Google has changed their organic search algorithm hundreds of times over the past few years, but it has been several large changes in the algorithm that have raised the attention of industry experts. Google Panda and Google Penguin changed the game of optimizing websites forever. Panda put a strong emphasis on quality website design, architecture, code, and content. Penguin put a halt on spammy link building practices, link farms, and other black hat link acquisition methods. I think a lot of marketers have become so paralyzed by these updates and focused on “content is king”, that they’ve forgotten that there are still fundamental on-site optimization techniques to perform when auditing a website.
Quality Title Tags
The title tag is kind of like a meta tag, but the name literally derives from the fact that it’s an HTML tag that lives in thesection of every page on your website. I still see a lot of sloppy and poorly written title tags when I’m auditing client websites. Many people don’t even realize that the title tag is what Google often uses to display for the title of an organic search result. Here are some best practices to create a quality title tag:
- Choose a primary keyword to use in the title tag that’s relevant to the content on the page and has good search volume. You can find data on search volume for keywords by using the Google Keyword Planner. Sign up for an Adwords account and it gives you access to this valuable keyword research tool.
- Keep your title short and sweet. 55 to 65 characters is the new standard for title tags. Google made a UI change to their organic search results a few months ago, so now organic search titles can be cut off well before the old standard of 69-70 characters.
- Write the title with a marketer’s mind, not a techy SEO geek. This title often shows up as the title of your page’s organic search result, so make it enticing. The more your pages get clicked on in organic search results, the higher your pages will rank in organic search. Click through rate is important not only in paid search, but organic search as well.
- Use something to separate different sections of the title such as a hyphen or pipe bar.
Example: If your business is pizza joint in Downtown Orlando, you might write your home page title tag like this:
Delicious Downtown Orlando Pizza Restaurant | Folgate’s Pizza
Quality Meta Descriptions
It’s debatable whether the meta description is an actual ranking factor in search engine algorithms, but it still holds a lot of weight in directly affecting search engine optimization, because it’s sometimes used as the description in an organic search results and it can influence click through rate of an organic search result. Here are a few best practices to abide by:
- Write a marketing-savvy description that accurately sums up the content on the page and entices the reader to click through to the page.
- Keep it short and sweet, about 145 to 155 characters. Again, this character count has shrunk over the years among search engines. It’s not the end of the world if your description gets cut off, but make sure the most important part of the description is in the beginning.
- Use a call-to-action in your description. “Book a stay”, “Call for an appointment”, these are all great ways to prompt the user to take action.
ALT Text is one of the most abused pieces of code in websites today. People in the SEO industry found out years ago that Google and Bing used the ALT attribute in images to categorize and index images for image search. Google Images is one of the most widely used image search engines, so SEO people started stuffing this attribute with keywords. However, the ALT attribute was originally created in HTML to literally be the ALTERNATIVE text when an image couldn’t load or for vision-impaired Internet browsers. You should add ALT text to all of the images you use in the content of your website, but here are some guidelines to stick to that would make Matt Cutts from Google happy:
Internal linking is often a lost art when it comes to SEO. Either people do too much of it, not enough of it, or don’t do it with the user in mind. Internal linking is any linking that occurs away from the main and secondary navigation, typically within the content of the page. When you have a well-connected website, your bounce rate will improve, you’ll get more pageviews (think CPM for all of you big-time blog publishers), and you’ll ultimately convert more users into leads or customers.
These four steps to on-site optimization are just the start, but they must be at the core of what you optimize when you’re auditing and refreshing a website. These elements only go so far as the quality of the content on your page. So, don’t bank on optimizing the hell out of metadata, because it won’t matter if your content is thin and doesn’t engage the user.