No Shortcuts to the Top - Strength Training For Your Website: Step-by-Step On-Page SEO, Part 2
June 12, 2015 • Scott Zeller
One of the strangest attempts on record to climb Mount Everest was in 1934 by Maurice Wilson, an eccentric Englishman, who planned to climb Everest after flying to the mountain in a plane, crashing it on the upper slopes, and then climbing to the summit. He knew nothing about mountaineering or flying. So Wilson quickly learned to fly a plane, spent a few weeks hiking around Britain, then launched his plan.
On May 22, 1934, with very little training, and no climbing equipment, he crashed his plane, but failed on his attempt to scale the summit. On May 31, his last entry in his diary read, "Off again, gorgeous day." His frozen body was found a year later in the snow, surrounded by his blown-apart tent.
The moral of the story is there are no shortcuts. If you want make it to the top of the mountain, you have to train your body, have the right equipment, put in the work and dedicate yourself to achieving your goals.
And that's where we'll pick up this week, continuing our discussion about on-page SEO.
So let’s quickly recap the discussion so far. In our last post, we started by running a quick audit of our website to gauge where our domain authority is, as well as any other on-site variables that may need to be optimized. Some of the important variables that may be affecting your SEO include site speed, keyword inclusion, content, and technical aspects (or coding that is consistent with current best practices).
If your site is set up in Wordpress, as more and more are these days, then I recommend adding the Wordpress SEO by Yoast plugin. It is the easiest and most effective plugin that I’ve used personally. And it comes highly recommended by many in the industry, and it’s the least “buggy” of all the SEO plugins. Some of the other plugins can really disrupt your design and layout, and really cause a lot of errors. And based on the template you're using, while I’m not saying Yoast won’t cause some issues, it’s the least likely to do so from what I’ve experienced. So that’s the one I recommend. Once you’ve installed Yoast, then read through THIS DOCUMENT to effectively optimize your site. Then you’re ready to move on to your off-page SEO, which includes building links, creating and sharing content, and engaging with your audience.
If your site is NOT in Wordpress, then you may have to defer to your developer for the technical part of this. But I’ll do the best I can for the rest of this discussion to explain exactly how to get started, and the key aspects in which to focus.
With every webpage on your site, within the source code, you basically have two sections: the <head> and the <body>.
Think of the head section as the brains of the webpage. It tells the body what to do, and how to behave for the user in the web browsers and on the devices (phone, tablet, etc.). The body section contains the viewable content for the webpage, while the code that’s contained within the head section is not viewable. The head section contains the style sheets (CSS), directives, and references. It also contains the meta tags, which is what we’re going to focus on first with our search engine optimization. Specifically, it contains the two most important meta tags on the page: the title tag and the description tag.
The title tag is the first piece of data that the bots will extract from your page. Therefore, it is the most important. The title tag is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the title specifically for that page, and should match the content in the body. The meta description is a quick summary of the content. Both the title tag and the description tag should contain your keyword. But don’t stuff your keywords. That’s old school SEO, and doesn’t apply to modern day SEO. In fact, it will get you penalized. Make your title tags and descriptions brief but easy to read. Make each one unique, and you want to place your keywords as close to the front of the copy as you can. In other words, don’t bury your keywords in the description. One more thing, remember when I said you have to be brief in your tags? Your title tag needs to be between 50-70 characters, and your description tag needs to be no longer than 155 characters. The bots will only read so much of your information, and they’ll truncate the rest.
To make this technical part a bit easier, download THIS IMPORTANT TOOL. It’s the Moz Web Developer’s SEO Cheat Sheet, and it’s a must-have for every SEO toolbox.
When creating your title tags for each page, you want to include the keyword that most describes the content of that page. For example, if you’re describing the best way to repot your tomato plants in the content of a page, then your title tag should match:
<title> Repotting Tomato Plants</title>
Then your description tag should follow:
<meta name="description" content="When repotting tomato plants, …">
Pretty straight forward, right?
If your business is local (such as a service business), include your city and state in the title and description tags. If you have a national or international business, it’s not as important. And try to include the name of your business, if possible. Because from a marketing perspective, this is what the user is likely to see in the search engine results pages (organically). So you want the title and description tag to serve like a text ad, marketing the page content to the user (see below).
Once you have all of your title tags and descriptions in place, the next thing I want you to focus on is your ALT tags in the body of your pages. Basically, ALT stands for alternative text, and it refers mainly to your photos, images and pdf documents on your site. When the bots crawl your site, they can’t see those images. So they rely on your ALT tags, or that attached text, to tell them what that photo is. You can incorporate keywords when possible, but don’t force it. If it’s a photo of a jet in the sky, then don’t try to incorporate “tomato plants” into the ALT text. The two are totally unrelated, so don’t do it. Plus, from a user perspective, not everyone will be able to see all of your photos in their browsers and on their devices. And if your photos don’t download, they’ll see the ALT text. And if your photo of a jet in the sky says “tomato plants”, you’re going to confuse them. And that’s not good.
So you want to add ALT tags to all of your photos, images and pdfs.
Next, you want to look at your H1 tags. The “H” stands for headline, and many of your pages will only have an H1 tag. H2, H3, and so on are subheads. You want to be sure to include your keywords in the H1 tag, or your main headline. Whenever possible (and applicable), include in your subheads too.
So now we have a foundation built for our on-page SEO. If you feel like jumping ahead to see where we’re ultimately going with all this, jump over to backlinko’s infographic on the anatomy of a perfectly optimized page.
We still need to discuss our URL structure, canonicalization, navigation, and content. And speaking of content, we’re going to hold that discussion for next time, so we can really dig into it.
So join me back here next week, where we'll discuss such things as how to create great content, the Rule of 5, the rise of Context, and the battle for king of the mountain.
Also feel free to submit questions and comments on the social networks, and I'll get to them as soon as I can. Have a great week, and we'll talk again soon.
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