With recent updates to Google's search engine algorithms, webmasters need to review their on-page SEO tactics once again and ensure that they are using the most future-proof methods available to them. Since you have complete control of the actual content of your website as well as various elements of the code behind it, you are at liberty to choose from a variety of tactics to ensure that your website stands out amongst the competition. At the same time, it is more important than ever to avoid the negative factors which can end up having the exact opposite results to what you intend or, worse still, even getting your website removed entirely from the search engine indexes.
The following article takes a look at the various elements of on-page SEO and the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of each one.
Content optimization refers to the visible, written content of your website. This is what your human visitors will be looking at and what the search engines will be looking at to help determine the value and usefulness of your website. Content is by far the most important area of SEO and the emphasis on providing value to your visitors rather than what might manipulate the search engine results is greater than ever.
- Quality content designed for human readers. This is the type of content which offers something of value to your human readers rather than giving any thought to the technical workings of the search engine crawlers themselves. Quality content is that which is well researched and free of errors and inconsistencies. While the purpose of your content might ultimately be to advertise a particular product or service, it is important that it appeals to your targeted audience. Write Web-friendly scannable content with engaging headlines and useful information which inspires people to want more or follow up a call to action.
- Key words and phrases. People search the Internet by entering key words and phrases to reach the content that they are looking for. While keyword optimization is not as important as it once was, focussing on relevant keywords but using them sparingly is still useful provided that this does not make your content look over-optimized to human readers.
- Fresh content. Outdated content quickly falls to the last pages of the search results and ends up being forgotten about instead making way for up-to-date content which is relevant to an ever-changing audience. Focus on hot topics in your niche to provide frequent updates which catch your readers' attention. This is particularly important when it comes to blogging. If you feel that your site needs some fresher content written from a slightly different perspective, you may even want to try attracting a guest blogger or writer.
- Keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing refers to the practice of overusing your chosen keywords in such a way that your site starts looking like it was written with the search engines in mind rather than your human readers. It looks bad to your visitors and is a common characteristic of thin content and spam. It will damage your site and your reputation and, in worst case scenarios, get you heavily penalized by Google and other search engines.
- Excessive ad use. Millions of websites generate revenue entirely or almost entirely from advertisements rather than actually providing any products or services of their own. A lot of people make a living from this and, while there is nothing wrong with this, an excessively ad-heavy website is not only thoroughly annoying to your human readers; it will also increase your risk of receiving a red flag from the search engine crawlers.
- Plagiarized or rewritten content. In spite of the constant emphasis on unique and original content, there are still many clueless and unscrupulous webmasters who think that plagiarizing other people's work will lead them to quick financial success. Some people even steal content outright and put it up on their own websites. (SEE MY BLOG: My Content Was Stolen) Others rewrite it in such a way that the content basically paraphrases someone else's work in the hope of fooling the search engines into thinking that it is original and thus avoiding the duplicate content penalties. Another method is using 'spun' content in which hundreds of articles are generated from a single text containing nested synonyms. Using any of these methods will ring alarm bells in Google if they haven't already and using plagiarized content will likely lead to your website being taken down for good.
While not as important as content itself, webmasters should still pay attention to the inner workings of their website to ensure that it is easily navigable for both human readers and the search engine crawlers. Even if the written content itself is outstanding, it will not even make it into the search engine results if it is not navigable to the crawlers.
- Click-inviting meta description. Meta description tags are still important HTML elements containing key information about the content of the page. They are not actually visible on your site itself but services such as the search engine crawlers can parse them. This information may appear alongside your listing in the search engine results and can help people decide to click on your result.
- Accurate page <title>. Also not visible on the page but can be seen in the search results. Well titled pages that inform the searcher what the page is and does help set and meet expectations.
- Useful and diversified anchor text. Anchor text refers to the highlighted text which links to another webpage either elsewhere on your own site or to an external one. Anchor text is a useful way to provide a quick and convenient link for your readers allowing them to find out more about a specific subject. One website which makes extensive use of anchor text is Wikipedia.
- Straightforward navigational features using HTML. Every company wants to convey a unique and branded image for their website and, while this is a good thing, it is also important to provide a user-friendly interface. This will also make it easier for the search engines to navigate around your site.
- Good performance. Website performance is, of course, partly dependant on your host environment. However, there are also many things that are under your control. Since Web users typically have a short attention span and are not exactly known for their patience, a website which performs well and loads quickly will hold onto visitors for longer and, in turn, help to improve your standing in the search results.
- Hidden text. Some webmasters place a list of keywords related to their content in the footers of each page and then hide it by making it the same colour as the background. The idea is to manipulate the search engines while keeping the text invisible to human readers. This is against Google's webmaster guidelines and can get your site penalized.
- Excessive use of Java or Flash. While there is nothing wrong with using Flash or Java on your website, it is important to remember that search engine crawlers cannot read this type content and therefore they will be unable to index it. Flash content in particular should be avoided in most cases since it is also incompatible with most mobile devices. Avoid using Java or Flash for things such as navigational features.
- Cloaking and doorway pages. This refers to hiding certain pages from human readers and only showing them to the search engines. These hidden pages will typically contain keywords in the hope of artificially manipulating the results. A doorway page, for example, is a page which is very briefly displayed when someone visits your site before they reach the main page. Cloaking of any kind falls into the category of search engine spam and will ultimately get your site blacklisted by Google.
As you can see from the above mentioned SEO tactics, what mostly constitutes a good search engine marketing strategy is more about what offers a good experience to your actual visitors. For the most part, a website which offers an enjoyable and valuable experience to your visitors should also increase its standing in the search engines.