On Site SEO – 12 Rules to Follow

As with many endeavors, the devil is in the details. Small things make a difference, large things matter. Stack them up and you are suddenly carrying some weight. Let me explain. As someone who has been involved in marketing and online since 1996, I probably take a lot of practices for granted. It isn’t until I am having discussions with others who are managing their own web sites and asking a few questions that some of the best practices come out.  There may be hundreds of factors that can have an impact on a pages rank and applying the best practices at the time the page is built should help in the short and long term. For those who are new to managing their own web site, or are new to the concept of search optimization and search marketing, you will soon learn that a pile of small details make a huge difference in your web site ranking results.

  1. Name pages in a logical way When naming a page you should use the content of the page to determine the page name. When you are viewing search results at Google, your eye will catch the URL.  If the URL reinforces the focus of the page you will be drawn to it visually. In addition to that, a logical page name will tell a search engine what that page is about. If I am writing a page about Buffalo SEO, I am not going to name my page page3.htm.  Instead, I will name the page buffalo-seo.htm.  The reason is two-fold.  Higher click through rate (CTR) when listed in the search results and adds weight to the keyword or phrase you are optimizing for on that page.
  2. Separate page names with hyphens rather than underscores This was debated for quite some time a number of years back. Search marketers would try to get an answer from the search engines regarding what the best separator to use between words when naming a web page. Well, a few years back, Google chimed in and said hyphens are better.  That became the standard once Google indicated a preferred separator.  It always seemed logical to me that the hyphen was a more natural word separator, but the underscore/hyphen separator debate went on for a number of years.
  3. Never use a space when naming a file Have you ever seen a page that included %20 in the name?  That would be due to the fact that the person naming the file had a space in their file name. When naming a local file (one sitting on your own PC) a space has always been fine. However, as everything moves online (to the cloud) spaces should be set aside. A separator should be used. As discussed above, use a hyphen. It is a natural separator that tells the search engine that these are separate words. A page on search marketing might be named search-marketing.htm.  This will help the engine (and your site) much more than search_marketing.htm or searchmarketing.htm.  In fact, in the past, certain browsers couldn’t even render files with spaces in the name.
  4. Name your images based on what is in the image For example: If I have a picture of Matt Cutts, I am not going to stick with an image name that was assigned by my camera.  P102314.jpg doesn’t do much for me. matt-cutts.jpg just might.  The more you can do to help the search engines deliver a result that their visitor expects to see, the better off things will be. Don’t try to game it. Name things logically.
  5. Alt tags When you have an image on your web site, you should include a value for the “Alt” tag of the image. Alt tags also help the search engine (and users such as those with image display turned off) to discover what an image is about. As with the image name, your Alt tag should describe the image. Rather than just the name, you could expand slightly. For example, for the image matt-cutts.jpg, your alt tag might be “Matt Cutts from Google” or “Matt Cutts Google engineer”.
  6. Title The title of your page is one of the more important elements to focus on.   When I refer to the “title” of your page, I don’t mean the name, or a visible portion of the page that your visitor will see, but rather the title that is encoded in the page.  Look to the bar (or tab) at the top of your browser. Do you see the words in the bar (or tab)?  That is the title.  This should be the area where you focus on what the page is about. If you are writing a page about Search Marketing, your title should reflect that. Your title should be descriptive without excessive use of “stop words“.  Many people, and companies, make the mistake of simply including their company name as the title.  It is the easy way out and doesn’t do much for boosting your ranking for a targeted search term.  Be descriptive in the title and be sure to stay on focus with the content of the page.
  7. H1 Tag (Heading) The H1 tag is often misused.  Often times, folks will use the tag to markup text because they want it to be BIG.  The real function that the H1 tag serves is to tell the search engines what the most important topic on your page is.  This topic should echo (but not duplicate) the topic used in your page Title tag.  H tags are H1 through H6.  They are sized based upon the number. 1 is the largest and carries the most weight. The main thing to remember is to hit your main page topic in this page
  8. Paragraph Content Your opening paragraph on a web page should be the area where you pick up on the topic of the page. Remember, we hit the topic in the “title” and in the “H1”, now we are going to reinforce that topic with our paragraph content.  Your writing should be as natural as can be for your first draft. Be sure you are writing for the user when you create the copy for your page.
  9. Canonical (non www) This may be an issue that eventually goes away but, for now, we still recommend that you redirect all visits to either the www version of your site (http://www.venturen.net) or the non-www version of your site (http://venturen.net). I have always been a proponent of the www version (dub-dub-dub / triple dub for short). You can also utilize tools such as Google’s webmaster tools to let them know that you prefer a particular version.  There is even a MAJOR sin with regard to the www issue.  There are still sites that exist in which there is no redirect to the www version if you go to the non-www version.  You are giving up a lot of traffic by being lazy and changing a simple setting with your host (or on your own server) to be sure that both versions resolve to the same site.  One thing to keep in mind is that you must do your redirects to the preferred version of your site via a 301 redirect. Any other is frowned upon and might hurt more than helping.  Here are a couple of resources regarding the 301 redirect.
  10. Related words (lexical) Google suggest | Keyword sandbox There are some who believe that supporting your content with words that are related to your core word, or phrase, will help support the topic of the page. I am a firm believer of this idea.  An example that I always use is one where I describe an article about car insurance.  I might include other words related to car or insurance. However, you should do so naturally. If I am writing the car insurance article, I might include phrases such as “it is our policy to allow for…”.  In this case, the word “policy” might add some “insurance” related weight to the page with an entirely different meaning. Don’t force it though. It still must be natural and the copy must be written for the user.  One of the best methods that I find to allow for the natural inclusion of related words is to read a list of the related words prior to writing my copy.  I typically use a site like LexFN.com to find a list of related words.
  11. Misspellings Done properly, not to deceive.  One of the more common methods that I can recommend to help capture a bit of the misspelling traffic is to make it clear that this is the misspelling. When referencing a name, I might state some of the more common misspellings are…  This one is a bit of a reach, but it can help to capture a visitor who is looking for something in particular and would be assisted by your reference.  Remember, at the end of the day, it MUST provide a better user experience and not try to “trick” the visitor or the engines.
  12. Pages supporting pages In my opinion, this is the one area where you can take a term up the search result page. Supportive content can do a lot to move a page up the rankings.  One of the ways that I will consult clients to understand when a supporting page fits is when they are writing copy and they don’t feel like something was described thoroughly enough, or that a section was to wordy for the page it was on.  This is a flag to create an entirely new page based on that sub topic.  This sub page will support the primary keyword or phrase and will provide a better informational source for your visitor.

The above list simply scratches the surface of optimizing a page. However, they are rules that you should put into practice on your web site anytime you are adding content to your site or revising existing content.  Following these basic rules will start you down the correct path and will do so in a way that will provide the best result for the visitor and will help a search engine to easily determine what your page/site is about.