On-Site Search Engine Optimization: The First Steps In Optimizing A Site
Google considers thousands of factors when deciding where to rank a website for various search terms. Even the best SEOs don’t know every single ranking factor, and to make things even more interesting, Google is constantly changing and reevaluating in order to improve its algorithm. In order to perfect our technique for ranking websites, we study Google’s patents, test out different techniques, and research the competition.
Let’s take a look at what goes into setting up a site’s on-page SEO.
Step One: Keyword Research
Whether you’re building a website to educate, entertain, or sell products, you first need to think about who your audience is and what terms they might use when looking for what you have to offer. It’s important to look at your keyword options and narrow them down to focus on the most relevant. There’s no shortage of competition online, so you want to make sure you’re targeting the right audience when you choose your keywords.
What the Pros Do: Hours of keyword research go into a site’s initial SEO set-up. We research how much traffic certain phrases might bring, how much competition there is to rank for a certain term, and how many variations of that phrase we can target at the same time. It’s important to come up with a varied selection of keywords so that while we’re aiming for the moon (phrases with the most competition), we hit a lot of stars along the way (valuable but more specific phrases that are easier to rank early-on).
Step Two: Meta Tags
One component of good SEO is making sure your site is “talking” to Google’s robots. Long, long ago, in the early days of online search, you could set up a keyword meta-tag (a behind-the-scenes snippet of code) listing out the keywords for which you wanted to rank. Fill that tag with all your search terms and you were practically guaranteed to rank for them.
As one might expect, the search engines quickly caught on to how webmasters were abusing the keyword tag in order to get their sites ranking for profitable terms. Newer algorithms began to discount the relevance of the keyword tag, and we have it on good authority that Google no longer gives it any consideration at all. However, title and description tags still count; they both inform the search engines about what you have to offer and they influence how your site appears in Google’s search results.
What the Pros Do: We know that the title and description meta tags are often used to populate Google’s search results. That means it’s important to write for the robots and for your audience at the same time. We’ll keep your page title between 50-70 characters, including the main keywords that are featured on your page, and we’ll write a description that inspires confidence and encourages users to click to visit your website (in 170 characters or less)! These factors help Google rank your site, but they also help people to decide if your site is worth visiting. They’re critical components of on-page optimization.
Step Three: Images
When you design your website, you include graphics that will help visitors understand what you have to offer. You might feature pictures of your products, infographics that illustrate important statistics, category buttons that help people navigate your site, and logos or mascots that inspire confidence in your brand or infuse your site with humor. Visual content is a great way to capture your audience’s attention, but you may not realize that it’s also another tool you can use to teach the search engines about your site.
What the Pros Do: Adding alternate text for all the images on a website makes your site accessible for visually impaired users who rely on screen readers to navigate the web. Alt text can also be used to communicate with the search engines about your content; images are increasing in importance when it comes to search and search optimization, so it’s become an SEO best practice to include keyword-enriched, relevant image descriptions whenever possible.
Step Four: Content
If you’ve done any research at all on SEO, chances are you’ve seen the phrase, “Content is king.” It’s the oldest adage in the industry, and it remains as true now as the first time it was uttered. In fact, as search engine robots become increasingly capable of viewing websites the way humans do, quality content is more important than it’s ever been. Still, it can be hard for SEO amateurs to strike a balance between writing for a human audience and writing for a bot.
What the Pros Do: Today’s search engine optimization professionals aren’t just skilled at search, they’re also gifted writers who can create articles, blog posts, and page copy that appeals to audiences and algorithms alike. We analyze page content to make sure that the optimal ratio of keywords to body text is being used (while keeping in mind that recommended keyword density changes often). We look for ways to incorporate long-tail search phrases without alienating human sensibilities, and we deliver page content that’s designed to turn customers into visitors. We aren’t just SEOs, we’re writers and marketers, too.
But wait, there’s more. When it comes to content, there are many more factors we consider for on-page SEO. We’ll elaborate on those topics in part two!
Step Five: Headers
Much like the outlines you may have made when writing papers in high school, the headers on a website let Google know what your content is about and how important it might be. Once again, you’re faced with the conundrum of writing for your human audience or writing for the search engine’s robots. How do you choose?
What the Pros Do: Research has shown that having well-organized header tags (H1s, H2s, H3s, etc) is the first step. Each page should use only one H1, for instance, the largest and most prominent header. We optimize this one to reflect the broad topic of your page. From there, we use H2s and H3s to organize your content into manageable pieces. It’s easy on the eyes for your visitors, but it’s also a straight-forward way to communicate with the search engines.
Step Six: Schema
You may have heard the term “schema” when looking into modern optimization techniques, but unless you’ve done a lot of research, you might not understand what it means. Schema.org is a collection of tags that can be added to the code of your website to tell Google’s robots exactly what each snippet of information is. For instance, you can install schema mark-up that points out your address or phone number, your social links, and other category-specific bits of information.
What the Pros Do: There are tons of different schemas that can be used for a website, but part of using them well means deciding which ones are a good fit for a your company. For instance, we mark up local businesses differently than national ones, and some schema is industry-specific. When we work on a new site, we research to find the best elements to include on a given page, and then we install them.
While the above steps will result in a website that has been optimized for search, there’s plenty more to be done to get and maintain good rankings. As we said, SEO is an ever-changing minefield, and what works one year may become a detriment later on. Search engines are getting “smarter” and more human in their thinking, and that means we need to keep up to achieve the best results for our clients.