It takes more than just good content to get your website ranked well by search engines. Your site has probably not ranked well enough till now only because your site was not very “understandable” to the search engines. Let’s say there has been a communication gap in between the two. However, it is not an irreversible state… this is a very common problem and can easily be corrected with some ‘On-page Optimization’.
Let me start with the basics and tell you what on-page optimization is. On-page Optimization is the process of modifying content and certain html tags of your website to make it more search engine friendly. On-page factors are under your control and can be altered by tweaking the content of your website appropriately. The importance of on-page optimization cannot be stressed enough as it is the basis for search engines to understand the theme and relevance of your website.
Don’t worry, it is not as complicated as it may sound. Let me give you a few crucial points on how to do on-page optimization for your site and be super successful!
Let’s say you have a website that sells used cars, www.cars.com. How would you go about optimizing it?
1. Start with keyword research
What is keyword research? Keyword research is the practice of finding relevant search terms and phrases that people use in conducting searches online and determining the keywords most suited to your website.
So let’s start with your site, since your website targets used car buyers, what words would they type in the search engine? Note down your keywords. It probably includes ‘Buy used cars’, ‘Used cars on sale’, ‘Price of used cars’ etc.
After compiling a list of probable keywords/phrases that your target audience might use in the search engines, you can go one step further & use some great keyword research tools available online. You can try a keyword research tool available on SEO Intelligence which compiles keyword data from various sources online & shows you the kind of keywords & phrases people are searching with & their respective search volumes. A sample screenshot can be seen below:
Using the tool, you will hopefully be able to conclude on certain terms that are not too competitive to target & yet are relevant enough to connect you with your target audience. A more detailed explanation on keyword research will be given in another post shortly.
2. Website Structure
Every website’s coding structure is divided in to two parts: a Head and a Body. If you are thinking that I am going to teach you coding and programming, I’m not! Rather, I am just going to explain how you can tweak certain elements in each of these sections to your advantage:
The Invisible <HEAD> Portion
The HEAD is like a cover page of a book which gives direct information about its content. The HEAD consists of multiple tags with the Title and Meta tags being the more important ones.
• Title: The title is what appears on the top of your browser, giving brief information about the page. The title is important because the search engines use it to determine the theme & context of the site, the same way we read the title of a book to know what it’s about. For instance, if you had concluded from your keyword research that the terms ‘Used cars’ & ‘Buy used cars’ would be your target terms, your title could perhaps be ‘Buy Used Cars at Low Prices: 1000s of Used Cars for Sale’, rather than an indirect title like ‘We offer the best rides’. However, don’t overuse the keyword, we have used the terms ‘Used cars’ just twice & in proper context. A combination of keywords put together like ‘Used cars, buy cars, sell cars’ could be considered spammy.
Another reason why you wouldn’t want to stuff your title with just keywords & make it user friendly is because the title is what is displayed by the search engines when showing your site in the search results.
• Meta tags:
a. Meta keywords is a tag that is no longer considered as important by the search engines but it is still considered good practice to optimize. It’s a tag which contains a list of your target key terms for that page. E.g. <meta name=”keywords” content=”used cars, buying cars, purchase of old cars”>
b. Meta description is a brief snippet about the contents of the page that could be used by the search engine when displaying your site details in the search results. If you do not give a meta description, you have no control over what the search engines will display when showing your results.
The Visible <BODY> Portion
The BODY in html consists of everything that is visible to people who open your website. Think of it like the actual content of a book with many pages. There are multiple elements in the BODY which you would want to consider tweaking.
• Headings: Heading tags (H1, H2 tags) are used to label your headline and are considered important information by search engines. Search engines assume that headings give an idea about the theme of the page and are thought to be given slightly more importance than the page content itself. It should be carefully chosen and injected with relevant keywords.
• Content: You want to make sure you include the right keywords in the contents of your page. You want to ensure you include similar words and phrases through out the content while ensuring it’s not overdone. Again, if your page targets “used cars”, you might want to distribute the keywords “used cars” through out the page while at the same time also including other similar keywords like “old cars” and “second sale cars”. Using similar keywords through out also helps. Although it’s very important to remember that while writing your content, you want to first focus on writing for your end user and making the content most appealing to them. Only once that objective is achieved, then you can try incorporating these changes in your content to suit the the search engines while ensuring you’re not compromising on the quality of the content.
Some of us also get so caught up in making our site attractive, forgetting that search engines cannot read Flash animations. So if you want to have a Flash based website, you want to make sure you also include a non-flash version for the search engines to read (some of your users as well might prefer viewing a non-flash version).
• Optimizing your Internal Linking Structure: Internal linking allows users to navigate to other sections of your website. Internal linking plays a crucial role in page ranking. Use relevant anchor text, with keywords of course, to link to other pages of your website, but only if it’s relevant.
For example, if your website is offering offers on select models, you can include, “More cars for sale” instead of, “To avail offers go to: www.usedcars.com”. Clicking on ‘cars for sale’ will take them directly to the page.
• Do not leave images unattributed: Search engines can read only text, not images. By using alt attribute in your image tags, you can describe images with text, letting search engines detect images which are otherwise left ignored. When an internet user looks for images on search engines like Google image search, only websites that have textual descriptions of images will show up. For example: if you have a picture of an Audi, make sure you enter the name ‘Audi’ for the picture. The search engines might not be able to view the picture, but they will know that you have a picture of an Audi in your site through the tag.
3. Other Things to Consider
• URLs should be informative to search engines: Uniform Resource Locator is the unique address used to locate documents on the World Wide Web. Keywords in page URL helps it to get noticed by search engines. Each page of your site has a different address called URL. For example, the URL for your website may be www.usedcars.com and the URL for its web page can be www.usedcars.com/porche/carrera.html. Avoid using random text and numbers like www.usedcars.com/wrqew11/022vds.html. This doesn’t tell search engines anything about the contents of the page. Short URLs often work best, but if it is not possible, use relevant words separated with hyphens (‘-‘).
• Stop being inactive: Update your website regularly with unique content. Don’t just update content, but keep adding more pages to your website. Search engines are looking for fresh, updated information and changes are being made by the minute on the internet.
Common mistakes you can avoid:
Now, don’t think you know how to do on-page optimization by reading the above mentioned points. You don’t want to be one of the many whose fall is caused by ignorance, no no! There are many mistakes that people make while doing on-page optimization. I have listed them below for your benefit… so that you do not make the same mistakes.
1. No space for copycats: Copying content from other websites is a no-no. It’s not only unethical but search engines can detect content duplication in a jiffy and filter it out, bringing your ranking down. Websites like www.copyscape.com help to track copied content.
2. No cheating: Hiding text using the same color as the background or placing them behind images are old tricks. You can fool visitors but not search engines. Avoid keyword stuffing, as mentioned earlier.
You probably didn’t realize that the changes you would need to make would be this simple. On-page optimization can take you a long way in getting noticed by the search engines. So if you have not implemented these changes already, do it now! You can thank me later when the search engines keep coming back to your site!
Also read the follow-up post, on off-page optimization, where we cover the basics of that as well.