Search engine optimization goes beyond choosing your keywords and scattering them throughout the content. Solid SEO is about smart placement of your most important words and phrases so search engines will understand everything from your article structure to image selection.
While the search engine’s crawlers are of great importance in your optimization practices, keep in mind that the human user plays a critical role here, as well. SEO can get you ranked on Google, but it’s the live individual who makes that final click. Using SEO properly will help you connect with the reader as well as the search engine for a well-rounded strategy that gets you the visits you want.
The most important heading on your page is the H1 at the top. This should introduce your visitor to the content to follow and accurately describe what your page is about. Though you should have other headings below, the H1 tag ranks highest among them. Make sure your heading includes your most important keywords and tells the reader what to expect. Avoid teaser headings that have no real substance, and never use a heading that’s not relevant to the content that follows.
Throughout the page, you should also use H2 headings to break up your content. These offer another valuable place to include keywords. H2 headings also improve your content’s flow, allow for easy scanning, and help outline the progression of the piece. Keep your headings concise and descriptive, and they’ll offer search engines a wealth of information about the content featured on your page.
Image via Flickr by Sean MacEntee
The title tag is the critical linked headline that shows up in search engine results. Google will use it to determine whether your page belongs in those results, and your potential visitors will certainly scan your title tag before deciding to grace your page with a click. The title tag might also appear in the header bar or tab of the visitor’s browser.
Your title tag should be no more than 70 characters long, including spaces. Include your most important keywords, and place these at the front of the tag. Separate keywords or phrases with a | symbol, not a comma or a dash. If your company’s name doesn’t show up in the title itself, you can include it at the end after this separator. A good title tag for a product page might read “Kitchen Spoons | Cooking Utensils | Kitchen Co.” For a news story, try “Fireman Saves 19 Cats | News Site.” Be descriptive and succinct for the best SEO.
Image File Names
When adding an image to your content, the first thing you should consider is the file name. Many images have nonsensical file names like CIML3716.jpg. If you’re storing thousands of images on your computer, you might find it easier to use your own alphabetical or numerical code to keep them straight. However, this is wildly ineffective for boosting your SEO.
Before uploading an image to your site, change the file name to something that’s clear, readable, and intuitive. Name the most important aspect of the image first. If you’re using an image of a picnic in Yellowstone National Park, begin with the park, as that’s the most distinctive aspect of the image. Yellowstone-National-Park-picnic.jpg is a clean image name that will help Google understand what’s in the image even before you get to the alt tags.
Image Alt Tags
Alt tags are the text a browser will display if your image fails to load or if the user has a screen reader. Every image should come with an appropriate alt tag that offers a clear description of what’s included within. Optimize these with keywords that will help Google better identify and index your photos, so they show up appropriately in searches. Keep in mind that an image search could lead viewers to your page just as readily as a search for the text on your page.
Your alt tag should be a single phrase that offers a detailed description of your image. Don’t use a smattering of keywords such as “dog, walking, pets, park.” Instead, choose a term that’s more descriptive, such as “man walking cocker spaniel dog in Central Park.” If possible, include keywords that are relevant to your page, but don’t force them or keyword stuff.
Your meta description appears beneath the page’s URL in search results. This critical snippet is likely one of the only things your potential visitor will see on a site like Google when they’re deciding whether to click on your link or select from one of the other search results on the list. Google does not use meta descriptions for ranking, so you’ll need to rely on your other SEO elements for that. However, even a highly ranked page won’t make it that last mile to a click-through if the meta paints an inaccurate picture of what’s ahead.
Keep your meta description between 135 and 160 characters in length, with complete and compelling sentences. Sum up your page as succinctly as you can using relevant keywords where possible.
Internal links create an intuitive path from one part of your website to another. Consider a brick-and-mortar megastore’s layout — you don’t find goods segregated into closed rooms behind a single door. Aisles and display areas flow smoothly from one category to another, with myriad ways to explore the building. Build your website in a similar manner, neatly linking one topic to all similar ones on other parts of your site.
Aim for three to five internal links per post. These will encourage deep search engine crawling and help solidify your site architecture. Make sure you’re using relevant keywords in the linked text to further improve indexing.
Using your keywords properly throughout these critical areas will improve your SEO significantly. It’s easy to focus on content and overlook these details, but a bit of quick coding can make a dramatic difference in your search engine rankings, delivering the traffic you’re after.