Beginners Guide For The Top 5 2014 Website SEO Requirements
Google has grown exponentially in the last couple of years, and so has their list of factors that are considered when they rank a website on the first page of your search results. Since it was easy enough for most SEO practitioners to figure out the early requirements to get good ranking, Google has been faced with constantly raising the bar in what they consider a relevant website to show users when they perform a search query. The requirements have been raised so much since the early days, that we now know that Google has over 200 ranking factors they use to algorithmically judge and score every website they visit, with the ultimate goal of showing the person performing the search the most relevant and accurate information. The following five factors are what have been shown to give the biggest impact in these scores and send the strongest signals to search engines as to what a page is about, so it should definitely be your focus for 2014. While there are still more than 200 other factors to optimize for, this list will be your beginner’s guide to better optimizing your website.
Title tag length and uniqueness
Title tags are a code based part of a website, meaning that you don’t generally see them once on a website, but you will usually see them in the search engine result pages (SERPs for short). Going with the analogy of a perfectly written book, the title tag on a website can be seen as the title of a chapter in a book. A good chapter title in a book should be informative, and give the reader some grasp as to what the text that follows the title will be about. This same principle should apply to the title tags of every page you write; they should be unique and exist only once, give an accurate representation of what is to come, not be too long (we want to keep the title tag below 70 characters), avoid repeating words and not include keywords that are not relevant to the content on the page.
There is a lot of pressure to succeed in the SEO game with your website, either you have a deadline to meet, sales quota to reach, or you just want to have thousands of visitors to flock to your site. The main thing to remember with title tags is to keep them relevant to the on-page content. So in review, include the title tag for all of your important pages, summarize what the content is on that page in more than one word, keep them unique across your site, and don’t try to game the system by including terms that are not there in the on page content.
META description tag format and information to include
Meta descriptions are another signal that a website sends to Google concerning what the page is about, and it is very closely related to the title tag. So while the title tag can be seen as a chapter heading, the META description can be seen as a summary of what a website is about, but a summary that only shows up in the SERPs for the person performing the search to see.
This field shows up in the back end code of a website, should be at maximum 160 characters, and expands on what you included in the title tag. While the title tag is supposed to catch the attention of the person performing the search, the META description field should go into more detail as to what the page is about. In this 160 character field, you will preferably give 2-3 points as to what the page is about.
Like the title tag, don’t spam keywords, and make sure that you have as many pages as possible with unique META descriptions as possible. Google does not like duplicate content, and the head of the Google spam fighting team, Matt Cutts, has recently said that it is better to not even have META descriptions than it is to have duplicate ones. Your most important pages should definitely have one, as it is a way for you to decide what content gets shown to the person searching, as otherwise Google will just pull the first 160 characters of what it finds on the page.
Write your META descriptions with your audience in mind, keep them below 160 characters, use your main 1-3 keywords, don’t duplicate META descriptions, and don’t spam this field with irrelevant keywords.
Header tag optimization
Another aspect that is often overlooked in on-page search engine optimization efforts are header tags, or H tags. These tags are used to distinguish particular parts of text, preferably the title and subtitles, so that readers get a general sense about main sections of the on page content. Visually, the H tags are important in breaking down important parts of a site, but these parts also give the search engine bots scanning your site an idea as to what your content is about.
Since there are 6 different H tags (h1, h2, h3, h4, h5 and h6), each one of these tags should be used in appropriate locations and for varying levels of importance. In a well written paper, think of the h1 tag as the title of that paper. The on page title should be slightly differentiated from your title tag, and should give a good introduction to your readers as to what the content will be about.
This on-page title will have the h1 tag on it, as this signifies to search engines that this is the most important aspect of the content, so this would be one more location to contain the main key term that we are optimizing. One side note concerning WordPress, Drupal, Joomla or any other CMS (Content Management System) theme, is to make sure that the theme is not using an h1 tag in the logo section of the header, as this will usually give you extra h1 tags that are the same all over your site. While Matt Cutts points out that having multiple h1 tags isn’t bad, I believe their algorithmical tolerance has been decreased due to the abuse of the tag, so it would be better and safer in the long run to use it once per page.
The h2 tag is the second most important tag and can be used more than once. Just as with a good academic paper, you want to make your subsections stand out from the rest of your content, and h2 tags are a good way to show the emphasis of this content as the second-most important sections of your page. Since you can have more than one h2 tag, as long as you provide more than 2-3 sentences of content in these sections, you also want to have your most important sections show up towards the top of the page, rather than putting your most important content towards the bottom of the page. Again, use the h2 tags sparingly and around subheader titles that introduce the section well, this is how you get the most bang for your H tag use.
The rest of the H tags, including h3, h4, h5 and h6 can be used as needed to further highlight parts of your page. The h3 and h4 tags can be used in sidebar sections to further highlight those sections titles, or if you have a lot of content, you can use these tags to further categorize your content, going all the way down to the h6 tag. If at any stage you aren’t happy with the size or the look of the H tags in your content, you can always use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to modify their look; just don’t try to get away with abusing the H tag system by making everything an h2 tag.
The main goal of the H tag is to give readers a way to distinguish the content on a page, and to see the information presented in a well formatted manner, this in turn makes search engines happy as their bots are able to easily understand the content flow. Again, only use the h1 tag once, break your content down visually by using header tags to show different sections, use a keyword that best summarizes the upcoming content in each of these H tags and don’t use keywords that don’t have anything to do with your content.
On page content SEO starts with great topic & subject based writing
The on-page content is the most important part of your SEO efforts, as it is the glue that holds everything else together, and without having relevant on-page content to support the above mentioned code efforts, you might as well not have a website at all.
What constitutes as good content is hard to define, as there are so many industries and so many variables that go for each industry, but the main takeaway is to have the content go into great detail for the subject you are writing about. You want to seem like an authority on the subject, and if you really are aware of what you are writing about, you have won half the battle right there. Great content for SEO will hold its own weight, and while there are many different ways to accomplish it, the best content is written by those who have done a ton of research on a subject and by great writers, such as the ones that we have for our clients here at Online Image.
There are a lot of rules for getting your content just right, too many for this blog post, but the main rules of the thumb are: have no less than 500-600 words on pages that are important, write on the topic of the page as a whole instead of just keywords you are going for, use H tags to separate your content appropriately, write on the same topic from different angles and, most importantly, keep on writing. Not every piece of content is going to be a hit, but it is important to keep getting content on the various topics your site covers, as this will send a message to search engines as to what your site is about. The more content that is available on a certain topic, not including the same exact thing over and over, the better it will be for your SEO efforts overall.
Content markup with image ALT tags & rich snippets
This section is the least important out of the five, but it is still up there as one of the 200+ factors Google employs. Content markup has a lot of variations and with each of them comes a different impact on your overall SEO efforts. I’ve included this part to encompass the most important kinds of content markup, ALT tags for your images and rich schema markup for the different types of content that you have on the page.
Image ALT tag and file name SEO optimization
Using images is a great way to keep your audience’s attention, and they are important enough that I would argue that images themselves are great markup to a page, but ALT tags for images are even a step above that. If you are not familiar with them yet, image ALT tags are HTML code based markups that are placed in an image embed code. These ALT tags are supposed to provide visually impaired users, who use a special type of browser, further information about the image that appears on your site. As with other code based enhancements, to truly get an SEO benefit out of using ALT tags, each of the main images on your pages should have a unique ALT tag that describes the image, preferably in relation to your industry/topic of writing. This section helps your site by providing visuals, which users and search engines like, enhancing your content since you are using relevant images, and getting your images to show up in image search results, which can bring in further traffic. To further optimize your image SEO, the file name of your image should also be relevant to what it is about, so instead of ‘pic587.jpg’, it would be better to have ‘red-sparkly-jumping-unicorn.jpg’ instead.
Rich snippets schema markup for an on-page content boost
Rich snippets are a recent addition to the search engine world that are meant to highlight the different types of on-page content in the SERPs. The purpose of this markup is to pull in the information available on a webpage and to give a particular products rating, show an image of the blog author, give the date of an event or give a cooking time for a recipe. There has been a growing list of rich snippets, including events, music, business, reviews and breadcrumbs, each giving a different piece of information based on the search query that relates to them. The following are some examples of what your search results can look like with the right content and the correct rich snippet use:
If you have on-page content for a particular page that can have two or more kinds of snippets, go ahead and include all that apply, as the search engines will use the one that is relevant to that particular search. Keep in mind though that this is also a double-edged sword, as the goal for search engines is to give as much information to the SERP as they can, so that the person performing the search can spend more time on their pages and see their ads, instead of leaving their page to get to your page. Still, the ratings, the recipes and author tags for example, only give visual queues as to what information is contained on your site, and I would definitely recommend using them.
There we have it, these are the top ranking factors you should focus on for 2014 in order to get your site ready and better optimized with the different search engines. This list just scratches the surface of the different factors that you can incorporate into your SEO efforts, but these few beginner-level tips will definitely position you for improvements. If there are any other factors you would include in place of these, share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to us on our social media sites. Additionally, if you would like to get help on your SEO efforts, you should definitely reach out to our Online Image sales team for a free SEO quote to help you get started on the path to success today.
Nenad is Croatian. He is also the Senior SEO Specialist at Online Image and works on SEO & all its secrets. He also has a twin who does PPC.
With a long background in technology, he looks at the website in multiple dimensions and from various perspectives. When he gets a website on his plate, you can be assured that he will give you in depth feedback on various ways to improve your website to further advance your business.