13 Tips to Optimize Your Pages for Google

Today is not only Friday the 13th, but it’s also the day of the full moon. So in honor of both, here are 13 ways to make your pages shine brightly.

13 ways to make your pages shine brightly

13 ways to make your pages shine brightly

1. Provide quality content.

Google describes a site with quality content as “helpful, information-rich … pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic.” Also “think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site.”

  • Concentrate on one topic per page. If it’s a larger topic, concentrate on one portion of the topic per page. For example, instead of trying to explain gardening on one page, break it up. You might have one page on preparing your garden site, another page on choosing the right tools, another page on growing a garden in the shade, and even those topics can be broken down some more.
  • Use your unique knowledge and experience to bring a different slant on your topic. The Internet is so huge, it’s a good bet there are many other websites about your topic. The difference is they don’t have you. Capitalize on that to make fresh and unique content.
  • Use a spell-checker. Many spelling errors and a sloppy design are two sure-fire ways for your website to scream ‘amateur’!

2. Utilize long-tail keywords.

I heard an explanation of long-tail keywords from a man who lamented of ever making the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit addition. He thought if he could get them to change the rules, he’d have a better chance. So he decided to ask if they’d open it up to men. Then he realized there are a lot of men he’d have to compete against. So maybe if it was only open to men who lived in Texas. Hmmm, still lots of competition. How about men who lived in Seguin, TX? That’s better, but still a little too much competition. He finally decided on asking if they’d open the competition to men, who lived in Seguin, TX, who were bald, and who owned a canary. He figured that way he’d have a pretty good shot at winning it!

It’s pretty much the same with long-tail keywords. Find a small, sub-niche of a category and you’ll have less search volume, but less competition. Just be careful that you don’t focus so tightly there isn’t anyone interested in your topic at all.

More people are now searching on long-tail keywords, such as ‘home remedies for dandruff’, rather than just ‘dandruff.’ That means you don’t have to guess what that visitor wants or run an A/B test, he’s already told you. If you have a page that meets his criteria you have a pretty good shot at converting him into a customer.

3. Make your site easy to navigate both for visitors and search engines.

Think about how visitors will use your website. Can you group your individual pages into a few different groups? If so, make a general page for each group and then pages within that group or even sub-groups with pages within that group. Just don’t go too deep because the URLs will become unwieldy. Additionally many search engines won’t crawl very deep into your site because they figure your most important pages will be near the top of the hierarchy.

Along those same lines, group all of your images in a separate upper-level directory to simplify the path to them.

To further help visitors and search engines, create sitemaps for each. The sitemap for visitors can group your content by main categories, plus your additional pages like the About Us, Contact and Privacy Policy pages. For search engines, you should create a file named XML Sitemap. If you’re using WordPress there are plugins that will make this file for you. If not, you can use Google’s Sitemap Generator to make the file.

4. Check your title and description meta tags.

Meta tags belong in the <HEAD> section of your web page. This is where the page’s setup starts, although this section doesn’t show directly to the visitor. You can see it by clicking on Ctrl-U (Command-U on a Mac). You can also use the tool bar in your browser.

In IE, click on ‘view’ then scroll down to ‘source.’

Finding View, Source in Internet Explorer

Finding View, Source in Internet Explorer

In Chrome, click on the three parallel bars in the upper right corner, then scroll down to ‘tools’ and then scroll down to ‘view source’ on the sub-menu.

Finding View, Source in Chrome

Finding View, Source in Chrome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding View, Source in FireFox

Finding View, Source in FireFox

In Firefox, click on ‘tools’, then ‘web developer’, then ‘page source.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The title meta tag – <meta name=”title” content=”Starbucks Homepage”> – is similar to the <H1> tag, but this is the text Google will generally show as a link to your page in the search engine results. (By the way, can you think of a different title rather than ‘Starbucks Homepage’ for better SEO? Hint – What is their famous product?)

The description meta tag gives the search engines a summary of what your page is about. This is usually the text Google will show just after your page’s link in the search engine results. However, depending on the visitor’s query, Google may choose a snippet off your page to show instead.

Be sure to use a unique title and description for each page on your website to help visitors find the information they need. Also avoid using too much information (such as filling it with keywords) or too little information (‘this is a web page’).

5. Use the author tag to get credit for your content.

In Google’s quest to deliver the best and most relevant content to searchers, they’re now connecting authors with their content. The idea being a good author will provide good content no matter where he or she is writing.

Adding this link to your articles can make a big difference in how your content appears in the search results. If you haven’t already, sign up for a Google+ account and fill out as much information as you can. Be sure to include a photo of yourself. And add the name and complete URL of your website (and anywhere else you contribute).

When you’re finished, grab a copy of the URL. It should look something like this – https://plus.google.com/111186258783174834786/. You specifically want that long string of numbers. That’s your unique identity to Google.

Now go to your website and create your author bio, including a link back to your Google+ profile. If your bio included a line like ‘Connect with me on Google+’ and you wanted the words ‘connect with me’ to be the anchor text, use code like this –

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/111186258783174834786/”>connect with me</a>

– replacing the string of numbers with your unique number.

After it’s all connected, when your content appears in the search results there will be additional information presented. That information can include your photo, plus your name and number of people within your Google+ circles. Why do you want this additional information? Because according to SocialMediaExaminer.com, “people are more likely to click on links associated with author images and profiles than those without.”

6. Use the heading tags on your pages correctly.

Heading tags change the formatting of text and give visitors visual clues that these words are important. The tags are also important to search engines.

<H1> is an heading tag that means ‘Heading 1’ and tells the search engines that this is the title of the page. They will generally display this text in the clickable, first line of results. Make sure it’s descriptive and unique for each page. When you’re trying to come up with a good title, think of your favorite book titles. They give you an idea of the book’s content and sometimes use a play on words or something enticing to catch your interest.

Sometimes when you use software to build your website, it will give each page a temporary title such as ‘New page 1’ or even ‘untitled.’ Be sure to change it to tell your visitors what your page is about. And don’t use the same title on more than one page; every page’s title should be unique.

If you are using WordPress, the text in the ‘title’ box will automatically pick up the <H1> tag. Other software should be similar, but you can go to your website and click on ‘view, source’ as detailed above to check.

Formatting a subheading in WordPress

Formatting a subheading in WordPress

Make your content easier to read, particularly for people who skim, by using sub-headings. The <H2> tag tells the browser to display the text a little bit different to catch the eye of your visitor. It also gives the search engines another clue about the contents of your page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Use bold and italics to highlight certain words.

Have you ever read an article where a word or two was highlighted and you slowed down to emphasize that word in your head? Yep, just what the author wanted you to do. It’s human nature.

Will it help your page ranking? A little, maybe, but probably not much. However if it helps your visitors understand and like your content, their actions can affect your rankings. So do what you can to spice up your writing – just don’t go overboard.

Try highlighting a word or two to make the reader sit up and take notice. You can also use lists to break up lots of text. And keep your paragraphs short. Many short paragraphs are easier to digest than one, long, ongoing paragraph. Also don’t forget about using sub-headings at the beginning of each section to help visitors find just the content they want.

Things not to do:

  • Bolding an entire paragraph.
  • Emphasizing just your keywords.

8. Use ALT and caption tags for your images.

Have you ever gone to a website and where there’s supposed to be an image all you see is a red X? Don’t you wish you could see that image? Webmasters try to keep all links up to date, but stuff happens.

You can use the ALT tag to specify alternative text for the image if it can’t be displayed. It’s also helpful for people who are visually impaired and for search engines who can’t ‘see’ images.

Along that same vein, don’t put important text in an image. Because search engines can’t see it, they can’t index it, which means that content won’t help your page get found.

It doesn’t make visitors happy either. I love searching for new recipes to try and I’ve seen some websites post pictures of the entire process – this is good – however they print the ingredients and the directions on the images – not good. I like to save the recipe on my computer for later, rather than trying to remember where I found it or copy each picture and hope I didn’t miss any of them.

Using the caption tag in addition to the ALT tag gives you one more place to tell visitors and the search engines what your page is about. Use this tag to describe the image in a slightly different way and perhaps include a portion of your keyword phrase.

9. Use simple to understand names for your files and links.

Descriptive names will help visitors and search engines understand what your content is about. Names like page1.htm or pic.gif are of no help. Names that are too long or filled with keywords are not helpful either.

When people link to your content, they often use the URL as anchor text. Which do you think would get more clicks?

http://www.example.com/en/dir1/1054890/x2/000016a.htm

or

http://www.example.com/how-to-cook-a-pork-roast.htm

10. Link to other pages.

One of the greatest aspects of the Internet is linking to other pages and websites for more information. Make it clear what the page you’re linking to is about. Anchor text – the highlighted part that you would click on – should be a 2-3 word summary about that page. That’s much more useful than anchor text that says ‘click here.’ Visitors like links to more information and the search engines like it, but don’t overdo it. A 200-word page with 50 links is a bit much.

Be sure to link to other pages on your website from within the various pages. If you have a comprehensive topic and have written several pages of step-by-step directions, break it into several pages. At the end of the step 1 page add a link to step 2. At the end of the step 2 page add a link to step 3 – and also back to step 1 in case a visitor landed on page 2 and wants to start at the beginning. If you mention a concept on one page and have another, more detailed page about that concept link to it. Your visitors will thank you.

11. Avoid penalties for duplicate content.

If you have duplicate content, the quickest way to deal with it is to remove it.

In the past, people were posting duplicate content to article collections and to networks of sites with links back to the original to get better rankings in the search engines. When Google rolled out the Panda algorithm those sites tanked.

Sites with duplicate content will still be penalized. But sometimes you need that duplicate content – such as sales pages for products with various options or printer-friendly versions of pages made in pdf.

If you have duplicate content on your website, you need to tell the search engines that the content is a known duplicate, but is needed to enhance the visitor’s use of the website and that the original source can be found at a specific location.

For example, a website that has several ways to access the same product for sale – eg 14″ frypan, green frypan, brandname frypan – can use a canonical link to the preferred URL. In the <HEAD> section of each of these pages you would add something like <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://example.com/frypans/brandname-frypan/”> if ‘brandname-frypan’ is the preferred page.

12. Choose which pages and directories search engines are allowed to index.

Search engines use software code to crawl and index content on the web. These bits of code are called ‘robots’ or ‘bots’ or ‘spiders.’ To control what these spiders see you can use a file titled ‘robots.txt.’ It must be placed in your root directory, for example ‘http://example.com/robots.txt.’ If you place it in a subdirectory – for example, ‘http://example.com/folder/robots.txt’ – the spiders won’t find it.

Within the robots.txt file you can tell the search engines if there are pages or even entire directories you don’t want indexed.

You generally want these spiders to find your content, but sometimes you want to stop a page from being indexed. Why, you ask? Each page on your website shares a little bit of the link juice passing to it, and link juice is a good thing because it helps your pages rank higher. But you have pages such as ‘Contact Us’ and ‘Privacy Policy’ for your visitors although they don’t add anything to your rankings. You’d want to stop those pages from being indexed and leaking some of that link juice. To do that, use the robots meta tag – eg <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”> and place that in the <HEAD> section of just those pages. You definitely don’t want it on any of your important pages because the meta tag will prevent the page from being listed in Google’s web index!

The robots file is another way to prevent pages from being listed, but only if no other websites link to it. If you use the robots meta tag to stop a page from being crawled, don’t include that page in the robots.txt file. If the spiders are not allowed to crawl a page because of the robots.txt file they can’t see the meta tag directives and may index it anyway if another website links to it. The robots meta tag will completely block a page from being indexed.

Don’t rely on the robots file or meta tags to protect sensitive content. Instead encrypt it or place it within a password-protected subdirectory.

If you need help developing a robots.txt file for your website, Google offers a robots.txt generator in their Webmaster Tools.

13. Use a text browser, such as Lynx, to examine your site.

You’ve done all the work, now it’s time to see how the spiders see your website. If you’re using special features such as frames, JavaScript or Flash in your website, the spiders may have trouble crawling it.

Go to http://lynx.isc.org/lynx2.8.7/index.html to get a copy of the Lynx browser. Install it and take a look at your website to make sure everyone can see your excellent content.

There you have it. Thirteen magical tips to make your website shine. Now I think it’s time to howl at that moon!

 

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