It’s 2017 (as of writing this), organic search is more important than ever, and has been around for quite some time. Yet businesses of all size still are lacking core and common practices for proper search engine optimization.
In a recent project we were supporting, a website had a domain authority above 80, but was missing title tags! They had rampant duplicate content, no programmatic rules in place for closing slash vs non closing slash, and lacked canonical tags. To most, those things may sound completely foreign, and while search engines have come a long way in recognizing information without webmaster’s help, there’s still such little attention paid to core elements.
This article serves as a resource for businesses of all sizes to ensure your site is setup properly from a search engines point of view.
Let’s start with the basics, a meta-title and meta-description. These 2 elements are shown within search results for a given page. Without a title and description, search engines are left to decipher and use page content as they see fit. With your input you can reinforce a page’s content.
Most CMS systems today allow for management of these 2 elements directly within the CMS; WordPress, Drupal, etc. Character considerations for these elements change based on search engines real estate devoted to the space, today these sit with restrictions of around 70 characters for your title and 160 characters for your description.
These attributes are visible designations of a pages structure, signifying headers of a page’s content in order and succession starting from H1 down to H6. Pages were previously structured around a single H1 but as pages and web properties have evolved it’s less important about quantity and more importantly focused around relevance and structure.
Implement support and relevant headers that reinforce the content. If you have a page on your site for “Men’s Wetsuits” it would be logical that this say that in some form, rather than “Shop Now” which adds nothing to the content of the page, beyond the fact of being a shopping site.
Search engines have trouble determining the content and focus of images, understandably so. If your images are labeled - as most are - like image2313.png instead of “mens short sleeve wetsuit”, the search engine will have a tough time defining the materials being shown.
There are a few attributes used to describe and define images, a commonly used element for search is the alt-attribute, we recommend using a similar description of images within the title, alt-tag, and file name for consistency. Beyond page reinforcement about relevance, images can rank on their own as well.
Page Copy and Content
This is commonly a less intense area of concern as a page’s content tends to get a bit more love. The main recommendation we give around page content is about value - did you just throw some decent content together and call it good or was time spent considering the user and how you could add value to their visit to this page. Answer unasked questions, provide value, and overall delight your visitor.
A very important, and commonly neglected area of focus is URL structure. Search engines view and rank pages individually. This means if you have a page at www.wetsuitsformen.com/products/?productsku11294 - even though this is a unique page within your site, the search engines don’t recognize it this way. That example is considered programmatic and could be a changing page due to the search result slug using the ?.
Keep it simple: URL’s should be flat (not dynamic as shown above), clean (even if not programmatic they should be free of random numerical and symbol attributes), and should be descriptive - we use a style referred to as breadcrumb style = www.wetsuitsformen.com/mens-wetsuits/.
The reference to programmatic rules simply means that you can’t account for all URL’s on your site with 1 to 1 redirects to catch all variations. Since not all CMS systems account for this you need to ensure you check and resolve if necessary. First, let’s check. Do you use www in your URL? Do you use a domain address like http://google.com? Do your sub-pages use closing slash? Have you decided on a preference? There’s really no right or wrong on what you choose, at the basic level - certain instances require more consideration - but just making a stance and going with it is the big step.
Once you decided or know with certainty that your prefernce is www.google.com and that any sub-page will have a closing slash like www.google.com/analytics/ then you should have a technology resource place programmatic rules in the htaccess file of the site to catch any request for the opposite or non-conforming calls. If someone were to request google.com it should redirect to www.google.com or if someone requested google.com/analytics it should redirect to www.google.com/analytics/
Once rules have been settled, you can support those rules and preferences with canonical tags - telling search engines that a particular URL is the preferred version of a page. An additional use case for canonical tags is when you intentionally have 2 or more variations of the same page, or exactly matching content on different URL’s - a canonical tags allows you to acknowledge the variations but also signify which is the version you want returning in search results.
There are plenty more items that should be in your arsenal of SEO tactics, even within the core on-page efforts, but this serves as a simple start to getting each page dialed in for SEO success.