How to Optimize a Website for Search Engines (On-Page SEO)
As the number of websites continues to grow, it’s more important than ever to make sure your site is standing out and showing up when people are looking for your business. This means knowing how to optimize a website for search engines. This isn’t too hard when people search for you using a branded term like “Coca-Cola” or “Pepsi”, but what is someone just searched “soda” (or “pop” for all you midwesterners out there). If someone is searching for words that describe your business, are you showing up in search engines?
Though the algorithm google uses is complex (reportedly incorporating over 200 different factors), the factors that it analyzes can be divided into roughly two categories: on-page factors and off-page factors. For now, we’re going to focus on how to optimize a website for search engines by focusing on the on-page factors of your site since that’s something you have control over, while off page factors are a lot more difficult to influence and control.
Site Level Factors
If you’re evaluating how to optimize a website for search engines, the first factor you want to look at is how you’re site is organized.
Site architecture has a significant impact on how search engines spiders crawl your website and thus how it’s ranked. The most important factor is to make sure that your site is set up in a pyramid format. That means your most important pages are the easiest to navigate too and your less important pages fall further down the website structure. The image to the right should give you a good idea of proper website structure. It features the home page at the top, followed by category-pages, sub-category pages, and finally individual product or informational pages. This is just a general rule, however. If you have a particular product or informational page that draws in a lot of traffic or produces a lot of sales, you want to make sure it’s easy to navigate to that page so you may want to move it higher up in the pyramid.
Targeted Anchor Text
Once you have established a good site architecture, you want to make sure you’re using targeted anchor text on your site. Anchor text is whatever the highlighted text is when you link to another website or another page on your own website. Google uses this as a ranking signal in it’s algorithm, so it’s important to make sure you’re linking to pages with the anchor text that you people will be searching for that page with.
For example, if I want people to find our internet marketing page by searching “internet marketing” then I want to use that as my anchor text. That means:
- Click here to visit our internet marketing page. = bad anchor text
- Visit our internet marketing page to learn more. = good anchor text
By linking to the page with anchor text that is descriptive of that page, it let’s search engines know what that page is about. Trying to do this with every link on your website can be overwhelming. I recommend using the most important keywords and pages that you identified last week then optimizing the anchor text to those pages. That will get you the most benefit and is a good place when you are figuring out how to optimize a website for search engines. It’s also something important to keep in mind as you add new pages or link to to other pages on your site.
The last site level factor to consider is the URL structure. Just like your anchor text, you want the URL to be descriptive of what the page contains. If you visit our internet marketing page (I’m killing it with good anchor text in this post!), you’ll see that the URL is “http://www.valeomarketing.com/services/internet-marketing/”. The keyword we are targeting for that page appears in the URL. URL structure can be highly dependent on what content management system you are using. If you’re not familiar with the backend of your content management system, talk to your developer about what can be done. If you do decide to change your URL structure, you MUST do the appropriate 301 redirects or you’ll lose all the value of the links currently coming in to your site.
Now that you know how to optimize a website for search engines at the site level, you need to start getting down into page level factors. Depending on the size of your site, optimizing every single page might not be feasible. Just as with my recommendation on optimizing anchor text, I recommend picking your most important pages and optimizing those first, then moving down from there. Remember that keyword research we did last time? Get ready to pull it on out, because we’re doing some on-page optimization!
In my opinion, the single most important factor factor for how to optimize a website for search engines is the text on each page. You may have heard the phrase, “content is king,” and there’s no doubt that’s true when it comes to on-page optimization. The content on your website needs to be optimized both for search engines and users. That means using your target keyword enough that search engines understand what your page is about, but not so much that it detracts from user experience. I usually aim for about one instance of the targeted keyword every 100 words of copy, but that’s not a hard and fast rule. It’s much more important the work be high quality than that it have the perfect number of keywords.
Beyond the on-page copy, there are a few more technical elements you’ll need to understand if you’re learning how to optimize a website for search engines. I won’t be diving in to the details of how to implement each of these as every content management system is different, so if you’re not familiar, talk to your developer or webmaster.
Your title tag is the second most important on-page factor, and compared to other factors, is extremely easy to implement. Your title tag is what users see when your website shows up in Google (see screenshot below) so it not only influences your rankings, but also how many people click on your site. In general you want to put your keyword at the front of the title tag and your brand at the end. That means the ideal structure is:
Targeted Keyword – Brand Name.
You have 70 characters to use in your title and I recommend using as many of them as possible, but don’t go over as you’re tag will be truncated and won’t look as good to users.
The next most important factor to look at is the meta description. The meta description is the small snippet of text that shows up under the title tag in search results and though it’s not very valuable in terms of rankings, it does affect how often users click on your site. Like your title tag, it should include the keyword your targeting (which will show up in build when a user searches for that term) and be compelling so that users will want to click through and visit your site.
Images – Alt-Tags
Images are the last on-page factor that we’ll look at and are important for a couple reasons. First, they make your content more interesting. Having a big block of text is really boring and users don’t really like it that much so images are essential to a good user experience. When you’re learning how to optimize a website for search engines, it’s important to optimize your alt-tags on images. Because search engines don’t know what an image is about, they rely on you to tell them ann they look to that alt-tag for the description. That means your alt-tags should be both keyword rich and descriptive without being spammy.
Now that you know about on-page optimization, go evaluate your website using the information in this article. you probably won’t be able to implement everything so focus on the big things that are easy to change:
- Use descriptive anchor text for linking within your site
- Make sure the Title Tag, Meta Description, On-Page Copy, and image alt-tags are optimized for your most important pages (use that keyword list from our Keyword Research article.)
- Review or take notes on the article, in the next article, we’ll be adding more content to the site so it’s important to do that in a SEO-friendly way.
Nice post. Well done! You know, there is a lot of mis- and dis-information out there about SEO. I guess that’s kind of the nature of the business. But your comments and recommendations are right on. IMHO! An important point, I think: the Google algorithm is constantly updating, but the core of the algorithm is still there and remains important. Build your site following the ‘rules’, be content-rich and relevant. And Google ranking will follow.
I agree, Mark – a lot of bad info floating around. That really is the nature of the beast, unfortunately!
Great post, Taylor – you hit the nail on the head!