Part 2: On Page Search Engine Optimisation
In part one talked about keyword research and how to find keywords that generate the highest conversions and sales. This week we'll take your newly chosen key phrases and show you how to properly place them in your website pages.
Here's what you'll learn today:
✓ How important (and unimportant) On-Page Search Engine Optimisation is to your ranking
✓ How to properly use meta tags and page content to improve your keyword score
✓ Why internal links are more important than external links to your site
How On-Page Optimisation Works
If you've started learning about SEO, you'll notice there's a lot of discussion about On-Page and Off-Page Optimisation. No one seems to agree whether you should focus on one or the other - or even how each type of optimisation should be conducted. Well, today we'll dispel all the myths.
On Page Optimisation is Important
A small business owner (let's call him Mark) quizzed us recently asking whether On-Page Optimisation was required to rank highly. It was a leading question. I commented that to rank highly that On-Page Optimisation wasn't necessarily required, and a high ranking can be attained solely through On-Page Optimisation. Mark quickly retorted that any professional SEO was not doing the absolute best for his client if they did not conduct comprehensive On-Page analysis and improvement into an SEO program.
I agreed with him.
On-Page strategies will improve your relevancy in the eyes of Google's searchbot. It gives Google more data that it can use to determine the relevancy of your page compared to other pages around the Internet for that keyword. So by all means you should take advantage of it.
The disadvantage of On-Page strategies is that they will only get you so far. For competitive key phrases such as web hosting, you'll see little or no improvement from implementing the best On-Page format known to man. But in Mark's case for his small and relatively uncompetitive business, On-Page optimisation was probably all his business needed.
How Google Analyses Your Website Content
Google's searchbot crawls your website, downloading it page by page and analysing it's content. It's looking at a range of things within your content, with some elements of your page being more important than others. It's looking at your meta tags (HTML tags that are hidden to the casual web surfer but tell Google what your page is about, similar to the title of a book or headline of a newspaper). It's also looking at your page content to determine what it's discussing.
It's useful to remember that Google is not a warm blooded human being. Larry Page (the co-founder of Google) is not personally looking at your website everyday. Google is a computer. It's a software program that basically counts the number of times your key phrases are repeated on that page. The Googlebot doesn't know what pictures or even the text means... it just counts the words and where they are located. If you understand this you'll understand why some areas of your website page are more important than others.
Google then takes that page and gives you a score for one of your key phrases, lets say "Gift Baskets". It then combines that score with the Off-Page factors to give you a total score for that particular keyword. The website with the highest score ranks #1, with the next highest score ranking #2 and so on. Google then keeps these scores in it's keyword index and uses it to serve you the search results you see everyday.
So now that you understand why On-Page Optimisation contributes to your search ranking, let's dive into the On-Page strategies for getting your website higher.
How Google Ranks Web Pages (rather than whole Websites)
Before we get started, there's one important point about how Google works that's useful to understand. Google and other search engines rank website pages rather than whole websites. They look at each individual page to determine it's relevancy for a particular key phrase rather than the whole website.
You'll see this when you search for "West Auckland Plumbers" as this comes up in the organic search results.
Yellow.co.nz ranks #1 for this search (also for a sub-page on it's website rather than the Yellow home page). Our Auckland Plumbers site (created and maintained by A+SEO) ranks #2 for a sub-page as well. In this case Google has determined that this inner page of the site is the most relevant page to display to it's users, rather than the home page.
Why? Because of the On-Page Optimisation that has occurred on this page. We'll take you through how we did this step by step so you can replicate it on your website.
Tip #1: One Page, One Keyword
For each page on your website you should try to focus on one keyword or key phrase. You can go up to three comfortably, but no more than five. The ideal is one. The idea being that the more focused a particular page is, the more relevant and authoritative that page is. In our case for the Auckland Plumbers site, we've focused on the primary key phrase of "West Auckland Plumbers" with three secondary key phrases of "Waitakere Plumbers", "Henderson Plumbers" and "Te Atatu Plumbers".
Primary Key Phrase: West Auckland Plumbers
Secondary Key Phrases: Waitakere Plumbers, Henderson Plumbers and Te Atatu Plumbers
Why have we chosen these key phrases? It goes back to week one of the SEO Mini Course when we talked about keyword research
Maximise Your Meta Tags
Meta tags are HTML tags that sit behind the visible section of your website. Google normally shows the meta tags for each page in it's search results. There are three main types of meta tag that you should focus on. The title tag, the description tag and the alt or picture description tag.
In the screen shot above the title tag and description tags are displayed.
1. Title: West Auckland Plumbers, Waitakere, Henderson & Te Atatu | Collins Plumbing & Gas
2. Description: Call the West Auckland and Waitakere City Plumbers & Gas Fitters at Collins Plumbing today. We travel to Helensville, Kumeu and other suburbs at your request.
Why do we setup the Meta Tags like this?
Google wants to see the key phrases used in the title tag and meta description. You'll notice that Google bolds the keywords that the searcher has used, making it more eye catching. This results in a higher Click Through Rate (CTR) to your site and more traffic
Google deems what you put first in the meta tags the most important, so it gives this key phrase a higher weighting. It's a good idea to put the most competitive key phrase at the start of the title and description tag. See how we've put "West Auckland Plumbers" at the start as this is the most competitive key phrase.
Make the title tag and description attractive to humans. First and foremost you should write for humans rather than for the search engine bots. Customers are humans and you need to attract them to your website with the copy you use.
Ways to attract human users include:
- Using a phone number in the title tag and description. Numbers attract attention because they are different and stand out from normal text. Sometimes people will call you directly from the search results without even going to your website. That's a good conversion.
- Use descriptive, especially action words in your description. Use location keywords like "Waitakere City" and "Henderson" as these grab the attention of people living in these areas. Use action words like "Call 0800 123 456 now for a same day response" or "Book Online Today"
- Use Dollar Figures ($) and Reasons to Choose You. If you own a eCommerce site, one description could be "Spend $100 or more on flowers online and get free delivery NZ wide". If you own a service business you could use "No job too big or too small" or "Rates starting at $90/hour. Call 0800 123 456 for a free, no obligation quote. We're open 24/7 Auckland wide".
Title Tag Best Practices
For the title tag, use a maximum of 64 characters, including spaces. Google doesn't show more than 64 characters and that's why you'll see they're cut off the above title tag at "West Auckland Plumbers, Waitakere, Henderson & Te Atatu | Collin..." rather than "West Auckland Plumbers, Waitakere, Henderson & Te Atatu | Collins Plumbing & Gas".
Avoid going over and above 64 characters where possible. Some people new to SEO go to town with the title tag, including every keyword known to man. Google divides the importance of the page title by the number of characters in the title. So less is more in this case.
Description Tag Best Practices
For the description tag, use a maximum of 160 characters, including spaces. If you're not sure how many characters you've used, simply type out your description in Microsoft Word and the use Word Count to find this figure. You can then copy and paste into your website content management system.
URL Best Practices
Your URL structure is improve your your rankings (and clickthrough rates). Here's a few rules to ensure your websites URLs are SEO friendly:
Keyword in the Domain Name
Not too long ago you could get a site ranking for a low competition keyword simply by having that keyword in the domain URL, eg. keyword.co.nz. Now due to lots of low quality spam sites targeting keyword domains, the search engines seem to be placing less importance on this area. We always recommend building your brand by using your business name rather than a keyword phrase as your domain. However we have found it does still make it much easier to rank for that keyword quickly especially within local search results. It really is a matter of whether you simply want a small ranking bonus over the short term or a strong business brand over the long term.
Keep them Short and Sweet
Shorter URLs look clean, professional and tend to perform better in the search engines. Also a long scary looking URL can come off looking spammy and people are less likely to remember it, or link to it.
Location, Location, Location
This is also true for the position of your keywords! The closer they are to your domain name the better. Something like site.com/keyword is much better than site.com/category/subcategory/keyword. The longer they are the more diluted your keyword becomes lowering its On-Page relevance.
Hyphens vs Underscores
The hyphen is the undisputed heavy weight champion of word separators in a URL. Even though there are promises underscores will be given equal weight there are just to many consistencies with this. Use hyphens for all your sub-page URLs, eg. site.co.nz/this-is-my-sub-page. However Its not recommended to use them in your root domain name, eg. fishingtours.co.nz is better than fishing-tours.co.nz.
This covers everything you can actually see on your website pages.
- Keyword Repetition - There is no hard and fast rule as to how many times a targeted keyword should be used on a page. But as a rule of thumb we recommend 2 - 3 times on a short page and up to 6 times on a longer page, as long as it doesn't affect the readability of the content and still makes sense.
- Keyword Location - Again the important thing is that your keyword shows up on the page, but we recommend having your most important keyword in the first sentence or paragraph of the pages text. Then simply scatter it throughout the rest of the content as necessary.
- Related Keword Phrases - Using keyword variations throughout a page can help increase a pages relevancy for that phrase, plus it gives your page the opportunity to rank naturally for other related search phrases.
- Header Tags - These are the titles wrapped in <h1> to <h6> tags. You should construct your page with the most important title being in <h1> tags. Using the other less important tags for sub headings should only be used if required as they seem to carry very little SEO value.
- Image Tags - As far as On-Page SEO goes your images actually carry a lot of SEO power. The alt attribute is the most valuable and should contain your targeted keyword phrase. Also naming your image files with your keyword can help it to rank naturally in the search engines and image search results increasing traffic.
- Bold/Italic - This is a common trick of the trade, bold and italicize your targeted keywords on the page. Although It carries a small amount of SEO weight, every advantage helps. We recommend using the keyword phrase at least once in bold and italics.
This is extremely important and can really help your sites navigational structure, usability and page rankings.
- Sitemap - Only really necessary If you have a larger site or poor navigation that makes it hard to reach deeply nested pages. It doesn't hurt to have one though as it ensures the search engine spiders can easily find all your content and index it.
- Click Depth - This refers to how many click from the homepage it takes to reach sub-pages. Make sure all your important keyword pages can be reached from the homepage in the least amount of clicks possible.
- The amount of Internal Links - Pages that are linked to more than others tend to rank higher in the search engines. If you have a page targeting a competitive term its a good idea to get links to it from more pages on your site.
- Inline text links - These are hyperlinks you place in the body text of your pages. These are great for linking to important pages in a site and can help people to find relevant pages within your site more easily.
- Site Wide Links - These are links that show up on every page such as ones placed in the footer or sidebar. It seems now since people have abused these areas keyword stuff and link spam that Google isn't paying much attention to them. This is why for SEO purposes its much better to place site wide links in the sites top navigation area.
Although not the most crucial part of getting a website ranked, On-Page SEO is still an important part of properly optimising a website, giving it the best chance of successfully ranking highly within the search engines. Often it is all it takes for local businesses in low competitive markets to rank on the first page of Google. When it comes to SEO every little advantage should be utilized and this is one area you have complete control over. Remember the real power of SEO comes from the implementation of both On-Page and Off Page factors.
In the next installment of the SEO Mini Course, you'll learn how to optimise your Google Places listing to help you rank higher in the local search results.
P.S. - If you've got a burning SEO question about your site, feel free to contact us. We'll answer it in our regular monthly SEO Insight Newsletter coming out after you've completed the six week SEO mini course.