There are dozens of different factors that affect your search engine rankings. Many of the most important factors are in your control, as they are on the pages of your website. Understanding the best practices for working with these on-page elements can be vital in improving the visibility of their website. Even minor mistakes can result in penalties or lost ranking opportunities. We will look at several of the most important on-page ranking elements and how you can keep your site in line with SEO best practices.
URLs and SEO
Improper use of URLs are the leading cause of duplicate content penalties. This is because URLs are supposed to represent an individual and unique entry to a page. When two different URLs direct your visitors to the same page, without using redirection, search engines interpret that as two separate pages. Other than duplicate content penalties, there are several things you should keep in mind when managing URLs.
One of the most important best practices is to keep your URLs both short and user friendly. That means including keywords relevant to the content on the page and keeping the length to 115 characters or fewer.
Additionally, static URLs are better than URLs that use multiple parameters, because static URLs are easier for search engines to understand. If you must use parameters, it is important that the use of parameters is consistent - that the parameters are always in the same order - and that parameters that can be igmored by search engines be register through Google Webmaster Tools.
Content & SEO
As the most important element of your site, it's worth spending a great deal of time reflecting on the SEO of your content. Above all, every page should contain at least 1,000 words of solid content. This is even more important with the recent release of Panda, which continues to penalize pages with thin content. Even more important than length, the content should be valuable. Value can be measured through analytics by looking at the average time spent on a page, the bounce rate and the exit rate.
Your content should be readable. You can measure readability with tools like the Gunning's Fog Index or the Flesch Reading Ease test. The free Hemmingway app is another way that you can easily measure the readability of your content. That app will provide you with a rating for how readable your content is, and you can offer recommendations for improvement.
Three Content Elements to Consider
When analyzing your content, the three areas you should focus on are
- information architecture,
- duplicate content, and
- keyword cannibalism.
Information architecture refers to the layout of your sites information, its presentation, and how your visitors are supposed to access it. Every page should have a purpose, and that purpose should be made clear by targeted keywords.
Duplicate content is when considerable portions of your content match or closely match material available on your site or other sites on the Internet. For the most part, duplicate content is non-malicious. Identifying the existence of duplicate content is easy with the use of tools like CopyScape. Once you've found duplicates, there are several solutions. You could remove it, redirect it, use a canonical tag, or even manually remove the culprit URLs using Google Webmaster Tools.
Keyword cannibalism is when several of your pages are targeting the same keywords. This can confuse both visitors and search engines. You can discover cannibalism by creating a keyword index to map out the keywords each of your pages uses the most. There are several free keyword index tools online, like Wordtracker's Keywords Tool. When cannibalism is identified, the best solution is to merge the culprits into a single page, or repurpose the offending content with new keywords.
HTML and SEO
Titles are the first thing you see in a SERP, and one of the first things noticed by visitors who are coming in from social media sites. Your titles should be succinct, meaning fewer than 70 characters, to prevent them from being cut off in a SERP. Shorter titles are also easier to share on networks like Twitter. Additionally, titles should be both accurate and relevant, and contain at least one targeted keyword. It's preferable that the keyword occur in the first half of the title, but not necessary.
Although meta descriptions don't directly affect your ranking, they will affect your click-through rate. Consequently, it's important to spend time thinking about your meter descriptions. Similar to titles, these descriptions should be things, and last fewer than 155 characters.
Links and SEO
When you link to another site, search engines understand that link as an endorsement. That's why it's recommended to send links to high quality and trustworthy sites. Including links to spammy sites can reduce the trustworthiness of your own site, not only in the eyes of your visitors, but in the eyes of search engines like Google. At the same time, that doesn't mean you should link to any site that's trustworthy. Only link to relevant content or you may end up creating a poor user experience.
Finally, you want to make sure that your HTML is in keeping with standard best practices. One way to do this is with a markup validator tool. W3C has a free markup validator tool that can help you find violations of HTML and CSS standards, available at validator.w3.org.