Two Good SEO Articles

Kyle James, founder of doteduguru, analytics guru and consultant for HubSpot, made two really good posts the last few weeks about search engine optimization (SEO). His two articles deal with on-page SEO (the way to optimize the pages themselves for search engines) and off-page SEO (the way to optimize other parts of your site to direct people to the pages you want optimized).

His takeaways from the articles are as follows:

On-Page SEO

The five items that matter most for on-page SEO are page titles (make sure they are relevant and descriptive for the content of that specific page), URLs (they also need to be descriptive and relevant), semantic markup (using proper tags for header elements, etc.), meta descriptions (displayed on many search engine result pages {SERPs}) and meta keywords (these are not currently indexed by most search engines, but they can still help and it’s possible they will eventually make a comeback).

The bottom line is relevance. You need to make sure that all of the elements of your page are descriptive and relevant. Keyword stacking/stuffing is not really an effective practice anymore. You really need to make sure that your keywords, descriptions, titles, content and even your URLs are descriptive and relevant.

I would also like to reiterate the fact that, if you are not going to make sure your descriptions and keywords are relevant to each page, leave them out altogether. Empty keywords and descriptions are better than repetitive/duplicated keywords and descriptions.

Off-Page SEO

The four items that matter most to off-page SEO are link optimization (making sure you use internal linking effectively and, hopefully, that external people are linking to items on your site, optimizing anchor text (especially when it links to other pages on your own site, and that that anchor text is relevant and descriptive – no more “click here”) and deep linking (linking to pages deep within the architecture of your own site that otherwise might not be accessed very often).

The bottom line for off-page SEO is “links, links, links.” The more valid links lead to content on your site, the better off you are.

Other Basic Tips

In addition to what Kyle mentioned in these two articles, I would like to add a few other basic tips for search engine optimization. These additional tips are not meant to take away, at all, from the tips Kyle posted. They are simply intended to add my own spin on things I’ve found to be effective in optimizing your site for search engines.

Site Address

While the actual address of your Web site is not extremely important for search engine optimization (for instance, it doesn’t really matter if you choose “mywebsite.com” or “blahdeblah.com”), it is crucial that you set it up properly. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to use the “www” for your main domain or now, but you need to make a decision on the matter. If www.example.com and example.com both lead to the same place, you really should have one redirect to the other. In other words, if you choose to “prefer” the “www” prefix, anyone attempting to visit “example.com” should automatically be redirected to “www.example.com.” If you don’t redirect your visitors, Google will quite possibly index both addresses as separate Web sites, and penalize you for having so much duplicate content.

At the very least, be consistent when using internal linking, so that your links all lead to the appropriate address.

Site Maps

If you have a Web site with more than a handful of pages, you really should have an XML site map listing all of the pages on your site. Google (among other search engines) will occasionally refer to that site map to make sure it has visited each of the pages listed. This is especially important if you have not effectively practiced deep linking within the content of your site.

Redirects

If you set up redirects on your Web site, don’t list those pages in your site map. While Google won’t actually penalize you for listing the redirects, it will stop indexing those addresses, prompting you to instead put the final address of the page in your site map.

Duplicated Content

In some cases, it makes perfect sense to duplicate content across different pages of your site (for instance, a lot of the content on my site at work applies to both current students and prospective students). However, if you are going to do so, you should most likely only list one of those instances in your site map. Eventually, Google will penalize you for duplicating too much content.

Correct Status Codes

Probably one of the most important elements of SEO is to make sure that your status codes are correct. If a page is not found, your server absolutely needs to generate a proper 404 error code. If a page has moved, you need to make sure you implement the correct 30x-level error code. If a page does exist and loads properly, it is vitally important that it sends a 200 status code.

For people creating static Web sites with plain HTML, this is not anything you have to worry about. However, for developers and people using content management systems, blog platforms, etc., you really need to verify that the code is generating the correct status codes. The wrong status codes can be detrimental to your search engine rankings.

Fresh Content

The other most important thing for SEO is to make sure your content is fresh. If your Web site content never changes, Google will slow the pace of its indexing (or pretty much stop altogether). That is not to say that every page on your site needs new content all the time. However, you do need to consistently either add new pages to your site or change the content of your main pages on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Again, thanks to Kyle for posting his basic tips. They will take you a long way toward getting your site moved up the search engine ladder. At work, I have implemented many of these tips since unveiling the new version of our site. Our traffic has nearly doubled since this time last year and HubSpot’s Web site grader moved us from a grade around 85 to a grade around 98 (nearly 4 points higher than our two nearest competitors). I can only imagine how much we will continue to improve once I finish implementing the planned improvements I have.

According to Google Analytics, we are averaging approximately 115,000 visits from off-campus (using a filter that excludes all traffic that comes from internally-used IP addresses) each month and approximately 300,000 page views. While those numbers are not earth-shattering, they are substantial compared to our old numbers and when taken in context with the prevalence of computers and Internet usage in our service region.

The bottom-line for search engine optimization, however, will always be to optimize your site for human users. Make sure that your site is completely relevant, understandable and accessible to all of your human users, and the search engines will almost always fall in line behind it.

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One Response

  • Curtiss,
    Glad that you enjoyed the two articles! I do have more coming in this thread as I’m building my upcoming presentations on SEO by blogging the content, but you offer excellent additional tips.

    Just to really stick home your final point. YES, SEO is about usability and accessibility first. If you design your site to be user friendly and easy for ANY user to follow (including blind users, search bots, and following W3C standards) then you WILL be doing SEO the right way. There aren’t any secrets here it is just good solid web practices.

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