October 28, 2011
Many businesses have a strong focus on their advertising campaigns, integrating pay-per-click ads, targeted email marketing, social media, and traditional advertising to broadcast their products and services to potential customers. One critical area that many businesses fail in, though, is SEO.
On-page SEO in particular tends to fall by the wayside or is tacked on almost as an afterthought. This would be fine if the majority of users went directly to the website, but most find a website through use of a search engine, even if they already know the URL of the site they’re visiting. The rules for on-page SEO can seem daunting, but in reality the basic on-page rules are fairly simple. Producing quality content that people will want to see should be one of the main concerns, and providing a friendly, functional user interface will improve not only the experience of those using the site, but also the website’s ranking in Google.
Google’s Panda updates have added a new dimension to Google’s algorithm, allowing it to judge content similarly to a human. This is consistent with Google’s attempts to refine its algorithm to the point where every searcher will find the exact result they want as the first result on their first search. Because humans desire content, not filler or ads, the Panda update emphasizes that. Sites that want to rank well on Google must make sure that all of their pages have deep, well-written content.
Before Panda, some sites attempted to fool search engines by posting a well-written paragraph followed by several paragraphs of keyword-stuffed unintelligible text. Now, though, Google can see through that. Content must also be unique, because every time it is reused Google values it less, lowering the rank for the page. Including relevant keywords throughout the text will make the context of the page and site easier to determine, resulting in a higher rank. Going too far, though, will hurt rankings, so keywords should only be used in situations where they might naturally occur. By updating the website’s content–not the overall design–frequently, businesses show search engines that their site has new, up-to-date content that will provide something fresh for users, resulting in higher search rankings.
Making the website easy to navigate for users will also increase its chances of ranking well on search results. Every page should navigate back to the home page and to the most popular pages or categories, while the least popular pages should be accessible through a standard menu. Page titles should be unique, short and readable. Some businesses include the full business name on every page, but that is an unnecessary and unwise policy. As with the content of the site, search engines favor unique titles and descriptions. Reusing titles and descriptions for unique pages is a red flag for search engine crawlers and will likely result in a lower rank. Links within the site, whether in the menu or within the content of the site, should be optimized. Appropriate, simple anchor text should be chosen in order to help search engines properly categorize links and pages.
In the past, optimizing a website for search engines was very different from building a positive user experience. While keyword stuffing and cloaking used to be capable of quickly raising a site’s position on search results pages, those tactics are now singled out and penalized. Instead, websites should be built to provide users with a positive experience and useful, unique content. As search engines continue refining their algorithms and creating newer, more intelligent crawlers, building for SEO and building for users will increasingly become indistinguishable.
Joseph Baker is a freelance writer living in the Midwest. He enjoys working on his novel and drinking large amounts of Earl Grey tea. He writes this article behalf of American InterContinental University.