Despite Google's updates that make on-page SEO less important for search engine rankings, there are a few things that remain vitally important.
Have you noticed there are a shrinking number of search engine optimization (SEO) firms these days? Or that some traditional SEO agencies are diversifying into other services as quickly as possible?
That’s because Google has dramatically changed the nature of SEO. First, some background.
The practice of SEO can be divided into two parts: 1) On-page SEO and 2) Off-page
- SEO.On-page SEO has to do with things like including the right keywords on your website.
- Off-page SEO is about improving your website’s reputation on the web, which is largely determined by having relevant, authoritative sites linking to you.
Until recently, tinkering with a site’s on-page SEO could do a lot to improve a page’s search engine rankings. Some of that tinkering was referred to as “black hat” tactics, which tricked the search engine algorithms to achieve higher rankings.
Those black hat SEO days are just about over.
Google has become even smarter. Its search engine can now tell the difference between spammy websites that try to game the system and legitimate websites that provide relevant, high-quality content. And, if a site is using black hat tactics in violation of the Google Webmaster guidelines, it will be punished with lower rankings.
Modern SEO is now more about optimizing your site for searchers first and search engines second. If your website’s content is getting linked to by other authoritative (non-spammy) sites and is being shared on social media, your search results will improve.
There are hundreds of other factors in Google’s ever-changing algorithm to ensure that its results are tailored to what people are looking for. That’s why if humans like the content on your site, so will Google.
However, there are still some vitally important on-page considerations to make sure your site gets found online.
- Page Titles - These are the titles that are presented in search engine results (located in your site’s HTML code). Write page titles that describe a page’s content. Include relevant keywords and place those keywords toward the beginning of the title (which should be fewer than 70 characters long). Make sure each page title on your site is unique.
- Meta Descriptions - This is the description you see in search engine results below the page title. While meta descriptions don’t count toward search engine rankings, they are incredibly useful for people deciding which result to click. For complete visibility, keep the meta description under 150 characters.
- Headings - This is text (appropriately coded) that appears more prominently than other text on a page. Searchers and search engines tend to pay more attention to headings in comparison to regular text. That’s why it’s a good idea to include keywords in your headlines whenever possible.
- Images - Images on a web page can really enhance user experience, but don’t include too many or it will overwhelm the visitor (and possibly slow down the page load time). Search engines can’t see images, so make sure to include “alt text” in your code to provide text descriptions of the images. Also, include keywords in your image file name to draw traffic from image searches.
- URL Structure - The uniform resource locator (URL) of a web page is its web address. URL structure has to do with how the text in a URL is organized and how your site’s different URLs interact with one another. Make sure to separate your keywords with dashes and describe what is on the page. For example, on my site http://www.artillerymarketing.com/marketing-resources captures “marketing” and “resources” as keywords, and describes what’s on the page. One other thing to include that’s a bit technical but really important: 301 redirects. Sort of like a change of address card, a 301 redirect forwards an old URL to a new one. Make sure to use 301 directs if you change the URL of a page on your site.
- Mobile - While the topic of mobile marketing gets a lot of discussion in marketing circles, here’s the most important thing to remember: Optimize your website for mobile viewing. More than half of all Internet searches are now on mobile devices. That’s why responsive design has become so important. Responsive design uses the same URL and HTML code across all devices: desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. The site then adapts to whatever screen the site is being viewed on. And even more important, Google prefers responsive design sites. And so do humans.
(This article originally appeared in Inside Business - The Hampton Roads Business Journal, on January 26, 2015.)
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