The following post is adapted from our latest free eBook, Technical SEO Best Practices: A Marketers' Guide.
On-page SEO is not a simple subject. And even if you're pretty SEO savvy, sometimes time and budget can get in the way of tackling those really complex issues. When the technical hoo-hah gets too much for your team to handle, that's when it's time to call in the professionals. (Like us!)
However, you don't need to be a tech boffin or an expert link-builder to improve some aspects of your on-page SEO. Here are three fixes you can carry out that could help you see better results in the search engines.
(Disclaimer: You'll need a little bit of technical knowledge to make this work. And we accept no responsibility if your website stops working or your rankings plummet. SEO's a delicate business – if you're in any way unsure about what you're about to do, talk to us.)
SEO Fix 1: Give your meta data a makeover
Meta titles and meta descriptions are the bits of 'preview' text that you see in search engines. Here's what our SEO page looks like in Google:
The title tag is the big blue bit. The meta description is the grey text underneath the URL. Google will display your defined meta titles and descriptions in its search results unless it decides they're not relevant enough.
If you're new to SEO, or you haven't changed your meta data since your website was built, then chances are your titles and descriptions are not search engine optimised.
So how do you SEO your meta data? Let's start with the title tag.
[For the sake of space, we're going to skip over the details of how to edit meta data. If you want the full instructions, download your free copy of our latest eBook, Technical SEO Best Practices: A Marketers' Guide – Ed.]
Title tags should be clear, persuasive and keyword rich. Here's a bad (and entirely made-up) example:
This is a poor-quality meta title because:
- The brand name is at the beginning. For clarity and SEO, this should be at the end (well, usually – as with most SEO recommendations, there are exceptions).
- There are no keywords – nobody searches for 'socks suitable for men'.
- It is entirely unpersuasive.
- It is too long, so gets truncated by Google.
Let's fix it.
This is a better meta title because:
- The brand name is at the end.
- There is a high-value keyword at the start, which improves chances of ranking for this keyword.
- There is a persuasive call to action.
- The full title is clearly visible.
For your meta descriptions, you should focus on clearly describing what the page is about. This element does not impact search rankings, but including keywords can improve click-through rate. Here's the full optimised title and description as it would appear for a search for 'mens socks':
See how much better that is?
Optimising your meta data like this can improve rankings and click-through rate. So by making sure your key pages have unique, persuasive and relevant meta data, you should hopefully see some good results in Google et al.
The catch? To fully optimise your site, you should ensure that each and every title and description is unique and optimised – duplicate titles and descriptions form part of our SEO audit, and we often discover hundreds of duplicate meta data when analysing a site.
That's where an SEO agency can help. Our team, for example, includes SEO-savvy copywriters who can write unique meta data for your whole site, leaving you free to... well... get on with your job.
SEO Fix 2: Sort out your <h1> tags
As far as on-page content goes, heading tags are pretty important. These HTML elements help users and search engines make sense of a page. So, by making sure they're properly optimised, you will foster a better user experience and have a chance of ranking higher too.
We're going to focus on <h1> tags here, because they have the biggest potential effect on your rankings. And you'll need to dig into HTML or use your CMS to edit your heading tags - we're going to assume you already know how to do this.
What makes a good <h1> tag? Well, first things first there should only be one on a page. Your <h1> tag should include the most relevant, succinct explanation of the contents of the page. Using more than one will confuse search engines.
Secondly, your <h1> tag should be clear and descriptive to help search engines and users understand what the page is about. Because you're optimising this page for search engines, it makes sense to choose a high-value, descriptive keyword as your <h1>, or as part of your <h1>.
Let's pretend we're ACME Clothing Co. again. Its men's socks page already has a <h1> tag, and it looks like this:
<h1>All your favourite brands – right here!</h1>
From an SEO point-of-view, this heading tag is doing nothing. Because although users can see what the page is about based on context and visual cues, search engines can learn very little from this <h1>.
Based on these search volumes, it makes practical sense to edit the <h1> tag to read...
...or a variation thereof.
“But what about our brand messaging?” exclaims ACME Clothing Co., “'All your favourite brands – right here!' is our slogan, so we have to include it prominently on the page.”
This is fine. Contrary to common assumption, the <h1> tag does not need to be the 'headline' of a page. In fact, it's bad practice to use heading tags purely as styling elements, as this encourages the use of non-descriptive text within the tag.
ACME Clothing Co. should define styles with CSS and use these to make its slogan stand out.
Anyway, to return to the real world, you should consider doing a quick audit of <h1> tag usage across your key pages. Changing your <h1> tags to include more suitable terms is a quick and effective way of improving your SEO.
If you discover <h1> tags used in cross-site elements like menus, you should change these to <p> tags. Duplicating <h1> tags across your entire site will play havoc with a search engine's ability to understand your on-page content.
SEO Fix 3: Update your on-page content for semantic search
Is your content optimised for search engines? And if it is, is it optimised for the way search engines work today?
If your content hasn't been updated for a while, it may be time to rework it to suit semantic search.
Google, and other search engines, have made significant advancements in their ability to understand the meaning of the words users search for. Rather than seeing them simply as strings of characters that it needs to match up to an index, search engines can now understand content and context much more effectively.
This also means search engines have gotten better at understanding the content of the pages in its index. Factor in algorithm updates like Panda, which is designed to root out spammy content, and you can see why, in today's world of SEO, keyword-stuffed content is definitely a bad idea.
We'd recommend checking your key pages to see how keywords are used in their content. If your copy focusses on one or two keywords only, then you risk losing out on valuable traffic that could come your way thanks to semantic search.
What's more, if these keywords are used multiple times on a page, then you risk it being flagged as spam and receiving a penalty.
One more thing. Users don't search by simply typing in a keyword. The vast majority of search traffic comes from long-tail keywords. Check out this cool chart created by Rand Fishkin over at Moz:
See how much traffic comes from the long tail? Semantic search and judicious keyword usage can help you take advantage of this potentially massive user base.
So to make your content 2014-friendly, you should consider going back to the drawing board in terms of keyword research.
Don't just focus on the keywords that have the highest search volume. Find plenty of synonyms and long-tail variations and use them throughout your content. This will help your copy read more naturally, and increase your chances of ranking for the search terms users really use.
Enjoyed this post? You might also like: