SEO For 2013 & Beyond: SEO Made Simple For Beginners (2013)
Chapter 4. KNOWING THE SEO BASICS
Designing Website That Serves
You may have observed that the main Google search page is very simple, bland and ordinary, and has remained more or less the same all these years. For Google, it’s ‘less is more’, and for good reasons.
Let me discuss some points below to understand the issue of minimalist approach to a website design.
In Ten things we know to be true4.1, Google says, “Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly.”
Earlier, Google used to maintain4.2 that:
It aims to create designs that are useful, fast, simple, engaging, innovative, universal, profitable, beautiful, trustworthy, and personable. Achieving a harmonious balance of these ten principles is a constant challenge.
In this SEO Book article, You Aren't Average4.3, the author gives the example of a survey of 50 people in New York Times Square in April 2009, wherein less than 8% knew what a browser is.
He suggests 2 very important points:
1. When designing a site, make it stupidly easy to use
2. Make the thing you do obvious
Though we are still at the beginning of this chapter, I will nevertheless ask you to read this highly relevant article, 8 Things Website Owners Can Learn From Gordon Ramsay4.4. It will set the stage for your role as a search engine optimizer for your web business. Many of the issues in the article are covered in this book in due course.
I take you through these instances, coming as some of them do from none other than Google itself, to stress the ‘fact’ that websites with simple yet elegant designs perform better. It is like – to take the example of Google’s homepage – having only one exit in a room so that when anyone enters he just does not miss how to leave the room.
Having made the point above, let me admit that many small website owners are too eager to use every inch of the page real estate with an eye on earning more money mainly by displaying ads. The irony is too much of ads and other contents easily distract the viewers, and that may result into their leaving the page too soon.
Hear the golden advice from Ken Evoy’s SiteSell on how to build any business online4.5:
Web users search for information, for solutions. They are not looking for you - they don't know you (yet!). They seek what you know. Give it to them. Convert your knowledge into in-demand Content. To succeed online, start where they start - at "the search."
Ken’s suggestion is simple. He stresses on the need to follow the model, C > T > P > M, where ‘M’ or monetization comes last.
The C, T, and P stand for Content, Traffic, and Pre-sell. Ken says that it is the content that brings traffic, and when sufficient traffic comes, the time is ripe to pre-sell your product.
According to Ken:
"M" cannot happen if you fail to first execute C > T > P. This is where 99% of small businesses fail.
If you follow the logic thus far, you may appreciate why simple yet elegant website design always serves better. As the author of the SEO Book article above says:
“Your website design should ask nothing more of the user than a car does. Assume nothing, other than the user will point and click something obvious.”
The key lesson is therefore to take a discerning view and strike a balance between what is really needed to be there in your website versus what can be omitted for the sake of simplicity.
Making Page Navigation Evident & Easy
Going by the underlying logic in the previous section, it will be apparent that the navigation from one page to another in your website ought to be made simple, evident and easy to notice. This makes the job of a first-time visitor to your website simple, making him feel welcome and comfortable during his stay.
The Importance of Page Title
The page title is usually the only element that appears unchanged in the search listings. It is the first and the only important parameter that enables a new viewer to decide whether your webpage is worth visiting and spending time in.
Page title is enclosed within the pair of title tag (<title> and </title>), and extends to about 65-72 characters depending on search engines in the search results before it is cut off. Let us look at some points as to the importance of page title:
· Search engines use the page title as the heading of each search listing.
· When a webpage is open, the page title appears as the window title on most browsers.
· If the page is bookmarked (Ctrl+D), the page title becomes the name of the bookmark.
· When several tabs are open in a browser, then the first few words of the page title show up as the label for the tabs not being currently seen. Once again when you move the mouse on the tabs/windows that are not open, the full title floats up in a separate box.
Here are some important features for the page title (refer this article4.6):
· The page title should be no more than 66 characters long.
· It should preferably be made of one or two complete sentences.
· Avoid using special characters like dash, colon, etc.
· The keyword(s) of that page should be included in the page title.
· The keyword(s) should be placed as close to the beginning as possible.
· Attempt some sort of ‘call to action’ in the page title, or at least something that has the power to lure your viewers.
· It is better to avoid the name of the website or the company in the page title, unless you are consciously building up a brand. For most small businesses, brand building is not usually a priority. So, keep away from wasting precious space in the page title.
· Do not use the same page title for any 2 pages. They must be different for different pages. Search engines may not like several web pages having the same title.
Let me now give the example of page title of the homepage in my online video production website:
Learn Online Video Production. Make And Mix 5 Types Of Web Videos.
Check out if this page title satisfies all the features mentioned above.
Is Meta Description Necessary?
There are conflicting views on the need of meta description in the head section of your page HTML, but let us get it from the horse’s mouth.
In this 2009 blog post, Google does not use the keywords meta tag in web ranking4.7, Google’s Matt Cutts lets out the following:
Even though we sometimes use the description meta tag for the snippets we show, we still don't use the description meta tag in our ranking.
That may be true but in some cases Google is likely to use the description meta tag as it is, as shown in the following example (Figure 4.1).
As you can see the meta description in the search result is exactly as that in the page HTML. This may be because the search term is the same for which the page is optimized.
In other cases, for example in Google Alert, some results often show up when the chosen keyword (for sending the alerts) keyword matches with the title and also the meta description of a webpage.
If you write a blog, then the RSS feed of the posts also carry the meta description as the page description. Looking at all these factors, let me draw the following conclusions:
· Google does not consider meta description for ranking purpose. This may presumably be because a page can likely rank for other search terms than what it is optimized for, and in that case Google will randomly select snippets from the page instead of meta description.
· Search results for the exact term that a page is optimized for may likely show the unaltered meta description.
· In the case of Google Alerts, the meta description may likely show up as the main description for the page included in the alert. In case of RSS Feed, the meta description is usually the main description for the blog posts.
It is therefore a good idea to include meta description for all the pages in a website. While doing so, the following important points may be kept in mind:
1. Most search engines usually show up to about 150-161 characters in the meta description including spaces. Anything beyond is truncated. Try to keep yours within that limit.
2. As with the page title, include the keyword phrase for that page right at the beginning of the description, say within the first 3 words.
3. Keep the meta description short, to-the-point, and possibly include some call-to-action.
4. Both the page title and the meta description should unfailingly reflect the page content. If the content differs a lot, the viewers may feel ‘cheated’ which is not a good thing.
The Main & The Sub Headings
Headings and subheadings visually show readers how your ideas are organized within your text. Each heading should accurately tell readers what each section covers.
The above guideline is given at the Writing@CSU project4.8 of the Colorado State University. Though this guideline is for general awareness, its importance applies for a webpage also.
Headings are usually denoted by the tags H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, and H6. As the logic goes, a page should have one main heading at the top of the page to be represented by the H1 tag (<H1>…</H1>).
This main heading sets the tone for the entire content of the page, and a surfer, having earlier seen the page title and possibly the meta description of the page in the search results, will easily understand what to expect in the page when he visits it.
While the H1 tag is used just once in a webpage for the main heading, you must use the hierarchically lower headings tags like H2 or H3 for the subheading of each group of contents, coming as they do, later in the page under the main heading.
Similar to page title and meta description, include the keyword phrase in the main heading, and preferably in sub-headings as well. Once again, the keyword phrase in the beginning of the heading is always a good idea.
Thus, if ‘online video’ is my keyword phrase, then the main heading
Online Video Is The Next Big Thing
is surely better than the heading
The Next Big Thing To Hit The Internet Is Online Video.
As a reputed web marketer once said:
Headings offer important clues to the search engines... Since headlines often contain important hints to the content of the webpage, search engines take note of any keywords found here.
Using Keywords Naturally
How important is keyword for your webpage? There can be many ways to answer this question, but let us have it straight.
Sage Lewis points out in this article4.9:
If you want to come up in the search engines, in the natural search results, you have to use the words your potential visitors are using to search for your company. It's just that simple. You can't come up in the search engines for phrases you don't use on your site.
Having said that what is often misunderstood is the concept of using keyword in the body text of a page. Undue weightage on keyword usage may lead to its overuse, rendering the content unreadable.
I’ve tried to explain this phenomenon in the following clip art (Figure 4.2).
As I’ve explained in the section, 2 Main Pillars of Any Website, in Chapter-2 (Figure 2.3), the contents you write in a webpage are for the consumption of both the search engines and more importantly, the visitors who come to your website looking for information.
Isn’t it then obvious that your page content has a judicious mix of keyword at strategic places so as to please both?
Karon Thackston, the copywriting expert, observes4.10:
It doesn't take a boatload of keyphrases shoved here, there and everywhere to make good search engine copy. In fact, that's the recipe for disaster when writing optimized text. Why? Because you have a dual audience: the search engines and, most importantly, your site visitors. Not recognizing this fact is one of the biggest mistakes made with SEO copywriting.
What follows then is that you’ve to use keywords in your page copy, but you cannot afford to make it unreadable with excessive usage. You have to use keywords naturally so that no eyebrow is raised when one reads the copy.
Let me show you an example of how cleverly Karon uses keywords in the page copy. For the keyword phrase, discount office supplies, here is her take:
Whether you're stocking up on Post-it notes or redecorating your lobby, you'll find everything you need at a deep discount. Office supplies, furniture, accessories and more are available at wholesale prices direct to the public. Because we buy in bulk, we pass the savings on to you through a members-only discount.
Office supplies have never been so affordable! Contact us today for complete details on joining the XYZ Office Supplies member program.
Notice that at 2 places she has used the keyword phrase split in 2 consecutive sentences, and in one case the second sentence comes in a new paragraph.
This goes to show that it is possible to write your page copy cleverly to meet the twin purpose of satisfying both the search engine and the visitor. All of this depends on the skill of the person who writes the content.
Website owners are prone to overlook the importance of good content, stressing instead on good web design at the cost of hiring a skilled copywriter. This is a fundamental mistake because of the simple reason that search engines rank pages in the results based on their contents, and not how the pages look like.
More on the importance of content is covered in the section, Creating Contents That Work.
Keyword in Page URL
There is a lot that goes in the name of SEO, and a lot that doesn’t. Some concepts are debated hotly, and experts come out with opinions on either side of the fence. Keyword in page URL is one such.
Jill Whalen of HighRankings.com believes that keywords in page URL have no use. In an article of 2007 she says4.11:
I would highly recommend *not* changing your URLs at all. It is a common misconception that keywords in URLs are somehow helpful to search engine rankings, when in reality, they have very little (if any) effect on rankings.
To take an exactly opposite view, here is what Google’s Matt Cutts has to say4.12:
Other things that we use: things in the title, things in the URL, even things that are really highlighted, like h2 tags and stuff like that. So if your blog has p=123, you are massively missing out on opportunity to put a few keywords, not keyword stuffing, just a few keywords in your URL.
So Mattcutts.com/blog/samplepost -- it works pretty well. If you want to throw in the date, feel free, but make sure that you put the title and the keywords in your URL in some way.
Which of the 2 should you follow? In my considered opinion, follow Matt Cutts’ advice. It’s not only that his advice is according to how Google looks at things. That may be a big reason. But there is a common sense to it as well.
Take the example of a blog post in Wordpress. It takes the post title automatically as the page URL. And since it is likely that the keyword for that post will be in the post title, the same is also represented in the page URL.
In his article on SEO versus SEF (search-engine-friendliness), Mark Jackson is fairly forthright. According to him4.13:
Not every website that has a good URL structure is search engine "optimized." A good URL structure might be defined as something that resembles this:
A poor URL structure (for search engine "friend-liness") would be something like:
Yes, the above example of "bad" comes from an actual top Internet retailer's website.
In the design and content guidelines for webmasters, Google does say4.14:
If you decide to use dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a "?" character), be aware that not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages as well as static pages. It helps to keep the parameters short and the number of them few.
So…if you include keyword in page URL, how much does it help? Does it guarantee top rank in search result?
Well, the truth is that just one factor does not make any significant impact in search engine ranking. It’s the coming together of many other factors that present a combined strength to boost the chance of a webpage ranking well in the search results.
Keyword in page URL is just one of them.
Making Content Easy To Read
Simple website design is too often felled at the altar of eagerness to earn more money. For small website owners, there is sometimes the overwhelming need to generate revenue from the space in the page, and that may lead to neglecting the contents in that page.
This is unfortunate because the search traffic comes for the page content, and not for clicking on ads present in the page. If the viewer likes the content, and stays back for a couple of minutes more, then and then only the chance arises of his clicking on the ads in the page.
The clue to generating revenue from your webpage lies basically in increasing the stickiness of the page for the visitors so that they are sort of ‘compelled’ to spend more time. This is possible by having quality content in the page (covered in the next section), and making it easy to read.
So what are the main issues to ensure easy-to-read page content? Thomson Chemmanoor in his article has spelled out 10 Common Content Usability Mistakes on a Web Page4.15.
Let me excerpt some of the main ones to which I’ve added one or two:
1. Clear and Descriptive Heading – Most people online just scan the text than read the entire content. So the heading or title of the page plays a major part in the content structure.
2. Content above the Fold – Your most important content or the content that you want your users to read should be above the fold because it is where the screen cuts off the web page. Also the chance of the reading the content below the fold is less.
3. Consistency of the Font and Color – All major content element of your website like heading, sub heading and content should have similar font and color.
4. Using of Emphasis and Bold – This should be used very carefully. Bolding and Emphasis a text is to attract attention to the user but overdoing this can kill your content and turn the visitors away.
5. Using Bulleted List – This usually is a sure winner. Bulleted list attracts viewer’s attention faster than without.
6. Readability of the Content – Readability make the page easy to read and inviting and pleasurable to the eye. Spacing (padding) of the text is very important usability issue of a website.
7. Too Much Content – Don’t put too much of content in one page. Online visitors don’t read too much of content. They want to know what you can do for them and how to contact you for their requirements.
8. Alignment of Text – Alignment provides the structural framework of a content design. The most common practice is to align the content text to the left.
Creating Contents That Work
It may have occurred to you that Wikipedia, the ‘free encyclopedia’ as the website proclaims, is usually in the top 10 most visited websites in the entire Internet.
Spare some thoughts and you’ll realize that the popularity of Wikipedia is on the account of exceedingly relevant and useful contents the site contains.
Wikipedia is an exemplary example. But take any other content-heavy website, like those of the newspapers or even the article marketing sites, and you’ll most likely find them heavily visited by viewers.
Talking of web content, I recall an article by Todd Friesen, You Don't Deserve #14.16. Todd said:
So what is the secret to SEO success now? I believe it's the value-add I mentioned earlier. That gives me something to work with. It gives social media a chance for success. It gives natural link building a kick-start. It gives users a reason to bookmark the site. It gives users a reason to share the site with others. It gives you a reason to deserve to rank.
Todd’s idea of value-add amounts to contents that ‘honor’ the time spent by a visitor to a page by giving him something worthy in return. This can be solid, unbiased information (as in Wikipedia), or the right kind of goods or service that is expected by the visitor.
Matt Cutts of Google gives a similar advice in his article, SEO Advice: Writing useful articles that readers will love. He says as much4.17:
In the last week someone wrote and said “I want you to talk about SEO, and don’t give me any of that crap about good content.” I’m going to beg to differ.
So this is a clarion call to all small website owners about the need of good quality, relevant contents in the site. But then, will only good content meet your SEO target?
Stoney deGeyter of Search Engine Guide doesn’t think so4.18. He is very clear that It Isn't Good Content Unless it's SEO'd Content.
I hope these examples give you a fair idea about the need of quality content in your website that gives something of real value to the visitors, and at the same time signal the search engines about the relevance of the content with respect to the search terms that the visitors want information for.
Remember, having good content is not a one-off affair. It’s an ongoing process, and each time you create a webpage you have to ask yourself the question, “Does the page offer something unique to the visitors?”
If the answer is an honest ‘yes’, feel assured that your visitors will find value in it.
Internal Links between Pages in a Website
Internal linking, or links among the pages of your website is an important factor for good SEO. You have full control over how and where to place those links, and also include keywords, rather keyword variations, as anchor texts.
It is easy to do, and when done on an ongoing basis, internal linking does help in achieving better search rankings. To understand the value of internal linking, consider the following situation:
Suppose you’re stranded inside a big multi-storied mall unable to locate a shop that sells men’s shoes. You’re contemplating going to the other wing of the mall when suddenly you see a board that gives the details of all the shops in all the floors in the mall, and there you discover that a men’s shoe store is indeed close by, just a floor below.
Had this board been not there, you’d have wasted a lot of time, and maybe out of sheer disgust you wouldn’t have bought your shoes at all.
Here are some excellent examples of internal linking. See some interesting stats below (Figure 4.3), which is that of the book, The Art of SEO, in Amazon.Com.
I get these figures using the Amazon.Com page URL with the Link Counter Tool4.19 of Submit Express to find out the total number of outgoing links on that page.
The page has a total of 456 links of which 402 are internal links and 54 external links. That means over 88% outgoing links are going to Amazon’s other pages.
If you do the same test for a product page on eBay, you are likely to get nearly similar results. This goes to explain the importance of internal links…and this can really help especially when you use keyword variations as anchor texts in the links.
Avoiding the Trap of Duplicate Contents
The phrase, trap of duplicate content, appears too cautionary, but there is a good reason for that. Google dislikes duplicate contents because, quite rightly for them, this can result into poor user experience.
In other words, since Google will always provide the best possible results in response to a search query, it will therefore seek to find the most unique and useful content for that query in its index to be shown in the results.
Duplicate content, by its very nature, puzzles the search engine crawler to decide which one is the actual and original, and makes it difficult to index.
For example, even though there is only one homepage of a website, there could be 4 duplicate pages in the eyes of search engines – example.com, www.example.com, example.com/index.html, and www.example.com/index.html - each having the same page content.
There are non-intentional (non-malicious in Google’s eyes) as well as deceptive and deliberate duplicate contents.
Many people believe that even non-intentional duplicate contents face the wrath of Google with the site being ‘banned’ or removed from Google’s index. But that is not true. This is what Google says4.20 on the issue:
Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results. If your site suffers from duplicate content issues, and you don't follow the advice listed above, we do a good job of choosing a version of the content to show in our search results.
However, duplicate content in conjunction with host load limitation (covered in the next section) can be a cause for worry for your website. To understand how Google tackles the duplicate content issue, do read the relevant Google webmaster guidelines4.20.
Here are some important points to remember to avoid falling in the trap of duplicate contents in your website:
1. The header, the sidebars, and the footer are usually the same in all pages of a website. The only thing that separates any 2 pages is the different body content for each page.
2. In cases where the body content changes very little from page to page, the search engines will consider the different pages as having duplicate contents. An example is that of an online product catalog where the body content has just one product image with a little description.
3. To avoid the problem, it is essential that each page in the site has some content that is unique and the number of words in the content is more than the total number of words in the header, the sidebars, and the footer combined by a safe margin.
4. Ensure that the page title, heading, etc. are different for different pages in your site.
5. Avoid syndicating the same content (an article maybe) you have in your website to any other website. If you are to write in another web publication, substantially change the content before syndicating it.
7. Use the rel="canonical" link element in the head section of a page to indicate if any URL is a duplicate of another.
In spite of your best efforts, you may still have pages with duplicate contents. It is also possible that other people steal your page content or your syndicated article for unauthorized use in their websites.
In such cases, you may consider using some free online tools to check out the extent of similarity in the contents of 2 pages. Here they are:
· Similar Page Checker4.21
· Comparing Duplicate Content4.22
· Copyscape Plagiarism Checker – Duplicate Content Detection Software4.23
· Plagiarism Checker4.24
The Host Load Limitations
The host load limitation is a typical issue in which perhaps you have nothing much to do. It is important however to be aware of this issue.
In an interview4.25 to Eric Enge, Matt Cutts of Google discusses host load:
The host load is essentially the maximum number of simultaneous connections that a particular web server can handle. Imagine you have a web server that can only have one bot at a time. This would only allow you to fetch one page at a time, and there would be a very, very low host load, whereas some sites like Facebook, or Twitter, might have a very high host load because they can take a lot of simultaneous connections.
Many a small business website resides on shared virtual host server that has a lot of other web sites on the same IP address. Now if that server has limitations on the number of connections that web crawlers can use to scan all the sites therein, it is obvious that there will be delay in the indexing of the web pages in that server.
Further, as Matt Cutts explains, the delay becomes more if your website happens to have duplicate contents also. He says:
If you happen to be host load limited, and you are in the range where we have a finite number of pages that we can fetch because of your web server, then the fact that you had duplicate content and we discarded those pages meant you missed an opportunity to have other pages with good, unique quality content show up in the index.
When you study these issues it becomes apparent that you need to be careful about duplicate contents while doing search engine optimization for the pages in your website.