title. For example, you might what to call your home page “Home” so that your users know how to get back to it when they’re navigating your website, but a search engine needs something more descriptive. There are two ways you can reconcile them, depending on how you’ve built your website.
If you’re using a site builder, it might have settings specifically for search engines so that you can configure the title tag separately. If not, there are programs you can integrate your site with to set up your SEO. In the case that you can’t use any of those, you can name your pages appropriately for SEO and then create custom navigation links that use a more common word.
When using WordPress, it can be as easy as installing a plugin. I prefer Yoast SEO. Even the free version packs in a lot of features, including title tag settings.
To see how a title tag looks as code, in the browser tab, and in search results, check out this article from Moz: Title Tag It also has some tips for writing good title tags and a tool to test what your title tag would look like.
Like the title tag, the description meta tag is an html tag that you need to include in the “head” of your html code. It tells the search engines what kind of content they’re going to find on your page so that they can match your site with searches.
It’s good practice to use key words and phrases in your description tag, in a light & natural way. Loading it with a bunch of keywords, though, is bad SEO practice. Think about the person conducting the google search and seeing a result from my website that looked like this:
web design, websites, website design, logos, build a website, website creator, web development, website builder
If that came up in your search, do you think you would click on it? I know I wouldn’t.
When you write your description, keep users in mind, because that’s what Google will be doing.
To see how the description tag looks as code and in search results, check out this article from Moz: Meta Description Like their Title Tag article, they have tips for writing a good description as well.
Once again in your code, you’re going to want special “markup” around your content that tells search engines what you want them to display in search results.
If you’ve ever done a search and come across some websites whose search results display a rating or a product, you’ve seen the results of including structured data.
There are so many different uses for structured data that it would take more time and space than this article has to go over them all. But, if you’re interested in finding out more, read Google’s Introduction to Structured Data.
Using structured data or rich snippets in your website’s code can be a little advanced if you’re just starting out. Luckily, there are many generator tools out there that can generate the code for you. I like the Schema Generator at Hall Analysis. It uses JSON-LD, which is currently the prefered language for structured data, and it lets you pick from a variety of markup types in the same tool.
Once you’ve generated your code, you will want to place it in the body of your html content. The text will show on your page (don’t worry, the code won’t show if you’ve done it right), so place it in a location that makes sense. The most common type is the Local Business markup, and you can easily put that in your Contact or Location section.
If you’re using a site builder, you should look for a widget or field that allows you to insert code. On WordPress, you’ll want to switch your editor from the Visual tab to the Text tab. Not sure what I meant by that? Check out this article from WP Beginner: What is: Text Editor
There are 6 html heading tags: H1 – H6. They are ordered in importance starting with H1.
Think of it like an outline you might have had to write for a class a long, long time ago (or maybe not so long ago for some of you). You would have had your main sections, sub-sections, and supporting content. H tags work the same way.
For example, if I write an article on unicorns, my H1 might be “Unicorns Are Majestic Creatures”. I might then have paragraphs below that with their own headings: “Unicorns Have A Single Opalescent Horn”, “Unicorns Have Long, Flowing Manes”, and “Unicorns Have Small, Delicate Hooves.” All three of those would be H2. Any sub-heading under each of the H2 headings would be an H3. (Regular text is still just Paragraph.) The hierarchy can be broken sometimes, but only when it makes sense. When unsure, it’s always best to just follow the hierarchy. It can be hard to organize your content in that way, but do your best.
Since you need to have at least one tag, that makes H1 absolutely necessary.When you choose which heading you will set as your H1, you will need to choose the heading that encompasses and supercedes all other content. And, you should really only have one H1 header for good SEO practice (though my research indicates that you won’t be penalized for multiple h1 tags).
Google uses headings to understand your content. The bots can’t read and process it like we can, so they have to have indicators in the code. If it’s properly organized, they can better serve it to searchers.
The H1 header will simply be text with a set of h1 tags around it. It typically appears larger and bolder than other text when rendered on the page, though you can adjust that through CSS if necessary.
You can see what I mean at W3 Schools. They’re a great resource for all things code.
So, there are actually a couple things that are going to go into an image. It has a title, a description, and an alt tag. The alt tag is really the most important of these attributes.
For the title on an image, you’re going to want to follow the same guidelines as you did for your page title : relevant use of keywords and phrases in a natural structure. The alt tag is similar to a description in that it’s going to describe the image & is a great place to use key words. What you may not have known is that it also provides information for accessbility programs like screen readers for the visually impaired.
All of this is included inside the image tag.
Using our unicorn example from the H1 discussion, we might have included an image of a unicorn with a long flowing mane. If one of the search phrases we were looking to optimize for was “majestic unicorn”, we might have configured our image using these settings:
title=”Majestic Unicorn Mane” alt=”image of a majestic unicorn mane with shiny rainbow glitter”
Using a site builder, there are often fields for the title and alt tag built into the image widget. If not, integrating with search optimization tools might allow you to adjust those settings.
On WordPress, I find the easiest way to manage the title and alt attributes is through the Media Library.That way, if I didn’t set those up upon upload, I can go back and run through them all at once. If you choose to do that, you would to to the Media Library, select the image, and you will see the title and alt fields on the right. It will also have description and linking fields if you want to use those – every little bit helps.
For additional reference, we turn again to Moz for their excellent article: Alt Text.
Content: Quality Over Quantity
Content is extremely important to SEO. It needs to be easy to read, relevant, and updated often. While quantity is important, quality is even more so. Here are the main parts of the content that will matter for SEO:
Navigation refers to the links on your website that allow users access to other pages. It can also include external links. It’s usually that list of pages at the top of your website, also known as a navigation menu or a page menu.
It’s best to keep the navigation as short and simple as possible. Google isn’t going to crawl hundreds of links. Not to mention, your users aren’t going to want to hover over continuous submenus to find the pages they want. It’s also best to use your key words in the navigation, if possible.
Be specific. Let’s say you have a website that sells t-shirts, hats, and shoes. When you use “Products” in the navigation to link to a page of all products, it’s not as helpful to users as creating separate links to “T-shirts”, “Hats”, and “Shoes”. It’s also not as good for SEO to be too general. Just make sure you still try to keep the page navigation at the top of your site fairly light. You can always funnel customer activity using action buttons and text links in your site if it doesn’t make sense to have more specific page navigation.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard/read plenty about keywords. In this article I’m just going to give you the basics.
There are many ways to find good keywords, and my favorite is the Google Keyword Planner. We won’t get into the theories behind good keywords in this article, but let’s suffice it to say that you should find out what your competitors are optimizing for, localize when applicable (include your city in the key phrase), and optimize for keywords and phrases that indicate customers are ready to buy (not “Free,” etc.).
Once you know which words and phrases you’re optimizing for, you need to include those in the content. Don’t try to hide them behind shapes or images, Google will penalize you for trying to optimize with hidden content. They need to be incorporated into your real site content. If you can’t do that in a way that reads in a natural flow, you should consider different keywords or phrases or re-work your copy.
Another thing to remember is to refrain from overloading your content with keywords and phrases. Just use them as naturally as possible. If you can replace similar words and phrases with your desired keywords and have it read the same without seeming too repetitive, do so. Some tools advise a certain percentage of presence of keywords in your content, or keyword “saturation.” 3% saturation is recommended for good on-page SEO.
Word count and paragraph/sentence structure matters too. You want to make sure your content is easily readable. Most sentences should be fairly short. Paragraphs should only be a few sentences long. You’ll want about 300 – 900 words on most pages.
If you’re using a site builder, there may be tools built in to assess your content. If not, you can integrate with an SEO tool. Or, you can copy/paste your text content into online tools that will tell you things like word count, difficulty level, and keyword saturation.
In WordPress, the eastiest choice is to use a plugin. Again, I prefer Yoast SEO.
Files: Last But Not Least
Aside from your normal website content files, you will need a couple specifically for interacting with search engines. These files aren’t essential to your website functionality, but they are necessary for crawling by search engines. They are:
This is a special file in your file tree that tells search bots what content NOT to crawl. You might be wondering why you would even want one of these…
Sometimes you’ll have content that you don’t really want indexed, though that’s fairly rare. What’s more common is that sometimes you’ll want to block certain search engines or specific crawl bots (bots that might spam you, try to hack you, or just skew your visitor stats).
You don’t have to have one, but it’s good to at least have the file even if you don’t list anything in the block. Google provides some instructions in this article: Create a robots.txt file.
This file is much more important than the robots.txt. It’s a file that basically shows a list of your pages. Obviously, it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s all that really matters. Search engines read it to know which pages to index.
If you don’t want any pages indexed, you can leave them out of your sitemap file. That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be indexed, just that you’re not making it easier for the bots to find them.
The sitemap file should be in .xml, and you can submit it to google through Google Webmaster Tools.
Site builders will usually create the sitemap.xml file automatically, usually located at your domain name /sitemap.xml. So, if you don’t know whether or not you have one, you can check at that url.
There are different ways to make sure you have a sitemap.xml file with WordPress, but I’m going to refer you again to Yoast SEO as the easiest/best solution. You can connect to Google Search Console (part of Webmaster Tools) directly through the Yoast SEO plugin. The free version has this functionality.
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