Making Web Pages Search Engine Friendly

They say that if you have the world’s best mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door. When it comes to the Internet this couldn't be further from the truth. For any product to succeed you have to let the world know you have it. One of the easist ways to do that is to have the search engines pull up your site on page one of the search results for your product or service.

What are on-page ranking factors?

This article covers on-page ranking factors. These are things on your site that search engines use to rank your pages. There are also off site factors — things on other websites that affect the ranking of your pages (mainly links pointing to your site).

Before we begin: keyword selection

Whatever product or service you sell it is pointless to create a page on your site for ‘purple buckets’ if nobody ever asks a search engine to find pages about purple buckets. It's a good idea to have some target keywords in mind when building your web pages.

An easy way to start your keyword research is to make a list of words or phrases people might enter into a search engine if they were looking for your site. With a new site, it might be a good idea to be specific. With so many pages on the web, it will be difficult to compete for very common phrases. Instead ‘plastic buckets’ you may want to try ‘purple plastic buckets’ or ‘plastic buckets in Yorkshire, UK’.

There are many tools available on the web to help you with your keyword research. A more detailed discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this article. You can find some links in the Resources section if you want to learn more.

Titles

HTML tag:

<title>Put your site title here</title>

The page title is one of the most important things that search engines look at when ranking websites. Not only that, they also display it to users in the search results. This means that you need to strike a balance between including the right keywords for search engines and encouraging users to click your listing.

This is no place to show off your ego, so you probably shouldn't begin a title with your company name, URL or anything other than the phrase that you want to search engines to find your page for. If you sell plastic buckets then the first two words of your title should be ‘Plastic buckets’. Try not to repeat the key phrase more than once. For instance a title of ‘Plastic buckets - Plastic buckets’ would be seen as spamming. Keep it short, punchy and ensure your key phrase is at the front. If branding is important to you and you want to include the company name, put that at — or towards — the end unless there is a very good reason not to.

Search engines will only look at the first 64-70 characters in a title tag (about 6-8 words). Remember that search engines mostly ignore words like ‘and’ ‘to’ ‘in‘ etc. so try not to use them in your title. Hyphens or other separators (such as : or |) are often used to separate keyword phrases in page titles.

Meta Description

HTML tag:

<meta name="description" content="Enter a short description of
the web page here" />

Meta tags are placed in the <head> section of your page and are used to provide information to browsers and search engines. There are varying opinions about the importance of the site description but it still has some weight and impact. Some search engines use the meta description to describe the page content when displaying results. This is important as it frequently becomes the on-screen sales pitch and you want users to click your site rather than your competition's.

Again, forget your ego. Unless your company name has real value at the front, don’t put it there. You aren't trying to sell your company name to search engines, you are trying to sell your product, e.g. plastic buckets. Make sure then that those words are either at the front of the description or are close to the front. Don't spam by using the words repeatedly. Just once is enough.

Meta Keywords

HTML tag:

<meta name="keywords"
content="put,comma,separated,keywords,here,do,not,repeat,words"
/>

Once upon a time this tag was all important, but these days it has been relegated to a minor feature. Don't ignore it though, some engines still care what is in there, so use it. Make certain the keywords you use on each page are different and never include a keyword that doesn’t appear in your page.

If your content management system doesn't allow you to enter unique meta tags for each page then it's better to leave them out altogether. Having the same keywords and description on every page can actually do more harm than good.

Text

HTML Tags:

<p>Text</p>

<ul>
  <li>Text</li>
</ul>

<table>
  <tr>
    <td>Text</td>
  </tr>
</table>

<h1>Text</h1>

(basically any tags that contain the text on a page)

Search engines are only just beginning to read images, Flash, and other multimedia content. Having lots of nice images and Flash may make your page look good but they have very little real value when it comes to the way search engines rank your page. What the engines do care about is finding your keywords at least once in a heading somewhere on the page and it’s fairly frequent use in the text as a whole.

There are differing opinions as to the optimum number of words on a page, as well as how often to use keywords. Think for a moment what search engines are trying to achieve when they deliver results: they try to give the enquirer pages that focus on the search term and genuinely provide unique information. You can’t hope to give that kind of information in less than a hundred words so make sure your text really talks at some length about your keyword subject.

Keyword density is the ratio of keywords to other content on a page. Try to use your keyword frequently but if you exceed about 8% for keyword density you are likely to suffer a penalty in the ranking algorithms.

Don't try to trick the search engines!

Search engines really don't like being tricked. In fact, they will go to some lengths to identify and devalue various tactics webmasters use to try to make their pages appear to be more important or relevant. Do not attempt to hide keywords on your page using small fonts, text the same colour as the background, or text hidden with CSS.

In general, it's a bad idea to try to trick search engines in any way. In the best case scenario they will simply ignore your trickery. In the worst case they well penalize or even ban your site.

Another problem that search engines have recently been able to detect is duplicate content. This is content that is laregly the same as other pages on the web. Don't attempt to pad your content by copying text from other sites, using syndcated articles, or using the same content on different pages on your site. The search engines will find this and ignore all but the first instance of it.

Headings

HTML tags:

<h1>Heading goes here</h1>
<h2>Heading goes here</h2>
<h3>Heading goes here</h3>
<h4>Heading goes here</h4>
<h5>Heading goes here</h5>

After your <title> tag, the <h1> tag is the most important thing that search engines will look at. These are both top level titles that tell users and search engines what the page is about.

You can apply the same rules to the content of a heading as you would when creating a title for the page. In fact, the <title> and <h1> text are often the same.

The <h2>, <h3>, and <h4> tags can be used for other headings further down the page. Try to avoid being too obvious with your keywords — they shouldn't be obvious to the reader.

Internal linking structure

This sounds like a complicated concept but it's really quite simple. Having a good internal linking structure means that all your pages are linked together and are easy to find by search engines. Since search engines use links to get from page to page on the internet, it's vitally important that all your pages are easily reachable by links.

Navigation menus

All of your page should include a navigation menu that connects to other key pages on your site. Again, you need to strike a balance between being friendly to search engines and being friendly to human visitors. People will also be using this menu to navigate your site.

Search engines have trouble following links in JavaScript or Flash, so your menu should be done with HTML. In addition, many SEO specialists believe that image links are less valuable than plain text. For this reason it's best to use plain HTML text links in your navigation menu. You can use CSS very effectively to create attractive and usable menus without making things difficult for search engines.

Text links

HTML tag:

<a href="http://www.example.com/page.html">The text for the
link goes here</a>

It's also good to link to key pages on your site from other pages, particularly the home page. Yahoo in particular loves internal site links, so make sure that your most important pages are linked to from other pages frequently.

Search engines will look at the target text of the link (the part inside the <a href=""> tags) so you should try to use your target keywords if you can. 'Click here' is not very effective!

Broken Links

Nothing will stop a search engine spider faster than broken links. It is always a wise move to check and ensure you don’t have broken links on your site. There are many link checkers out there but a free one, which the author uses, is Broken Link Checker.

A problem related to this is server downtime. A search engine can't find your site if the server is down! If your web host is constantly having problems it is in your best interest to move to another host as soon as you can.

Site Maps

A site map can be used to show search engines and human visitors all of the pages on your site.

Towards the end of 2007, Google, Yahoo and MSN all agreed a common standard for site maps using XML. There are many places on where you can supply a URL and get site maps returned.

Summary

Follow those few simple rules and you will see your site ranking improve substantially.

Discussion

To discuss, ask questions or comment on this article please see the Webmaster Forums discussion about this article.

References

About the Author

Terry is a partner in SEO GhostLog group.