Learning SEO, although a never-ending process, is fairly straightforward in the early stages.
For me, as is the case in most disciplines, the techniques and procedures sunk in best when I really understood the reasoning behind them. However, there did seem to be a surprising lack of content really looking at why the copious optimisation mechanisms function in the way that they do. Why is it that Google chose its selection process of worthy sites to be the way that it is?
Delving into Google’s reasonings really made me appreciate its methods and aims. Every one of its incessantly changing ranking criteria is based solely on human need. It works the way it does purely to provide its users with the results closest to their enquiries and it does this by ‘thinking’ like a human.
Through outlining some of Google’s ‘thought processes’ I hope to provide a clearer picture, for SEOs just starting out in the industry, of some of the basic processes needed to make your website worthy of page-1 rankings in the ‘eyes’ of the search engine.
Since SEO, even when considering just the basic methods, is such a vast topic, for now I am only taking a look at the most important on-page areas. I have divided these into ‘Site Structure,’ and ‘Content.’
The architecture of a website refers to how it is designed and put together, how its pages and sections are related and connected, and how they work together as a whole.
Why is this considered important for SEO?
Fairly obviously, having a clear and ordered architecture means the site can be navigated more easily by visitors.
If you’re trying to work your way around a site and it’s so poorly constructed and illogically sign-posted that you keep landing on dead-end pages or have to keep doubling back to find what you were initially looking for, you will surely return to Google sooner rather than later, to find a less infuriating search result.
The other important reason for site architecture is that it helps to inform the search engines which of your individual pages are the most important.
The general rule is: the more important the information, the closer it will be to your home page. This does make a lot of sense. Why would anyone place their most valuable content in a location less likely to be found? Therefore, the more clicks one takes away from the home page, the less important that page is considered by Google. This is explained more clearly by the picture below. The size of each quadrilateral (or page) demonstrates its relative importance.
-Like in the picture above, design your site so the pages are spread widely, rather than deeply (you can reach every page with just a few clicks from the home page). This helps to spread link juice around the site.
-Make sure your most important/best content is very few clicks away from your homepage.
2) General Site Cleanliness
This clumsy phrase is simply a way of summarising all the technical errors that can damage your site in terms of SEO. This is painfully obvious, but very important. Basically, just check and double check that everything is running correctly.
You need to make sure that there is no duplicate content, that your HTML codes are all correct and that all your pages are properly connected to one another – no (404s, 500s, 302s etc.) Here’s a brief but clear explanation of HTTP codes.
Why is this considered important for SEO?
Why should Google rank a site well when its admin team doesn’t even care if it works properly? A poorly maintained site is highly unlikely to provide a smooth user experience.
Use online programs such as Google’s Webmaster Tools or desktop tools such as Screaming Frog to check your codes and make sure everything is running properly. Click here for a look at some of the other useful SEO tools.
3) Internal links
These are the links connecting the pages of your website. They inform Google which pieces of content are related to, follow on from or are connected to each other. Through this they help Google understand what subjects your site covers.
Why are they considered important for SEO?
Strong internal linking allows your site to be effortlessly explored by both humans and Google. It also suggests to search engines that the website as a whole is coherent, ordered and that each page is relevant to the last, rather than an unorganised heap of incongruous and mismatched material, like a muddled jumble of papers.
-Don’t go too wild with them – overusing internal links will annoy visitors and be penalised by Google.
-They are a good contribution towards your site’s SEO because you can control everything about them. Sometimes it is even worth steering your content in certain directions in order to link your pages together effectively. This too will help you appease the content-criticising Google Panda update.
-Name the anchor text links as accurately as possible using the term for which you want that page to rank.
-Use your links to make the viewer experience as coherent as possible. Guide them through your site, on a logical journey, each page building on what they saw on the last.
4) Outbound Links
These are links that point away from your domain, taking curious browsers elsewhere in the World Wide Web. They are usually visible as a contextual anchor text. I thought they were worth a quick looking at as it is generally agreed upon that outbound links do have some significance in terms of improving rankings, albeit not a vast amount.
Why are they considered important for SEO?
They influence ranking because linking widely and relevantly suggests that the author has a wide & accessible knowledgebase. It makes the site appear more natural to bots and crawlers and, perhaps most importantly, it will make the content more useful to those who read it.
-Link highly relevantly.
-Again, don’t go overboard with the external links (link farms and directories are not considered valuable by Google).
-There is also some evidence to suggest that linking to high-authority sites has more benefit; however, it is sensible to keep your outbound-link profile as varied as possible.
By this I am referring to what people see on your pages. The body, the information, the excitement! But, as this is already dragging on a bit, for now I am just looking at text-related content.
The significance of keywords should be easy to understand. An article written about, say, ‘travel insurance,’ is obviously going to contain that two-word phrase numerous times.
Keywords are simply to inform the search engines what the piece is about, and in turn, what phrases it should rank for in SERPs.
As a result of old (and out-dated) SEO strategies that involved stuffing web pages with keywords until they were bursting at the seams, Google now penalises sites that ‘keyword stuff.’
Here is an example of a well-optimised page from Google images. It deals with ‘Public Relations.’ Notice how related keywords (e.g. advertising & PR) are repeated also.
This simply refers to where the keywords are placed on your page.
There are certain on-page locations where keywords hold more value, the most important of which are the page’s titles and subtitles.
These can take the form of H1 to H5 title tags. Their descriptive numbers (i.e. 1-5) are inversely proportional to their SEO value and physical size on the page.
-As can be seen in the image above, H1 headers should only be used once to emphasise its importance.
-You can use several H2, H3, H4 headers to optimise for secondary terms.
-Make sure the H1 tags of your separate pages are different to avoid confusing Google or putting your pages in competition with one another.
b) keyword placement throughout content
These are generally held to be the most important rules of keyword placement throughout the piece:
-Keywords placed close to the beginning of content.
-Primary keywords and related terms are repeated throughout your content. General rule: Fit your keywords and related terms in as many times as possible without it sounding at all unnatural to a human reader who doesn’t understand SEO).
-If you have a footer, include keywords here. If not, use them near the end of your written content.
Why is keyword placement considered important for SEO?
A keyword placement like the one described above is simply to inform Google effectively what your piece is about and what it should rank for.
There are many examples of articles having catchy/funny/punny headlines that are completely unrelated to the piece’s actual subject matter.
If Google had to choose keywords and deduce subject matter purely from titles, it would certainly struggle with these.
Spreading your keywords throughout is simply to hammer home their importance and ensure Google knows they are the focal point of the piece.
2) Title Tags
Although these aren’t actually visible on the page, they are possibly the single most important aspect for on-page SEO.
The reason they are valued so highly is because they are the first single element that people will see related to the page in question.
Click here for an in-depth look at Title Tags.
3) Optimised Content
Search engines have become very sophisticated in recent years and are now scanning (or reading) pages in a fashion very similar to humans.
Aside from keyword factors, these are the most important things to keep in mind when churning out your content. Here is a list of the most important points and a quick look at why they play such a significant role in today’s search-engine algorithms.
-If a piece is unoriginal, it is not adding to the Internet’s usefulness.
-It also suggests that perhaps the author doesn’t know his subject in depth, as it is likely that the content has been copied (and possibly rewritten) from elsewhere.
-It confuses search engines. If there is more than one piece of content which are exactly the same, how does Google know how to rank them?
Knowledgeable, factual and accurate
Through a process called ‘latent semantic indexing,’ Google learns which words are related and fall under similar topics. It can therefore ‘form an idea’ about how factually accurate or, to be more precise, how in depth an Internet post is.
I have recently been writing tourist blurbs and descriptive product pages for a national hotel chain, mainly involving depicting and selling the locations of their many hotels. I found that those which contained more actual place names, landmarks and other things associated with the location in question ranked better than those which didn’t. This is because Google understood that those had a higher volume of useful and relevant information.
Here’s a thorough run down on latent semantic indexing.
This one undoubtedly sounds bizarre, but remember that Google, over its fourteen-year reign, has improved endlessly at judging the value of written content.
Something that many celebrated Internet wizards have noticed is something along the lines of this:
If two pieces contain the same information and are optimised equally, but one is written with flare, passion and animation while the other is left a tedious task of a read, the former will nearly always rank higher.
Rand Fishkin, the genius behind SEOmoz, gives his thoughts on the matter.
-Break up blocks of text with subtitles and pictures.
-Use bold, italics and even different coloured font to highlight key ideas and hold the audience’s attention. Formatting text like this is also, surprisingly, noted by Google and contributes towards SEO.
–For a technical post, go for clarity over extravagance. Using descriptive and flowery language makes hard-to-understand procedures less digestible.
As maddening as it can be for SEOs who have been in the game for years, Google’s constant updates and improvements are exciting and certainly beneficial for the web as a whole.
The hopelessly distant end target, that the search-engine behemoth is perpetually striving towards, is simply to provide the world’s Internet users with a more efficient experience.
The reasons, as listed monotonously above, for the pernickety criteria for SEOs to meet are to ensure that all surfers reach their online destination as quickly as possible.
Google’s present level of sophistication and intuition is undoubtedly impressive but it is only going to move forward and improve. The only way to surely future proof yourself is to create interesting and useful content, constructed with passion and flare. Create your site with humans in mind and the alarmingly complex search engine is bound to love it. Fall in line with Google’s plan of Internet improvement and your site will be timeless.