Don’t let the title of this blog post confuse you, there are more than ten things to do when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. These ten items are the basics that need to be considered right from the start as your website is being built. These ten items are also all internal items related to your site content. If you have an existing site, make sure your web developer covered these ten SEO basics before you turn to external tools to improve your web site’s SERP ranking.
- Page Title Tags
The title meta tag generates the text that appears at the very top of your browser window. Each page should have it’s own original compelling title that describes the page content using the main keywords for the page. Title tags ideally should be up to 64 characters in length but can be up to 95 characters before being truncated. SEO Stop words waste valuable space in the title tag and make the keywords algorithmic influence weaker so try to avoid using them. Stop Words are extremely common words that most search engines skip over in order to save disk space, or to speed up indexing (words such as: a, if, the, then, and, an, to). Your title tag should also be limited to the use of alphanumeric characters, pipes, hyphens and commas.
- Description Tags
Description tags are used on a SERP to describe the page’s content and persuade search engine users to visit your web site. They should be between 25 and 35 words in length. If you don’t add your own description tag the search engines will come up with one based on your content. It is best to use this tag and control your site description on search results.
- Heading Tags
Each page of your site should use at least the <H1> heading tag and preferably near the top of your page content. To give a certain keyword an extra SEO push, use it in both the <title> tag and in your <H1> tag.
- Page Copy / Keyword Density
Search engines look at the keyword density of a page to conclude what words in your content stand out the most. I’ve heard, “My site comes up for Toronto but not for Etobicoke, Mississauga, Oakville” to which I respond, “That’s because you haven’t used those words anywhere in your site copy”. You want your keyword density to appear natural. Over-use of search terms can be seen as keyword stuffing and actually harm your SEO ranking. A keyword density between 3% and 6% is considered optimal to get recognized by the search engines and not be considered spamming. I highly recommend having an SEO copywriter edit your copy to make it read well for site users as well as Search Engines.
- Alt & Title Tags for Images and Links
Images used throughout your content should have descriptive and keyword-rich alternative text (alt tags and title attributes) that display when site visitors mouse over an image or should an image fail to load. This text is read by search engine spiders that don’t see images. You can also use the title attribute on an anchor text link so when a site visitor rolls over the link a tool tip pops up on the mouse providing a more detailed description of the link.
- Spider-friendly Navigation
You need to ensure that search engine spiders can find every page. You will need to also supply the search-bots with text-based links (sitemap) to all of your pages. This is a critical step for the proper indexing and pagerank distribution of your site.
- Two Sitemaps
It’s important to use two site maps for your website — an XML version for search bots and a version for site visitors that displays your site page hierarchy and contains links to every page.
- Guide the Spiders
It’s important that search engine spiders find your sitemap.xml file that guides spiders to pages and directories you want crawled and denies entry to protected areas of your site. Most importantly make sure that the robot.txt file isn’t blocking search engines from crawling your site
- Keywords in URL’s
Using keywords in your site structure makes good sense. It is great if you can get a domain name that contains your main keywords but you can also use keywords for naming stylesheets and classes, images, subdomains, directories and page names. (see Domain Domination Keyword Targeted URL’s).
- Faster Page Load Times
As I discussed in Three SEO trends in 2010 Google has made page load time a ranking factor; pages that load quickly improve the user experience. So as you build your site make sure that you keep the images sizes small and limit the number of images you use as loading of images can slow down your page load. Ensure that your site is using clean code and scripts to avoid page bloating and slower load times.
What about the Keyword Meta Tag?
Clients often assume that SEO is just placing the right keywords into the web site code (the keyword meta tag) but in 2010 I can’t even include this item in an SEO checklist. A few years ago, SEO was keen on the keywords meta tag but major search engines no longer care about the presence of the keyword meta tag. It doesn’t however hurt to use it, if nothing else it does provide you with a place to document your keyword focus for the page. You can then check that you main keywords for the page are present in the title, description, H1, page copy keyword density and navigation.
Once you have checked these 10 things off your SEO to do list you can consider external elements that impact on SEO such as social media and link building. Now is also the time to start using Google Webmaster Tools.
Please leave me a comment and add to this list any SEO items you feel should be covered.