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SEO Report, Phase 2 – Page Elements Part 1

July 31st, 2014 by Erick Beck

Page content

Google uses over 200 factors in analyzing web pages. Page content is the single most important factor that search engines use when analyzing web pages and ranking them on the SERP. Google now places a great deal of importance on semantics and word relationships. That is, it tries to interpret the meaning of your entire page rather than simply looking for individual key terms. Therefore, you should write for your users and not for the search engine. If you build a page with good content that your visitors can easily use and understand, the search engines will also be able to understand what your page is about. Using lists and pictures interspersed within the text shows complex content that can be rewarded. Conversely, poor grammar and spelling (while not officially one of the factors that Google considers) do correlate to lower page rankings.

Over half of all searchers are looking for local information. Search engines have naturally started catering to those types of searches and look for clues within your pages that can be used to serve up location-based returns. It is therefore important for all sites, and perhaps even all pages, to include locational-based information such as address and phone number.

While search engines do try to account for the meaning of pages as a whole, they still must account for search queries being keyword based. You should therefore formulate a list of key words that you want to be known for and be sure to include them multiple times (but not too many) within your page. Like an English 101 essay, the main point of any web page should be spelled out at the top, so search engines give particular importance to key words that are in the first words.

Note, understand what this implies for long-scroll pages. Keeping content on a page centered on one topic makes it clear to the search algorithms what your page is about. Having multiple sections of content covering completely different topics dilutes your message and gives the largest weight to the content in the earlier sections.

Search engines generally reward for freshness. Keeping important pages regularly updates is therefore important. Old content can be perceived as stale content. Similarly, a fresh burst of links pointing to a page can be a sign of freshness and thereby provide a rankings boost. These combinations make blog news sites particularly powerful in elevating your message.

Title tag

After page content, the <title> tag is probably the most important factor under our control. Title tags should include your primary key word, and research has shown that titles starting with the key word slightly outperform those that simply contain the word. The W3C specification for the title tag recommends that it be less than 64 characters in length (Google will display 66 characters and then truncates even if it is in the middle of a word.)

The title tag is usually what gets displayed on the SERP, so make sure it is readable and makes sense on its own. Even if your page does not achieve top placement, a good title that can catch the eye is often just as effective even if it is further down the page.

Also make sure that all pages have a unique title that correctly describes the content of the page.

Meta description tag

Meta description tags are not heavily weighted in determining page rank, but they are nonetheless important in enticing users to click on your link instead of others on the SERP. This is the text that is shown underneath the page’s link on the SERP. The content here should be short, one or two sentences containing somewhere around 150 characters. They should be a concise description of the page’s content, ideally containing your chosen key words. Note how the example below is overly wordy and gets cut off without really conveying the heart of what we want to say.

Screenshot of an entry on a Google return page

Writing meta tags is often perceived as drudgery, but crafting the copy that goes into them is as important as writing the main page copy. High placement on the SERP isn’t going to help much if the title and description don’t grab the viewer.

Meta keyword tag

This was probably the most abused HTML tag in the early days of SEO. It no longer carries any weight in determining page rank. Keywords contained in this tag are fine, but past over-stuffing has led all major search engines to discount what we put there. That does not, however, mean the spiders don’t read the content, they just don’t give it any added weight. One good use of the tag, then, is to include elements (like common misspellings) that would be beneficial for the search engine to see and index but which you don’t want visible in your main content.

Heading tags

Heading tags – <h1>, <h2>, <h3> etc. – are a vital part of SEO. They give structure to your page and help organize content. Think of them as a page outline. Headers, being the equivalent of section titles, summarize the meaning of important content blocks on the page. Search spiders therefore look for key words appearing in heading tags, giving the most weight to those in <h1>, then <h2>, and so forth down the line.

Page URLs

Your page’s URL is its address on the internet. Having your keywords appear in a page’s URL is generally considered to be important in getting that page ranked in the search engines. While most of us click on links to navigate to a page now, and do not manually type URLs into the browser’s address box, the format of the URL is also important to determining search rank. Search engines use the content of the URL to help determine site structure as well as page content. Search engines here are no different from human users – creating a URL that is readable and concise makes it easier for the user to quickly understand what to expect on the page.

First, avoid passing parameters in the URL if possible. SEO researchers have shown that links with more than two parameters are often not spidered unless they are otherwise perceived as important links. Parameters allow the developer to pass information from one page to another. For example the link http://www.university.com/page.html?parameter=value&parameter2=value2 passes two values to the target page. Instead of using this structure, think of converting the application to a REST structure where the parameters are rewritten like directory names (http://www.university.com/parameter/value1/parameter2/value2. Most modern programming frameworks make this relatively easy.

The choice of characters used in the URL is also important. Blogging software does a good job of making descriptive URL names by simply converting the article title into a destination address. We can manually do the same so that the file name is a multi-word entity. Separating the file name into multiple words is preferable to running the words together with no space (fileName.html) because the search engines can recognize the individual words and act on them appropriately. Separate the words with a hyphen (-) rather than an underscore (_) or encoded space (%20). Google explicitly recommends the hyphen as the preferred word separator to make sure that it indexes each word independently.

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Thursday, July 31st, 2014 Search
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