One often overlooked and underutilized resource at the disposal of companies everywhere is their company website. Truth be told, most marketers make the mistake of taking a “set it and forget it” attitude towards what could arguably become their strongest selling tool. But all it takes to leverage this overlooked asset is a small investment in time, and a little bit of insight into what kind of changes could impact the bottom line. Applying the proper optimization techniques can help marketers fine-tune keywords, track and analyze online visitor patterns and prioritize hot from cold leads.
SEO is a black box for most people. The reality is that SEO can be boiled down to some very tactical best practices for your website. Below is an SEO checklist that includes the top 10 practices to optimize pages and increase search engine rankings.
1. Identify your target keyword(s) for each page
Each page should target only one primary keyword phrase. In addition, each keyword phrase should have only one primary page with it as a target. Maintaining a rigorous focus for each keyword and each page will help you rank higher for that phrase. The keyword phrase should be relevant to the content, be supported by the content on the page and be a term that will help drive your business.
2. Use the target keyword in the page name/URL
The URL or page name is one of the top content signals for the search engines. Including the target keywords in the URL is a great strategy for optimizing the page.
For example, if your target keyword phrase is “portable ultrasound,” a great URL would be http://www.portableultrasound.com or http://www.medicaldevices.com/portable-ultrasound.html.
3. Use the target keyword in the first four words of your title tag
The title tag sits at the top of the browser bar and not on the main page of your site, which means it is often not seen by the visitor to the site. However, it is an extremely important piece of content for search engines for two reasons: 1) it is seen as the title of the page (hence the name of the tag) which is a major signal of what the important keywords are for the page, and 2) the title is used as the headline of the search engine result when this page shows up in the engine so it functions as double duty with an incentive to actually click on the listing. The first four words of the title tag are most important and should contain your target keyword and NOT your company name or brand.
4. Keep your title tag to less than 65 characters and make it unique
The search engines only display the first 65 characters of a title tag in the results. If you have more characters than this, you get an ellipsis with the title tag content which cuts off your marketing message. The engines are also on the look out for duplicate content that is getting re-used throughout the site. The engines value unique, original content above all else so making sure each title tag is unique is an important signal that you’re not just replicating the same content all over the site.
5. Use a single <H1> style tag for your page headline
<H1>, <H2>, <H3> are content styling tags used in HTML that change how text looks on a page when the browser displays the content. Search engines look at these tags as information hierarchy that helps them determine which content is the most important on the page. The <H1> tag is seen as the highest priority and should be used only once on each page to display the headline. <H2>s & <H3>s can be on a page multiple times for sub-heads, captions, etc.
6. Include your target keyword in the <H1> tag
Now that you have a single <H1> tag for each page, be sure it includes your target keyword for that page. The <H1> tag is a signal to the search engines for the important content on the page.
7. Make sure the body copy includes the target keyword
The body copy on the page has to support the work you’ve put into the URL, title tag and <H1> headlines. The page content should include at least 3-4 instances of the target keyword, with at least one instance in the first paragraph.
8. Write a unique, compelling meta description that includes the focus keywords
The meta description is not a piece of content that users see when they visit your pages as it is hidden inside the code. However, the engines will often use the meta description as the description in the search engine results page. This means the meta description functions more of a marketing purpose (getting people to click on the result) than a ranking purpose (getting your page ranked higher against a specific keyword).
You should use the focus keywords early in the meta description so that they are in bold when the search result shows up which will help with keyword association and click through.
9. Create a network of cross-linked pages wherever target keywords are used
One mistake we see on many sites is the use of text such as “Learn More” on a link. The search engines look at the visible text (called “anchor text”) in a link and give it a very high value as an indicator of content on the page that is receiving that link. Instead of just using “Learn More” as the anchor text use something more descriptive like “more about portable ultrasounds” and link to a page that has information about portable ultrasounds.
The point is that you should be using cross-linking to help tell the search engines which pages are important for which keywords.
10. Use alt-text and descriptive file names for your images
Search engine bots cannot read the text built into an image, but they can read the alt-text associated with the image and the file name of the image. Both of these can add target keyword content to the page and give you an opportunity to be found in the image search databases of engines. Google Image Search is the fifth largest search engine so ensuring your images are information rich is a solid strategy. For file names of your images, select a system for naming them that fits your development platform AND contains good keywords. It might take some planning up front, but can pay off with big search numbers from the image databases.
Erez Barak is a co-founder of Optify, a leading provider of hosted, easy-to-use online lead generation software for businesses, and leads product direction. Prior to Optify, Erez was a director of product marketing in HP’s Software business unit. He has been involved in creating software products since 1998, with experience at Hewlett Packard, Mercury Interactive, Adwise, and Amdocs.