This is the second installment of a “Back to the Basics” series I am currently writing. In case you missed it, the initial installment was about keyword research and how it is the foundation of any search engine optimization (SEO) effort. In this segment I will actually detail how to go about developing a SEO strategy for your web site.
Warning – if you are an experienced SEO, this article is not for you. It is pretty basic info you should already know at this point so please go away. 😉 In all seriousness, this article is designed for those who know nothing about SEO or at least are fairly new to the field.
Before I get into the “nuts and bolts” of actually optimizing a web page, I’d like to point out that it is very important to make sure you document everything. This not only includes things that are to be modified and improved, but also keeping track of when items are actually implemented. This is especially crucial in scenarios where you do not have access to the web site itself and/or if there are other “hands in the pot” such as webmasters, programmers and web designers.
Having already conducted keyword research and having a list of phrases which you will target, the first step in developing a SEO strategy is what I call the mapping process. This is where you simply decide which page you are going to assign to each keyword phrase you are targeting.
I use Microsoft Word to document the SEO strategy so the first step is to build a table, usually two columns, in which I then list all of the keyword phrases that are to be targeted. Phrases are listed in alphabetical order. I then list all the URLs or pages that are to actually be optimized by numbers. As I associate the phrases in my table with the URLs in my number list, I highlight them so that it is to remember that they are already “mapped.”
The numbered list might look like this:
Targeted Keyword Phrase(s): keyword phrase 1
Targeted Keyword Phrase(s): keyword phrase 2
Sounds simple but in all reality, the mapping process is almost as important as the keyword research itself. If you do not match pages that can properly support the phrases you have selected, your SEO strategy will not be optimal in its performance.
Developing a SEO Template
The next step is to actually create a template of sorts for what you will actually be optimizing. In most cases this is going to be the title tag, the meta description tag, image alt attributes and the copy on the pages themselves. Because keyword meta tags are all but useless, I develop one for the home page but do not worry about adding “unique” ones for each page.
My template might look something like this:
<title> | Brand Name</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”.”/>
Image Name (URL or file name of image)
Body Copy (changes in green italics)
Section of copy –
Then actual changes here
This is not the only elements that may get a “SEO” treatment but they are the main ones as far as each page goes. I will discuss other elements later in this post.
The first and most important element to optimize is the title tag. Keeping in mind that you have about 64 characters to work with (that includes spaces), the idea is to insert the keyword phrase or phrases you are targeting followed by the brand name. Some will argue that the brand name should appear first however I prefer to list it after the keyword phrase. Others might argue that it should not be included at all, however I beg to differ as I feel branding is very important.
Let’s assume you are targeting the phrase “blue widget.” Your optimized title tag might look something like this:
<title>Blue Widget | Your Brand Name</title>
If targeting more than one phrases such as accommodating for both plural and singular versions of a phrase, the title tag might look like this:
<title>Blue Widgets and Blue Widget Products | Your Brand Name</title>
Meta Description Tags
Each page should have a meta description tag that describes what a user will find on the page. Some might argue that these are no longer important. While the engines do not place as much emphasis on them as they did in prior years, they still index them, consider them in their ranking algorithm and may even display them as the description that shows up in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
The main idea is to write a description that describes what the user will find on the page, whether that be a product service, summary of article, etc., all while using the keyword phrase(s) you have assigned to that page. Try to limit the description to 200-240 characters so it fits within the guidelines of what an engine will index. This is not a hard and fast rule on character limits as each engine sets their own guidelines.
These are very commonly referred to as “alt tags” which is an error to call them that. They are not tags but rather “attributes” of the image tag. The main purpose of an alt attribute is to describe the image. This is useful for those who browse the web with images turned off or even the visually impaired who may be using text to speech recognition to view web pages.
In relation to SEO, the alt attribute serves two purposes. For images that are not hyperlinked to another web page, the contents of the alt attribute should be used to describe the image itself. This may help your images to rank better in image search engines. For images that are hyperlinked to other pages, the content of the alt attribute should be used to describe the page that the image is linking to. This helps the search engines to understand the subject matter of the page the image is linking to and can be beneficial to increasing the ranking of that page as well.
The alt attribute is NOT a place to stuff keywords. Doing that will not help your SEO efforts but rather will give off the appearance of spam as well as create a usability nightmare again for those who can’t see your images for one reason or another.
Body Copy (Content)
Probably second to the title tag in importance is what your pages are saying. This is what we call “body copy” or “content.” Now, I have never been into keyword density — the measurement in percentage of the number of times a keyword or phrase appears compared to the total number of words in a page. My strategy is to make sure the keyword phrase is “adequately” represented throughout the copy while making sure the copy reads in a “natural language.” It is up to the user’s interpretation of what “adequate” means. The best advice I can provide is to read the copy back to yourself and see how it sounds.
Remember, it is more important to write copy that converts the user into a customer than to have copy that helps your pages rank well. In fact, you will find that if you write for the user, it is also beneficial for search engines. If your copy reads in a way that it is obvious that you are trying to rank well for a certain set of keywords, even if it does accomplish that goal, it may turn off any visitors to your site.
I wrote a post last year entitled, “When Your On Page SEO Goes Too Far” that shows an example of copy stuffed with keywords. Check it out for a better example of what I am referring to with regards to stuffing content with keywords.
Anchor Text in Links
In the same manner that image alt attributes can be optimized, so can the anchor text in text links that link to other pages. For example, if within your content you wish to link to a product page, here is the wrong and right way to go about accomplishing this.
Wrong: “Click here for more info on our Blue Widget.
Right: “We carry a full line of Blue Widget products.”
This is a pretty simple technique but often overlooked. The basic idea is to make sure the anchor text that is used to link to other pages matches up with your optimization strategy for that page.
Internal Linking Strategy
In some cases you can also optimize anchor text within your site’s navigation. Now it may not be feasible to work in keyword phrases with your main navigation, assuming it is html text based and not image based. You don’t want your navigation to be confusing to the end user just for the sake of stuffing some keywords in the anchor text. However, you can accomplish this with footer navigation text links and even text links in site maps. It is one of those “judgment call” issues that is really going to depend on the site itself.
That’s a wrap on the fundamental elements you should optimize on web pages. In part two, I will take a look at using cascading style sheets (CSS) to clean up your code and how the age, size and trust factor of your site can affect your SEO efforts.