Web Development 101 - On-page SEO Factors

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It should go without saying that the most important on-page factor influencing the popularity of a web page is its content. If a site has great content, offers something unique, great resources, good-quality information, etc., it will attract a lot of traffic, many people will link to it, and they will refer other people to it. On the contrary, if a web page offers nothing of value, is poorly written, looks bad, etc., it will rightfully remain obscure and will receive little traffic.

Assuming your page offers something of value to visitors, and that you intend to proceed with further Search Engine Optimization (SEO) work, this post examines aspects of on-page factors that should be considered as a fundamental part of SEO work. Although on-page factors do not play as large a role as off-page factors when it comes to a page’s ranking in search engine results, they should not be neglected. If you are serious about your SEO efforts, on-page factors should be included for the sake of being thorough as well as for the sake of making the page as friendly to search engines as possible.

First of all, I would recommend deciding on the keywords for which you would like to rank highly in search results. Your web page might already have a general theme or topic, but you still have to decide exactly what terms are highlighted in your web site that will attract visitors to it. For example, would you like your page to rank highly in search results when somebody does a search for the term, say, “web page hosting” or “website hosting”? The difference is a lot of traffic. To help you decide which term to use, Google's AdWords Keyword Tool (External) is an extremely useful service that provides information about the monthly number of searches conducted for user-specified terms.

For example, on April 19, 2010 this tool indicated monthly search volumes as follows:

web page hosting 90,500
website hosting 673,000
hosting 20,400,000
web hosting 6,120,000

From this information, you know that in a month many more searches are conducted for the term “website hosting” than for the term “web page hosting”. In other words, if your SEO efforts are successful, attracting visitors who have conducted searches for the term “website hosting” will bring a lot more traffic to your site. By using this tool to select the best keywords for your site, you can then proceed to use those keywords to optimize your on-page SEO factors: title, meta tags, and h-tags.

The Title

The title of a web page is what shows up in the Title Bar of the browser, that blue bar at the top of the browser window. For example, when you are on the home page of this blog, the title should be "Website Development - Mozilla Firefox" if you are using the Firefox web browser and "Website Development - Microsoft Internet Explorer" if you are using Internet Explorer.

The web page title is coded into the HTML of a web page in the head section, for example,

< head >

< title > Web Page Title < /title >

. . .

< /head >

Including one of your keywords in the title of a web page makes it more Search Engine friendly, it helps the search engines better classify the page and helps the page rank higher in search results than if the keyword is not there. Try to keep the title no longer than 70 characters long.

Meta Tags

Meta tags help search engines identify the theme of a web site. They do not cause anything to be displayed to visitors of the web page, but they are read by search engines, which use the contents of the meta tags as an abstract or summary of the page; basically, they inform search engines that the page is about such-and-such a topic. Like the Title, meta tags are coded into the head section of a web page:

<head>

<title>Web Page Title</title>

<meta name="description" contents="META DESCRIPTION">

<meta name="keywords" contents="keyword1, keyword2, keyword3, keyword4">

. . .

</head>

Again, you should include the keywords for which you want the page to be ranked highly in search engines. Further information--specific to Google--is posted on Google’s "Webmaster Central" site. From that particular post, I recommend navigating to the main "Webmaster Central" site and from there exploring the wealth of additional information that is available.

In addition, there is also a "Google Webmaster Central Blog". Again, from that particular post, you can navigate to the main page and from there explore all the other posts, on a variety of topics (remember though, these sites cover information specific to Google).

h-tags (h1 - h6)

h-tags are tags for highlighting the beginning of a section and giving it particular emphasis, much like chapters or sections of a book are given headers. Including your keywords in these tags also helps boost the page’s ranking in search engines. For example, if the web page is going to discuss the topic of “website hosting”, you might want to mark the section header with <h1> tags that include a keyword as follows:

<h1>Website Hosting</h1>

These tags increase the size of the font, and bold it, so that readers know it is a section header. In addition, search engines interpret these tags as giving the content within the tags special emphasis. So if you have something you want search engines to take special note of, include the terms in h-tags.


I would also like to briefly mention a couple other factors before concluding: broken links and alt attributes for images. Broken links make it look like you are not paying attention to your own site. Make sure all links on your page are valid; if they are not, correct them or remove them. In turn, an alt attribute should always be included with a graphic. Search engines cannot see the image, so they use the alt description to identify what the image is about. If your alt description is accurate, and includes one of your keywords, all the better. For example, if you include a gif of a computer, named computer.gif, on a page you might include the following HTML:

<img src="computer.gif" width="540" height="334" alt="Graphic of a Computer" />

This way, even though search engines cannot see the graphic, they can read the alt tag and know the image is a graphic of a computer.

Finally, keep in mind that these tips should not be overdone. If you fill all these tags with an excessive amount of keywords, it is called “keyword stuffing” and the effect might actually be detrimental to your search engine rankings. Be honest. Provide a genuine description of what the page is about without being excessive.


Cheers,