Friday, 27 July 2012

On-Page SEO Best Practices

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, has two distinct elements – on-page SEO elements and off-page.

On-page elements, as the name implies, are internal elements or those set of SEO elements that are present on the page itself, are in the control of the blog-owner/webmaster, and can be easily altered or changed. Off-page elements include social engagement and sharing, link-building practices and visitor behavior – all of which are partly controllable.

Quite understandably, both on-page and off-page elements combine to form what are commonly known as ‘SEO Best Practices’. Being familiar with both sets of optimization is essential, as adherence to these will allow you to rank your website/blog better and higher up on the SERPs, in particular for your keywords, allow you to be able to get much more exposure through mediums other than search engines, and as a result, you will be able to drive in large amounts of traffic to your website or blog.

Here are 4 essential elements of on-page SEO:

1. Content

After the introduction of Google Panda (the update to Google’s search algorithm that was introduced in 2011), content is now one of the most significant things to one’s on-page SEO strategy. The importance of putting up quality content on your blog cannot be overstated!

I cannot stress enough on this, but it is extremely vital to put up quality content – specifically content that provides value and benefit to the reader, content that is fresh and un-copied, content that is well-written and well-researched, content that is free from grammatical or factual errors, and most importantly, content that is written for human beings and not for search engines.

Posting frequency depends on the person responsible for producing the content, or the nature of the blog. However it is essential to be able to put up updated content on a regular basis. You won’t get a lot of returning visitors if your blog remains outdated for long lengths of time. Ideally, you should make an effort to post high-quality content on your blog on a daily basis, as this ensures that you get a steady stream of visitors to your blog. Alternatively, putting up a couple of well-written, well-researched post at least once a week is better than putting up low-quality content on a daily basis.

Other content best-practices include using header tags (H1, H2, H3, etc), adding images and videos to your write-ups, and refraining from writing posts that are too short (and hence insufficient), or too long (and hence hard to read).

I recommend developing a content-creation strategy: what to write, how frequently you want to write, do you prefer developing your content yourself or would you consider having someone else do it for you, and of course, how you can integrate images, infographics and videos to your content.

2. Website Architecture

Website architecture includes factors such as website navigation, ease-of-use and functionality.

These factors are essential because (i) they make it easy for your visitors to browse through your blog, enhancing the user-experience, and (ii) they allow search engine crawlers to access and crawl your blog in order to index the blog pages. You might be producing the best content in the world for your blog, but if users and crawlers have difficulty navigating through your blog, it will be of little or no use.

The first step is to ensure that your blog is easy to navigate and browse-through. If you’re using one of more famous blogging platforms/CMS out there (such as Blogger or Wordpress, for instance – more on those in just a bit), these CMS will automatically provide you with options to change, edit, and fully control your blog’s navigation. Using a good premium theme will enhance certain navigation elements.

Links (or a practice most commonly referred to as linking) also makes up an essential part of your website architecture. Internal linking involves linking to an article, page or post that is within your own blog (such as an old post), and external linking means to link a source outside your blog (such as a Facebook page, or an article from another website). Links allow you to add variety to your content, can be used to provide useful information to your readers, and internal links aid crawlers to index your blog. However some considerations: (i) hotlinks should ALWAYS be relevant to the write-up, and (ii) links should not be used excessive (particularly external links).

In addition, broken links will adversely affect your website’s architecture. There are numerous plugins out there which allow you to keep a check on broken links on your blog by notifying you of any such links.

Other factors include page speed and blog load times. Google has now made blog load times an essential part of its ranking algorithm – the faster your blog, the higher it will be ranked.

3. Keywords

An important part of your content creation strategy is the usage of important and relevant keywords. These keywords (or in some cases, key-phrases) are certain words which you want your blog to rank for.

It is important to use these keywords a certain number of times within any content that you create – including the body, title, description and header tags. If you’re doing it right, it’d mean that you’re using keywords that are most relevant to the industry/niche or the subject-matter of your blog. There are countless free plugins out there that streamline this process for you.

You can use Google’s free Keyword Research Tool in order to determine relevant keywords and the search frequency and competition for each keyword.

A couple of considerations when it comes to keywords: (i) I cannot stress any more on that fact that keywords should always be relevant, as irrelevant keywords will see search engines penalize you. And (ii) a practice commonly referred to as ‘keyword stuffing’ (excessive usage of keywords) should always be avoided, as this will only make your write-ups look spammy and unfit for human reading.

Using your important keyword(s) twice or thrice every 100 words (aka. a keyword density of 2%-3%) lets the search engine crawlers know which keywords to rank you for.

4. The CMS

CMS, or Content Management System, refers to the platform used to create a blog. Wordpress remains one of the most popular CMS out there and quite understandably so. It is my CMS of choice in most cases, quite simply because it is extremely simple and easy to use, while at the same time being very powerful and highly functional.

It takes care of many of the SEO elements for you on its own, and coupled with plugins such as SEO by Yoast or All-in-One SEO, you can have total control over any and all your on-page SEO elements.

Moreover, Wordpress has one of the largest plugins and themes library, and provides the blog owner, as well as a visitor with a visually-attractive and easy-to-navigate interface. Coupled with the fact that you can change just about any single element of your website through Wordpress, it comes as no surprise that it is even recommended by Matt Cutts himself!

Other than Wordpress, popular CMS include Tumblr, Drupal, Blogger (or Google Blogspot), Habari and Joomla.

Your CMS-of-choice could end up having a considerable effect on your on-page SEO. In fact, the choice between a good CMS and one that is just not as good could be what ultimately makes or breaks all elements of your on-page SEO. Personally, I recommend going for Wordpress – coupled with a good theme framework, such as the Genesis or Thesis – and using one of the abovementioned plugins, in order to lay a solid foundation for strong on-page search engine optimization.  

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