Make a wish. If you could change just three things on your site to boost SEO performance, what would they be?
SEO professionals like to divide their optimization efforts into onsite and offsite: anything you can do to your website (tags, text, redirects, etc.) vs. what you can do elsewhere (link building, social media, etc.). Google says it puts over 200 ranking signals to use in determining which sites should appear in search results. If you visit popular SEO forums, you will see threads ablaze with arguments over which ranking factors are important. Such is the subjective nature of search engine optimization. [If you don’t know what SEO or Search Engine Optimization is, start here.]
The good news is that a large chunk of these factors involve onsite components that you have the power to change. But which ranking factors should you be most concerned about? As one who has observed the effects of SEO changes to sites for years, I’d like to offer my opinion on what the top onsite SEO ranking factors are and why they are important. If I could only change three items to optimize a typical site, they would be these.
1. Title Tags
Title tags can be found in the HTML source between the <title> and </title>. The text between them appear in the browser title bar in the top left (it seems to be missing from Internet Explorer 9). Unlike meta tags, title tags influence rankings.
Whether you have a static one-page site or thousands of pages within a WordPress blog, the title tag will influence where you show up in Google. You can test the power of title tags yourself. Try altering the word order or adding or substituting other words for one of your pages. Then, get some popcorn and sit back and watch where the page shows up when searching the keywords in Google. Experiment until you find the best mix for your key pages. There are lots of new ranking signals that Google incorporates into their algorithm regularly, but title tags remain among the strongest and longest lasting.
I don’t expect this to change anytime soon.
2. Page Copy
Images, video, PDF and Flash files aren’t the most machine readable forms of media. Google is getting better at understanding them. Yet, one thing that search engines can and always will be able to read well is text content. Page copy is here to stay.
If you want to receive visitors who search for certain keywords in Google, make sure the words and/or synonyms appear on a designated page and if the context allows, on other pages within your site. Use synonyms, singular/plural and other variations of the words to leave no doubt in the search engine’s mind what the page is about. Most important of all, make sure the copy you deploy offers a meaningful reward to users who invest their time in reading it. No one stays up late reading “SEO copy.”
3. Internal Linking Structure
SEO experts love to talk about the power of links and the difficulty in getting authoritative sites to link back. But did you know you probably have a few great links right under your nose? That’s right, internal links count as votes, even though Google knows you are in fact voting for yourself.
Google takes account of internal links on your site, the number of links to each page and what pages are linked most and from where. You can see a lot of this activity in Google Webmaster Tools in the internal links tab. If a page is getting linked from your home page or site wide, expect it to get more link juice than a link from the privacy page.
Do you have a link on every page pointing to your legal info page but not your choicest landing page? Adjust your site’s internal linking structure to emphasize the most important pages, your landing pages, if you will. Link important words and phrases with the link anchor text that agrees with the target page’s title tag and copy. Pay careful attention to context and don’t link randomly or use auto-generated internal links in the body of posts.
As Google tunes the “signals” that determine rankings and rolls out more improvements like the Caffeine infrastructure, Panda and incorporates the social graph into search, these three age-old factors may become less impactful, but should serve you well for a long time to come.
Thanks to Carel and the ClickHOST team for giving me a chance to post my thoughts and work with them on some exciting SEO projects. Stop in and visit me at Clickfire sometime.
Don’t forget to read our previous blog entry, Quick tips to improve SEO.
If you have more special tips regarding SEO please post them below.