There are two big critical components of a sound search engine optimization (SEO) plan:
- You need your website and its pages and posts to be solid in terms of “onpage” factors like content, titles, tags, categories, etc.
- You need to have a lot of people talking about you and your content.
Sounds too simple, right? Well, when you think about just how much goes into SEO and the hundreds of factors that Google takes into account just for the 2 items above, it doesn’t sound so simple, does it?
It’s really a mindset thing, actually. You can mired in the details, or just go for it! Once you get #1 down to a habit, move on to #2. But think about hiring somebody to do your offpage SEO stuff. It, too, is fairly simple, but you may not have enough hours in the day, or you may have more money than time. Either way, hire a competent pro.
What is “Onpage SEO” and how do you do “it?”
Onpage SEO consists primarily of 10 things:
- Content, including compelling calls to action
- Meta description, including Google Authorship
- Tags & Categories
- Images with proper alt text and/or video with good meta data
- URL / permalink
- Text style (yes, we’ll get to this)
- External sharing, mentions, or linking encouragement, aka “engagement” – some SEOs may consider this “offpage,” but there is a distinction
- Site load time
We won’t hit each of the above in any great detail, but we will cover them briefly below.
“They” say “content is king,” and “they” are right. You must write compelling content that is relevant, timely, and engaging. And all that content you write must lead your reader to taking an action.
Your headline is what gets people to read your content. It’s also the title of your post when it displays in search engines. Do this wrong–and nobody will ever read what you publish. Do this right and you’ll never have a problem with readership.
This is most likely the most overlooked element in all of onpage SEO. Your meta description is that tiny blurb underneath your post title on the search engine results pages (SERPs). That little bit of text often is what gets a searcher to visit your page from Google.
Add in the thumbnail of your profile picture in Google+ and you’ve got an even more powerful reason for searchers to click on your link, rather than somebody else’s.
Tags & Categories
If you use a “blogging” platform like WordPress (highly recommended, by the way), then you will want to make full use of tags and categories. Align your categories with your 5-10 primary keywords that your website is all about and use tags for more detailed searches. Often, tags and categories pages get ranked in Google a lot faster than individual pages. And it makes sense–your category page for “bass fishing” contains all of your posts about bass fishing, so it’s already on the path to an “authority” destination for searchers interested in bass fishing.
Images & Videos
The old saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is probably totally incorrect! Pictures are worth thousands of words if chosen right. Use a picture or video in every single piece you publish and tag them appropriate with “alt text” and other meta data so that the search engine bots know exactly what is there (because they can’t tell what images or videos are–yet). Images and especially videos keep your reader on your website longer, too (one of the 200 factors Google looks at when indexing and ranking websites).
URLs & Permalinks
Make sure that your page URLs contain the keywords you want that page to rank for. Do this by choosing a permalink structure like so:
- http://yourdomain.com/yourpagetitle, where your page title includes your keywords
Yes, style matters. Bold, italics, and color all make a difference, as do headings and paragraph styles. Bullet points are critical, too, as is whitespace. The key here is to get readers’ eyes to follow down the page (i.e., at least scan your words, if not fully reading all of them) to the point where your strong call to action is. Your call to action should stand out, too.
Every one of your published pages and posts should incorporate linking, both internal and external. Internal linking should be in two forms:
- In context – right in each post, link internally to other content on your site that reinforces or expands on a point your are making
- At the end, in a “related posts” type of list – link to other posts that your reader may be interested in that are related to the post they are reading right now
These links give your reader more information about a topic as well as keeping them on your site longer.
Linking out to other sites used to be taboo. Not any more. At all. Follow along here.
The way the SEs (search engines) think about this is the same as how the real world works. When I was in retail, I often referred people out of my store to another store that carried what the customer wanted. I knew I’d lose a percentage of customers to the new place, but I also knew that I was building loyalty and trust and the next time they needed something that I might sell, they would most likely come back to me rather than return to the store to which I referred them.
Google and Bing both look at these outbound links as you–the publisher–making an attempt to be helpful to your reader and to add value. There is NO penalty for linking out to good websites. Note that linking out to bad websites is a really bad idea.
That’s a big “Duh!” right?
The SEs are putting more and more emphasis on “social signals” – who is liking, sharing, or commenting on your content and on your linked social media accounts (think specifically Google and Google+). You have to not only make it easy for your readers to like, share, and/or comment on your content, but you have to encourage your readers to do so.
If you use WordPress, there are dozens of various plugins that allow you to easily place social sharing buttons on your pages and posts. If you don’t use WordPress, just make sure that you or your webmaster place the code where appropriate.
Note that part of this (when people link back to your site) is really offpage SEO (see what I did there?). But the user engagement you want to encourage your readers to do is like your content (a “like” on Facebook or a “+1” on Google+, for example), share your content, or make comments on your content.
Site Load Time
Now, site load time isn’t really an SEO “thing.” It’s more a function of loading as little code and compressing your image files as much as possible so that page load times are very fast. Nobody wants to wait for 10 seconds for a webpage to load. That reader will leave in frustration.
Now that you know the basics of onpage SEO, you can improve your own website’s SEO in just a few easy steps simply by concentrating on each of the above factors for a few minutes at a time.