I once had a new client’s website reveal over 5,000 SEO errors on a report that was pulled.
It wasn’t pretty, and his failure to obtain leads all started to make sense to me. You see, just a few days before he was sitting across the table from me at a meeting, asking why his competitors were outranking him on Google and how Viden Marketing could improve his SEO.
The company’s website was old and was just transferred over to a new framework. Unfortunately, all the errors came with it, and it didn’t help that a rarely used plugin was causing over 2,000 errors on its own.
But after deleting the rogue plugin, that still left me with 3,000 errors to track down and rectify.
SEO Errors Abound!
Nowadays, there are so many factors on a website page that affect SEO that businesses just have a hard time keeping up with them. From image issues to meta tags, broken links and more, business leaders are either flummoxed with SEO altogether or just don’t have the time to invest in it.
And this is a mistake that too many businesses make.
In the Good Ol’ Days, SEO was easy. All you had to do was stuff a website full of simple words or phrases that people used as search queries. It really made an SEO marketer’s job easy. Then Google stepped in, which was both a bane and a blessing. It made SEO a lot more complicated, but it finally separated those who were gaming the system and those who were trying to create websites that people actually wanted to visit.
Once Google began revamping the way pages were ranked, SEO strategists were forced to start doing what their name implied, and so the process of on-page optimization was born.
And then it changed a hundred times over again in the coming years.
How to Perfectly Optimize a Web Page
The first thing that you should understand about perfectly optimizing a web page is that you don’t. There is no simple, run-of-the-mill way to do this, and any company offering you the end-all answer is telling a fib of epic proportions.
Between the constant algorithm changes made by Google and evolving search trends of new and existing users, SEO is an never ending game of cat and mouse.
You change your pages to rank better, then search trends change, Google adjusts its algorithm and you change your tactics to keep up.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
But before you throw your hands up in the air and give up, know that there is an actual formula that can act as a guide for optimizing web pages. It’s a process, but running with these ideas can definitely deliver results.
In the end, it’s always best to hire someone who knows how to keep up with the changing SEO landscape; your website will be all the better for doing so.
The First Rule of On-Page Optimization: Make it User Friendly
The value of your content is the single most important factor in ranking for SEO. It is essential to provide something unique to readers. What exactly does this mean? It means that you have to create content, viewpoints or data that can’t be found anywhere else on the Internet.
Simply rehashing articles that you find elsewhere is a great way to blend in with the crowd, but you’ll never lead an industry by writing about yesterday’s stories.
You have to put yourself in the mind of the reader (i.e. potential customer). What would they want to read that would enlighten, entertain or inform them to the point that they not only take notice of your brand, but share your content with others, as well.
A lot of companies fail at writing content because they write for SEO, not the user. They stuff their content full of keywords and forget to add any substance. There are things that you can do to make your content more SEO friendly, and it will help people find your content, but only good writing will make them want to read it, share it and convert because of it.
The Second Rule of On-Page Optimization: Make it SEO Friendly
Once you have a stellar piece of content that your audience will want to read, like and share, it’s time to optimize it for keywords. This is the bread and butter of an SEO expert. There are several on-page elements that affect SEO.
Let’s use coffee as an example. I like coffee, but I’m not so good at drinking it, so to speak. I buy whatever is on sale at the grocery store. But now I want to broaden my horizons and start drinking something more tasty.
So I go to my trusty Google search bar and type in the words “Best Grocery Store Coffee”, and I’m met with this.
*Note on modern search algorithms: You may type in the same phrase and get a different results page than me. Google is getting so advanced with their crawlers and algorithms that they are taking into account more local searches and things that are custom to each user. If you use Chrome, they will take your search history into account and will try to predict pages that you would like based on what you have visited before.
Taking a look at this search engine results page, I am going to go with the first entry (besides the paid ad that reveals my location):
“What’s The Best Grocery Store Coffee – Folgers, Chock full …”
I chose this post because it has a lot of things that I like and dislike about it.
We’ll Start with the Page Title
The page title is the best place to have your target keyword. It not only drastically affects SEO, but it is the first impression a user will have of your page. It is the driving force behind making people visit your website.
Notice how the exact phrase I searched is right in the title itself. If you are using an exceptionally long title, place your keyword as close to the beginning as possible.
The only thing that I dislike about this title is that it is too long. Notice how it trails off with an ellipsis at the end (“Chock full…”). This is because Google limits page titles to about 55 characters. Any longer and the title will be cut off as seen above.
What’s in a URL? It is comprised of your website name, its domain register (.com, .org, .net, etc.) and the title that you assign to the page. Normally, it will automatically be set as your page title, but you can change it to anything that you like.
Just as in your page title, your target keyword should exist in the URL. Notice once again that the phrase “Best Grocery Store Coffee” is a part of this URL:
The Meta Description
Gone are the days when meta descriptions heavily influenced SEO. If you can, your target keyword should be placed here, but if it’s not, it won’t harm your page ranking. What they do help with is visibility and user experience. Take a look at this meta description:
This is what happens when you make a certified coffee instructor taste-test coffees from … The Best Grocery Store Coffees, Ranked by a Barista.
Notice how the target keyword phrase is bolded in the description above. This makes it stand out more to users. It also provides a short abstract anything over 160 characters will be cut off) of the page to searchers.
If people are confused with your meta description, they are less likely to click on your page.
The only thing I dislike about this meta description is that it seems choppy. There is an ellipsis breaking it in half. It just seems like it was made to be as search friendly as possible. But, it does provide the information necessary to know what the page is about.
That’s all for what you see on SERPs. Let’s click on our favorite result and check out the page. See what we are greeted with.
The H1 tags on your website are reserved for your headline text and are moderately weighed when it comes to SEO. Normally, your page title will be set to match the headline, which is a good thing.
Users want to see a headline that either matches or is very similar to the page title. Anything that is too different will make them feel tricked into clicking and will result in them exiting the page before they even start reading. The only reason for slightly changing your headline when converting it to the page title is to fit it into the 55 character limit for SERPs.
The headline for this page reads:
THE BEST GROCERY STORE COFFEES, RANKED BY A BARISTA
Notice how it has the target keyword and it’s close to what was conveyed by the page title.
This is the meat of your page. Generally speaking, a page should consist of at least 300+ words. This isn’t an SEO commandment, but it is slightly considered in PageRank.
Remember the first rule of SEO: write for the user! If what you are writing only calls for 250 words, then that is all you need. Needlessly filling a page with words just to reach the minimum will bog down your writing down. Say what you need to say, then drop the mic and walk away.
Having said that: larger blog posts tend to bring in more clicks. Some of the best ranking pages for keywords are 1000+ words, so remember to create some great longform content to supplement some of the shorter posts that you write.
This sample page about coffee has about 700 words in total.
When it comes to keywords, it makes sense to sprinkle them throughout your page’s content, but don’t overdo it. Keyword density used to be a major facet of SEO, but that is no longer the case. It’s all about readability now.
I always recommend that you use your target keyword phrase at least once within the first 100 words. If you can use it in the first sentence without forcing it, that’s even better.
When it comes to the rest of your page content, stick to using the target phrase only when necessary. You can also use alternative phrases such as coffee grounds, java, etc. to mix it up. Google crawlers also have the capability to recognize synonyms, such as grocery store and supermarket.
Most importantly, your content should be easy to read and relevant to searchers. Take the first paragraph of the coffee post:
For coffee aficionados, it can be hard to remember the days before fair-trade, adjective-heavy specialty coffee. But before Counter Culture, or even Starbucks, there were first-wave roasters peddling steel cans of grounds (gasp!), the likes of which are now only seen on visits to your parents’ house.
Coffee is the second word in the first sentence. It is also mentioned twice more throughout the paragraph without feeling overstuffed. Compare that to writing something like this:
For coffee aficionados looking for the best grocery store coffee, it can be hard to find the best grocery store coffee that tastes great. But you can find Starbucks coffee, which is the best grocery store coffee in the coffee aisle.
It’s writing like this that scares away readers and Google crawlers alike.
Images, Alt Text and Title Text
Having a feature image as well as a few smaller images scattered throughout your post is great for readability because it breaks up large portions of text. Try to space out the images in your post so that, while scrolling, one appears on screen just as another goes off. It naturally keeps the reader moving down the page to end of your post, where your call to action should reside.
Images also help SEO rankings, and they can even cause your page to show up in image searches, but (at least for now) Google is not so great at recognizing them. That’s what “alt text” and “title text” tags are for.
Here’s a random picture of a cup of coffee:
Here is its full image tag in HTML:
<img src=”coffee-beans.jpg” alt=”cup-of-coffee” title=”explaining title tags with images of coffee”/>
The first part of the tag, “img src” is the title of your image that appears on the back end of the website. This is for your own reference and doesn’t affect SEO at all.
The second part of the tag, “alt” is what Google mainly focuses on. This tag displays a description of the image when the image cannot be displayed on the page. It is also read aloud for people who are visually impaired and utilize screen readers. When crafting alt tags, you should put your keyword inside but make sure to describe what the image is about.
The final part of the tag, “title” is the image’s title tag. This is what text is displayed if you hover your cursor over an image. It should also give some additional information about the image and how it relates to your page.
Just like your page content, neither should ever be stuffed with keywords or phrases.
No page, except those that you want to be hidden from search indexes, should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage, or any other page on your website. This is how you make a website easily navigable.
When it comes to SEO, it is not entirely necessary for pages to have links to other internal or even external sources, but it makes for a good website that encourages people to click around and find what they are searching for. Linking out to sources is also great way to add credibility to the claims that you are making in your content. You can also use them in your link-building practices, which is a topic for another day.
If you are linking out, make sure to have the new link open in a new tab on a person’s browser. That way you aren’t encouraging people to leave your site and never come back. This can be accomplished by using the following link code in HTML:
<a href= ”page url” target =”_blank”> anchor text</a>
The target =”_blank” will instruct the browser to open the link a new tab.
Using SEO best practices, you will start to see an increase in search traffic to your website as more people are able to find your pages and read the content that you have placed on them.
If you don’t have the time to spend on SEO, it is worth it to invest in it anyway by hiring an expert who knows the ins and outs of the process.