In general, search engine optimisation can be divided into two primary spheres. These are known as on-site optimisation, and off-site optimisation. As the name implies, on-site optimisation refers to factors on your website which can be improved, in order to increase your chances that search engines will rank your sites higher in their results, when people search for keywords associated with your business.
In this article, we’ll take another brief look at the various on-site factors that can affect your optimisation, and how to ensure that they’re search engine friendly.
Summary – A Well Optimised Page
Ideally, a well optimised page should meet all of the following criteria:
* Be relevant to a specific topic.
* Provide unique and relevant information on the topic.
* Include the subject of the page in the title tag.
* Include the subject of the page in the URL.
* Include a sellable description in the meta description.
* Include the subject of the page in any image alt text.
* Include the subject throughout the text of the page, where appropriate.
* Link back to its category page and subcategory page if applicable.
* Link back to its home page.
The title tag, or the title element as it is more properly known, is the line of HMTL that defines the title of your document. The words in the title tag will appear in the title bar of your browser window, identifying the site or page.
Title tags also appear in search engine results.
Search engines impose limits on title tags though, and will only display the first 70 characters. It’s usually a good idea therefore to limit your title tags to those 70 characters, to prevent them from being cut off.
In general, we recommend that your title tags contain your company name or brand name, and your two primary keywords.
The title tag should be a very concise description of the products or services you offer. Ideally, a person should have a basic idea of what your website is about, from reading only the title of your site.
You should avoid duplicating title tags, and each page of your site should have a unique tag.
The meta description is an HTML attribute that should contain a brief, concise description of your website, or your business.
The meta description does not affect your ranking, but it can affect whether or not people using the search engine will click on your site. A clickable meta description can be just as important as search engine optimisation.
A left-over from the early days of search engine optimisation, meta keywords have no affect on the ranking of your site. Some directories do use them to help categorise your site though, so including a brief list of your most important keywords won’t hurt.
The page content consists of everything on your page, including the images. However, when referred to, content is usually used to mean the written words on the page. What you’re reading right now is website content.
Website content should adhere to a few basic criteria. It should be readable and relevant. Your visitor has arrived on any given page for a reason. And the most common reason is to search for information. The page that they’re on should, first and foremost, supply the information that they need.
The more informative and relevant your content is, the more likely other people are to link to it. And links, (part of off-site optimisation), are a critical part of any search engine optimisation strategy.
The URL, or uniform resource locator, is the address of the page on the web. The structure of your URL can help users, and search engines, find the right content on your site. If at all possible, a URL should contain the keyword relevant to the page, and it should form a logical part of the hierarchy of pages on your site.
A good example of this would be a URL like www.netage.co.za/services/online-marketing-strategy. This shows both where in the hierarchy of the site structure the page falls, (part of the services) and what the page is about (marketing).
Dynamic URLs (ones that include “?” or “=” for example) are not search engine friendly, as they don’t really exist until somebody tries to access them.
Image Alt Text
Wherever you have an image on a page, you have an opportunity to describe your page better. The HTML code used for images includes the “alt” attribute, which allows users to see a short description, if the image does not load for some reason.
Search engines can’t see what an image is. However, they can use the alt text to get an idea of what it is supposed to be. As a result, using a relevant keyword in the description of the image that should appear in the alt tag, can improve the chances of search engines knowing what your page is about.
Internal links are an easy way of making sure that search engines can travel between your pages. Each age of your site should link back to it’s category page, (services in the example above), and its home page.
Search engines indexing the page will crawl the links that place any given page within the hierarchy of the sites URL structure.
Duplicate content is any content that appears online on more than one URL. This can be content that is taken from other sources on the web, or it can be content that appears in more than one place on your site.
If content is duplicated, Google attempts to determine what the original source of the content was and usually, only the original is listed in the search engine results.
Now that Google’s new update has seriously reduced the value of article directories, it’s become even more important to have only unique content on your website.
The URL structure of your site can also create inadvertent problems with duplicate content, especially if you have pages which pull content from other pages, or from a catalogue for example.
One way of getting around this problem is to give the page a “canonical” attribute, which tells search engines which page is the original source of the content.
Another way is to exclude the page from indexing, by using the robots.txt file.
The robots.txt file, also known as the Robots Exclusion Protocol (REP), is a txt file that sits in the root folder of your site, and provides instructions regarding the way that search engine bots are allowed to crawl the pages on your site.
It allows you to exclude certain pages from being indexed, as well as block bots from various parts of the site, or even the entire site.
This can be used to exclude pages with duplicate content or parts of the site available to members only, for example. Robots also pay attention to certain tags in links, such as the canonical tag, and the nofollow tag, which tells bots not to follow the link, or crawl the page it points to.
Be aware, however, that anybody can read the robots.txt file. If you’re using it to exclude pages from your site, and those pages aren’t in a password protected area, then anybody who looks at your robots.txt will be able to view the pages you’re excluding.
HTTP Status Codes
These codes are 3 digit numbers that relate to the status of a requested page, and are returned by the server.
For example, one that we’ve all seen is the 404 error, which appears when the requested page no longer exists, or cannot be found.
One of the most important status codes is known as the 301 redirect. This code tells search engines that the page has permanently moved, and that the new page must be treated as though it was the old page.
This is vital for moving pages on your site, and preserves the value of links to the page which has moved.
Other codes also exist, but shouldn’t be worried about in the context of search engine optimisation.
In this article, we’ve taken a look at some of the most important factors that search engines consider when it comes to the optimisation of your site, and the pages on that site.
If you follow these guidelines, your site will be considered search engine friendly, and many of them will contribute toward making it user friendly as well.
On a concluding note in fact, I think it’s important to mention that making your site user friendly is still one of the most important things. Google is adamant that as long as you design sites that users love, the search engine will treat you well.
Concentrate on meeting your users needs first, and your search engine optimisation will be that much easier.