What is SEO? Part 1 – On-Site SEO

Google takes many different signals into account when determining how to rank a website. By understanding the science behind the signals you can tailor your SEO strategy to get the most out of your website. Over the next few months I will be rolling out a complete series on “What is SEO” – to uncover the signals behind Google’s algorithm. The aim of the series is to help SEO newbies understand the fundamentals of SEO and get a grip on how they can perform SEO for their own website.

I am using the term “SEO” in the series casually. As I will outline over the coming months, SEO covers many different areas such as content marketing, social media and brand building. SEO has evolved into a broader online marketing strategy that covers many different areas and requires a multitude of skill sets and knowledge. But, the basics still apply. That is why starting with On-Site SEO is a good introduction to the series. So, drum rolls please…… Let the games begin!

On-Site SEO

On-Site SEO is one of the many signals that Google takes into account in its algorithm. There are a number of steps involved in the on-site SEO process:

  1. Knowing your target market
  2. Performing Keyword research
  3. Website architecture
  4. SEO Meta Data
  5. Tagging images
  6. Internal links (anchor text)
  7. Structured data
  8. Duplicate content
  9. Sitemaps
  10. Google Analytics
  11. Webmaster Tools
  12. Local SEO
  13. Social Media Integration

1) Knowing your target marketing

While you will not be performing any nitty gritty SEO tasks at this stage, it is vital that you know who your target market is. If you don’t know who your target market is everything that follows is a stab at the dark.  Knowledge is power folks.

First off, you need to brainstorm:

  • What type of Keywords your target market would use to find your product or service in Google?
  • What are the demographics of your target market?
  • How does your target market shop? .ie online, off-line, on social media etc.
  • What geographical region is your target market based in?
  • What does your target market want?

Once you have an idea of your target market you can move on to developing a list of Keywords that your market might use to find your company or products and services.

2) Performing Keyword Research

Once you have a good idea about your target market you can start brainstorming Keywords that you will use later on in the Meta Data and textual areas of your website. I would recommend using a tool called Ubersuggest (which is uber cool in a German kind of way) http://ubersuggest.org/ to help you discover a wide variety of Keywords. You can use the Google Keyword tool to find out how many people are searching for each of your Keywords in any country that you wish. The tool gives an average monthly volume.

Other tools that will help you on your way are http://www.google.ie/trends/?hl=en and Google Related searches (at the bottom of SERPs)

Take your time performing Keyword research. This is an important step in getting your on-site SEO right. Your Keyword Research will come in handy when you begin to develop a content marketing strategy down the line.

There is the temptation to target the Keywords with the highest search volume – but higher volume is not always better. Long tail Keywords with lower search volume are often better buyer Keywords and easier to rank for. I would recommend targeting a mixture of both high volume and lower, less competitive Keywords.

3) Website Architecture

Creating the best possible user experience is vital on any website. Your website should be easy to navigate and user friendly. You want your visitors to stay on your site and ultimately perform some sort of conversion – contact, sale etc. In order to get the best potential out of your website you should follow these guidelines.

  1. Fast page speed. You can check your website speed here. https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/ – Your site and page speed is a ranking factor for Google so should be as fast as possible.
  2. Navigation should be easy to follow and clear for both search engines and humans. There should be a clear categorisation structure across the website.
  3. Use breadcrumbs to help robot and human navigation.
  4. Internal links (anchor text) should be created to guide visitors throughout your website. (Although excessive use of the same Keywords in your anchor text can incur a Google penalty – so don’t go overboard. Watch this video for more information – http://www.seomoz.org/blog/6-changes-every-seo-should-make-before-the-over-optimization-penalty-hits-whiteboard-friday )
  5. Coding should be clean and easily to read for search engines. Avoid using Flash.
  6. Your page layouts should contain headings – (H1 H2 etc).
  7. SEO Meta Data should be unique to each page. Unique Titles and Descriptions.
  8. Your URL structure should be SEO friendly and follow the theme of your page. Make sure that the default CMS URLs are re-written. If you are using Joomla you can then use the SH404SEF component http://extensions.joomla.org/extensions/site-management/sef/10134. In you use WordPress all you need to do is turn on Permalinks in your settings. http://yoast.com/change-wordpress-permalink-structure/
  9. Pages with 404 errors should be re-directed to live, relevant pages. View 404 errors in Google webmaster Tools. https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home?hl=en
  10. Make sure your robots.txt has been correctly formatted. http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=156449
  11. Use no-follow/no-index  for pages that you don’t want to index.
  12. Make it easy for visitors to perform a conversion. Calls to actions should be in prime positions through your website.

Remember, a happy visitor = more chance of a conversion. Build your website so that visitors will love your brand and want to return to see more!

4) SEO Meta Data

Meta Data consists of a page title and description that should be unique to every page on a website. The body text of a page should be reflected in your Meta Data. Every page on your website should contain a unique Meta Title and Description. Use your Keyword research to help inform your Meta Data. Remember to write for both search engines and humans. You need a balance of both for your keywords to rank well but also to look appealing in SERPs.

5) Tagging Images

Images throughout your website should have ALT and Titles filled with rich descriptions. Tagging your images will help partially sighted visitors see a description on your image and will help search engines understand what your image conveys. Tagging images will also help your overall on-site SEO efforts.

6) Internal links (anchor text)

Internal links (or anchor text) on your website perform two functions. The first function is to guide visitors through your website. If your website is easy to navigate then the chances your visitors will find the content they are looking increases.

The second function of anchor text is to provide a link between Keywords and their corresponding pages to Google. An example would be linking from a Keyword called “SEO Services” to the SEO services page.

When you are creating anchor text it is best practice to link naturally from Keywords to related pages. If it looks unnatural or if you use the same Keyword over and over again in your anchor text Google might slap a dirty penalty on your site.

7) Structured Data

In order to help Google understand content on your website you can places content within structured data formatting. I would recommend using structured data wherever you get a chance. The types of structured data include:

Practical applications of structured data are:

To be honest I could write a full article on structured data there is that much to cover. –  so, to keep it short I will guide you to a few good reference sites:

Google Guidelines on Structured Data  http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2650907

Tool for Creating Structured Data

http://schema-creator.org/

What is Schema – http://schema.org/

8) Duplicate Content

When you are going through your on-site SEO check list make sure you don’t forget to check this box. Duplicate content is a thorn on many webmasters side and one that you can’t ignore. If your website has content copied from another side you may find it difficult to rank for the page with the copied content. You can use tools like Copyscape to scan your website for duplicate content. I would recommend creating unique content throughout your website.

9) Sitemaps

Sitemaps are used to help search engines discover pages on your website. Every website should have a correctly formatted XML sitemap. XML sitemaps are submitted to Google and Bing Webmaster Tools.

10) Google Analytics

One of the first things you should do when you set up your website is to install a Google Analytics tracking code. You can do this by setting up a Google Analytics account and registering your website.

With Google Analytics http://www.google.ie/analytics/ information you can begin to measure your main KPIs on your website, website traffic, conversions and a whole more quality data. It is a key step in your overall online marketing strategy.

11) Webmaster Tools

Webmaster Tools is a central location where you can examine, analyze and fix on-site technical issues that might slow down your SEO performance.  You can also submit xml site, image and video sitemaps to help Google discover content on your website. Some of the newer features allow you to check structured data on your website and use the data highlighter tool to let Google know about upcoming events that are published on your website. Webmaster Tools is central to your websites structural health. Constant maintenance is required to make sure errors are resolved fast.  You can examine your websites crawl errors, duplicate title and description tags, robots files and many other features on an ongoing basis to make sure your website performs to the highest level. It is like the service station of your website and should be included in your on-site SEO strategy.

12) Local SEO

Local SEO is important for gaining a foothold in local search rankings. There are a number of things that you can do to help your website perform locally:

  1. Use local business structured data for your Name, Address and Telephone Number. http://schema-creator.org/organization.php
  2. Use location Keywords in your body text, titles and descriptions. Eg. SEO Company in Dublin, Ireland.
  3. Set up a Google+ Local/Places page for your business. Add Google Map to your website.
  4. Get testimonials or reviews for your website from people in your local area.
  5. Creation location based landing pages. Ie. Areas served.

13) Social Media Sharing Integration

Share, share, share! This should be your mantra when hypnotizing visitors with your kick-ass content. To help visitors share your content you will need social media sharing buttons. The buttons will allow your visitors to share your content via their own social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and many more. Social media sharing buttons are a must for any new website build.

Implementing on-site SEO will help build a platform for online marketing success. It is one of many steps to you need to take if you want to increase traffic and conversions on your website. In part two of our “What is SEO” series I will be discussing off-site SEO factors. It should be a good one!

Thanks for reading!