Fundamental elements of SEO optimization that you cannot ignore
Changes are not always good but if we look at them from the perspective of Google activities, changes occurring every year aimed at providing quality results and fight with spam change the mentality of the SEO industry (which is positive) and the priorities of the techniques used (which is positive, too).
Many Google updates (Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird) that we face every day systematically verify the experience and knowledge of SEO specialists.
They enforce constant development by thorough analyses and forcing us to think, which can be “painful” indeed. But this “pain” is another positive effect of the situation, which enables us to verify whether we are up to date with the changes or whether we still apply the same old patterns and less and less effective “strategies”.
OnPage optimization as one of the elements of comprehensive SEO strategy has always been of high priority. In the context of the greatest recent updates mentioned above, it has even greater importance due to the increasing emphasis on usability and providing sites with the “what is best for the user” attitude.
Let's discuss some details. You will learn now the fundamental optimization elements that you should take into consideration on your site to greatly improve the steps of your SEO strategy.
1. Title tags
Title tags have always been the basic elements considered in SEO audits. And this has not changed, undoubtedly it's still one of the most important points in optimization.
The 60 characters limit in the “title” tag forces us to think deeply about the text form that will saturate our key phrases and at the same time encourage the user to click.
Title tags are definitely worth taking into account in optimization
- Avoid doubling tags on pages in the website source. Multiple use of the same tag on a page by mistake or placing it in a wrong place in site architecture may have negative effects such as Google bot ignoring it or indexing random tag content for search results presentation.
- Try to use unique contents in title tags without repeating them, which is also associated with page document improvement in Google Webmaster Tools
- Try to use the most important expressions of the content in the beginning of the tag.
- We should definitely avoid situations which lead to over-optimizing a tag due to placing in it only a sequence of phrases we are interested in.
- Make sure that if you decide to use the name of your brand in the tag, you place it at the end of the prepared content. Google guidelines point out the rational use of this element in the strategy of tag content preparation.
We must not forget that this tag is often automatically used by external social media sites as the header and the key phrase.
It is displayed in browsers as a suggestion when hunting for a site from search history.
2. Description tags
They are as important as the title tag discussed above, and they give us much greater freedom regarding the length of the presented content.
Of course keeping the limit of a certain number of characters is a good practice, but Google does not impose anything here, as it is evident from the analysis of nearly 100k snippets and most often used length of description presented by Google results.
But as for this tag, it is worth remembering that apart from issues strictly connected with SEO, it has a very big influence on the user's decision at the moment of clicking on a search result out of the TOP10.
We should be aware that the description is there not only to describe, it's also there to provoke the user to begin some interaction.
Description tags are definitely worth taking into account in optimization
- Be unique
It's best to use unique contents on each page of the website. But this solution is not so easy if we have complex sites with multiple pages, so these Google guidelines clearly suggest focusing on the development of a unique description tag for the home page and for the pages that we think are the most important.
- Build your contents around the previously prepared document of crucial theme phrases. But never forget to be reasonable.
Don't struggle to use the direct phrases that are important to you: Google will match the intentions and the expressions typed in, providing the right result.
These expressions do not have to be close to each other: the bot will easily associate the proper expressions and match their forms to the phrase being used.
- The contents should not only match the content of the page we refer to but also aim at making the user interested in the message he will see in the contents of search results.
In optimization, always think about the user's good first, not the bot's: it is the user that is our potential customer.
Furthermore, in some cases the lack of contents in a description tag is not something negative. Google is able to match and serve contents from a page as contents presented in search results, but this factor is independent of us and not always compatible with what we would like to include there.
3. Contents to engage the user and generate traffic
It's a well-known fact that Google promotes uniqueness, the match between the content and our field of activity, and not misleading users with spam whose only purpose is to feed the bot.
That is why all activities in contents development should be oriented at usability and satisfying the user's wish to achieve the most suitable query for the phrase he types in.
Our goal is to reach the customer, not the bot. So let's orient our activities at the customer directly.
Good contents that generate traffic are:
- full of substance and interesting within our field of activity
- the response to the question included in the user's phrase
- the solution to the user's problem
- easy to share in social media
- first of all, optimized for the relative key phrases that will generate the highest traffic
So what shouldn't the content for the phrase “English lessons” be?
So what shouldn't the content for the phrase “English lessons” be?
"English lessons, learn English in 3 months"
"The best methods of learning English for the lazy ones. Our English lessons are conducted by the best teachers. See the prices of English lessons on our website."
The version is over-optimized with the phrase we are most interested in. Besides, it may seem too artificial.
So how can we properly optimize the content for the phrase “English lessons”?
"Learn English quickly in 3 months"
"Check how effective can learning English be on lessons conducted by our experienced teachers. The lesson prices are on our website."
Here we have both the phrase we are interested in and a text that is much more acceptable for the user.
Each content we prepare on the basis of a certain subject should also involve different intentions the user may have when typing Google queries. This effect can only be achieved if the content is optimized and the of the right length.
Well-prepared content builds our visibility in organic results including many related phrases, which generates quality traffic.
All the time we need to respond to changes occurring in Google algorithms, whose goal is to constantly improve the usability and quality of the returned results.
Google Panda, the update first introduced in 2011, was the beginning of the trend focused on content, which not only forms the bond between the site and the user but is also greatly rewarded by Google in search results.
This update acts permanently and is not a one-time update to clean search results from poor quality sites or spam.
Time devoted to preparing unique content related to the subject is definitely worth it, but we must not forget that uniqueness is not all.
The length of the content is crucial for visibility in search results.
This article shows the relation between the length of our content and visibility in Google TOP10. As we can see, if we place an article on a website, it's good to discuss the topic exhaustively.
Ok, we already know that valuable contents are a significant element that will allow us to build traffic as a result of many phrases and partly protect us from Google sanctions, and we know what to take into consideration when preparing them.
But what about the frequency of publication, or “freshness” of contents on our website? Is it an important ranking factor?
Google aims to provide not only quality content but content that is most up to date for the users.
Constant increase of capacity and optimizing Google infrastructure (Caffeine 2011), gave Google almost unlimited indexing possibilities and allowed to quickly serve results that are really suited and “fresh” at the moment of search.
The current update of a website is important from Google's point of view. In 2012, it was still one of the key ranking factors that affected search results.
This provides additional evidence for the importance of long-term perspective of activities and constant work at the grassroots: it is not the question of creating something and leaving it.
4. URL addresses structure
The importance of optimizing URL addresses is quite commonly known, but it still needs to be highlighted what optimization elements are worth applying.
URL addresses are another element (brick) of SEO optimization affecting Google search results.
A well-optimized path pointing to a page is first of all a meaningful title that directly refers to the content of the page, significant phrases, and does not include unnecessary tags.
For example, entering the phrase “healthy breakfast ideas” will result in Google searching the whole site document, including URL structure, regarding any associations with the phrase to be found.
The list of things that are worth remembering as you plan the URL structure.
- URL addresses should be simple and show at first sight where they lead us and what content we can expect on the page.
Yes, I need to have those tickets! I enter!
I'm not sure, this is probably another swindle...
I bet it's a virus...
- Use clear messages in URL addresses and make references to the content of the page and the main phrases that users may use for their search.
- The use of phrases and their derivative forms in a URL address is still an important element.
Google emphasizes the found associations between a phrase and the content of URL.
And when someone shares our link as the full path, the phrase in its title will appear as the anchor.
- Avoid repeating contents in different URL addresses, use the "rel=canonical" tag to indicate the original content or implement a 301 redirect to another page.
- Try to refer to the title of the site in path contents, but don't be too strict. Different forms of words and changes in the word order are perfectly acceptable.
- In URL structure use "-" as spaces. Don't use underscores "_".
- Avoid many redirections to the target site.
- Remember about capitalization. Google will treat Page.html and page.html as two different documents.
When transforming/changing the site, the previous patter of URL structure is often ignored, so old addresses, which still generate traffic for us, are not maintained.
We need to keep an eye all the time on discovered indexing errors or URLs not found by the Google bot.
As we can see, it has an important influence on traffic. Below is an example of dramatic drop in traffic caused by indexing errors discovered above.
Preparing better and newer site functionality solutions, never forget about the already indexed pages that still generate traffic.
Just like in the case of other optimization elements, we should think about the comfort of a user visiting our site.
The loading time is one of the most important ranking factors in accordance with Google's idea of presenting most useful contents and quick access to them (Google's statement concerning site loading time)
Google has its own tool (Google Page Speed) to analyze our site in terms of different factors affecting e.g. the speed of our website. This results from attaching great importance to usability.
We monitor what happens to our website and how quickly its elements load, whether it does not have any unnecessary queries that overload it and lengthen its loading time.
Using tools such as Pingdom, we can verify the headers, server response time, and a number of other elements that affect the speed of loading.
Let's compare the observed times with other websites within the same field of activity to find out our position against the competition.
Apart from affecting search results, an efficiently and quickly operating site is also beneficial for conversion itself.
Would you wait more than a few seconds for the cart to load? Nobody likes slow loading shops.
Many studies have clearly demonstrated the relation between loading time and further intention to go from micro- to macro-conversion.
Multiple elements can influence the site loading speed, but each of them can be easily optimized. The most frequent factors to be improved first are:
- Compression and number of photos on the page.
- The use of CSS Sprites
- The use of CDN (Content Delivery Network)
- The selection of the target hosting with the shortest response time possible.
The above elements of optimization are only the basic and quite a small part of the whole work to be done in the course of preparing our site for the subsequent steps of the strategy that will allow us to build visibility in search results.
But it is always worth beginning with the basics and and it's good to build strong foundations for further activities which are beyond the internal factors connected with our website.