OK, don’t be put off by the title. It sounds technical, but all it means is tweaking the text and content of your pages so that your Google keywords are emphasized. All we’ll be doing is a little editing, so that Google knows what your page is about, and thus serves it up to your audience.
If you’ve read this series thus far, you have one or more of what we’re calling “Google keywords” to target. Let’s take your top target, and start optimizing. This entry will consist of the absolute basics of on-page SEO, essential to search engine ranking.
There are two types of content we’ll be concerned with: that which is visible to the reader (the text on the page), and that which is invisible (the behind-the-scenes code that people don’t see, but that machines do). To tweak the code you’ll need to work with html or whatever software you’ve used to build your site.
Your web address may already be established, and out of your control. But if you are just choosing it now, try to include your entire primary keyword, preferably at the beginning of the URL. If your Google keywords are going to be “Italian sports cars”, try to get italiansportscars.com. Since that’s probably taken, start adding suffixes until you find one that’s available, e.g. italiansportscarsinfo.com. One or two hyphens are fine; four and up looks spammy. Use Nameboy Domain Name Generator to quickly generate ideas, and snag an available name quickly when you find a good one.
Assuming we have the web site set up, we move on to tweaking the main page. The title of your main page should be your primary Google keywords – nothing more or less. It should be between ten and 60 characters, with no hyphens or other special characters. Don’t get fancy.
Description and Keyword Meta-tags
These are code elements, not seen by the user when browsing your site. You can set them in whatever software you use to build your site. They are not terribly important to Google, but they are to some other search engines. However, the description is often shown in your Google search results, so make it a reader-friendly pitch for your site. Sound informative, not salesman-like. Give a taste of your content; often the first couple of lines of the page work well.
The keyword tags are no longer relied upon by Google, but may affect your ranking in other engines. Just put in your primary Google keywords phrase, and nothing else. Humans won’t see this.
Probably the most important on-page SEO factor is keyword density. This means what percentage of your text is actually made up of your Google keywords. Too little, and the page won’t seem relevant to the topic. Too much, and you’ll be seen as a spammer, as I apparently was (an update on the site referred to in that link: using the techniques on this page, I’ve moved the site back up from number 107 to number 10).
Use your keywords as naturally as possible, but fit them in somehow. The goal is generally considered to be from three to seven percent of your text. You can check this on the fly using this plug-in for Firefox. Simply highlight the keywords, and use the contextual menu to “Check Keyword Density”. I like to shoot for five percent of the body text. This plug-in will also let you know if you’ve achieved some of the other goals on this page.
H1, H2 and H3 tags
These are text formatting “headline” tags (of descending importance), so Google believes they imply relevance. Without too much explanation, the best advice for most pages is to place your keyword phrase near the top of your page, enclosed in H2 tags. It will be seen by the reader as a medium-sized headline, so make sure it works with your design. Don’t use H1, or Google will once again think you’re trying to game them.
Speaking of design, this is a good place to point out that text contained in graphics are invisible to search engines. The robots read your page as text-only. So you can have your keywords a foot long across the top of your page, but if they’re contained in an image, they might as well not be there. Set the “alt” tag of the image to whatever the text says, but don’t rely on that as a replacement. The H2 headline is your best bet.
The first couple of mentions of your Google keywords within the text should be in bold or italic. This lets Google know they are an important element of your content. Make sure this doesn’t look silly on the page. Look at it as if you were a reader, and make it fit in.
Order and Proximity
Multi-word keywords should be in exact order, without other words in between. You can get some secondary Google juice from slightly-rephrased versions (e.g. “Italian made sports cars”), but the main goal is to get them in order and next to each other.
Anchor is a fancy word for “link”. If you link to a page on the same subject (especially one within your own site, which is highly recommended), the text the reader sees should be your keyword or a close variation. Google thinks this means the page is on-topic. A page on “Italian sports cars” that has links to “office furniture” looks suspicious to them.
For internal links, try to make sure the page you link to actually has the keyword in its address. If you have the Google keywords in your domain name, you’re set. Otherwise try to get it in the page address, like http://example.com/italiansportscars.html.
As for external links, we’ll cover that in a future post, but a few bits of advice: try to link only to quality, non-spammy sites. Don’t participate in link-trading schemes. You can trade links with friends and associates, but bad-quality or off-topic links can make you look bad to Google. Keep your links constant – Google doesn’t like “link churn”, or constantly changing links. Don’t ever link to link-trading, free-for-all link type sites. Nor should you pursue incoming links from these sites. Google sees these as “bad neighborhoods” and will think less of you. Finally: never pay for a link. Just don’t do it.
Try to structure your site so that you can reach any page in only two clicks. Anything buried deeper than that will be considered less important, both by readers and by Google.
Keep the entire page under 100k. If you’re using images, compress them as much as reasonably possible for a fast loading page. Again, this is good in terms of both Google and the reader. If necessary, remove images. Yes, I know it hurts.
There are many other tips to be had, but these are the essentials. Do everything here, and you’ll be in good shape to start with off-page SEO, which is a topic for another day…