Keeping your site optimised for the search engines
A collection of SEO hints and tips
After the initial optimisation that we carry out on your site, unless you have signed up to one of our ongoing SEO support contracts, how your site performs in the search engines will be down to you…
SEO is complex, and is about getting a lot of small things right, but it all starts with getting your content right
There is no single SEO “magic bullet” that will get your site to page 1 of Google. SEO is complex, and is about getting a lot of small things right, but it all starts with getting your content right.
Adopting a consistent and correct method of adding and editing content in accordance with SEO best practices is essential, and following these hints and tips should help.
General points of good practice
- Understand and know the keywords and phrases that your customers or users might use to find not only the site, but specific products and services you provide.
- Keywords are not generally individual words but phrases consisting of combinations of words and complete phrases. This is particularly true for searches from mobile phones and home voice devices such as Alexa where people use 'natural speech' to search.
- Useful, informative, and unique content is the best starting point.
- Keep articles and content “on topic” – avoid trying to cover too much ground in one page as this dilutes the message of the page. Focus pages on relevant sets of keywords, and use additional pages if necessary.
- Try to keep page copy over 150 words if practical, and don't be scared of longer pages provided you stay on topic.
- Write for your users – don’t overstuff your pages with keywords. Make sure you include them, but also remember that it must read well for your users too.
- Use synonyms for keywords if your content reads as "keyword heavy" - search engines are now really smart about understanding the relationship between words of similar meaning, and synonyms can help provide context.
- Don’t duplicate content through the site unless necessary, and even then, try alternative wordings.
- Don’t copy anybody else’s content - there's a widespread falacy that duplicate content is penalised. That's not the case - there is no 'duplicate content penalty', but if you copy somebody else's copy the chances are the search engines have already seen it and will ignore your version of it.
- Use meta tags to describe the content of each individual page and section of a site, and do not repeat the same meta information throughout.
- Keep meta descriptions brief and to the point. Think of them as an advert and try and use them to encourage clicks, and make good use of key words and phrases to encourage the search engines to use your title and description rather than dynamically insert text from your page.
For Wordpress, the Yoast plugin is a 'should have' tool for helping manage both the title and meta description tag. In both Joomla and Wordpress, the <title> tag is auto-generated from the page/post title by default, so when creating a new article give it a title that meets the guidelines below. Give each article a unique title. The title alias/slug becomes the page URL (filename), and this is also important, so using the main keywords relevant to the page in both is highly desirable.
For Joomla, the sh404SEF extension goes well beyond the Yoast plugin for Wordpress, providing a whole suite of optimisation tools, and is highly recommended for serious SEO.
<title> tag – Title and Title Alias
The title tag is placed in the page <head> code, and is visible in browser title bar, and may be shown in search results. The title tag is still one of the most important individual page elements. There are two elements on the page which search engines view as being the most important in determining the content of a particular page: the <title> tag, and to a lesser extent the <h1> heading in the page body. Not unreasonably, search engines presume that site owners will prioritize the text in the title and headings on pages.
There is no absolute limit on the number of characters you can use in your title tag, but the search engines generally only display around 60 characters for titles, so keep it short, ideally focused on a single key phrase, with that phrase at the beginning. Don't succumb to the temptation of stuffing the title with additional keywords - that simply dilutes the importance of the main ones you want to target.
Add your site or business name at the end of the tag, and if relevant, a geographical target location. It doesn't matter if that results in slightly more than 60 characters, as it doesn't matter that the search engine will truncate the tag - what's important that the key message gets shown, and that your name and geo-target gets indexed in the title.
Avoid starting the <title> tag with "Welcome to.." or "Home page of.." as these waste valuable space in the search engine listing. You also want to show your main message or keywords to users in the title - think of it as an advert headline.
Hence an example of good practice for a company called Discount Travel might be:
<title>Cheap Flights - Discount Air Fares to Spain - Discount Travel</title>
And an example of poor practice would be:
<title>Welcome to the home page of Discount Travel Ltd</title>
All metatags are contained in the page <head> code. They are not visible to visitors (except through View/Source), but may be shown as snippets in search results. The content of the description metatag only counts a very small amount in search engine ranking algorithms (not at all in Google).
As the description counts such a small amount towards the relevancy score of the page, but may be displayed in search results, it is generally more important that the description “sells” the site to encourage searchers to click on the result, than it is to be optimised for key terms, so write meta descriptions with the aim of encouraging searchers to click on your link.
For example: “Cheap flights and discount air tickets for all European destinations: Spain, Tenerife, [etc…]”
In this case “Cheap flights” and “discount air tickets”, along with the headline (the title) are the bait to entice the searcher to click.
As with the title tag, the meta description should be specific to each page, and not be repeated throughout the site. It's also worth noting that both the meta title and description are chosen by the search engine, not you! They will generate either or both from any part of the page content to better match the search term used, and if that means discarding or only displaying part of your meta data, they will.
The principle search engines now ignore the content of the keyword tag because of widespread abuse in the past. However, some CMS internal search tools still use keywords , so sometimes it can be beneficial to use relevant keywords not already included in the page text to improve the internal searchability of the site.
The text in headings is considered more important, so <h> tags should always be used for page headings (<h1>, <h2> etc), not paragraphs styled as headings.
There is endless debate about the "Semantic Web" hierachy of heading tags. Advocates of the semantic web insist that headings should be hierarchical with only one <h1> heading, used as the first heading, then with the other headings (<h2>, <h3> and so on) used in descending level of importance down the page. In practice, this is often impractical, but we would normally still recommend only a single <h1> heading first, then afterwards the use of the lesser headings to organise page sections and improve readability.
Try and use keywords relevant to the overall focus of the page in the <h1> heading, then keywords relevant to each section in the subsequent headings. If the subsequent headings are not relevant to the main heading, you should perhaps consider whether you need to break the page up into multiple pages to retain the focus on the target keywords.
Image alt tag
The image "alt" (alternative) tag text is displayed in lieu of the image if it is not available, and should always be used to help provide information for text-only browsing, and is particularly important to meet disability access requirements. It also provides information to search engine bots and is yet another of the contributing factors for the correct the indexing of the page. Use of alt tags also helps the ranking of images in the image search results.
Alt text should be limited to a description of the image, although this does not mean that you cannot include some relevant keywords, provided you don’t overdo it. Keep it concise but informative, and remember it may be visible to site visitors as well as search engines, so don’t just use a list of keywords. The maximum word count should be approximately 15 words, but ideally less.
For example: alt=“Photo: the X Keyword.”
Other aspects of good practice
In simple terms, make sure your site content is logically organised and that users can easily navigate to each page. Important pages should be linked from menus.
When linking pages together, try and use link text containing keywords relevant to the destination page: for example, don’t use:
“For information on our XYZ, click here”
Instead use something like:
“information on our XYZ keyword” or “More information on our XYZ keyword”
This is because keyword text in Inbound Links (IBLs) helps search engines with the context of the target page. This applies to both internal (pages within the site) and external site links. Where possible get people to link to your site using text in this way.
Link titles can also help. These display a text tip box for the link when the mouse passes over. This is particularly important for images which are links, or for where it is not practical to use link text as suggested above, as the link title also helps determine the relevance of a link to the destination page.
Links from other sites are still important for improving ranking, particularly for Google. You should try and encourage people to link to pages on your site. Blogging and promoting blog posts can be good for this, as is a concerted media / PR campaign. The emphasis should be on building quality links from pages or sites that have relevance to your own. Old fashioned unrelated directory links are fairly worthless, and may even harm your ranking. Your customers or suppliers can be a good source of relevant links as well as trade magazines and relevant trade directories.
There are still many "black hat" link farms in existence; these are considered "toxic" and WILL negatively impact on your ranking, so be selective when trying to gain links. Link spam is a real killer for your rankings. As a general rule of thumb, buying links should be avoided, as these are very likely to include the exact wrong type of links, and it can take a long time (and be an expensive process) to restore and recover if your link profile is corrupted with toxic links.
If you are serious about SEO, you MUST be measuring the results of your efforts. We offer a full SEO reporting service, SEO Watch, that will track your results for selected keywords, monitor competitors, and comes with a full suite of tools such as keyword research to identify the best keywords to target, competitor analysis, traffic analysis, identifying technical and optimisation issues, social media and link identification and monitoring.