Components of an SEO-Friendly Page
Building an SEO-friendly web site doesn’t happen by accident. It requires an understanding of what elements of search engines examine and how those elements affect your ranking. It also requires including as many of those elements as possible on your site. It does little good to have all the right meta tags in place if you have no content and no links on your page. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of SEO and forget the simplest web-design principles — principles that play a large part in your search engine rankings. Having all the right keywords in the right places in your tags and titles won’t do you much good if the content on your page is nonexistent or completely unreachable by a search engine crawler.
Understanding entry and exit pages
The entry and exit pages are the first and last pages of your web site that a user sees. It’s important to understand that an entry page isn’t necessarily the home page on your web site. It can be any other page where a user lands, either by clicking through search engine results, by clicking a link from another web site or a piece of marketing material, or by bookmarking or typing directly into the address bar of a browser.
Entry pages are important in SEO because they are the first page users see — the electronic equivalent of a first impression. The typical web site is actually several small, connected sites.
Your company web site might contain hubs, or central points, for several different topics. For example, if your site represents a pet store, then you’ll have hubs within it for dogs, cats, birds, fish, and maybe exotic animals. Each hub will have a main page — which will likely be your entry page for that section — and several additional pages leading from that central page to other pages containing relevant content, products, or information about specific topics. Understanding which of your pages are likely entry pages helps you to optimize those pages for search engine crawlers. Using the pet-store example, if your home page and all the hub pages are properly Search Engine Optimized, you potentially could be ranked at or near the top of five different sets of search results. When you add additional entry pages deeper in your web site structure (that is, a dog-training section to the hub for dogs), you’ve increased the number of times you can potentially end up at the top of search engine rankings.
Because entry pages are important in the structure of your web site, you want to monitor those pages using a web site analytics program to ensure they are working the way you expect them to work. A good analytics program, such as Google Analytics, will show you your top entry and exit pages.
Exit pages are those from which users leave your site, either by clicking through an exiting link, selecting a bookmark, or typing a different web address into their browser address bar. Exit pages have two purposes. The first is to drive users from their entry pages to a desired exit page. This is called the path that users travel through your site. A typical path might look something like this:
SERP Home -> Women’s Clothing -> Product Pages -> Shopping Cart -> Checkout Receipt
In this example, Home is the entry page and Receipt is the exit page. By looking at this navigational path, you can tell how users travel through your page and where they fall off the page; but there’s an added benefit to understanding the navigational path of your users. When you know how users travel through your site, you can leave what’s called a bread-crumb trail for them. That’s a navigational indicator on the web site that enables them to quickly see where they are on your site.
The bread-crumb trail not only helps users return to a previous page in the navigational path; it also makes it easier for a web crawler to fully examine your site. Because crawlers follow every link on your page, this is an internal link structure that leads crawlers to individual pages that you want included in search engine results.
Choosing an Analytics Program
An important element in any SEO plan is analytics — the method by which you monitor the effectiveness of your web site. Analytics are the metrics that show you how pages, links, keywords, and other elements of your web site are performing. If your web host hasn’t provided you with an analytics program, find one. Not having an analytics program is like walking around in the dark, hoping you won’t bump into a wall.
Many web site owners shy away from analytics packages because they believe them to be complicated and expensive. However, they don’t always have to be. You can find a good analytics program that’s not only easy to use, but also inexpensive or even free; but use caution about making ease and low cost the deciding factors when selecting an analytics program.
The program will give you the power to see and control how your web site performs against your goals and expectations. You want it to show you everything you need to know, so here are some considerations when you’re evaluating analytics programs:
■ What reports are included in the tools you’re examining, and how will you use those reports?
■ How do you gather the information used to create the metrics you need?
■ How often are your reports updated?
■ How much training is necessary to understand your application and the reports provided?
■ Do you get software installation or is the product provided strictly as a web-based service?
■ What is the total cost of ownership?
■ What types of support are available?
■ What is the typical contract length?
Many analytics programs are available. Google Analytics, AW Stats, JayFlowers, ClickTracks, and dozens of others all offer something different at a different price tag. If free is what you can afford, don’t assume you’ll get a terrible package. Google Analytics is one of the free packages available, and it’s an excellent program, based on what used to be the Urchin Analytics package (which was quite costly). Other programs cost anywhere from $30 to $300 a month, depending on the capabilities you’re purchasing.
Cost is not the most important factor, however. Ultimately, your main consideration should be how the analytics package can help you improve your business. Using powerful titles Page titles are one of the most important elements of site optimization. When a crawler examines your site, the first elements it looks at are the page titles; and when your site is ranked in search results, page titles are again one of the top elements considered. Therefore, when you create your web site, you need great page titles.
Consider several key factors when coming up with your page titles:
■ Unless you’re Microsoft, don’t use your company name in the page title. A better choice is to use a descriptive keyword or phrase that tells users exactly what’s on the page. This helps to ensure that your search engine rankings are accurate.
■ Try to limit page titles to less than 50 characters, including spaces. Some search engines index only up to 50 characters; others might index as many as 150. Regardless, maintaining shorter page titles forces you to be precise in the titles that you choose and ensures that your page title will never be cut off in the search results.
■ Don’t repeat keywords in your title tags. Repetition can occasionally come across as spam when a crawler is examining your site, so avoid that in your title if possible, and never duplicate words just to gain a crawler’s attention. It could well get your site excluded from search engine listings.
■ Consider adding special characters at the beginning and end of your title to improve noticeability. Parentheses (()), arrows (<<>>), asterisks (****), and special symbols such as ££££ can help draw a user’s attention to your page title. These special characters and symbols don’t usually add to or detract from your SEO efforts, but they do serve to call attention to your site title.
■ Include a call to action in your title. There’s an adage that goes something like, ‘‘You’ll never sell a thing if you don’t ask for the sale.’’ That’s true on the Web too. If you want your users to do something, you have to ask them. All of your page titles should be indicated with the title tag when you code your web site. The title tag isn’t difficult to use. Here’s an example of such a tag:
<title>A Descriptive Web Site Title</title>
If your page titles aren’t tagged properly, you may as well not be using them, so take the time to ensure that your page titles are short, descriptive, and tagged into your web site code. By using title tags, you increase the chances that your web site will be ranked high within search engine results.
Creating great content
Web site content is another element of an SEO-friendly site that you should spend plenty of time contemplating and completing. Fortunately, there are ways to create web site content that will make search crawlers love you. Great content starts with the right keywords and phrases. Select no more than three keywords or phrases to include in the content on any one of your web pages. Why only three? Wouldn’t more keywords and phrases ensure that search engines take notice of your site? Actually, when you use too many keywords in your content, you face two problems. First, the effectiveness of your keywords will be reduced by the number of different ones you’re using. Choose two or three for each page of your site and stick with those.
Second, you may be delisted or ignored because a search engine sees your SEO efforts as keyword stuffing. It’s a serious problem, and search engine crawlers will exclude your site or pages from indexes if they contain too many keywords. After you have the two or three keywords or phrases that you plan to focus on, you need to actually use those keywords in the page content. Many people assume that the more frequently you use the words, the higher your search engine ranking will be. Again, that’s not necessarily true. Just as using too many different keywords can cause a crawler to exclude you from a search engine index, overusing the same word will also cause crawlers to consider that as keyword stuffing. Again, you run the risk of having your site excluded from search indexes. The term used to describe the number of times a keyword is used on a page is keyword density.
For most search engines, allowed keyword density is relatively low. Google is very strict about ranking sites that have a keyword density of 5 to 7 percent; much lower or much higher and your ranking is seriously affected or completely lost. Yahoo!, MSN, and other search engines allow keyword densities of about 5 percent. Going over that mark could cause your site to be excluded from search results.
Keyword density is an important factor in your web site design, but there are other content concerns, too. Did you know that the freshness and focus of your content also affects how high your web site ranks? One reason why many companies began using blogs on their web sites was because blogs are updated frequently and they’re highly focused on a specific topic. This gives search engines new, relevant content to crawl.
Consider implementing a content strategy that includes regularly adding more focused content or expanding your content offerings. It doesn’t have to be a blog, but news links on the front page of the site, regularly changing articles, or some other type of changing content will help gain the attention of a search engine crawler. Don’t just set these elements up and leave them, however. You also have to ensure regular updates and keep the links included in the content active. Broken links are another crawler pet peeve. Unfortunately, with dynamic content, links will occasionally break. Make sure you’re checking this element of your content on a regular basis and set up some kind of user-feedback loop so broken links can be reported to your webmaster.
Finally, when you’re creating your web site content, consider interactive forums. If you’re adding articles to your site, give users a forum in which they can respond to the article, or a comments section. This leads to more frequent updates of your content, which search crawlers love. In short, forums provide users with an ongoing, interactive relationship with your web site, and give an extra boost to your search engine ranking.
Images or graphics on your web site are essential. They’re also basically ignored by search engines, so what’s the point of putting them on your site? There’s a good reason that has nothing to do with SEO. Without images, your page is just boring text. You’re not going to be happy with using plain text instead of that cool, new logo you had designed for your company, and neither are your users. They want to see pictures. If images are a must on a web site, then there should be a way to use those images to increase your web site traffic or to at least improve your site ranking. And there is. One technique that will help your SEO make use of graphics on your site is to tag those graphics with alt tags inside the img tags. The alt tags are the HTML tags used to display alternative text when a graphic is present. An alt tag should be a short, descriptive phrase about the image, which includes the keywords used on that page when possible.
The img tags are the tags used to code the images that appear on your web site. Here’s an example of what an img tag, with an included alt tag, should look like:
<img src="pic1.jpg" alt="alternative text"/>
Here’s how that tag breaks down: <img src="pic1.jpg" is your image tag; alt="alternative text"/> is your alternative text tag. The alternative text tag is where your keywords should be included if at all possible.
You want to tag your images as part of your SEO strategy for two reasons. First, crawlers cannot index images for a search engine. The crawler ‘‘sees’’ the image and moves on to the text on the page. Therefore, something needs to take the place of that image, so the crawler can index it. That’s what the alternative text does. If this text includes your keywords, and the image is near text that also includes the keywords, then you add credibility to your site in the logic of the crawler.
The second reason you want to tag your images as part of your SEO strategy is to take advantage of image-based search engines, such as Google Images. These image-based search engines are relatively new, but they shouldn’t be undervalued. Just as a search engine can find and index your site for users searching the Web, image-based search engines find and index your images. Then, when users perform a search for a specific keyword or phrase, your image is also ranked, along with the text on the pages. Image searches are gaining popularity, so crawlers like the one Google uses for its Google Images search engine will gain momentum, and image searches will add to the amount of web site traffic that your SEO strategies help to build. Conversely, while not discounting the value of images, don’t overuse them on your web pages either. As with any element of a web page, too much of a good thing is not good.
Thanks for reading