There have been plenty of content-related changes in the SEO industry lately, but technical SEO is one area where changes have been slow to come and where the basics are still relevant. Here is a short primer for those who may not be familiar with the technology or may need a quick refresher check-list.
Whether you provide content as a full-time employee, a freelancer, or a site owner, whether you deal with content as a writer, or editor, publisher or blogger, you stand to benefit from knowing the technical basics of website optimization of SEO.
The two areas you need to wrestle in technology are meta tags and roadblocks. Neither one has traditionally been the purview of the writer, editor, or publisher, but they are often overlooked by programmers and designers and often SEO practitioners are more worried about keywords and links and adword buys, so they ignore these, too. Here’s what you need to know.
Meta tags are found in the website source code and other than the title, aren’t visible on the website page itself. To view them, right click on the Chrome page and “view source.” (How to view source code on IE, Firefox, and Opera.)
Every page needs one and it has to be unique. Treat it like a subject line, not like a movie or book title. Keywords should be at the front, company names, if used, should be at the end. The title tags should be a maximum length of 70 characters. If your site is a creative effort like a story or movie page, using the story title makes sense.
Every page should have one and it has to be unique. If you don’t write one, the search engine will create one for you. If the search engine doesn’t like yours it will create one, often from the content on your page. Limit your description tag to 150 characters including spaces and punctuation.
Keywords list tag
There has been a lot of talk recently on the relevance of this tag. Google does not use this tag anymore for rankings and some argue that showing your keywords to competitors is not a great idea. However, Yahoo and Bing still look at your keywords.
Some say you need commas between keywords and you should list all uses of the keyword; I have found success not using commas and using keywords only once, keeping related words together. Probably not worth spending a lot of time on this tag. In most blogs, the keywords list is called “tags” and these are important to add.
Search engines cannot read and do not notice images or graphics, even with words. Thus, to get indexing value from them, you need to add alt tags that include your keywords. This is especially important when a photo or graphic appears at the top of the page or when a site or blog is image heavy.
Be sure to name images and graphics with keywords, not strings of letters or numbers that don’t serve any purpose. “Image001.gif” is wasteful for SEO.
Same thing for video and audio tags – name them with suitable keywords.
Technical Roadblocks that Prevent Search Engines from Indexing Your Site
Roadblocks are the things done on a website that get in the way of productive indexing. Sometimes they are inadvertent; sometimes they result from lazy coding or running out of time to fix them. Often, developers or designers are simply not aware – and that’s where you can save your employer or client some headaches, suggesting a fix.
Excessive coding up front
Content lower on the page
I see this often, too. Look in the source code to see where the actual headlines and body text begin. Place content as high on the page as possible so the search engine sees it right away. You want the first content they read to be your keywords, not the list of navigation, not the ads on the left, not the garbage lines at the top, not the quotes on the right.
Left click and scroll down on your web page to highlight everything. Right click on the highlighted page and click “copy” (or Control + C). Paste into Notepad. That will show you the indexable text and in what order.
Be sure your keywords are as close to the front of your headlines and body text as possible to make the most of them. Don’t force it unnaturally, but definitely don’t hide them. Also, make sure you mention your keywords at the bottom of your text, because search engines index from the top and from the bottom.
Heavy on visuals
Unless your site is an art site, you can’t afford to go too heavy on images or graphics. Certainly, you want some visuals, including images, graphics, and videos. But search engines don’t index them. When you do use visuals, don’t top the page with them and tag them with meta tags (see above). A page with fewer than 250 words won’t index well, and a page with fewer than 500 words may not be providing its readers with much value. There is no magical formula for how many words to publish, but search engines do look for value.
Keywords in File names, domain names, etc.
Use keywords in your file names, domain names, and URLs, including in blogs. Avoid random number/letter combinations in URLs as you often find with content management systems.
If you have the choice of where to host your blog, host it on the server with your website and use the website domain for the blog’s URL. For instance, I have a Word Press business blog hosted on my business website and its URL is http://e-messenger-consulting.com/blog/ which is better for SEO than e-messenger-consulting.wordpress.com. As an alternative, you can host on Word Press and redirect to a private domain URL.
There is no use in having a link that doesn’t work or that stops working. Check your links periodically (there is software to help with this) and when you discover broken links, find the new URL for it, replace it with a new link, or eliminate the link altogether.
Search engines abhor duplicate content, including disguised duplicate content. Google Panda was created to penalize sites for duplicate content (among other low-quality content issues). If you publish duplicate content, get rid of duplicate content and link (or 301 redirect) to one article if possible. If someone else is duplicating your content and refuses to delete it, use canonical tags in your URL to indicate originality. If product copy duplicates for differences in size, color, or other SKU variations, talk to your programmers about options to avoid duplication.
XML site map
An XML site map, especially for a complex website, helps the search engine figure out your content plan and aids indexing. Without one, it’s up to the search engine to figure it out. Search engines all subscribe to a single XML site-map convention and can help you create one that will work for all search engines.
Keep these to a minimum – one is best. Too many confuse the robots. These should just let the indexer know exclusions to indexing your site.
Depending on your role in the organization, many of these may not be within your control. But whatever your role, knowing about these and being able to offer strategic advice should put you in a good position to help build traffic to your content. Being able to provide well written tags when you hand over content is often a valued added service.