Optimise your website for search engines

On-page optimisation is the optimisation of your website's content, text, tags, links, and other elements for the benefit of search engines.

The primary focus of on-page optimisation is to ensure that pages are fully indexed by search engine web crawlers. This means that images, video, and other forms of media are optimised along with the text content of the page.

Many diverse elements are inherent to on-page optimisation. Let's go over some of the key factors.

Do everything you can to make it easier for Google to index and rank your website.

Title tags

A title tag is simply the title of your webpage, and it will go between the <title></title> tags of your web page's HTML code (something your web designer should take care of).

Title tag example

Example

<title>Example Title</title>

Your title tag will usually incorporate one of your primary keywords, and it should be written so that it is both descriptive and compelling to your readers. It is absolutely essential that it comes off naturally and provides an accurate description of your page.

Most search engines will only display around 70 characters of the title tag. Any text beyond this will be truncated.

For the sake of branding, you may consider adding your company name at the end of the title. This is not absolutely necessary, as Google's algorithm is smart enough to recognise that a particular page is linked to your business; but if you have room left in your title tag, it's a fairly common practice.

Ideally, you should try to place your primary keyword close to the beginning of the title tag, but don't get carried away trying to list every relevant keyword. Stuffing as many keywords as possible into a title tag not only looks unnatural, but it could also lead to Google deciding to penalise your page if they suspect you are trying to deliberately manipulate search engine results.

Above all, the title tag should always accurately describe the page’s content.

Meta tags

Before the days of intelligent algorithms, search engines relied almost entirely upon meta tags to build their listings. Meta tags allow webmasters and designers to provide information to search engines about their websites.


Meta keywords

In the mid-90s, the meta keywords tag was used by search engines such as AltaVista and Infoseek to determine the subject of a particular web page. Although it was once a very important ranking factor, due to abuse of the keyword tag, search engines today no longer use it. As this tag no longer offers any benefit, it is best to leave it alone.

Example

<meta name="keywords" content="seo, keywords, spam">

Meta description

Although it is widely accepted as a non-ranking factor, the meta description tag still plays a significant role in SEO efforts.

Any description you provide here is used in search engine results listings, and will display below the page title. This will help ensure that searchers click through your listing and visit your page.

Meta description example

Example

<meta name="description" content="This is a meta description. This text will show up in Google’s search engine results page.">

A poor-quality meta description means that you will have very few users clicking through from their search results to your site. Keywords in this text that match the search query of the user will be placed in bold, effectively highlighting them and giving them greater prominence; try to include your most important keywords here.

Your description should be approximately 155 characters or less. Google will trim your final result to this length, so any additional words will be truncated.


Robots meta tag

Robots meta tag

The robots tag allows you to specify that a page should not be indexed by a search engine, and indicates that a web crawler should not follow a particular link on your web page. Most of the big search engines use and abide by the text you add within your robots tag; however, a few of the more unscrupulous ones may choose to ignore it.


Nofollow tag

A nofollow tag can be added to your web page in order to instruct a web crawler not to follow a particular link. This essentially breaks the path exiting your website via that particular link. This type of tag is often used if you do not wish to fully vouch for the link in question. It can also prove useful on forums or blog posts to stop spammers posting irrelevant links, since their links will not be followed.

Example

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

SEO marketers and website owners tend to look for links to their sites that are followed. This means that the resulting page will enjoy the benefit of PageRank and the authority passed from the original page. However, nofollow links should also be considered a natural part of a link profile. If Google sees a page with thousands of links but not a single nofollow link, they may become suspicious of how the links were obtained.

Your privacy policy, contact, and login pages do not necessarily need the benefit of your links. When creating internal links to these pages, consider using the nofollow option so greater page authority is passed to other links on your site.

The robots.txt file must always be placed into the root directory of your site.

Noindex

Noindex tells search engines you do not want your page to be indexed at all. This tag is sometimes used to stop a web page currently under construction from being indexed by Google before it is readyto launch.

Example

<meta name="robots" content="noindex">

Be careful about when and where you use this tag. There are many horror stories of web developers who accidentally added the tag to every web page, causing an entire site to vanish from Google overnight!


Crawlable site structures

Search engine web crawlers follow links from one page to another, indexing the web pages they find along the way. It is important that they are able to locate your site and crawl every element of each page. In order to achieve this, your site needs to employ a crawlable site structure.

Adding a child page to a parent page does not necessarily mean that search engines will be able to locate the child page. If no link is provided from the parent page to the child page, then you will have to rely on external, inbound links to your website to do the work for you.

A crawler will usually navigate its way around your website in the same way a human user would: by using your website's navigation bar. In short, if you include a page that is not linked from any other page on your site, a search engine web crawler will not be able to find it, and will not be able to index that page.

To be sure that all of your pages are indexed, you can create a sitemap that includes a list of links to every single page on your site. Sitemaps can prove useful for both web crawlers and human users.

Sitemap example

All of the elements on your pages should be crawlable, too. When displaying text, try to use actual text instead of an image. In places where you do use images and video, add alt tag text so that they can be crawled. Alternative text is provided in the alt tag (see below) of the image, which we cover in greater detail in the Image Optimisation section.

Google's Webmaster Tools service provides a means of viewing your website through the eyes of a web crawler. This enables you to check that all content has been crawled and indexed properly, and allows you to find problem areas and fix any errors the crawlers recognise.

There are two types of sitemaps. A sitemap for visitors and an XML sitemap for search engines.

Keywords

Keywords play a crucial role in search optimisation. They are used in the creation of high-quality title and meta tags, in the development of effective website links, and in various elements of on-page SEO. They also guide search engines by highlighting the topic of your page.

Research relevant keywords, and use them naturally in your page content. Ensure that they appear in title and meta tags as well as alt tags for both images and video.

Avoid the temptation of stuffing keywords into your pages. Relevant keywords will naturally appear as you write about a particular subject, but if they appear too frequently, you could suffer the consequences of search engine ranking penalties and poor ranking position. Check your text once it is written, and consider replacing keywords that appear too often with related alternatives.

Whilst you are aiming to improve your performance in search engine rankings, your human visitors are the most important visitors to your site. They make the actual purchases that will generate profits for your business. By writing naturally, including relevant keywords, and offering high-quality content, you will enjoy optimal results.


Image optimisation

Image optimisation

Images are extremely important to the online user experience. They visually break up large blocks of text, and can be used to convey a message without the necessity of explaining every aspect of the content.

Ensure that any images included on your pages are search engine optimised. Web crawlers cannot identify the exact content of an image file alone, and that means they can't determine its relevance and meaning. This becomes your main task as you undertake on-page optimisation.

Alt tags, as well as image title tags, can be used to provide information about the pictures you display. They help human users who stop to scan your images, and also assist search engine web crawlers to create an index.


Alt tag

The alternative tag gives alternative text for an image, if for some reason it cannot be displayed. Use the alt tag to explain what the image represents. This also proves useful for web crawlers, as they cannot understand or literally see the image as we can. An alt tag will give them a brief description. Google has confirmed that the alt tag is the primary way in which their algorithm understands what your image is about.

Example

<img src="logo.jpg" alt="Our Company Logo" />

Image title tag

The image title is a little more straightforward; it is literally just the title of your image. Keep this quite brief.

Example

<img src="logo.jpg" title="Company Name" />

Image file name

Image file names also play a minor role in helping web crawlers understand what your image is about. A file name of "DCIM45341.jpg" is obviously not very descriptive. The best practice is to try and ensure that all image file names are descriptive and relevant.

Example

../images/company_logo.jpg

Remember when including images and other media that a lot of us now access the internet using a mobile device. Whilst mobile users certainly appreciate the addition of visual media, their smartphones and tablets may not be able to display images in the same high resolution as a laptop or desktop computer. Avoid the temptation of publishing extremely large, high-resolution images unless absolutely necessary.

Googlebots cannot see what an image actually is, so help them out!

Page speed

In 2010, Google announced that page speed was being introduced as a ranking factor in their algorithms. Whilst fast-loading pages do not strictly receive better rankings, slow-loading pages can be penalised and pushed further down in the rankings. This means that optimising your web pages to load quickly, and ensuring that all elements on a page load efficiently, can help your SEO efforts and prevent users from leaving your web page in frustration.

Use a tool like Google's free PageSpeed Insights to measure how long your page takes to load. This will give your page a score out of 100 for desktop loading, as well as a separate score for the speed at which your page loads on mobile devices. It also gives advice regarding potential improvements such as optimising images and benefiting from browser caching to yield the best load times.

Page speed insights

When using a tool like PageSpeed Insights, you will typically find that your site loads more quickly on a desktop computer than it does on a mobile device. It's important to consider that more and more people now use their smartphone or tablet when going online. Make sure your site loads quickly on both types of device; otherwise, you could be alienating a large segment of your potential visitors.


Rich snippets

When you hit "search" on Google, you will be presented with a mixed bag of results. There will be regular, text-focused pages as well as videos, images, and a variety of other types of content. Google has become adept at recognising different forms of content as well as displaying separate results within an image or video search. They can now use your content to create rich snippets.

Rich snippets are additional lines of text and images that appear alongside and below your search engine listing. Here are two common examples of rich snippets you may have seen in a search engine results page:

Recipe

Recipe rich snippets screenshots

Review star rating

Review star rating rich snippet screenshot

Rich snippets utilise microdata to highlight certain types of content on your pages. Microdata is a form of the HTML 5 code that provides specific information on the type of content being published along with details about that content.

Rich snippets can make your website stand out in the crowded Google search results page, but the mark-up is quite advanced for inclusion in this guide. Once you have mastered the basics of on-page SEO optimisation, you can learn how to implement rich snippets using this excellent beginner's guide.


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